Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pool Outlook for Columbus

The Columbus Blue Jackets had some real potential for the 2018 season and playoffs, but their run was ended prematurely by the surging Washington Capitals, losing out in the opening round.  With how well the Washington Capitals have progressed in these playoffs, it can't be too much of a disappointment, but I'm sure the Jackets were looking for a whole lot more this year.

The off-season saw them add a lethal offensive force in Artemi Panarin and kids like Pierre-Luc Dubois and Seth Jones really came into their own and everything really rounded out for the team on the ice.  You add those kind of talents to a mix that already has an elite goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky some good blue collar players and you had a recipe for some success, but it just couldn't rise altogether.

The future is looking awfully bright for the Blue Jackets, since they have a good young core group of players in their stable, their GM has been showing his stripes at the entry draft, choosing fairly well, not to mention being a savvy deal-maker in the off-season.  The only real hurdle that this team now has to clear is the exceptionally difficult division that they play in, because the playoff format will certainly see them playing someone difficult in the first couple rounds, at the very least.

Sergei Bobrovsky becomes only the second goalie in these Pool Outlook posts to lead his team in hockey pool points, finishing with 37 wins and 87 points in 65 appearances for Columbus in 2018 and when you're playing that many games for a very good team, you're likely going to lead your team in points.  That was exactly the case for Bobrovsky and this mention is definitely warranted.  The 29-year old keeper ranked 5th among all goalies in points, 16th overall, which is a 1st round pick in a draft redo.

With that many appearances though, the Columbus backups didn't even make a blip on the scoring radar for picks this year.  Up front, their biggest acquisition, Artemi Panarin, had a pretty good season, finishing 26th overall in pool scoring to lead all forwards on the team, and then was followed by Thomas Vanek, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner.  On the blueline, it was Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Markus Nutivaara and Ian Cole on the board as pool worthy, Jones ranking 10th among all defensemen, making for a great breakout season.

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

The Jackets are still a pretty young team, which has me on the fence about what they could do come playoff time still. Losing out in the opening round with this talented group wasn't enough for me to think that they are going to improve by leaps and bounds. one of the team's best players, Zach Werenski, will also have the potential of the sophomore jinx, which shouldn't do too much to the team making the playoffs, but some struggles might make it into a wild card spot, instead of a divisional spot... you know, if it happens. Everyone is different. The Jackets are prepped and ready to be good in the 2018 season, certainly a team to be excited about for the hockey pool, but they could just use more, be it experience or veteran savvy.

Werenski wasn't quite the dominant force that he was in 2017, but the rest of the team's young players really stepped up, even though Werenski had himself a pretty good season anyways.  They did add some experience and veteran savvy at the trade deadline, but it still wasn't quite enough.  They were a good regular season team, thanks to those young players and a few key moves between last year and the playoffs.

How did my intriguing or breakout player fare?

Artemi Panarin was the clear choice for the intriguing player, trying to think about how he would fit in with the Blue Jackets and whether or not he would be able to keep up his scoring numbers, moving away from some talented players in Chicago.  He was very successful in the 2018 season and I think there is a lot more belief that he could be more of the individual star, than being the support player that can cash in a whole lot of points.

2019 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Artemi Panarin 6.000 Seth Jones 5.400 Sergei Bobrovsky 7.425
Brandon Dubinsky 5.850 David Savard 4.250 Joonas Korpisalo 0.900
Cam Atkinson 5.750 Markus Nutivaara 2.700
Nick Foligno 5.500 Zach Werenski 0.925
Alexander Wennberg 4.900 Gabriel Carlsson 0.894
Josh Anderson 1.800 Dean Kukan 0.725
Pierre-Luc Dubois 0.894 Scott Harrington 0.675
Sonny Milano 0.863
Lukas Sedlak 0.825
Zac Dalpe 0.725
Nathan Gerbe 0.675
Markus Hannikainen 0.675
Jordan Schroeder 0.650

The guys in dark green represent the pool worthy guys still on the roster and there are a few guys in black, who have some lump contracts, that the Jackets need to get better efforts from, first and foremost.  The guys in green represent a good portion of this team's future and their future looks bright, they'll certainly be a popular team at the draft, before next season, so I would say their pool outlook looks good, but could be much better too.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The Columbus Blue Jackets had a couple of rental players this year, adding Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole at the deadline, both were fairly effective down the stretch, but couldn't lift the team up another echelon.  They'll both be headed for unrestricted free agency this summer, barring a new deal before July.  The Jackets will also have to contend with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner, both restricted free agents and both were pool worthy, likely looking for decent raises in their pay grade.

But what do the Jackets have to work with?  Currently, with a couple of buyouts on the books, the Jackets still have $11.5 million to work with against last year's cap ceiling, so they'll have some more pocket change to deal, when the NHL announces the raise in salary cap numbers.  For the most part, they've got most of their team already looking fairly sharp ahead of next season, which is a big positive.

The Hockey News seems to think that the Blue Jackets have a good stable of prospects, but a lot of what the team's management has been able to do is propel some of their better prospects into bonafide roles, almost out of the gate... if you forget about how long Dubois took.  It looks like the one to watch is defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, a big defender, who may not use his size all that well, but that could turn around with enough practice.

Needs at the 2018 Entry Draft
The Columbus Blue Jackets are indeed pretty rich at the defense position and I think that means that they are still going to be picking up some good young forward talent to try and bolster their future.  Lots of outlets are pretty high on Soo Greyhounds forward Barrett Hayton and if he falls down this low, like my list of picks has suggested to this point, it sounds like the Jackets would be getting a pretty good player.  Hayton would definitely fill a need down the middle for the Jackets and with such a good season with the Greyhounds, he may just bring a good pedigree of winning from his days in junior along with him.

One of the glaring concerns for the Blue Jackets is their large cap hits that are not doing a whole heck of a lot and that could very well be dragging the organization down a little bit, as they could be using their cap space a little wiser.  Sure, hindsight is 20/20 and all of that, but as it stands right now, it isn't as great as it could be.  I do like the core group of players that plays in blue, they are a good bunch and will be for quite some time.  I'm just not sure that this team is quite ready to turn the corner yet, no matter close they are.  Yes, one clutch move by this team's management and we could start this discussion again, but as of this particular moment... they're not there yet.  Playoffs, yes... the next level, not quite.
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