Columbus Blue Jackets 2008 Offseason Report
Here we have a franchise that has had little to be proud of since debuting in the 2000-2001 NHL season. In the many years following the Jackets have never tallied over 74 points in a season and have yet to prove that hockey belongs in Ohio. The playoffs have been a mirage as the team has never really even teased the fans that they would play in April. Last season, Columbus showed that time is running out and moves needed to be made.
Columbus was willing to change as they were the busiest team during the offseason.
Coach Ken Hitchcock loves to play a defensive style game which explains the Jackets being the third worst goal scoring team last year. Actually, there were only two players who scored more than 20 goals last season for Columbus, Rick Nash and now traded Nikolai Zherdev. It is hard to score goals when three of your four lines are all “checking” players lead by Mike Peca.
The defensemen were nothing spectacular last season and now with Ron Hainsey leaving, there are big shoes to fill. This enormous loss puts incredible pressure on Rotislav Klesla to hold his own and for the team to make big acquisitions. Now more than ever, help is needed to bolster the defence to stand any chance in the tough Central division.
Probably the one and only positive thing to come out of last season was the play of goalie Pascal Leclaire who finished with a 24-17-9 record. The 25 year old was even more impressive with his nine shutouts during the team’s dreadful year.
Thank goodness for Leclaire and the hardcore fans of Columbus, the Jackets spent a little money on the free agent market this offseason
It all began with the acquisition of Ohio born R.J. Umberger who singed long term with Columbus. The pressure will very high on him to perform and take a load of Nash’s back to score goals, especially after his over achievement in the playoffs. Columbus also traded top prospect Gilbert Brule to Edmonton for the much more gritty Raffi Torres who has a scoring touch. A move that I find strange but Columbus was not willing to wait for the production of Brule with all the other prospects in the system. To add more offensive threat, Kristian Huselius signed a four year contract and he should take some pressure of Nash.
With Hainsey leaving to Atlanta for some big bucks, a huge hole needed to be filled. Columbus began by signing 6’ 5’’ journeyman Mike Commodore to a five year deal and also getting involved in crucial deal with the New York Rangers. To improve the defence the Blue Jackets split ways with proven scorer Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche to gain the defensive core of Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman.
The seriousness of this offseason also lead to coach Hitchcock signing to a three year deal to hopefully change the team’s ability to finally move forward.
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Notable top players staying for the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Rick Nash, Mike Peca, Pascal Leclaire, Rotislav Klesla, Alexandre Picard
Columbus Blue Jackets - Players added via free agency & trades:
- Raffi Torres, Fedor Tyutin, Christian Backman, Mike Commodore, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger
Columbus Blue Jackets - Players lost to free agency & trades:
Ron Hainsey, Gilbert Brule, Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Fritsche
Columbus Blue Jackets - Unrestricted free agents:
What Columbus has:
- A clean slate to start from. This is a whole new team with players beginning to fill out the check list of the general managers.
- Rick Nash. An amazing player without help. Now that help is slowly coming his way, he can only get better.
- Nikita Filatov. The Blue Jackets got this prize sixth overall in the 08’ draft and he will be something special. Hopefully the franchise develops him correctly so he is not an Ohio flop like Gilbert Brule and many others. Also, the name Jakub Voracek should be heard a lot this season.
What Columbus needs:
- Offensive defenseman. I cannot say how large Hainsey’s departure is and they have yet to find a valuable replacement. Commodore and Tyutin bring size but lack in the scoring presence needed.
- Rich Nash #2. There was a great opportunity to sign one more big time player but Columbus passed on even attempting to sign Markus Naslund or Pavol Demitra.
- R.J. Umberger and Kristian Huselius need to step up. Both players are crucially expected to be 20 goal scorers for the team to have any chance to make the playoffs.
Expectations for the Blue Jackets next year:
- This team may be better on paper than last season but they are in a very hard division with Detroit, Nashville and the improving Blackhawks; which is fatal. I hope and think they will break the 80 point barrier this season and they will definitely not make the playoffs again.
- There are far too many new players under a new system which will take at least two seasons to get comfortable with.
By Kevin Chaves
ProHockey-fans.com Director of Content
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