Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Pool Outlook for Columbus

After a very good 2015 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a lot of those pieces still in place, heading towards the 2016 season and there were some high, but fair, expectations on this team heading into the new year.  If anything, the 2016 season showed us all the fine line that the Jackets run on, when their depth might not be as good as other teams in their conference or division.

Injuries certainly played a big part of the lack of quality that the Jackets had suffered from this season, as Sergei Bobrovsky only figured into 37 games and defensemen Jack Johnson and David Savard missed some significant time as well, which really hurt their back end.

Management tried to throw this team a life preserver by making a blockbuster trade between themselves and the Predators, but by that time, any help that was added had more of a long-term benefit, than any short-term gain.

Still, the Blue Jackets can look at this 2016 season, find the flaws in their depth and address them for the 2017 season and maybe that fine line will get a little bit thicker and this team can last a little bit longer, compete harder and be there, when the playoffs come calling.  There is certainly lots there to be positive about.

The Jackets were well-represented in this year's hockey pool draft, so you could safely say that everyone felt that they had something to offer us poolies, trying to make a few extra bucks this year.  12 Jackets were taken in the first 14 rounds of the draft, but they were sort of hidden away at the Waiver Draft, no one picked or dropped in Week Nine, while in Week Eighteen, there was one of the youngsters picked up, so there was still some positivity out there somewhere.

When the final horn sounded on the year, there were still 12 Columbus players active in the pool, the only real changes came in the trade market through the year.

The team's big acquisition in the off-season, collecting Brandon Saad from the off-loading Blackhawks, came up trumps for the team, leading the side in points, tied with Cam Atkinson, with 53 points, but had 31 goals, compared to Atkinson's 27.  The two finished off the year, ranked 89th & 90th in overall pool scoring, which was a good reflection on where this team was going, but they really lacked that 1st round pick in talent, as these two would have been suited for the 4th round of the draft, when it was all said and done.

Boone Jenner, Scott Hartnell, Brandon Dubinsky, Alexander Wennberg and Nick Foligno all rounded out the pool-worthy forwards, but you could argue that they could have been ordered a bit differently for better success.  Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Kevin Connauton were all worthy of being picked on defense, while Sergei Bobrovsky and Joonas Korpisalo were both worthy, but neither finished in the top 30.  If you had Jackets this year, it wasn't them who were winning you the money, they were likely giving you reasonable depth.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

The real heel of this team is on the blueline, maybe not so much from an offensive standpoint, even though it may not be as solid as some teams, it just may be as a whole.  If the Jackets can shore up their blueline over the Summer, I think there is a real chance that they can push for that wild card spot in the East.  The t will be tough and a pretty tough go in the East, but I think their core has what it takes to be a real contender for at least a playoff spot and all they need is to get into the show to be effective.

The loss of Sergei Bobrovsky to injury was a huge hole for the Blue Jackets and they had to rely on some young goaltending to get them through the tough spells.  The Jackets did shore up their blueline, but not until the middle of the season, when they acquired Seth Jones from Nashville, but by then, it was already too late.  The core attracted some attention, helped win them some games, but that Eastern Conference was tough and the Jackets didn't have enough to stay in the race.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Brandon Saad 6.000 David Savard 4.250 Sergei Bobrovsky 7.425
Brandon Dubinsky 5.850 Ryan Murray 2.825 Joonas Korpisalo 0.743
Nick Foligno 5.500
Scott Hartnell 4.750
Cam Atkinson 3.500
Boone Jenner 2.900
Alexander Wennberg 0.925
David Clarkson 5.250 Fedor Tyutin 4.500 Curtis McElhinney 0.800
Matt Calvert 2.200 Jack Johnson 4.357 Oscar Dansk 0.776
Jared Boll 1.700 Gabriel Carlsson 0.925
Gregory Campbell 1.500 Zach Werenski 0.925
Kerby Rychel 0.894 Dillon Heatherington 0.771
Sonny Milano 0.894 Dean Kukan 0.768
Paul Bittner 0.809 Cody Goloubef 0.750
Jordan Maletta 0.793 Blake Siebenaler 0.709
Justin Scott 0.751 Jamie Sifers 0.625
Brett Gallant 0.750 John Ramage 0.613
Kole Sherwood 0.750 Oleg Yevenko 0.575
Keegan Kolesar 0.723
Markus Hannikainen 0.718
Josh Anderson 0.709
Nick Moutrey 0.693
Oliver Bjorkstrand 0.678
Daniel Zaar 0.665

The Blue Jackets are one of those teams that have a lot of cap space tied up in players that were not pool worthy in the 2016 season, so it is questionable to think that they could make a push to be a better source of points in the 2017 season, with the current make-up they have.  Above are the signed players heading into next season and the top players were deemed pool-worthy last year, but you may adjust some thinking, especially in net, if Bobrovsky can stay healthy.

The Jackets are still high on a number of players in their system and their defense may get a real boost from Zach Werenski, who signed on from one year in college.  Werenski is a good sized offensive defenseman, but is still only 19 years old, so he should be one to watch and probably not pick next season, unless you're really feeling like a good gamble.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

And the third winner at the Draft Lottery on Saturday was these Jackets, as they moved up one position, from 4th to 3rd, and they will get a shot at Jesse Puljujarvi, who has been anywhere between 2nd and 3rd in the draft rankings, leading up to the off-season.  This kid has some slick hands and some good size and has the potential to be a franchise player as well, which should really lift this franchise up from where it has been floundering for the last few years.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

Restricted free agency will be a busy season for the Jackets, who have a number of players in need of new deals moving forward.  Three of their pool-worthy defenders, Jones, Connauton and Prout, all need deals, while William Karlsson, who was on the verge of having a good year, will need a new deal to try and lift his stock up.

Columbus and the salary cap is an interesting situation, as their need for depth will meet some resistance from some large contracts they already have on the books.  When the team isn't getting good scoring years from David Clarkson, Fedor Tyutin or Jack Johnson, they look like big lumps against the cap, something that may need to be rectified, one way or another.  All of their signed players today, come in around $82.2 million, but of course, that's for 41 players.

Last season's prediction wasn't terrible, but it stumbled when the Jackets lost so many important pieces to long-term injury.  This Summer for Columbus should be about making sure their depth is accounted for, especially on the blueline, because as good as Joonas Korpisalo was in relief, he couldn't do it all.  I don't expect a lot of improvement from the Jackets in the 2017, unless Sergei Bobrovsky is able to play 65+ games and they are able to add a good veteran piece to their blueline.  Seth Jones will come around to play a lot more meaningful minutes and he'll likely produce in them, but it seems more likely that the Jackets will need some extra help, like a team above them falling off the map, than having their own merits guide them to the playoffs.  The Jackets will compete, but succeed is a different story.

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