Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.
You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.
Added: Nathan Horton, Jack Skille
Subtracted: Vinny Prospal
The Blue Jackets are going to be good
The Blue Jackets have finally arrived. Well actually, they arrived last season and were badly hurt by the shortened season. They ended the year on a tear, winning 11 of their last 14 games, and going 19-5-3 in their final 27. They missed playoffs by a mere point, but there’s good news: it’s a new year, and they’ve taken that same roster and added Nathan Horton, a guy who’s won a Stanley Cup, been to two finals, and can hit, fight and score. Marian Gaborik might be the most electric player to ever wear a Blue Jackets jersey, and he’s been tearing it up in pre-season. Mark Letestu is coming off a career year. And, they’re no longer a one-man show as they were in the Rick Nash days. They have pure skill in big man Artem Anisimov, they have grindy skill in Brandon Dubinsky and RJ Umberger, and hell, they finally have young skill too. Boone Jenner could be a huge asset for this team, and Ryan Johansen already is.
Speaking of young assets, the number two overall pick in the 2012 draft behind Nail Yakupov, a one Mr. Ryan Murray, is back from his shoulder surgery and set to jump into the lineup and make an immediate difference. And that’s to compliment the likes of an already rock-solid group with the offensively gifted Jack Johnson, the hard-hitting James Wisniewski, and the underrated Fedor Tyutin.
Oh-and-by-the-way, they have the best goaltender in the entire NHL from last year, Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina Trophy on the back of his .932(!) save percentage and 2.00(!) goals-against-average. They’ve re-signed the 25-year-old to a two year deal, so they’re likely to be in the top-10 in goals-against-per-game for at least a couple years. This team started to show their true colors last year, and they’ve only gotten better.
The Blue Jackets are going to be bad
We’re talking about the same Blue Jackets, right? The franchise that has never won a playoff game who couldn’t even get to the post-season with a Vezina-winning goalie (who’s going to regress badly this year)? Yeah, they’re going to be bad. Bobrovsky’s even-strength save percentage actually shows that his season was good-but-not-great, and being that he deserves the same label, it’s safe to say the Blue Jackets are going to give up more goals-per-game than last year. Hell, the most overrated player in the league, Jack Johnson, will all but ensure that. Nathan Horton probably has another 100 games left in his career with his paper mache shoulders (he won’t even play until December this season), Marian Gaborik is in the process of giving up the other half-step off his speed of old (to make it a full step), and after that we’re turning where for offense? Umberger and Foligno? Or further down the depth chart to Jared Boll and Blake Comeau? This team has jacked expectations so far beyond the reality that they’re not that deep in elite talent that people forget that they’re still nowhere near ready to compete with the league’s, ahem, real teams.
Flippant barstool prediction
It’d be really great if they were good and made playoffs, but they’ll probably just miss again.
The Blue Jackets had a weird year in 2013. As I mentioned above, the finished crazy strong (19-5-3 in last 27), but still missed playoffs. They were 14-5-5 at home…but still missed playoffs. Their goalie won the Vezina, and they only allowed 2.4 goal-against per-game (9th in league)…but they still missed playoffs. Some reasons: They only scored 2.4 goals-per-game (25th overall), partially because they only generated 26.7 shots a night (27th), and their powerplay operated at 14.2% (28th overall). They were barely ahead at 5-on-5 (1.04 goals for/against ratio) which is good, but they’ve gotta score more.
Okay, but seriously:
I like their D-corps, and I think their goaltending (regression or not) is going to be at least league average or better, so it comes down to being able to put pucks in. I actually don’t mind how they look farther down the lineup either (guys like Letestu and Comeau can play, while guys like Atkinson and Johansen should play more prominent roles this year), I’m just not sure if they have enough elite talent. They’ll miss Horton early in the season, and falling behind the eight-ball is no fun. They need Gaborik to stay healthy, and guys like Anisimov, Dubinsky and Foligno to have big years if they want to sneak into playoffs. I think they’ll be a fringe team with a chance, and that luck (mostly in terms of health) will largely dictate whether they get in, or get squeezed out.
Your NHL.com preview: