If there is a team in professional sports that had more bad luck than the Blue Jackets this season, please tell me, because this team felt the wrath of the hockey gods more than anyone. The Blue Jackets lead the league in man games lost due to injury with over 500, with injuries occurring to key players such as Sergei Bobrovsky, Brandon Dubinsky, and Ryan Murray. Despite a strong performance late in the season, the team finished 5th in the Metro Division and missed the playoffs.
Columbus made a big splash in the offseason, acquiring Brandon Saad and 2 prospects from Chicago in exchange for Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov, Corey Tropp, and Jeremy Morin. When I first head about this trade, I couldn’t believe it, and I know I wasn’t the only one. After hearing the full story, it’s understandable why Chicago chose to trade Saad, as he was later signed to a 6 year deal with an AAV of $6m, obviously out of Chicago’s price range.
Key Additions: C Gregory Campbell, LW Brandon Saad, LD Zachary Werenski, LD Dean Kukan, RD Michael Paliotta
Key Subtractions: C Artem Anisimov, C Mark Letestu, C Brian Gibbons, RW Marko Dano, RW Corey Tropp, RW Jack Skille, RW Jeremy Morin
Many of the players I have listed under “Key Subtractions” likely wouldn’t be there if there hadn’t been so many injuries on this team, but I have listed them due to the number of games they have played.
The key exchange here is Artem Anisimov being swapped for Brandon Saad, who is a better player albeit being a winger, rather than a center. Mark Letestu is replaced on the 4th line by Gregory Campbell, I don’t like this swap for Columbus.
I don’t believe that $1.5m is well spent on a player whose CA60 +/- bar is nonexistent.
Columbus also sent promising two-way forward Mark Dano to Chicago in the Saad deal, but they did get back a promising young defender in Michael Paliotta, who is right-handed and could be NHL ready soon.
The Blue Jackets also added young defencemen Zachary Werenski and Dean Kukan, through the draft and free agency respectively. They will help a position of need down the road.
Projected Lines (All Players Healthy):
Brandon Saad – Ryan Johansen – Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner – Brandon Dubinsky – Cam Atkinson
Scott Hartnell – Alexander Wennberg – Oliver Bjorkstrand
Matt Calvert – Gregory Campbell – David Clarkson
Rene Bourque – Jared Boll
Jack Johnson – David Savard
Ryan Murray – Dalton Prout
Fedor Tyutin – Kevin Connauton
Roster Contenders: C Michael Chaput, C William Karlsson, LW Kerby Rychel, RW Josh Anderson, LD Justin Falk, LD Dean Kukan, RD Michael Paliotta, G Anton Forsberg
Columbus has a solid forward group, led by a very good top 6. The most interesting part of this team is definitely the third line. Oliver Bjorkstrand could start the season in the AHL, Columbus has the depth to do that, but I have him on the projected roster. This third line of Hartnell, Wennberg, and Bjorkstrand could be spectacular. On the 4th line, Campbell is definitely a weakness, and I could see one of Chaput or Karlsson forcing their way into the lineup.
The defense you see here could be quite different by the end of the season. I could see Kukan and Paliotta both forcing their way into this defense, which needs some improvement. As I mentioned earlier, Columbus added several top defensive prospects, but no immediate help. Johnson, Savard, and Prout are all in roles they are not suited for, and Ryan Murray’s first few seasons after being drafted have been plagued by injury. It is unlikely that Kukan and Paliotta take on top 4 roles this season, but they create competition for depth spots.
In goal, Bobrovsky and McElhinney are a reliable tandem, with Forsberg as the #3 goalie. There is solid defensive depth, but more depth on the wings wouldn’t hurt.
I expect that Columbus will compete for a playoff spot this season if they can stay healthy. With a questionable defense, they especially need Ryan Murray to start moving in a positive direction. That will have a big impact on whether or not this team makes the playoffs.