It's difficult to imagine the 2011-12 season having gone any worse for Columbus than it actually did.
The team elevated the hopes of its fan-base heading into last year with the high-profile acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. Carter was supposed to finally provide Rick Nash with the dynamic partner he'd been missing since the early days on Nikolay Zherdev and Wisniewski was expected to build on (or at least match) his 51-point output from 2010-11.
Well, Wisniewski fell back to 27 points, Carter's disgruntled tenure in Columbus ended just prior to the deadline and mid-way through the season it became apparent that Nash's time in the Ohio Capital was also just about up.
The team posted a league-worst 65 points and - to make matters worse - even lost the Draft Lottery, seeing the Oilers land the first overall pick for a third straight year.
So things can only get better from here, right?
The Blue Jackets thought so highly of Ryan Murray that they reportedly refused the Islanders' entire draft class in exchange for him. Murray has proven abilities at both ends, can compete against top talent and is a proven leader. This spring he became the second-youngest player to ever represent Canada at the IIHF World Hockey Championship (behind Paul Kariya). Unfortunately for Columbus, his NHL debut has been pushed back to the 2013-14 season at the earliest, as he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury playing junior hockey in late November.
The Jackets also have power forward-potential in 2011 second-rounder Boone Jenner and got an NHL-ready defender from the Rangers in Tim Erixon (who already has 18 NHL games to its credit) as part of the return for Nash.
The best news for the future in Columbus is the fact that the team already has three first-round picks in the 2013 Draft. If the first season of the post-Nash era is a disaster for the Jackets, the team will at least be able to stock up on more talent on Draft Day.
Though without a true sniper, the Jackets do have a lot of NHL talent throughout the roster. The likes of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno could band together with younger forwards Ryan Johansen and Derick Brassard to form a forward group that can grow together and the team's back end, led by Wisniewski and Jack Johnson (acquired in the Carter deal) could be better than last year, although dealing Marc Methot is bound to hurt. The team also upgraded its goaltending with young Flyers' keeper Sergei Bobrovsky.
There's a lot of solid pieces that came the other way in the Nash deal, but did they get enough for one of the league's most talented scorers? The drama of Nash's pending exit loomed large over last season, but if Dubinsky, Anisimov and Erixon fail to make a difference this season, will Scott Howson's inability to land a marquee player for Nash continue to haunt this troubled franchise?
A look at where Blue Jackets players went during the lockout:
Artem Anisimov (Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, KHL), Cam Atkinson (Springfield, AHL), Sergei Bobrovsky (SKA St. Petersburg, KHL), Derick Brassard (EC Red Bull, Austria), Tim Erixon (Springfield, AHL), Ryan Johansen (Springfield, AHL), John Moore (Springfield, AHL), Nikita Nikitin (Avangard Omsk, KHL), Vaclav Prospal (HC Ceske Budejovice, Czech League), Fedor Tyutin (Atlant Mytishchi, KHL)