The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off back-to-back playoff seasons for the first time in their history, retained their main core in the offseason, and got a year older and wiser. What could go wrong?
There will certainly be a cautious optimism when entering Nationwide Arena on Oct. 5 – as when you peel back the outer layering a bit (as every realist Blue Jackets fan tends to do), you will see the potential horror movie that this season could turn into.
And since we prefer to keep it real, let’s be candid about it: there are a few potential disaster scenarios for the Blue Jackets this season, but there are also ways to potentially avoid them.
Panarin is Dealt at the Deadline
We all know the story of the summer. Artemi Panarin might not want to be in Columbus long term, putting pressure on the club to think about dealing him before losing him for nothing next summer.
Think it wouldn't be so bad to test out the first half of the season, and then trade Panarin at the deadline? Take a look at what little the Sharks and Jets had to give up to get two stars halfway through last season.
The Solution: Deal him now, or go all in for a Stanley Cup. Trade Panarin at this moment, and you reap some fruit that will be a decent reward in the future and help set up for new free agents to come in.
On the other hand, we all might be kicking ourselves if we trade Panarin before opening night, without even trying to go for it all. Columbus almost NEVER gets a guy like Panarin to come play for them in free agency, and guys like him sure are needed to win championships. Is it worth the risk?
Boy, are we glad we're not Jarmo Kekalainen.
Bob Gets Hurt
Panarin might be the best Blue Jacket, but Sergei Bobrovsky could certainly make the case for most valuable.
The two-time Vezina Trophy winner is absolutely vital to their success, and losing him in any facet in the near future would be a huge (if almost impossible) obstacle to overcome.
Contract negotiations aside, what's another way Bobrovsky could not be on the ice for the Jackets this season? If his insane post-to-post stretches aggravate that groin again.
He's susceptible - that's for sure. Bobrovsky has suffered two significant groin injuries during his time in Columbus: one that sidelined him for a month in the 2013-2014 season, and another that put him out for about half the season during during the 2015-2016 campaign.
If Bobrovsky gets traded, well, at least there's some return. If he gets hurt for an extended period of time, and then leaves after this upcoming season. No bueno, folks.
The Solution: Injuries just happen sometimes, but the Jackets can do their best to prevent this. Bobrovsky was third in the league amongst goalies last season in games started with 65.
This isn't great and is just asking for over-usage to burn him out. Play him early and often, gain a comfortable playoff hope, and then give him good time of rest before the postseason.
If spaced out correctly, 59 games is plenty for Bobrovsky.
The Stars Don't Shine
In his first season with the team, Panarin broke the single-season record for points with 82. The next closest? Seth Jones. With 25 less.
Jones is an incredible talent. But when your second leading point grabber is a defenseman, and he has almost one third less points than the guy in first, that isn't a great look for postseason success, or just productivity in general.
Yes, yes, we want the Oliver Bjorkstrands, Alexander Wennbergs and Markus Nutivaaras to all have breakout or bounce-back seasons. But what about the Cam Atkinsons, Pierre-Luc Dubois' and Zach Werenskis? If they don't improve on last season, can the Jackets really expect to get out of the first round?
The Jackets were 16th in the league in goals for last season. They have to light the lamp to get closer to the Cup, and their stars have to lead the way.
The Solution: Ergh, play better? One way to get the starts shining is improving the power play that was horrendous for most of last season. We have some ideas on how to buff that up right here.
Aside from that? Try to keep the lines consistent, and give guys time for chemistry to grow. It seemed like pairings and sets were mixed quite a bit (injuries happen, to be fair). The line of Atkinson, Dubois and Panarin was only around for 30-ish games, and they tore it up. Imagine them getting a full year together under their belt.
Obviously we wouldn’t cheer for these hurdles to get in the Jackets’ way – but they are all definite possibilities, and the newly-extended management group needs to be ready to handle them.