After first playoff win, the bar’s been raised in Columbus

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It was a long and often painful journey, but Columbus has finally joined the 28 other teams that have won a playoff game (leaving the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets’ franchise in the cold). That accomplishment shouldn’t be belittled given how far the Blue Jackets had to come over the last couple of seasons to reach this point, but it’s also not cause for contentment.

Making the playoffs is great, but players don’t grow up dreaming about winning a first round game and fans don’t long for the day their team will last six contests before bowing out of the postseason.

“The goal isn’t just to make the playoffs here,” Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson asserted, per the team’s website. “Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. There were good intentions here in the past, but we go into every game now with the expectation to win. We expect to play well, and we expect to achieve success.”

Blue Jackets president John Davidson was equally optimistic during an interview in July. He pointed to Nathan Horton as a potential difference maker after the former Boston Bruins playoff hero was forced to miss most of the 2013-14 campaign and all of the postseason because of shoulder and abdominal problems.

More importantly, Columbus has a promising young core that’s led by forward Ryan Johansen and blueliner Ryan Murray. They also have a solid defense and a strong goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky.

Their offense was nothing special last season, but if Horton and their primary new addition, Scott Hartnell, have solid seasons and 21-year-old Boone Jenner is able to step up in his sophomore campaign, then that might change.

Clearly the Blue Jackets still have some significant question marks and on paper they don’t look like a Stanley Cup contender yet, but the bar has been raised. We’ll find out soon enough how they respond.

It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day on PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets looked lost just a couple years ago. They finished the 2011-12 campaign with a 29-46-7 record and were forced to trade Rick Nash in July 2012 because he could no longer stand to play for the Blue Jackets.

After the trade, Columbus was written off as one of the worst teams in the league and the franchise’s first playoff win still looked like a distant goal. Then the Blue Jackets’ defense clicked and Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy. Although they finished a hair from making the 2013 postseason due to their 5-12-4 start, the tone had changed.

But was that a fluke? Could Bobrovsky live up to his breakout performance? The Blue Jackets’ hot finish only added to the questions surrounding them going into the 2013-14 campaign. They answered by squeaking into the playoffs in 2014 and not only earning their first postseason win, but also making the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins sweat in the six-game first round series.

Following that accomplishment, the Blue Jackets decided to keep their roster relatively intact. One notable exception was the trade of R.J. Umberger and a 2015 fourth round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Scott Hartnell.

Beyond that, they’re hoping to get a full season out of Nathan Horton after he started the 2013-14 campaign on the sidelines due to a shoulder injury and wasn’t able to stay healthy once he did come back.

The Blue Jackets also inked Brandon Dubinsky to a six-year, $35.1 million contract extension this summer. They aren’t done yet though as 33-goal scorer Ryan Johansen remains a restricted free agent.

Poll: Who will replace Hartnell on Philly’s first line?

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When the Flyers traded Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets, it left a gaping hole on the left wing on their top line. While Philly got R.J. Umberger back in return, the question left to ponder is just who will slide in on the left side of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek?

Randy Miller of NJ.com pondered this same situation and picked out Brayden Schenn, Michael Raffl, and Umberger as the three main candidates. Schenn has been discussed here a bit as GM Ron Hextall said they’re expecting more from him. Miller suspects Raffl may get a shot with Umberger as an outside possibility.

So who do you think gets the job? If you’ve got another, better idea feel free to yell at us in the comments.

It’s Philadelphia Flyers Day at PHT

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Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Philadelphia Flyers.

If there was a team whose season best resembled a roller coaster last season, it was the Philadelphia Flyers.

After getting off to a 0-3-0 start, the Flyers fired coach Peter Laviolette and brought in Craig Berube. Things didn’t get better right away as they went 3-6-0 in the next nine games and appeared to be in deep trouble after the first month of the season.

That’s when captain Claude Giroux took over. After decreeing they would make the playoffs, the real Flyers showed up going 39-21-10 the rest of the way and finishing third in the Metropolitan Division. Giroux had a season to remember finishing with 28 goals and 86 points – third best in the league behind Sidney Crosby and Ryan Getzlaf. As it turned out, those were his fellow finalists for the Hart Trophy that Crosby ran away with.

That’s neither here nor there though because Giroux’s performance was the kind of thing that makes you a legend in Philly. Not only did he help carry the team, he also helped bring others out their shell.

Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek had a career-years. Voracek had career-bests with 23 goals and 62 points and Simmonds did the same with 29 goals and 60 points.

One guy who had a hard time was Vincent Lecavalier. The new-old guy on the block did have 20 goals, but with just 37 points and looking not like the Vinny of old, he wound up in Berube’s dog house on the fourth line.

On defense, Mark Streit’s first season in Philly saw him produce the most points from the blue line with 44. Kimmo Timonen was next best with 35 and Braydon Coburn’s physicality made him a favorite. Perhaps the biggest surprise came in goal.

Steve Mason was the No. 1 guy in net and didn’t look like the guy we saw at the end of his run with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His .917 save percentage and 2.50 goals-against average helped keep the Flyers rolling along all year while Ray Emery battled hard but didn’t put up great numbers.

In the end, all the good stuff didn’t much matter as they were bounced out in the first round by the New York Rangers in seven games.

Offseason recap

While we’ve become accustomed to the Flyers stealing headlines in the summer, the hiring of Ron Hextall as GM virtually slowed that to a crawl.

The big move this summer was the trade that sent Scott Hartnell to the Columbus Blue Jackets for former Flyer R.J. Umberger. The Flyers felt they were done with Hartnell and his contract only to bring in Umberger and his shorter contract but not-as-good performance.

The biggest blow may have come from Timonen discovering multiple blood clots in his system – something that may keep him out for most of the season. That development led to the Flyers taking a chance and signing Michael Del Zotto. Philly also added Nick Schultz on defense to try and help add depth.

One move they haven’t made is moving Lecavalier. While rumors persisted for most of the summer that he would be finding his way out of town, and he nearly was dealt to Nashville, he’s still on the roster and the Flyers want more from him.

Hextall says Flyers ‘think there’s more’ to Brayden Schenn’s game

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Last season was officially a breakout year for Philadelphia Flyers forward Brayden Schenn. He played all 82 games in Philly and netted 20 goals with 41 points – all career-highs.

Now with some changes happening in Philly with Scott Hartnell off to Columbus and R.J. Umberger re-joining the Flyers, GM Ron Hextall is expecting more from Schenn as Adam Kimelman of NHL.com shared.

“He’s got a real gift at putting the puck in the net,” Hextall said. “He scored 20 goals, which at this stage of the game that’s a lot of goals. But we still think there’s more there and there’s more growth. I think the biggest thing is the consistency part.”

One place Schenn could find himself next season is on a line with captain Claude Giroux. With Hartnell out of town and Umberger being expected to help out on other lines, that leaves a spot open on Giroux’s left side. While Schenn is a natural center, his offensive game may be just the thing the Flyers need to give them a potent first line attack.

Hextall added that Schenn needs to be more consistent. If that happens and he winds up with Giroux, goals will come in bunches for all of them.