The Hawks weren’t the only team that had a season worth talking about. The Columbus Blue Jackets put together a season that no one saw coming. Sure, they didn’t make the playoffs, but they went from being a team that was viewed as an easy 2 points and stat padding to an opponent you had to respect. The change didn’t come from just one person, though an argument could be made for the goaltender, but rather the organization as a whole. A lot of people were excited about the hiring of GM Jarmo Kekalainen. He’s a man well known for his superior drafting abilities, no matter the round and pick. During this off season, he had to shell out some money for Bobrovsky which left him with a little over 2 million to spend on four players that still need to be signed. The big name in that bunch is team point leader Vinny Prospal. The Blue Jackets have a new division that isn’t much better than the Central division from which they came. They will need a complete team effort night in and night out if they want to continue to build off their success from 2013.
Officer Bob – Sergei Bobrovksy (5.625 mill): I’m going to apologize for the officer Bobrovsky reference. I don’t need to give hockey fans more reason to cringe at national sports media coverage of hockey. Bob won the Vezina in a tightly contested field and brought the Blue Jackets nearly to the playoffs. After some threats to go play in the KHL, he signed with Columbus for 5.6 million. His stats were solid, which is even more impressive considering the meager offense the team in front of him could muster. His .932 save percentage on top of his 2.00 goals against average was what made management get the deal done. The new GM knows that sometimes it’s necessary to spend some money for the team, and more importantly for the fans. This signing was an imperative move to show that the organization cared about the fan favorite. Bob has shown he has the ability to stand on his head night in and night out in a tough division, and he will surely need to do so again next season.
The Lover Of Penguins – Nathan Horton (5.3 mill): Nathan Horton was viewed as a key depth player in Boston, but thanks to a baby penguin, he will be taking on a larger role with Columbus. He had 22 points in 43 games with Boston and with added ice time he should be able to continue to pose a solid offensive threat. The concern with Horton will be his shoulder subluxation. It’s a problem that I know all too well. It’s a temporary, partial dislocation of the shoulder that can completely render your arm useless for a short amount of time. After a few minutes, you regain motion, but it will be a painful, stiff mess for up to several weeks after an incident. Though he has had surgery in the off-season, that is only a temporary fix until he dislocates it again. The acquisition of Horton was a great move by Kekalainen, and the Blue Jackets should see his contributions on the ice from the first puck drop of the season.
The Big Name – Marian Gaborik (6.3 mill): Gaborik only played in 12 games last season for Columbus, but he still ended up with 8 points in that short time frame. I can understand people being unimpressed with those numbers considering the price tag that came along with him. The issue with Gaborik is that he didn’t have any time to build up chemistry with his new team. That makes those 8 points in 12 games look a lot more impressive. He has a chance to play the big minutes and be the big star without being in the big city with every reporter hounding him. I’m hoping to see a very dominant Gaborik next season.
The Prognosis: Fair. I believe Columbus will be in a better position than the Capitals heading into the Metro Division. They came from a division housing some top end opponents that all play very different styles of hockey. If Bob can come close to matching his stats from the previous season, and if the fresh looking offense can manage to be only marginally better than last year, then they should be in the playoff race once again.