From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.
Columbus Blue Jackets
1. Nathan Horton’s extended health nightmare – As much as the Blue Jackets wore down their opponents with a relentless mentality, one feels that the team needs some more “high-level” talent to truly take the next step. Horton was supposed to be a legitimate top-line winger for Columbus after signing what’s looking like an increasingly disastrous deal, but that obviously hasn’t happened just yet.
While the team is providing semi-optimistic updates about his degenerative back condition, it all sounds awfully ominous.
Really, even when Horton was able to suit up in 2013-14, it was difficult to believe that he was a) healthy and b) comfortable in a new setting. He managed only four goals and 18 points in 35 games and logged his lowest amount of ice time (15:54) since averaged 13:20 minutes per game as a rookie with the Florida Panthers in 2003-04.
Such problems could really put a lot of extra pressure on the next guys in line, such as Scott Hartnell. Considering the significant parity in the NHL, it can be a cruel jump from receiving cushy zone starts and easier matchups to shouldering tougher minutes and strenuous defensive assignments.
2. Bob or Nothing – The Blue Jackets learned some painful lessons about life without Sergei Bobrovsky when he dealt with some injury issues in December 2013.
Curtis McElhinney went 10-11-1 in 28 appearances last season – a considerably larger number than Columbus probably hoped – and while he wasn’t an outright disaster, the drop-off between Bobrovsky and McElhinney was significant.
The Blue Jackets opted against getting more accomplished backup for “Bob” this summer, leaving the gig to McElhinney and/or prospects like Oscar Dansk. Back in July, team president John Davidson said he believed that the team won’t need to lean on Bobrovsky quite as much going forward:
“It’s about knowing you have a chance to do some damage. This isn’t on a wing and a prayer anymore,” Davidson said, via NHL.com. “This isn’t hoping [Bobrovsky] stops 55 shots. This is a team that has capabilities of winning at home, winning on the road, and doing some damage.”
For all those bold words, it’s hard to deny the notion that this team’s outlook could become pretty grim if Bob goes down for an extended amount of time.
Heck, things could even get a little tense if he’s not so happy about the idea of playing out his contract year …