Monday, August 16, 2010

Time to step up: DBJ's 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets season preview

This team will be back, this team in blue, folks.
They have plenty of good years ahead of them, 

and it's just starting.
Danny Gare
April 23, 2009

To get started, I'm going to take you back to Thursday, April 23, 2009.  On that night (and by some stroke of luck, I was there), the Columbus Blue Jackets went down fighting against the Detroit Red Wings and lost 6-5, giving Detroit a 4-0 sweep of Columbus in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Watch this video carefully and remember:

Blue Jackets fans know all too well that this was the only playoff appearance in franchise history.

Let's ponder that night's roster, and permit me to point out a few names: Raffi Torres, Michael Peca, Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra, Jason Williams, Aaron Rome and Freddy Modin.  Seven players - over one-third of that playoff roster - are no longer affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  (And that doesn't count head coach Ken Hitchcock and assistants Gord Murphy, Gary Agnew and Claude Noel.  Hitchcock is still collecting a check from the Blue Jackets and basically staying out of the way while waiting for his next NHL head coaching job, and the assistants have scattered to the wind.)

As discussed in my 2009-2010 season in review, CBJ general manager Scott Howson and team management determined that the team as composed 'maxxed out' and would never go further than they did in 2009.  So they decided to go young.  And 2009-2010 saw that youth movement happen in all of it's pain and frustration.    I won't rehash the season that's past - you can read that in the other post.

Simply put, we now have a very different team than the one that made the playoffs.

But it's important to acknowledge the past, especially with a team where the young core is rising together.  And, considering last year, this is the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets to step up and prove that they will be the group that can make good on Danny Gare's prediction from the above video.

Time to step up.  Nearly every player on the roster needs to step up in some fashion.  Poor performers have to pull their weight.  Injured players have to stay healthy.  Good players have to be great.  The coaches, brand new to Columbus, have to step up to the big leagues.  And the front office also has to make its moves to ensure that the team makes its step up toward being a consistent playoff contender in Columbus.
After last season's step backward, 2010-2011 marks a pivotal year in the life of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise.  Unquestionably, the team has significant talent on the roster.  I'll go as far as to say that, with the talent on hand right now, the Columbus Blue Jackets can make the Stanley Cup playoffs once again.

GM Scott Howson and new head coach Scott Arniel:
The brain-trust that is going to take the Columbus Blue Jackets to
the Stanley Cup playoffs...if nearly everything goes right.
At the same time, the team - individually and collectively - needs to take the steps necessary to make that happen.  This team is talented but not loaded for bear.  They are not the salary cap-skirting 2009-2010 Chicago Blackhawks, who had one roster player running back and forth to Rockford just to save six thousand bucks a day on the cap and keep the Kanes, Toews, Hossas and Keiths (and Huets and Campbells ) in town.  

No, this is a team that will have to thread the needle in 2010-2011 to achieve the success that CBJ fans have been hoping for over the past 10 NHL seasons.  The margin for error is slim to none, especially in the murderers row that is the National Hockey League's Central Division.  (On the bright side, if we win big in our division without too much attrition, the playoffs should be a breeze.)  The playoffs CAN be achieved, but it's not a given.

Rather than make this single post a book (and wait until everything is ready to post it), I'm going to break the season preview up into pieces.  Over the next few weeks, I'll review the forwards, the defensemen, the goalies, the coaches and the front office.  As those blog entries are posted, I'll cross-link with this entry so we can all stay organized.  With regards to the players, I'll look at their performance from last season and their salary implications for this season.  For coaches and front office, it'll have to be a little more free-form.  In all cases, anticipate some analysis and core questions and challenges that they may face over the upcoming season.  That analysis and those questions may be tough, befitting a team that underperformed so drastically last season, but I believe that they will be fair and reasoned.  And I pray that it will all be done before training camp.

I'm looking forward to writing this series and hope you enjoy it as well.  Despite my occasional crankiness and bluntness about the Blue Jackets, I am genuinely optimistic about their chances this year and believe you should be optimistic as well.

Carry The Flag.  To the playoffs!


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