The Columbus Blue Jackets are a confident team.
Who could blame them? They ended their season on a tear, finishing 16-4-1 in their last 21 games. They got a glimpse of what their future can look like. It’s no wonder most who cover hockey have the Blue Jackets as a team who can make the playoffs next season after missing them this season.
As a result, there are many interesting storylines to follow this offseason. If the Blue Jackets want to continue the momentum they started this past March, they’ll need to make some tough decisions this summer.
We are going to look at the top storylines for the Blue Jackets that will be worth monitoring this offseason. The way that these unfold will go a long way in determining the success they will enjoy in 2015-2016.
Impending Free Agents
There are 3 names of note that should be closely monitored. The first of which is 4th line center Mark Letestu. Letestu is an unrestricted free agent. There have been some talks, but not as much as you’d like to hear. When healthy, Letestu was a solid contributor, providing stability on the Blue Jackets Bottom 6. The question here will be what is the team willing to offer? It’s no guarantee that he’ll be back. Remember Derek MacKenzie was in a similar spot. Florida offered a better contract, and he was gone.
Backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney is also an unrestricted free agent. After a slow start to the season, he played well while Bobrovsky was injured. Will the team resign him, or go in a different direction? It will be interesting to watch. He was bad for stretches, and brilliant for stretches. Was he bad because of all the injuries, or is he inconsistent?
Matt Calvert will also be worth monitoring. Unlike Letestu and McElhinney, he is a restricted free agent. He had some bad luck dealing with injuries all season. When he was in, you could see his impact. He brings an energy to the game that helps fire up his teammates. He should be easier to sign. But it’ll still be interesting to see how this all plays out.
The Blue Jackets would love it if this story could work out in their favor. Reilly was taken by the Blue Jackets in the 4th round of the 2011 draft. His college team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, had a nice season, but lost in the NCAA tournament.
Why is he worth monitoring? Because he would give a big jolt to the Blue Jackets on their blue line. Experts have stated had Reilly been draft eligible this season, he’d be a mid 1st round pick. His point totals at Minnesota have increased every season. He also finished in the Top 10 for the Hobey Baker Award, given to college hockey’s top player.
The fact that Reilly hasn’t signed yet could mean 2 things. Either he wants to go back to Minnesota for his senior season. Or he wants to test free agency. June 1st will be an important day. That’s the day Reilly has until to sign with the Blue Jackets, or he becomes an unrestricted free agent. It wouldn’t shock me if his intention was to sign with the Minnesota Wild.
Blue Jackets Changes
This can be viewed in 2 parts. The 1st part is the upcoming draft, in which they’ll have the 8th overall selection. The 2nd part is roster decisions, as there will be many tough decisions made this offseason.
Not only do the Blue Jackets have the 8th pick, they’ll be the 1st team to have made 6 selections in this draft, assuming no trades. They have 3 2nd round picks, and 2 3rd round picks on top of picking 8th. Not bad for a team that is playoff caliber now.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen is known for always taking the best available approach in the draft, no matter the position. With 6 picks like this, they have the chance to bolster both the NHL roster and their minor league system. The Blue Jackets could be a scary good team by the time training camp opens.
The other part to this is their current roster. There is an excess of forwards on the team. It is a good problem to have. Those fighting for spots have to earn it, knowing that the depth is being bolstered in the AHL. As a result of this excess, the possibility exists of trades being made to address other needs, such as defense. Which players stay? Which players go? That will be a major storyline this offseason.
Although the Blue Jackets are out of the playoffs, there is no shortage of storylines to be found here. How the team handles this will go a long way in determining how next season and beyond goes. If the team gets off to another slow start, questions will be asked. This team comes in with expectations now. How will they handle them? The fun for this team is just beginning.