Flames-Blue Jackets Preview
Twelve seasons in the Western Conference produced one playoff berth - and no postseason victories - for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets were one of the hottest teams down the stretch to close last season and are hoping a shift to the East will pay dividends.
Columbus plays as an Eastern Conference team for the first time Friday night at home against the Calgary Flames.
The Blue Jackets never quite fit in the West, as they were often forced to make long flights for games against teams in the Pacific time zone. Now they are in the brand-new Metropolitan Division as part of an Eastern Conference that is comprised solely of teams in the Eastern time zone.
"This going to the East in the new divisional concept, it's going to be a difficult time for any of these teams to make the playoffs,'' Blue Jackets director of hockey operations John Davidson said.
Columbus narrowly missed making the playoffs in its last season in the West despite closing on a 19-5-3 surge after March 3 for the NHL's second-best record in that span behind Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets finished with a 24-17-7 mark and 55 points - which would have tied them for eighth place in the East and would have been within two points of four other teams.
"We expect nothing short of being in the playoffs this year,'' forward R.J. Umberger said. "That's our goal.''
The Blue Jackets will celebrate the start of the new season by having Ohio native Jack Nicklaus take part in the ceremonial puck drop.
Columbus probably wishes it would debut a healthy Nathan Horton instead of welcoming the greatest golfer in history. Horton signed a seven-year, $37.1-million deal this offseason, but the former Boston star won't be available until December due to shoulder surgery.
The Blue Jackets will have Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, who was fifth in the NHL with a 2.00 goals-against average a season ago as he provided stability for a franchise that floundered due to the struggles of former Columbus goalie Steve Mason.
"Bob is Bob,'' coach Todd Richards said. "I have no doubt he can do it again."
Columbus went 5-0-2 over the previous two seasons against Calgary behind eight points from Vinny Prospal, who led the Blue Jackets with 30 a season ago but is no longer with the club.
Marian Gaborik, acquired April 3 from the Rangers, will begin his first full season with Columbus as he tries to help improve an offense that finished 25th in goals last campaign.
The Flames finished with the NHL's fifth-worst record last season, and opened 2013-14 by blowing a three-goal lead in a 5-4 shootout loss at Washington on Thursday.
Coach Bob Hartley said there was "no excuse" for the defeat.
"Very happy with the effort, obviously disappointed with the result," Hartley said. "I told the boys, 'It's one thing to play in the NHL, and there's a different way to win in the NHL.'"
The Flames are expected to again be without Michael Cammalleri, out with a hand injury.