Puck Daddy's 2016-17 NHL Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Season: 34-40-8 (76 points), 8th in the Metropolitan, 15th in the East
A season that arrived with playoff hopes ended with a new coach, a No. 1 center traded away and a top-5 draft pick.
Todd Richards was dismissed following a 0-7-0 start and team president John Davidson’s good buddy John Tortorella was brought in. Ryan Johansen, their No. 1 pick in 2010 and superstar, was dealt to Nashville in early January for defenseman Seth Jones. In June, Pierre-Luc Dubois was selected third overall and longtime vets, Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin, were bought out.
It was a season to forget for the Blue Jackets, but after a quiet summer, is there promise for improvement here?
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2015-16 Season, In One Picture
Can’t trade me now #probthough pic.twitter.com/mUJ7W4wkjr
— Ryan Johansen (@RyanJohansen19) August 3, 2015
Did They Get Better, Worse, Or Are They About The Same?
About the same. GM Jarmo Kekalainen wanted to make some changes in the off-season, but the deals weren’t there, especially not for some of the grotesque contracts on the Blue Jackets’ books. The only hope is that the youth – Dubois, Jones, Saad, Jenner, Murray – continue to improve and develop, setting up a strong core for the future once they get out from some bad cap hits.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1. Sergei Bobrovsky. He hasn’t been the same since winning the Vezina in 2013, and he has many more years and dollars remaining on his contract. Columbus needs him to regain his old form, and if you’re watching the World Cup of Hockey, Bob has been confident and solid for the Russians.
2. Brandon Saad. An interesting first year in Columbus saw their leading goal scorer and point-getter spending some time on the fourth line. With a season under his belt, Saad should be much more comfortable in Year Two.
3. Pierre-Luc Dubois. Their top pick will definitely get his nine games of NHL action once the regular season begins and it will be interesting to see if he forces the Blue Jackets to keep him beyond that, thus burning a year on his entry-level deal. The 6-2, 201 lbs. forward is coming a 42-57-99 year in the QMJHL.
4. Zach Werenski. The University of Michigan product signed in March and was a vital piece of the AHL Lake Erie blue line (5 goals, 14 points) en route to the Calder Cup title. It will be important for the Blue Jackets if he can win a spot in their back out of training camp.
5. Nick Foligno. A huge contract year results in a huge extension for the Blue Jackets captain. But last season saw his offense plummet from 31 goals to 12 and 73 points to 37. That contract runs through the 2020-21 season. Will he find his offensive touch again?
Mascot Hijinks Video Break
We will never forget you, Boomer.
Can We Trust Them At Even Strength?
Scoring at 5-on-5 wasn’t a big issue for the Blue Jackets in 2015-16. Their 150 EVG were eighth-best in the NHL last season, with Saad (25), Cam Atkinson (21) and Booner Jenner (21) leading the way. Goals against at EV, however, were a problem with Columbus allowing 161, good for fourth-worst in the league.
Can We Trust Them On Special Teams?
Still no. The power play (17.3 percent) and penalty kill (81 percent) both finished in the bottom half of the NHL last season.
Columbus scored only 43 goals with the extra man last season with Scott Hartnell (10) and Jenner (9) leading the team. A full season of Seth Jones should provide some assistance to Jack Johnson and Ryan Murray to help provide from power play help from the back.
The Blue Jackets hired Brad Shaw from St. Louis in the off-season to spruce up the penalty kill, which was middle of the road kill rate-wise, but also wasn’t a threat to opponents offensively, scoring just three times in 2015-16.
Can We Trust Their Goaltending?
Not yet. Since he won the 2013 Vezina Trophy, Sergei Bobrovsky has dealt with a bad groin, a factor in his decline. His even strength save percentage has dipped every season since 2013 (.940, .932, .925, .915, per Corsica Hockey). Joonas Korpisalo provided adequate relief when Bob was out injured, posting a .934 ESSV in 30 starts.
Player Mostly Likely To Be In Vegas Next Season
Jack Johnson. George McPhee is willing to gamble that taking Johnson with a year left on his contract would be a carrot to entice better play out of the D-man, yes?
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scorching hot)
4. Kekalainen was just given an extension earlier this month, so barring a complete and utter collapse, he’s safe, which should mean Tortorella is probably safe at least through this season. The results and future outlook is something that will play a role the decision to retain him beyond 2016-17.
Everyone in the Metro appears to have improved in the summer, while the Blue Jackets’ hands were tied by their salary cap situation. There are some nice young pieces you can build a solid core around, but until ugly cap hits are shed Columbus won’t be able to make any noise in the East.
2016-17 Season Preview
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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter! Follow @Sean_Leahy