It's a new year and the Pittsburgh Penguins are in a new division. One of these new, bright and shiny franchises to join us will be the Columbus Blue Jackets. Be sure to check out Jackets Cannon, our friends at their SB Nation blog following the Jackets all season long.
We'll run this now, since the Pens and BJ's (heh) meet on Sunday night for the first pre-season game of the season. And as Pensblog said, the game will be televised on NHL Network, giving us our first look at the Pens this season.
#1 - Give a 4 sentence preview of your 2013-14 team
The Blue Jackets look to pick up where they left off in 2013, bringing back almost the same roster that finished 19-5-5 and just missed the playoffs. Columbus looks to a full season of Marian Gaborik, the addition of Nathan Horton, and the continued excellence of Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky behind a stout defense as the path to making a playoff push in a very tough, new-look Eastern Conference. After their finish last year, they won't sneak up on anybody anymore. That said, they probably won't be outworked, either.
#2 - What is your team's biggest addition and why?
Horton, even though he's not going to play until December, most likely. Horton was arguably the biggest-name free agent on the market this summer, and he chose Columbus. Let that sink in for a moment. Once he's healthy, Horton plays the exact style the Jackets need while adding a legitimate scoring resume to the fold. Runner up would be the full season of Gaborik, who's 100% healthy again and in a contract year.
#3 - What is your team's biggest loss from last season?
Vinny Prospal. Yes, at age 38 his best years are well behind him. That said, he played in all 130 games since coming to Columbus in 2011, and he led the team in points last season. He was also one of the biggest purveyors of the "culture change" that has happened in Columbus over the past 18 months, and he was a fan favorite. They can probably replace his raw production, but they can't replace his veteran presence and his voice in the dressing room.
#4 - Which player on your team do you see being a pleasant surprise?
That depends on how you define "surprise," I guess. Cam Atkinson is a guy that many Jackets fans believe can bring some additional scoring, but in his two seasons in Columbus he's battled injuries, including a dreaded high-ankle sprain that robbed him of his quickness last season. If healthy, many think Cam can be a big contributor. That said, it would still be a pleasant surprise if he threw in 20+ goals this year. Other candidates include Blake Comeau, who is playing a checking role but has showed a knack for scoring timely goals in his past career, and defenseman Ilari Melart who was literally signed out of nowhere this summer to compete for a defensive spot. The enormous Fin is a defense-first guy who would inject a bit more raw size into the bottom of a smallish blue line unit if he makes the squad.
#5 - What's your biggest worry regarding your team as this season begins?
Well, there's always the dreaded question "What if Bobrovsky has a huge let down season?" looming, as he was by far the biggest reason for the Jackets' late-season surge. That said, the lingering question--if everything continues as it finished last season--is: where are the goals going to come from? Gaborik will help, as will Horton when he comes back. That said, the Jackets were very much a defense-first team that relied on scoring timely goals by committee last season. That style may not fly as well in the more wide-open East. They're going to need Gaborik to have a bounce-back year, Horton to hit the ice skating when he comes back, and they're going to need some of their young guys (Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Ryan Johansen, et al) to step up their games as well.
#6 - If you had to predict a finishing position 1st through 8th in the division for your team today for 2013-14, which place would it be?
I would put Columbus 4th behind Pittsburgh, Washington, and the Rangers if everything goes according to plan. I also won't be overlooking the Islanders, as I think they're primed for a break-out if they can solve their riddle in goal. I think Columbus will finish ahead of New Jersey, Carolina, and Philadelphia regardless.
#7 - Which player will you revere less after the season is over- Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?
It will be physically impossible for me to revere Crosby any less than I already do.
#8 - Give me one player in the division (that's not on your team) that you think is poised for a big-time year.
I think there's no way Kyle Okposo only scores four goals again. He can again be a 20-25 goal scorer on an emerging Islanders team, and I think he gets back closer to his '11-'12 form where he had 24 goals and 45 points. I think he can easily be a 50-point guy if he gets to play with Tavares and Moulson.
#9 - As a division rival there's naturally a lot of tension and animosity when the competitive portion of the season begins...So before that, I challenge you to pay a compliment to the Penguins, Sidney Crosby, city of Pittsburgh, it's residents, anything you'd like.
I would like to thank the Penguins' front office for giving Kris Letang soooo much money that next season they'll have basically 50% of their cap locked up in five guys, one of whom will STILL be Marc Andre Fleury. Also, as a native of northeastern Ohio, I would like to thank the Steelers for rekindling the rivalry with the Browns by possibly being even shittier than the Browns are to start this season.
#10 - If you had to guess, what is a potential division name that was left on the drawing board before the genuses in the NHL picked 'Metropolitan' as the best idea?
I suspect one of the first cut-downs was The Gary Bettman's Raging Hard-On Division, simply because I imagine it was his wettest of wet dreams to have the Rangers, Crosby, and Ovechkin all in the same place.
Thanks to Dan for helping out, and we're all looking forward to the extra three home games for the Pens in the years to come that Columbus will be donating.