Columbus Blue Jackets 2013-14 Season Preview

Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky
Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky
Apr 25 2013 Dallas TX USA Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky 72 faces the Dallas Stars during the game at the American Airlines Center The Blue Jackets defeated the Stars 3 1 Jerome Miron USA TODAY Sports

2013 ended in heartbreak for the surprising Columbus Blue Jackets, but the suddenly confident club is preparing a new surge. The Jackets finished tied for eighth place in the Western Conference on 55 points, but lost out on the final postseason bid in a tiebreaker with the Minnesota Wild. Had they picked up just one more point, they would have made just the second postseason trip in franchise history.

Team president John Davidson has Columbus moving in the right direction, but the 2013-14 season will provide a difficult hump to get over.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has optimism at an all-time high after running away with the Vezina Trophy last season. The dark horse netminder was sensational in the shortened season, earning 21 wins in 38 games. His .932 save-percentage and 2.00 goals-against average were major improvements on his career highs and ranked second and fourth in the league respectively.

Some will be quick to point out that the lockout abbreviated campaign could have produced some deceiving statistics, but Bobrovsky looked like the real deal on the ice. He will be squarely in the spotlight for the Blue Jackets this season, which will help fans get over the loss of Rick Nash.

Though the Russian puck-stopper is now the franchise center-piece, he is not the biggest name in Ohio. That honor goes to Marian Gaborik who was acquired at the trade deadline, ironically from Nash’s New York Rangers.

Gaborik showed his brilliance in spurts last season, but the former-superstar was relatively disappointing. With just 12 goals in 47 games, it was Gaborik’s least productive season in years. However, two forty goal seasons in the past four years suggest that the 31-year-old could once again rise to prominence.

The acquisition of big-money free agent Nathan Horton should also help to improve the league’s 25th ranked offense. Horton’s 7-year $37,100,000 contract puts the Blue Jackets at major risk long-term if the winger’s concussion problems return, but he certainly fills a big need at Nationwide Arena.

Horton was lights out on the Bruins run to the Stanley Cup Final with 19 points in 22 games. Though he occasionally floated through the regular season in Boston, the added playoff race urgency in Columbus could bring out his best.

If a few of Columbus’ young players come through to help the veterans, the Blue Jackets might just be alive in late April. Center Ryan Johansen is one youngster who could be a difference maker.

The fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft is due for a breakout year in his third NHL season. If he earns a top-six role, he could benefit from a partnership with either Horton or Gaborik.

If 2013 points leader and free agent Vinny Prospal doesn’t re-sign in Columbus, Johansen should be an ideal candidate to fill his role.

Artem Anisimov, Cam Atkinson and Tim Erixon should also vie to become core players on one of the NHL’s youngest teams.

A move to the Eastern Conference will be a big challenge for Columbus, but they just might be able to sneak up on unfamiliar opponents. Pittsburgh, Washington, and the two New York City clubs are out of Columbus’ weight class for the moment, but the Jackets are fully prepared to challenge Philadelphia, Carolina and New Jersey.

Unfortunately with the stacked Atlantic Division likely to snag at least one, if not both, of the wild card spots at the postseason party, it doesn’t look like the Blue Jackets’ year.

However, if Bobrovsky can put up another Vezina Trophy worthy campaign in a division with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, John Tavares and Alex Ovechkin, then they will have a shot. Unfortunately that is easier said than done.

The Blue Jackets will make some waves this season and probably muster more points than many people will expect. However, this is a year for development. Having picked three times in the first round of the 2013 draft, the Blue Jackets’ time is soon, but for now they will need to wait patiently.

author avatar
Chris Blanchard
Chris Blanchard is a Boston, MA native and a student at Davidson College. He began writing about hockey as a Boston Bruins featured columnist for Bleacher Report in the fall of 2012. He has been covering the NHL for XN Sports since May of 2013. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');