Fans in the Buckeye State’s Capital City have a lot to look forward to next season with the home town Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena hosting the NHL All-Star Game. However, the lack-luster performance from the team last season has many wondering just how much they have to be excited about. With the NHL Draft and free agency closing in, the right moves now will be key to the teams chances this season.
During the second half of last season and already this off-season the Blue Jackets have started to solidify their base for 2012-2013. After replacing Scott Arniel with Todd Richards, the Jackets showed signs of improvement especially towards the end of the season. This gave GM Scott Howson enough trust in Richards name him the team’s Head Coach for the next two seasons. Richards coached the Minnesota Wild for two seasons, posting above .500 records but failing to make the post season either season. Now the former Hartford Whaler will get a second chance to show what he can do behind an NHL bench. Another big move that should pay dividends in 2012-2013 is the acquisition of Jack Johnson. Rick Nash has been the long-standing face of the team, but with his future with the organization in question, Johnson adds the star power needed to either move on from Nash or take some pressure off the captain.
What does Scott Howson and rest of the Blue Jackets management need to do to bring success to Columbus?
The five Keys to a successful campaign start with figuring out what to do with Rick Nash. Nash has been the guy everybody thinks of when the Blue Jackets are brought up. He appeared to be fully committed to the team through thick and thin, until the trade deadline closed in last season and Nash reportedly asked to be traded. The drama was a big distraction for the team, a distraction that is not needed as the push towards next season starts. Howson needs to figure out whether or not Nash is still committed to the franchise, and if not, how to make the most of his value and improve the team.
The next key is finding the solution between the pipes. After his surprise rookie season, Steve Mason has been unable to recapture the magic and lacked consistency. This past season, veteran Curtis Sanford outplayed Mason, however the 32-year-old is not the long-term answer. So who is? Should the franchise pursue a big name like Roberto Luongo, or go the route the Phoenix Coyotes did by signing Mike Smith and target a solid back up that has shown the ability to be a starter? Given the Jackets situation, pursuing a lesser know goal-tender might be the best option. If Mason and the newcomer battle for the job, they will push each other which just might give the team the consistency in goal they have been seeking.
Another key is effective use of their Draft picks on June 22-23. This year the NHL Draft in Pittsburgh holds a lot of importance for the Jackets future as they will be working with the second overall selection. This could be used in a trade to bring in present help, which may be a good option considering a top-notch prospect would more than likely not be a help right away and patience from the fan base will not last forever. If they decided to keep the pick, their options include Ryan Murray and Mikhail Grigorenko.
Yet another key is making the right moves not long after the Draft on July 1st when free agency opens. With Derek Dorsett, Ryan Russell, and Derek MacKenzie resigned, Scott Howson has to decide who else to resign and who to let walk. On top of that, who should the Jackets pursue on the market? If Nash departs, then an offensive replacement will be needed. With Johnson and Wisniewski on the back-end, what support needs to be added or replaced on the blue line? Throw in the search for a net minder and you have an important and busy free agency for Columbus.
The final key to a successful campaign in 2012-2013 is getting everybody on board. Jeff Carter was clearly not on board last season and eventually had to be traded away to the Los Angeles Kings. With Nash requesting a trade, he could become a serious distraction if he sticks around. Howson and the management team in Columbus need to make sure their additions and returnees are committed to the Blue Jackets whether the team is successful early on or not.
With only one playoff appearance in team history, and coming off one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets need a solid season in 2012-2013. The five keys listed above will make the difference and decide whether or not they can accomplish that feat.
Andrew is Blue Jackets correspondent and an up and coming writer planning on a long career in the hockey world. His eventual goal is to be a play by play broadcaster.