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Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Columbus Blue Jackets' 2009-10 Season: R.I.P. (Part 2 of 2)

In Part One, the Blue Jackets' problems were explored. Part Two looks at what fans can expect to see in Columbus between now and the start of next season.


Obviously, the Blue Jackets have many issues to address. First and foremost, does Coach Ken Hitchcock have a future in Columbus? The fact that he survived a brutal 6-17-7 stretch from Games 21-50 is remarkable; I can't think of ANY other coach to keep his job through such a slump. The single issue which will (I believe) have the biggest impact on Hitch's future with the club is the progress, between now and the end of the season, of Derick Brassard (and, to a lesser extent, Jakub Voracek).

By constantly shuffling Brassard throughout the lineup and displaying an obvious lack of trust in the young center, Hitch has succeeded only in damaging Brassard's confidence and impeding his development as a player. To remedy the situation, the coach has to get the most out of the final 30 games: Brassard needs to center the Jackets' top line (Rick Nash's line) from here on out. Brass was projected to be a top line center for Columbus, and he must now be afforded the opportunity to grow into that role.

Bottom Line: Columbus is one of the youngest teams in the NHL, and Ken Hitchcock must now demonstrate an ability to develop young talent. If he doesn't show progress in this area, management must make a coaching change in the offseason.

On the GM front, Scott Howson must begin entertaining offers for certain players, and move them before the trade deadline. According to Columbus Dispatch beat writer Aaron Portzline, the most likely players to be moved are: Nikita Filatov, Raffi Torres, Jared Boll, Freddy Modin and Milan Jurcina. While I wouldn't be at all surprised to see four of the five aforementioned players changing addresses in the next few weeks, expect Howson to take his time moving Nikita Filatov. The young superstar-in-the-making is a valuable asset, and Howson needs to (at least) break even on any deal. As Columbus still needs a swift-skating, puck-moving, top-two defenseman, a trade with Atlanta would seem to be a good fit for all parties.

Columbus will undoubtedly trade roster players for draft picks and prospects. At some point between now and October, those draft picks and prospects have to turn into a faster defensive corps. As the Blue Jackets demonstrated last Saturday, they can skate (and score) with the (early Stanley Cup favorite) Chicago Blackhawks. If Columbus wants to play a more wide-open style of hockey, however, they need d-men who can keep up.

In the crease, look for Steve Mason to see more playing time. His confidence has taken a hit this season, but he's looked better in the past couple of weeks. Mase should be given the opportunity to find his rhythm over the next 30 games, as he (not Garon) is the future of the franchise in net.

Overall, expect the Blue Jackets to loosen up and play better hockey between now and April, as the pressure to make the playoffs dissipates. This will, of course, prompt frustrated fans to wonder "Why in the @#&% couldn't they play like this earlier?!?!?" C'est la vie. The Jackets will have a long summer to reflect on this (lost) season, and will enter training camp in September eager to prove themselves.

Take me back to On Goal Analysis.

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