This 31-part series chronicles why each team is going to be competitive in the 2018-19 NHL season. Progressing alphabetically, three teams will be featured weekly during the off-season. A compendium 31-part series will be published by Hockey Troll (@HockeyTrollin) on www.BeerLeagueTalk.com on why your team is trash in the 2018-19 NHL season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2017-18 Regular Season: 97 Points (7th in East)
2017-18 Playoffs: Lost in first round to Washington (2-4)
Since entering the league as an expansion team in 2000, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been a hot mess. They have only qualified for the playoffs four times, during which they have never even won a playoff series. The silver lining is that they have made it to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons (2016-2018). Most recently it looked like the playoff curse would be broken after winning both games on the road in Washington, but somehow the Blue Jackets managed to drop four straight games. While there is definitely some work (and luck) needed to improve on the past two years’ worth of regular season success, one should expect the Blue Jackets to be competitive in 2018-2019.
The greatest strength for the Blue Jackets is their overabundance of young players entering their prime. They have massive upside at centre, with Wennberg (23), Dubois (20) and Nash (29), who are all capable of carrying the load. Riley Nash, who was pressed onto the top line in Boston when Bergeron was injured last season, signed a team-friendly 3 year deal at 2.75m AAV. He was also a pivotal penalty killer for the Bruins (finishing second in short-handed ice time), a role he will most certainly undertake on the Blue Jackets. Their potential top-6 wingers are equally as impressive: Anderson (24), Bjorkstrand (23), Atkinson (29), Milano (22) and Jenner (25) are all viable scoring options. This doesn’t even include their most dynamic playmaker, Panarin (26), who paced the rest of the team with 82 points.
Russian spies are infiltrating the NHL
Within the past month, reports had surfaced that Panarin is refusing to sign a long-term contract extension, which would make him an UFA in 2019-20. This puts the Jackets in a real bind, as it is going to be difficult to make a deep playoff run without him. If they do not re-sign him, he has indicated he will definitely leave to play in a more exciting market. Conversely, the only way any team would give up significant assets for Panarin (which he is absolutely worth) is if he guarantees to re-sign with them. If only the Jackets could lock him into a 3 or 4-year deal, it would be a win-win (sort of). At the very least it would bide some time for Jackets’ management to convince him to stay, all while taking advantage of the prime years of the rest of the roster.
What’s there not to like about Ohio?
The defense and goaltending of the Jackets are the real deal. Bobrovsky needs no introduction, he is the single most important reason why this team has made the playoffs in consecutive seasons. The defensive core is above average, led by their two stars Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. The rest of their noteworthy defensemen include David Savard, Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray. While none of these guys are household names like Jones and Werenski, they are serviceable role players. Savard is not going dazzle anyone with his offensive ability, but finished in the top 10% among defensemen in blocked shots (143). Murray has never lived up to the hype of a number two overall draft selection, but can be buried on the third pair. Nutivaara is the most intriguing of the remaining defensemen. In limited action last season, he was the most reliable puck-moving defensemen outside of their top pair. The Blue Jackets have all the tools for success in 2018-2019, they just need a bounce-back season from some of their forwards (Wennberg, Jenner and Atkinson) coupled with a developmental leap from their young players entering their prime (Milano, Anderson and Nutivaara). If that is too much to ask, there’s always relying on Bob posting a sub-2.20 GAA and carrying them back to the playoffs.
While you’re here, check out our Chel-A-Thon 2018 where we raise money for Skate For The 22, helping to increase awareness for military veteran suicide.