by Mike MacLean
1. Scoring depth, bolstered by Saad.
After adding Brandon Saad in a trade with the Blackhawks, an already skilled group of offensive forwards became even more dangerous. Ryan Johansen continues his rise to NHL stardom, and will in all likelihood be flanked by Saad and Nick Foligno, who is coming off a career year and was given the "C" this summer. Beyond that trio, the Jackets have the likes of Brandon Dubinsky, Scott Hartnell and Cam Atkinson contributing on the score sheet. The Jackets were 13th in the NHL in goals-per-game last season, a huge feat considering the injuries the team dealt with. The Jackets have the weapons (and will hopefully have the health) to improve on that ranking this season and should be one of the highest-scoring teams in the league.
There are few teams in the NHL that can boast having a Vezina Trophy-winner on their roster. The Jackets are one of those squads, with Sergei Bobrovsky looking to get back to the form that earned him the award for the league’s top goaltender in 2013. If he can stay healthy, Bobrovsky will again be among the elite goaltenders in the NHL-- he’s a rock for the Jackets when he plays, but he needs to exceed his career-high of 58 games played.
3. Overall forward depth.
In addition to the aforementioned lethal stature of the Jackets’ forwards, the depth at forward in the organization is a definite strength. The corps is rounded out by strong two-way forwards like Boone Jenner and Alexander Wennberg, along with Gregory Campbell and Matt Calvert, who bring physicality and energy. Rene Bourque, David Clarkson and Jared Boll come with question marks, but they bring NHL experience. When the inevitable injury bug begins to bite, the Jackets are well-stocked in the AHL with first-rounders Kerby Rychel and Sonny Milano, along with uber-prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand. "Wild Bill" Karlsson, Josh Anderson and T.J. Tynan have seen NHL action and are names to keep in mind if call-ups are required.
by Eric St. John
1. No changes on D.
Many believed the Blue Jackets would try to flip some of their forward depth for defensive help over the summer, but instead they opted to acquire forward Brandon Saad. After missing out on several free-agent defenders, Columbus heads into 2015-16 with no major changes on the blue line. The team has said a healthy Ryan Murray will be like adding a top free agent since the former No. 2 overall pick has missed so much time the last few years due to injuries.
After dealing James Wisniewski at the deadline last season, the Jackets have just a couple of established veterans in Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson. Can the young defensemen prove their worth and collectively provide the play needed for the Jackets? That is clearly management’s belief given that they passed on making any major changes to the blue line this summer.
2. Penalties. Penalties. Penalties.
One area of difficulty last season that did not get a lot of attention was the penalty kill. The Jackets struggled on the PK, killing off 80.2 percent of opposing power plays, which ranked them 23rd in the league. Even worse, Columbus surrendered the second-most power play opportunities as they went short-handed 303 times. Columbus will need to cut down on the penalties and hope that a healthy Sergei Bobrovsky can return to his Vezina-winning form in net.
3. Inconsistent play and injury problems.
For the last several years, the Blue Jackets have displayed flashes of playing like a top team in the NHL. Injuries plagued them last year, but inconsistent play has been an issue for a while. The team needs to figure things out early on this year, of course, but also sustain that play into the winter. A really good push for 25-30 games is not going to get it done.
If the team is to make the playoffs, they need to find a way to play consistently high-level hockey over the course of the entire season, not just the last couple months. Can they compete and win the first couple months instead of falling in the standings like so many seasons before?
1. Will the blue line finally perform to expectations?
2. Will Brandon Saad prove his value, despite not having Toews & Kane?
3. Can the Blue Jackets avoid the crippling poor starts that have plagued them in recent seasons?
by Matt Wagner
The best-case scenario for the Blue Jackets boils down to one thing: Stay healthy.
After losing a staggering 503 cumulative games to injury last season, it's nothing short of amazing that Columbus only missed the postseason by nine points. Much of the credit for that can go to Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen, who represented the team in last season's All-Star Game thanks to their exceptional performances, But the club also got strong performances down the stretch from the roster as a whole, most of whom have returned for the 2014-15 season. If that core stays healthy, and newly-acquired Brandon Saad meshes in as well as fans hope, there's a good chance this club can compete for the top of the Metropolitan Division.
There's no question that this is a team built to reach the postseason, and if their oft-criticized defense can pull itself together thanks to a full season from Ryan Murray, they've got the talent up front and in goal to make the Blue Jackets a playoff opponent to be feared.
by Dan Parker
Success for Columbus seems to be predicated on having a strong offense, a world-class goalie, and being able to win by wearing teams down with their forward depth while masking some potential issues on the blue line. As we saw last year, health (or lack thereof) can ruin any and all plans for an entire season. So, putting all of that together, it's pretty easy to forecast the Blue Jackets' worst-case scenario.
The absolute worst thing that could happen would be another year of insanely random and crippling injuries throughout the lineup, but especially to some of the more important players. Not only would it directly affect the team's ability to keep up in what looks to be a very tight Metro race, but it stalls the development of this core for another year. Last season ended well, but that finish made one wonder: What could this team do this season if they hadn't essentially lost most of last season?
Given that the Jackets did next to nothing on the blue line this offseason, they are clearly counting on a healthy Ryan Murray. So, while injuries as a whole can make up the worst-case scenario, the absolute worst case is that Murray again misses significant time and the Jackets' defense implodes without his presence. Given that they don't have much cap space, a season-saving move isn't coming.
A great offense can't do much if you're fighting to get the puck out of your own zone all night.