Checking in on the Columbus Blue JacketsJuly 23, 2014, by
Last year: 43-32-7, fourth in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Penguins in the first round.
Key additions: Scott Hartnell, Brian Gibbons
Key subtractions: R.J. Umberger, Jack Skille, Derek MacKenzie, Blake Comeau, Nikita Nikitin
Franchise direction: The Jackets are happy as clams with the way things are going after they made a surprise postseason appearance and gave Pittsburgh all it could handle in the first round of the playoffs. Columbus had to let go of a few spare parts to provide flexibility and allow the team to lock up key long-term pillars like Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky, but the team has quality reinforcements.
Salary cap: Columbus has over $14 million worth of breathing room right now, more than enough to accommodate the raise the Jackets owe Johansen. They’ll need a good chunk of that room to secure RFAs Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson as well as UFAs Mark Letestu and Nick Foligno next summer, but cap room really isn’t much of an issue for this franchise.
Prospect pipeline: The bounty from last year’s first-round bonanza – Alex Wennberg, Kerby Rychel and Marko Dano – is looking fantastic for Columbus. Goalie Oscar Dansk, Defenseman Dillon Heatherington and forward Oliver Bjorkstrand also have bright futures. D Ryan Murray missed much of his rookie year with a shoulder injury, but he’s a star in the making. Former Ranger prospect Tim Erixon could be in a make or break year.
Projection: The Jackets are a young team on the rise, but this is a classic example of an overachieving team likely to take a step back. The long-term forecast for Columbus looks terrific and they’ll probably be in the playoff hunt again, but expecting the Blue Jackets to match or exceed last season’s result might be unreasonable.