Slow start derails Blue Jackets' season

BY foxsports • April 10, 2012


Truth be told, none of the Blue Jackets' games since mid-November have mattered. After a 2-12-1 start, it's been a five-month marathon until the offseason, when the organization gets its next crack at rebuilding.

All signs point to ownership retaining club president Mike Priest and GM Scott Howson, but there are big decisions to be made below those two.

Interim coach Todd Richards led the Blue Jackets to an 18-21-2 record in the second half of the season after taking over when Scott Arniel was fired. But Howson has not indicated if Richards will get the job on a full-time basis, or if he'll embark on his second coaching search in three seasons.

Then there's the simmering issue of captain Rick Nash, who requested a trade in January but was not moved at the NHL trade deadline a month later. Conventional wisdom is that Nash will be traded this summer, likely at the NHL entry draft, but Howson told The Columbus Dispatch that nothing has been decided yet.

Those are three massive moves, but it won't stop there.

The Blue Jackets will find out on Tuesday at the NHL draft lottery if they've landed the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in franchise history.

The possibility for a dramatic overhaul of the roster has never been more ripe. Then again, neither has the need for it.

SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Somehow, the Blue Jackets managed to salvage some sense of pride in the final two months of the season, finishing 11-8-0, including five wins in their last six games. Put another way, the Jackets won as many games in their last 19 as they did in their first 42. Not exactly a playoff pace, but it did earn them a modicum of respect.

TURNING POINT: The Blue Jackets started 0-7-1 and 2-12-1, ending their season by the midpoint of November. By early January, they were 11-25-5, leading to the firing of coach Scott Arniel. There's false starts, and then there's falling flat on your face at the starting blocks.

Columbus finishes dead last in league

--One of the reasons cited for the Blue Jackets' perpetual spinning of wheels is the fact that they've never truly bottomed out, like Pittsburgh, Chicago and other franchises.

Well, that changed this season. The Blue Jackets finished 30th for the first time in franchise history, giving them a 48 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick and guaranteeing them the first or second overall pick at the NHL entry draft in June. The Blue Jackets had never earned a pick higher than the No. 3 overall. That happened in 2002, when they traded up to No. 1 and drafted left winger Rick Nash.

--Faced with an embarrassing mess of a season, the Blue Jackets made a plan at the NHL trade deadline. With 19 games to go, defenseman James Wisniewski figured out that 22 points in their final 19 games would equal a playoff pace, so that became the goal -- 11 wins in the final 19 games. With Saturday's 7-3 win over the New York Islanders, the Blue Jackets achieved that goal -- for what it's worth.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was pretty special. They stuck with us all year. It was a disappointing year for us as a team and we're not where we want to be right now. But they stuck with us and they were great tonight." -- Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, who may have played his last game for Columbus in Saturday's 7-3 win over the New York Islanders.

Roster Report

MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Rick Nash. It wasn't Nash's best season, but there's not a lot of candidates here. Nash had his sixth 30-goal season and led the club in scoring for the fifth straight season. Hard to imagine how this club will score if Nash is traded this summer.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Steve Mason. Lots of candidates here, but Mason is the clear winner. For the third straight season, he was statistically one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL, finishing with a woeful .896 save percentage. It was only three years ago that Mason won the Calder Trophy and finished second in the Vezina Trophy, but that seems a long time ago.

BIGGEST NEEDS: The Blue Jackets simply must find a capable goaltender, a backstop who -- unlike Mason -- gives them a chance to win most nights. The club has many deficiencies, but the play in goal has been deflating for three seasons now. It's the No. 1 priority for GM Scott Howson this summer.

FREE AGENT FOCUS: It's unlikely the Blue Jackets can fix their goaltending woes through free agency, as the market looks to be slim. But the Jackets will need to add forward help on July 1, especially if -- as expected -- they trade captain Rick Nash. For the first time in franchise history, the Jackets seem pleased with their defense.

PLAYER NOTES:

--LW Rick Nash scored three goals in his final two games, giving him 30 goals on the season for the seventh time in his nine-year career. Nash scored No. 30 in Saturday's 7-3 win over the New York Islanders in the first period.

--RW R.J. Umberger continued his torrid end-of-season goal-scoring pace with his 20th of the season on Saturday against the New York Islanders. Umberger had seven goals in his first 49 games, but has scored 13 in his final 26, including a hat trick.

--RW Cam Atkinson showed some late-season pluck, scoring five goals in his final two games. Atkinson, who had seven goals in 27 games with the Blue Jackets, scored twice in Saturday's 7-3 win over the New York Islanders.


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