The Columbus Blue Jackets were one of the best feel-good stories of the lockout-shortened season, getting red hot midway through the season and roaring back to just fall short of the playoffs. Leading the way was Philadelphia Flyers’ castaway Sergei Bobrovsky, who for his efforts captured the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie.
While it was Bobrovsky holding down the fort, it was the trade that the Jackets made at the deadline that legitimized their contender status, acquiring superstar winger Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers.
The cost? Center Derrick Brassard, defenseman John Moore, tough-guy winger Derek Dorsett and a sixth round pick in 2014. A big haul, but not unexpected when it comes to what it takes to acquire someone of Gaborik’s status.
After falling short of the playoffs, knowing they were about to head into uncharted waters, and joining the Eastern Conference in the offseason as a part of the league’s realignment, the Jackets decided not to wait around and hope to hit lighting in the bottle two years in a row. Columbus once again proved that they were for real when they signed former Boston Bruins‘ winger, and one of the top available free agents, Nathan Horton to a seven year deal.
The Blue Jackets seemed poised to hit the East with a bang, but will their success follow them into their new Conference? Outside of Gaborik and Horton, who is sidelined due to surgery on his shoulder, the Blue Jackets don’t have any players that scream ‘difference makers’. With both their stars having a history of catching the injury bug, would this team be able to withstand the loss if both players were to go down?
Is this team built to do what they did two years in a row? They seem built for the future, as they were able to acquire three solid players in a very deep first round of the 2013 NHL Draft, but all are at least two years from making an impact. Jack Johnson certainly has it in him to be an elite top-four defenseman, but does he have what it takes to lead an entire blue-line group?
And then there is Bobrovsky, who hasn’t been able to put two consecutive successful seasons in row together (in fairness, has only played in the NHL for three years). For a goalie as unproven as The ‘Bob’, so much faith as been put into the young goaltender, almost an unfair investment at this point.
The team has the right pieces, I didn’t even mention Ryan Murray, who is an up-and-coming stud of a defenseman, who lost a whole season of development last year to an injury. He made the team this season, and showed some flashes in their season opener. However, this is a player who hasn’t played a full season in two years, and has never played a game at the professional level.
This team just doesn’t necessarily scream “I’m a force to be reckoned with,” especially in the Metropolitan Division, which has seen a member of the division represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final five times since the lockout.
This season could be a step back in terms of immediate success, but for the long term this team is still one to watch.