Columbus’ goal for this year should be simple:
Last year, the Blue Jackets led the NHL in man games lost, with 502. That figure derailed what was supposed to be a building block campaign; the year prior, Columbus posted a franchise-high 93 points en route to the first two playoff wins in club history.
While the team isn’t using health issues as an excuse for last year, it does recognize it can’t allow injuries to be so disruptive.
“We need to find better ways to maintain and not have major dips,” head coach Todd Richards said earlier this summer, per NHL.com. “We might have injuries this year, and you’ve got to find ways to stay afloat instead of sinking.”
If they do stay healthy, the Blue Jackets should be a legit playoff contender.
Brandon Saad, acquired in a summer blockbuster from Chicago, will give the team a dynamic, goalscoring power forward up front, presumably to play alongside franchise center Ryan Johansen. Behind those two are a host of capable scorers: Nick Foligno, Scott Hartnell, Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky, to name a few.
On defense, the picture is murkier.
The club is holding out hope that Ryan Murray, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, is finally over the health issues that derailed his first two NHL campaigns. The 20-year-old, who has the potential to be a top-pairing d-man, only appeared in 12 games last year, after missing 18 in his rookie campaign.
Outside of Murray, the familiar cast of characters remains: Jack Johnson, David Savard, Fedor Tyutin and Dalton Prout, most notably. The Jackets are counting on that crew to improve internally and possibly get a push from prospects like Dillon Heatherington and Michael Paliotta, the latter acquired from Chicago in the Saad deal.
In goal, there are no questions.
Sergei Bobrovsky enters as the clear-cut No.1, coming off a campaign in which he missed significant time to injury and posted below average numbers (.918 save percentage, 2.68 GAA).
The hope is that Bobrovsky will return to the form that saw him win the Vezina two years ago, and that the skaters in front of him will stay healthy. If both those things happen, Columbus will be knocking on the door of playoff contention, and not a team opponents will want to face should it get in.