COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The Columbus Blue Jackets players and bosses don’t believe lack of talent was to blame for last year’s disappointing — and admittedly embarrassing — season.
Thus, there were no headline-making deals for the Blue Jackets in the offseason, which probably was due partly to their expensive existing contracts. But it also signals that this team has confidence in its young talent and expects success will come soon. How soon is anybody’s guess.
Columbus was considered a playoff contender in the pre-season last year but started 0-7, leading to the ouster of coach Todd Richards and the hiring of John Tortorella, who couldn’t quite get the train back in the tracks. The Blue Jackets had to win four out of the last five games just to finish 34-40-8.
Only three teams in the NHL were worse. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs for the 13th time in the team’s 15 seasons.
“We’re embarrassed, no question about it,” team president John Davidson said. “We had expectations, we didn’t meet them. We really got into a rut early in the season, for whatever reason. But this is a chance for all of us to get back on the horse and prove that this is a good group of players.”
Things to watch for from Columbus this season:
BRIGHT SPOTS: Davidson believes the Blue Jackets have built a good core of talent, starting with a pair of 23-year-old forwards, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner. Last year Saad scored 31 goals, and Jenner netted 30 — the first time a pair of Blue Jackets players contributed 30 goals in a season. Saad signed a six-year, $36-million contract before last season, and Jenner inked an extension that locks him up through the 2017-18 season.
Veteran forwards Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson and Scott Hartnell are proven scorers. Seth Jones and Ryan Murray, a former No. 2 overall draft pick under contract through next season, are an explosive defensive duo.
“I think that’s a good challenge for us right now, to prove ourselves again,” Jenner said. “We’re ready. I think we’re a hungry group.”
CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: The Blue Jackets need a much better year from team captain Foligno, one of the highest paid players. A 28-year-old left wing, Foligno had 12 goals and 37 points, a disappointing result after posting 31 goals and 73 points the previous season.
“I did a lot of self-reflecting,” Foligno said just before training camp. “I think I didn’t play to my characteristics, my attributes, and I think you can probably say that about 95 percent of our team. I think last year was a huge reflecting point for all of us, to come in this year and know what it’s going to take. Because nobody wants to go through what we went through last year.”
WHAT’S UP WITH BOB?: The fortunes of the Blue Jackets will turn also on the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was hampered by a groin injury last year that limited him to 37 games and just 15 wins. Davidson said Bobrovsky, the team’s franchise player, is healthy and is “moving like a cat right now.” He showed he’s back by playing brilliantly for Russia in the World Cup of Hockey last month. Having him fully healthy will be a huge boost.
YOUNG GUNS READY?: Don’t be surprised to see some new, fresh faces on the ice for Columbus. A handful of players from the deep pool of talent that helped the AHL Lake Erie Monsters win the Calder Cup are believed to be ready to contribute in the NHL — including forwards Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and defenseman Zach Weresnki, as well as forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in June’s draft.
“I’m going to bring up the young guys,” Davidson said. “They’re going to push. Whether they’re going to get there this season or out of camp, I don’t know. We’ll watch. They’re going to push, and that’s a good thing.”
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