Since the Columbus Blue Jackets have known consistent success, they've known Sergei Bobrovsky.
Now, they navigate uncharted waters. How are they going to perform as a club without the most valuable player in franchise history?
And he is, arguably at least, by the numbers. Bobrovsky holds 75 point shares in his time with the Blue Jackets, nine ahead of the next closest (Rick Nash) and 32 ahead of the next closest active player (Cam Atkinson).
The only time the Blue Jackets made the playoffs without Bobrovsky in franchise history, or even had a record above .500, was the 2008-2009 season where it took another miraculous season from a goaltender to drag the club to the postseason. Remember Steve Mason?
Bobrovsky put Columbus on the map. The Blue Jackets have lived and died by the two-time Vezina-winning goaltender. When he was 'on' in the playoffs, they swept one of the best regular-season teams of all time. When he was even slightly off, they lost three games in a row in the next round.
There are likely only one or two goaltenders in the world that can replace a Sergei Bobrovsky. Practically, the team cannot replace him. It's not in their budget, and they have a real reason to believe Elvis Merzlikins will be their goalie of the future.
While Merzlikins takes time to develop, though, what will be the MO of the club? As Bobrovsky went, so did the team. What will they be able to rely on and put on their resume for the next few seasons in a time of mini-rebuilding?
Blue Line Depth
The Blue Jackets can run nine-deep on their blue line. This is a good problem to have.
Barring any trades, the top-five is essentially locked in with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, David Savard and Markus Nutivaara. It gets tricky when you start to then factor in Adam Clendening, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington, Vladislav Gavrikov and heck, even Andrew Peeke.
With a rookie goaltender likely to take most of the nights in net, the defense will need to be top-notch for Columbus, and it's looking like they'll have one of the best units in the league.
Spreading the Wealth
One of the only upsides to the departures of 25-plus goal scorers Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Artemi Panarin is that there's more room on the ice for others scorers to step up and rise to the occasion.
We witnessed breakout seasons for Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson last season, and they are going to be counted on for an even bigger role come this fall for lighting the lamp. Put that with the likes of Gustav Nyquist, Cam Atkinson, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (all of which scored more than 22 goals last season) and you've got the solid makings of a top-six.
If Alexander Wennberg could find his 2017 self...maybe he'll be in that group?
Defensive Zone Tightening
The Blue Jackets have been used to being bailed out in games by Sergei Bobrovsky for the past seven seasons, but now, they will need to return the favor, but to whoever is in the pipes this upcoming season.
Merlikins will be matched up with Joonas Korpisalo in the fight for starting goaltender, but no matter which player is in the crease, the team around them will have to tighten up quite a bit.
From a strictly eye-test perspective, the Blue Jackets cleaned up their act in their own zone when Korpisalo was the starting goaltender for certain nights rather than Bobrovsky. That's the luxury of a superstar goaltender - your backchecking can be relaxed a bit, you can pinch in your defense more and give up an odd-man rush here and there. No sweat.
With Merzlikins and Korpisalo, though, there should be no room for error in front of the two, and the defense across the board will be called to tighten up. This could be a silver lining of Bobrovsky's departure - or a nightmare. Let's hope for the former.
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