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Monday, September 7, 2009

OGA SPR: The Columbus Blue Jackets - by Big Tex

Today, we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets - a team on the rise, loaded with young talent, guided by a Stanley Cup-winning coach, and managed by a GM who seems to be making all the right moves...

Last Season versus the Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC): Finished at 46 vs. the PQC, good for 7th in the Western Conference and the first playoff berth in franchise history. Columbus was Chasing Stanley following their 5-0 win over Calgary on 26 March. It wasn’t easy; in fact, the Blue Jackets’ drive toward their first playoff berth was full of drama: At Game 20 (22 November), they were +.5 vs. the PQC. The Jackets wouldn’t find themselves above the PQC again until Game 80 (8 April), when they again hit +.5. In between Games 20 and 80, they spent far too much time listening to the Molly Hatchet classic, Flirtin’ with Disaster. After reaching -2 vs. the PQC (-2.5 being Tee Time) on 6 January, Columbus went 5-2-1 over the next eight games, but that wasn’t good enough: They entered Game 49 needing at least one point in their next two games (vs. Ottawa and Dallas, back-to-back), and staved off elimination with a 1-0 regulation win over the Senators. The Jackets ultimately qualified for the postseason by earning points any way possible, their 5-1-4 record in Games 71-80 being a case in point. Columbus didn’t “refuse to lose”; they simply refused to do so in regulation. As they only finished three points ahead of 9th place in the West, it’s obvious that every point the Blue Jackets earned was desperately needed.

Post Lockout Average versus the PQC: In their first three post-Lockout seasons, Columbus averaged 38.17 vs. the PQC. After finishing at 37.0 in 2005-06 (and being the 1st team to reach Tee Time – called OUT of the playoffs by OGA – that season, on 18 November), the Blue Jackets stumbled out of the starting gate in 2006-07, going 5-13-2 and reaching Tee Time on 22 November. Thus did the Ken Hitchcock era begin, at Game 21 of the 2006-07 campaign. The Hitch-led Blue Jackets finished that season with a measure of respectability, going 28-29-5 the rest of the way for a 36.5 finish. In 2007-08, the first full season under Hitchcock, Columbus earned a franchise-record 41.0 points vs. the PQC, though they again missed the postseason. 2008-09 saw the club reach new heights, finishing at 46.0 vs. the PQC and embarking upon their maiden voyage into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How does Columbus look heading into the 2009-10 season?

Team Play: ISSUE – The Power(less) Play. In 2008-09, the Blue Jackets had the worst Power Play in the NHL (12.7%). Given the improved overall performance of the team, it comes as a bit of a surprise that last seasons’ 12.7% PP was actually worse than the Jackets’ PP the previous season (14.9%, 26th in the NHL). Even more surprising is the fact that 14.9% marked Columbus’ most efficient PP since the 2002-03 season. This team desperately needs a puck-moving defenseman who can quarterback the PP, and they’ve got wingers to trade in return. GM Scott Howson is a (very patient) man with a plan, however, so he’ll wait for the deal/player he feels is the best fit for the Blue Jackets. Until that happens, expect to see Fedor Tyutin on the point, and some serious battles for ice time among all but the top-line wings.

Fantasy Value: Many less-knowledgeable fantasy GMs will overlook Columbus, due primarily to their low-scoring ways, struggling PP, and historical also-ran status. These aren’t your Momma’s Blue Jackets, though.

Forwards: Team Captain and all-star Rick Nash (78GP, 40-39-79, +11) is a fantasy draft pick well spent…and that’s where the list has historically ended. Today, however, there are additional options: Kristian Huselius (74GP, 21-35-56, +1) and R.J. Umberger (82GP, 26-20-46, -10) are good picks in deeper leagues, and the Jackets have three kids to keep an eye on in Derick Brassard (31GP, 10-15-25, +12), Jakub Voracek (80GP, 9-29-38, +11) and rookie Nikita Filatov (8GP, 4-0-4, +3, hat trick). Expect a healthy Brassard to put up 65-70 points, while Voracek should benefit from a full season on Antoine Vermette’s line. If Filatov makes the big club out of training camp and gets at least 3rd line minutes, look out – this kid has real talent.

Defensemen: Other than Fedor Tyutin (82GP, 9-25-34, +1), there’s nothing to see here (until Scott Howson gets his sought-after PP QB, that is). Move along…

Goalies: Calder Memorial Trophy-winner Steve Mason certainly won’t disappoint fantasy GMs, provided he can stay mono-free this season.

Schedule Analysis: ISSUE – The Blue Jackets drop from a league-leading 20 back-to-back sets in 08-09 to a much easier 12 B2Bs in 09-10.

Check back Wednesday for OGA’s Dallas Stars SPR…

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