In the most anticipated season in 14 years, the CBJ hopes will rely heavily on a group of proven and unproven youngsters to carry the team while two key veterans are out with injury. It’s not news that Nathan Horton is out to start the season with what has been labeled a degenerative back injury. What is news is that Horton has only played 36 games since coming to Columbus via free agency in the summer of 2013. To say he’s been a $37 million wasteland would be an understatement. The good news is he can return and have an immediate impact on a team that desperately needs the Boston Bruins version of Nathan Horton and not the injury riddled player they currently have.
Brandon Dubinsky defines what this franchise has so desperately needed since its inception. Who will ever forget his game tying goal in the waning seconds of Game 4 against Pittsburgh last year in the playoffs? The 30 yard slide on his knees as Nationwide Arena exploded and shook off 14 years of failure and made a city fall in love with a team. He’s a piss and vinegar player with a lot of skill who has the ability to carry the team with his will and desire on any given night. Now, he’s going to miss the first 6 weeks of the season following abdominal surgery. They can’t replace his presence in the locker room, but they brought in a guy who can shoulder the load.
When Scott Hartnell was traded for R.J. Umberger in June, it caused shock waves in Philadelphia and Columbus. Umberger was one of the most beloved and longest tenured Blue Jackets, but he was ready to move on with a gradual drop in ice time as the season wound down. The Jackets weren’t short changed since Hartnell is a guy who can score 25 goals and is generally “hated” by opponents for his aggressive style. It will also help to have him with Dubinsky out and his leadership a huge asset for a still young team.
Yet another guy who is loved is 2nd year player Booooone Jenner. He settled in last year and played big boy minutes in crucial situations as the CBJ wrapped up a playoff spot. He too is now out 4-6 weeks with a broken hand he absorbed via a wayward shot in training camp. If you were worried about the forward lines, it’s also to note that prized defenseman Ryan Murray is on injured reserve as the season starts but is supposed to be near return.
The good news for the Jackets is that they have a plethora of talent and have handled adversity with flying colors the last 2 years. I won’t bore anyone with Ryan Johansen talk since it’s been all over the hockey world this summer but it’s worth noting that they resigned him this week after a summer full of contentious talk between agent and GM. He’s a key piece and the best player the CBJ have. The fact that I don’t even mention Bobrovsky after what he said was an “off” year for him last year speaks volumes to the balance of this team. Look at his stats, they were better than 85% of the starting goalies in the league last year.
John Davidson talked about his “brick by brick” philosophy in building a team when he was hired. He has quickly built a fierce team who personifies the working class attitude of this city. His bricks are turning into cement walls slowly but surely. There will be no predictions here, but the Blue Jackets have the potential to finish in the Top 4 in the East, but will injuries and bad luck derail this freight train? Or will they continue to overcome the odds and host a 2nd round playoff game?