The Columbus Blue Jackets will play the 2021 season in the temporarily formed Central Division.
In some ways, it'll be like one long trip down memory lane. Columbus played in the Central Division of the Western Conference from their inaugural season until the 2013-14 season came to a close. Four of the five teams from that division will find themselves grouped together this year - the Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators, and the Blue Jackets. (Sorry, St. Louis. Enjoy the west coast.)
In other ways, it'll be just like last season - the Carolina Hurricanes are joining Columbus in the move from the metro to the central, and in fact, will play each other twice as much this season (eight games) than any previous season.
And in a third way, it'll have an odd look: The Blue Jackets will make plenty of trips to the south, as they play in a division with Tampa Bay, Florida, and Dallas for the first time in franchise history.
Amongst these rivals, both new and old, are many faces who previously called Nationwide Arena home. With eight games each against these seven teams, let's check the rosters for familiar faces that have turned from friend, to foe.
FORMER JACKETS: Ryan Dzingel
Dzingel scored four goals and had eight assists in his 21 regular season games with the Blue Jackets during the 2018-19 season, but fell out of favor with head coach John Tortorella and was a healthy scratch at times during the Jackets postseason run. As a member of the Hurricanes, Dzingel had an underwhelming 2019-20 season, scoring just eight goals in 64 games and compiling a career-low (by far) 8.3% shooting percentage.
FORMER JACKETS: None
The only team in the division without a former Jacket on their current roster, the Blackhawks do have one strong central Ohio tie: Connor Murphy, who is a Dublin native. The defenseman scored five goals and added 14 assists in 58 games last season, and his +2 plus/minus was tied for 5th best on the team.
FORMER JACKETS: Blake Comeau
Comeau spent part of two seasons with Columbus between 2012 and 2014, and spent time as a member of the Penguins and Avalanche prior to joining the Stars in 2018. Comeau scored seven times in 70 games as a member of the Blue Jackets, and has 15 goals in 132 games thus far in Dallas. And, to quote Bill Davidge, Comeau is "one tough cookie":
DETROIT RED WINGS
FORMER JACKETS: Sam Gagner, Cody Goloubef
Gagner dazzled in his "prove-it" 2016-17 season with Columbus. 18 goals and 32 assists gave him a 50 point season, and he was a catalyst in Columbus' stunning 16-game win streak en route to the best season in franchise history. After playing for Vancouver and Edmonton since departing Columbus, Gagne was traded to Detroit in February as part of the deal that sent Andreas Athanasiou to the Oilers.
And as for Goloubef, the extra defenseman played in 96 games over five seasons with Nationwide Arena as his home. He had just two goals, but hey, his first one - which came February 11th, 2013 - was a game winner.
FORMER JACKETS: Pretty much the entire roster.
We know the story on this one. The Florida Panthers the Southern Blue Jackets. Sergei Bobrovsky. Alex Wennberg. Markus Nutivarra. Anthony Duclair. Anton Stralman. Heck, even the Panthers general manager (Bill Zito) went south from Columbus. At times, the games between these two teams may look like an intra-squad scrimmage from a few years back. And while there are generally no hard feelings for any of these guys, it will be a little extra satisfying to pick up points against them in this sprint of a season.
FORMER JACKETS: Ryan Johansen, Matt Duchene
Johansen's 5th season in Columbus was John Tortorella's first, and it was a marriage that lasted about as long as the one between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, to use a dated analogy. Johansen has been a solid player for the Predators, but statistically, the argument could be made that he hasn't lived up to his potential. In four full seasons, he's been remarkably consistent at scoring goals: three seasons with 14 goals, and one (2017-18) with 15 goals. But those totals, coming in the prime of his career, are a far cry from his last two full seasons of Columbus, in which he scored 33 and 26. By games, he's been a Predator for 14% longer than he was a Blue Jacket, but he has just 82% of the total goals he did while in Columbus.
As for Duchene, was he really here long enough to say much about? Though, he did give us this:
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
FORMER JACKETS: Curtis McElhinney
Over his twelve year career as a journeyman goaltender, McElhinney has played more games as a member of the Blue Jackets (85) than any of the other seven teams he's been with. C-Mac was a reliable backup for Bobrovsky between 2013 and 2016: He posted a 2.86GAA and a .901 save percentage in his 66 starts and 19 relief appearances. His numbers in 18 starts with Tampa Bay last season were nearly identical: 2.89 goals againss, and a save percentage of .906. Given the condensed schedule that will come with this season, it's a good bet that the Blue Jackets will go up against McElhinney at least a couple of times this season.