Are the Blue Jackets Better Off Without Rick Nash?


Rick Nash Blue Jackets
Rick Nash (Jeanine Leech/Icon SMI)

The Blue Jackets’ captain has left for the bright lights of Broadway. This is a good thing.

Gone is Rick Nash.  Gone are his 30 goals and his team-leading 59 points.  Blue Jackets fans hope he’ll take the Jackets scoring woes with him.

Columbus had the third worse offense in the league with 202 goals scored.  Only the Minnesota Wild and Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings had fewer, the latter with Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick to keep pucks out of the net. Florida, with 203, somehow won the Southeast division.  Altogether, though, of the sixteen playoff teams, twelve had at least 220 goals scored.

Looking at goal differential, the difference between goals scored and goals allowed, the Blue Jackets were dead last. The team allowed 60 more goals than they scored. Only two playoff teams had a negative goal differential – the aforementioned Panthers and their division-rival Washington Capitals. Thirteen of the playoff teams had double-digit positive differentials.

Obviously, the Blue Jackets have plenty of room for improvements, and a long way to go if they hope to make the postseason.   GM Scott Howson has taken steps (however arguably small they may be) to improve their defense and goaltending.  The blueline adds veteran power-play specialist Adrian Aucoin, promising prospect Tim Erixon, and 2012 first-round draft pick Ryan Murray, who is expected to start the season with the big club.   Whether or not Bobrovsky is the answer, he is certainly an improvement in net.  These moves will help cut back on the goals allowed, but has Howson done enough to address their scoring?

Defenseman Fedor Tyutin and forward RJ Umberger (Dave Gainer/THW)

Offense was hard to come by in 2011-12 for Columbus. Nearly 15% of the team’s 202 goals scored came from the stick of #61.  Nash’s goals weren’t the only ones to leave Ohio; 55 of the team’s goals in 2011-12 came from forwards no longer in the lineup – Nash, Jeff Carter, Sami Pahlsson, and Antoine Vermette.  Blue Jackets forwards overall accounted for 160 (79%) of the team’s 202 goals.   In fact, half of that 160 came from just four players – Nash, Vinnie Prospal, Derick Brassard, and R.J. Umberger.  It’s safe to say that opposing team defenses knew precisely which line and which players to key in on.  While there’s certainly no one standout forward on the 2012-13 Blue Jackets, the deeper offensive corps can look to spread out that scoring more and possibly find some opportunities against their opponents’ defensive second-pair.

The Blue Jackets were one of only seven teams to have only two 20-goal scorers.  Only one, R.J. Umberger, is still with the team.   This is okay.   The lack of a superstar shouldn’t concern anyone outside of the marketing department.  Sure, there’s no go-to guy, no ‘face of the franchise,’ but there’s a lot to be said for scoring by committee in today’s NHL.  Six teams went without a 30-goal scorer last season; all of them made the playoffs.

General Manager Scott Howson is happy about his team’s current makeup, saying shortly after the Nash deal:

“We think we have a more balanced, a more versatile group up front and we’ll have to get some goals from some people.  We think we have 6 or 7 guys good for 15 to 25 goals.”  

While Howson’s projections may seem like an optimistic leap, there’s certainly a chance to see as many as six players net 20 in Columbus this year.  Prospal’s done it five times, Dubinsky twice, and Umberger four years running.  Cam Atkinson can be counted on to clear 20 in his first full season.  New acquisitions Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno, given more opportunity and more ice time, also have the potential to hit the mark.

Former Rangers Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky (Bridget Samuels/Flickr)

One more thought.  Though it’s vastly oversimplifying things, the combination of Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov outscored Rick Nash last season, with 70 points to Nash’s 59.  Yes, Nash was the best player in the deal, but Columbus did get back two young, hardworking players who continue to improve and develop, and should be expected to build on their numbers.   Nash may never get back to his benchmark 79-point season from 2008-09.

Columbus has no superstars, but that’s what makes them better. History may very well show us that Scott Howson lost the Rick Nash trade, but he’s improved his club – both in the players he’s acquired and in the message to the guys in the dressing room, that there’s no savior to fall back on anymore.

They’re no longer a team waiting for one guy to take charge and lead the brigade.  In fact, they’re more of a team.

Each player in that dressing room has something to prove, and the Jackets will be working hard to show that they truly are better off without Rick Nash.