The Blue Jackets appeared to be a team on the rise when they made the playoffs for the first time in franchise history in 2009, but they’ve regressed mightily in the two seasons since. Not even a coaching change prior to last season could get Columbus back on track.
This year, they’re hoping an infusion of talent will yield better results, as they made an aggressive move to land talented center Jeff Carter in a trade with Philadelphia just before the draft, then signed free-agent defenseman James Wisniewski to a huge deal.
With just one playoff appearance in 10 seasons, the honeymoon is over in Columbus, and the Blue Jackets need to find a way to start winning consistently.
2010-11 record: 34-35-13, 81 points (5th Central Division; 13th Western Conference; did not qualify for postseason)
Key additions: F Jeff Carter (trade with Philadelphia); D James Wisniewski (free agent); D Radek Martinek (free agent); F Vaclav Prospal (free agent); F Cody Bass (free agent); F Ryan Russell (trade with Montreal); G Curtis Sanford (free agent); D Aaron Johnson (free agent); F Alexandre Giroux (free agent); F Dane Byers (free agent); F Martin St. Pierre (free agent)
Key losses: D Jan Hejda (signed with Colorado); F Jakub Voracek (trade with Philadelphia); F Scottie Upshall (signed with Florida); F Nikita Filatov (trade with Ottawa); D Sami Lepisto (signed with Chicago); G Mathieu Garon (signed with Tampa Bay); F Michael Blunden (trade with Montreal); F Chris Clark (free agent); F Ethan Moreau (free agent); D Craig Rivet (free agent); D Mike Commodore (signed with Detroit); D Anton Stralman (free agent)
Burning question: Can Steve Mason regain his rookie form?
The Blue Jackets thought they had their goaltending set for years to come when Mason burst on the scene in 2008-09. He won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie after posting a 33-20-7 record with a 2.29 GAA, .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts to lead Columbus to its only playoff appearance. But he’s been plagued with inconsistency and hasn’t had a GAA under 3.00 since then. Despite going 20-26-9 with a 3.06 GAA (41st in league among qualified leaders) and .901 save percentage (40th) in 2009-10, he was rewarded with a two-year extension for $2.9 million a year before the start of last season.
But Mason showed little progress last year with a similar 24-21-7 record, 3.03 GAA (40th) and .901 save percentage (tied for 36th). Still, the Blue Jackets chose to stick with him while overhauling the rest of the roster this summer. They’ll have to hope new goalie coach Ian Clark can get Mason back to his rookie form, as the alternatives in goal aren’t very appealing with Mark Dekanich (one game of NHL experience) and Curtis Sanford battling for the backup spot.
2011-12 outlook: While the Blue Jackets have stuck with Mason, they made plenty of changes elsewhere. They’re hoping Jeff Carter (36-30-66 last year with Philadelphia) can provide the second threat up front the team has long lacked to accompany Rick Nash (32-34-66). Vaclav Prospal, who had 23 points in 29 games, but missed 53 more with a knee injury last year with the Rangers, was also added and should help if he can remain healthy. On the blue line, the Blue Jackets invested heavily in James Wisniewski, signing him to a six-year, $33 million deal to upgrade the defense.
Did you know? The Blue Jackets joined the NHL as an expansion team in 2000-01, but after more than a decade in the league they’re still in search of their first playoff victory. Columbus has made the playoffs just once and was promptly swept in four straight by Detroit in the opening round in 2009.