What a difference a year makes. The Blue Jackets entered last season amidst playoff expectations, based on a 15-1-1 finish in the spring of 2015 and the acquisition of Brandon Saad. Eight straight losses and a coaching change later -- to a man who is a lightning rod unto himself -- a team emerged from that rubble from whom, frankly, no one in Columbus is really sure what to expect. They could be a 95-point Wild Card team. They could be a 65-point tire fire. It’s all on the table.
All spring, much of the hope for this coming season rested on a full training camp and a full season of John Tortorella. Sink or swim, things will be different. Gone is Ryan Johansen, in is Seth Jones for a full season. Gone are old, slow Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin (as well as their bloated salaries), in are young players fresh off a Calder Cup win in the AHL. The Blue Jackets are hanging their hopes on Torts’ reputation as a good developer of young talent combined with their own scouting and drafting. Columbus is looking longer-term now. It remains to be seen if Torts is the guy to get them there.
-- Dan Parker
- Will a full training camp allow John Tortorella to get more out of this club?
- How many players could be on the move before this season ends?
- What will the goaltending situation look like in Columbus and Cleveland?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
by The Pale Dragon
Here is a wishlist of things to go right for the Blue Jackets this season: The team stays healthy, in particular Sergei Bobrovsky. "Bob" returns to Vezina form. Prospects like Bjorkstrand, Werenski, and Milano make the team and make a big impact. Seth Jones and Ryan Murray continue to gel and become a top defensive pairing. Saad and Boone Jenner build on their 30-goal seasons from last year, and are joined by Cam Atkinson in the 30-goal club. Captain Nick Foligno plays like he did in his All-Star season. Alexander Wennberg makes us forget Ryan Johansen and becomes a true 1C. Tortorella succeeds in working this team into shape, and they hit the ground running with a strong start in October and November. He gets them to play with consistent effort every night, thus avoiding the severe slumps and streaks of the Todd Richards era.
If all -- or most -- of these things happen, Columbus will shock the league and return to the playoffs.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
by Eric Seeds
A repeat of last season. Nine of the first ten games are against Western Conference playoff teams from last season, including Dallas twice, San Jose twice, and Chicago. After last year’s 0-8 embarrassment to open the season that saw Richards get fired and laid the groundwork for shipping Johansen out of town, the team hopes to start faster this year, but that may not be in the cards. The possibility that the team starts 2-8 and is eliminated from playoff contention by Halloween for the second season in a row is on the table.
Zach Werenski, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Sonny Milano make the team out of camp, but the offensive talent cannot mask the poor defense and shaky goaltending. Bobrovsky fails to stay healthy for the fourth straight season, neither Anton Forsberg nor Joonas Korpisalo can be serviceable in his absence, and the team struggles to keep the puck out of their own net.
Torts, despite saying that he has learned his lesson, reverts back to his angry nature, snapping at the media and benching offensive talent for grit and hard work, coaching like it is 2004, assuming that making Saad block shots is the way to win games in the modern NHL.
The team struggles to a 26th-place finish as fan engagement and interest hits an all-time low late in the season, and the Blue Jackets end the season with 70 points in front of 9,000 fans a night in Nationwide Arena.