Not too much changed this year opposed to last as Rick Nash led the team in scoring for a third straight year. The captain seemed a step off as he battled both injuries and inconsistency, finishing the season with 67 points– his lowest totals since the 2006-2007 season. His frequent linemates Kristian Huselius and Antoine Vermette both finished two and four points behind him respectively, making them consistent fantasy leeches.
Sophomores Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard battled through a brutal season but appear to have taken a step forward in their development, increasing their points totals. Voracek especially displayed his goal scoring prowess by posting 15 points in 14 March games. Forward RJ Umberger also posted career highs in points, in a season where the system of Ken Hitchcock supposedly held the Blue Jacket offensive players back.
The future looks to be better with star offensive forward Nikita Filatov expected to return to the NHL and the team now that Hitchcock left the organization. Derek Dorsett appears to be a team leader while veterans Samuel Pahlsson, Chris Clark and Jared Boll fill out the lineup adequately.
What was a strength the season before became a glaring weakness.
Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda once represented an excellent shutdown pairing but Commodore would find himself riding the pine and only lacing them up for 57 games. With Commodore a constant scratch and a season-ending injury to Rostislav Klesla, players like Mathieu Roy, Grant Clitsome, Milan Jurcina and Marc Methot saw extended playing time.
Anton Stralman and Fedor Tyutin both broke the 30 point plateau but with heavy margins in the minus category. Both young offensive defensemen proved lethal on the powerplay, meshing well with the current forward corps. If the young forwards continue to improve and Nash can stay healthy, both of these defensemen should break 40 points next season.
Under the radar defenseman Kris Russell improved his points totals for the third straight season, nearly doubling his career goals. Management will surely look for him to continue chipping in on the offensive side as the Columbus blue line could use added stability.
The goaltending situation lives and dies by the hands of one man, Steve Mason.
Almost two years ago, GM Scott Howson traded former standout goalie Pascal Leclaire for Vermette ensuring Mason would be the goalie of the future following his Vezina nomination and Calder Trophy. Mason looked like a solid candidate to play for Team Canada in the Olympics and continue a storybook start to his career.
Unfortunately, Mason played victim to the sophomore slump and never really recovered. His SV% dropped a mild 15 points but his GAA skyrocketted from 2.29 to 3.05. At times he showed signs of brilliance, as he posted five shutouts. He also allowed four or more goals in 20 of his 55 games between the pipes. I repeat… he let in four or more goals in 20 out of 55 games, 37 percent of the time. If you owned him, you did not do well in most goaltending categories.
The kid is on my shortlist to rebound this season, he simply holds too high of a pedigree for the talent to have evaporated. If he cannot regain form, expect to see Mathieu Garon steal his playing time once again. Garon expected to play around 20 games as a backup but wound up playing 35 due to Mason’s inconsistency.
Under no circumstances would I waste a high pick on him unless the defense improves drastically, which leads us to our next point of discussion.
On the Bench:
Who will be the next coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets?
Howson fired Hitchcock on February 3rd, and hired Claude Noel to take over the clipboard and run practices for the rest of the season. At first, Mason improved with the coaching change, earning the hard hat and putting himself back on the fantasy radar. Then Nash went down and so did the majority of the team as they essentially decided to regroup next season.
Noel remains a candidate to return. Howson has interviewed Kevin Dineen of the Portland Pirates (AHL), Scott Arniel of the Manitoba Moose (AHL) and Guy Boucher of the Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL). Whoever gets chosen takes the honors of coaching a mediocre team with potential to squeeze into the playoffs. That same coach should push Howson to retooling the blue line and improving them defensively in front of Mason.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009-2010 season would be classified as lost but at least they will draft 4th overall for their troubles. At that point a top three defenseman like Cam Fowler, Eric Gudbranson or Brandon Gormley will be available to help restock the cupboard.
|Number 30||Edmonton Oilers|
|Number 29||Columbus Blue Jackets|