Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. And use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
Few teams overhauled their roster before free agency opened the way the Blue Jackets did. Columbus pounced on the Philadelphia Flyers' unexpected talent sale and scooped up Jeff Carter just before the Entry Draft kicked off and then beat the rest of the league to James Wisniewski by acquiring his rights from Montreal.
The pair adds instant punch to one of the NHL's lowest-scoring teams from last season and added some veteran pedigree to help take the load off Rick Nash's shoulders.
The pressure's on as the team enters its tenth season and for a team that's never won a playoff game, you can bet that General Manager Scott Howson expects immediate results after spending significant coin and precious future assets.
Prospect Report: The man to watch in the Jackets system is 2010 fourth-overall pick Ryan Johansen. His promise and talent is part of the reason the Jackets didn't flinch when they gave up the sixth overall pick in the Carter trade. Johansen put up 40 goals in 63 games last year in Portland and was named to the World Junior Tournament All-Star Team.
Others to keep an eye on include American blueliner John Moore, who may be ready to snatch the roster spot opened up by the team's decision to let Anton Stralman walk. The team also did well to get a first-round talent in the second round of the 2011 draft by grabbing two-way scoring threat Boone Jenner.
Breakout Player to Watch: With over 200 career NHL games under his belt, it could be the time for Derrick Brassard to take it up a notch. The 2006 first-rounder has been hit hard by injuries since entering the league and he had a solid campaign last year with 47 points in 74 games. A full season could see him reach the 60-point mark.
At 26, Grant Clitsome has certainly been a late-bloomer. His 19 points in 31 games last season could see him get more power play time.
Marquee Match-Up: Oct. 22 at Ottawa - A New 'Future.' The Blue Jackets have historically had mixed luck with their top prospects. While they hit a home run with Rick Nash, several high picks have missed expectations - including Nikolay Zherdev, Gilbert Brule and most recently, Nikita Filatov. The Senators took a chance that Filatov just wasn't meant for Columbus, and if he finally sticks in the NHL, he may well want to show the Blue Jackets what they're missing.
Other Dates to Watch: Sep. 20 at Winnipeg - The Blue Jackets become the first team to line up against the new Jets as they kick-off pre-season action at the MTS Centre. Nov. 5 at Philadelphia - Jeff Carter gets a crack at revenge after the Flyers pulled the chute on his career in Philly. Dec. 6 at Montreal - James Wisniewski gets his opportunity to show the Canadiens why the Jackets threw $33 million his way.
Reason to Get Excited: This Blue Jackets have been built with only one thing in mind... goals. The team will hope to victimize opposing teams that are foolish enough to give Nash and Carter space in the offensive zone or fail to respect Wisniewski's point shot.
If any one of Brassard, Vermette or R.J. Umberger can elevate their game to the 60-plus point level, the Jackets could wind up being one of the West's more explosive offensive teams. If they can rack up a few lopsided victories early, it could end up being the difference between the first round of the playoffs and the draft lottery.
Home Hardware: You have to feel bad for Rick Nash. He can be a one-man wrecking crew, but every opposing team knows that and covers him accordingly.
If Carter can draw defenders away from Nash, he could hit an all-time high in goals and capture the Rocket Richard once more. Of course, it could work out the other way around and Jeff Carter could walk away with the trophy. The Jackets would probably be happy either way.
On The Hot Seat: The Jackets will have to sink or swim with Steve Mason. Mason has been average since his phenomenal Calder campaign in 2008-09, posting a save-percentage around the .900 mark and a goals-against-average over 3.00 in each of the past two years.
Mason posted 10 shutouts in his rookie season, but has only blanked the opposition eight times in the past two seasons combined. The team should score more goals this year, but that will be only a small consolation if Mason is anything less than stellar.
It's Your! Call: Is Columbus' 'the future is now' strategy the best course of action for a historically under-achieving franchise?
Columbus is one of two existing NHL clubs to never have won a playoff game. The Atlanta Thrashers were in the same boat, but a fresh start in Winnipeg means the club can forget about that for the time being and focus on building a new legacy as a new team.
While every franchise experiences post-expansion growing pains, the Jackets are now entering their second decade in the league and continue to be a bottom-10 team in the league.
At what point does the team's philosophy have to change in order to right the ship?
The team spent a lot of cash this summer to try to keep up in the Western Conference, but in addition to that, they also gave up a very good draft pick that could have brightened the future in the event that the team's fortunes don't change.
While none of Sean Couturier, Dougie Hamilton or Ryan Murphy are guaranteed to sell extra seats in the Ohio Capital, another top prospect would have been a nice safety net for the organization's future if 2011-12 brings no improvement in the standings.
But this team has gone that route for its entire existence with very little to show for it. So, is Columbus' 'the future is now' strategy the best course of action for a historically under-achieving franchise?