Welcome back. It's hockey season.
The Blue Jackets begin training camp (the on-ice portion) today at Nationwide Arena and the OhioHealth Ice Haus, gearing up for the 2018-19 regular season. It's going to happen fast, too; they'll play their first of eight preseason games on Monday night at home against the Buffalo Sabres.
We've gathered some of the 1OB staff to discuss the obvious – Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – as well as potential breakout stars for an intriguing Blue Jackets team.
How big or potentially hazardous are the Panarin and Bobrovsky distractions?
Kyle Morrison: I’m a big ‘distractions are overblown’ kinda guy, but it’s hard to imagine the Artemi Panarin thing not becoming toxic at some point – barring a miraculous change of heart. Given the bromance between Panarin and Cam Atkinson – who committed to the city of Columbus like no player before him ever had – I’m ever so slightly hopeful. Still, I think the guys in the room understand that the Blue Jackets’ hands are tied. It’s a bad situation that could grow worse, but training camp should still go smoothly.
Sam Blazer: I am always one to discount distractions until they become something tangible. If Panarin comes in like nothing is wrong and keeps up his point-per-game pace, it really shouldn’t be an issue at all. It should distract the players that are lower in the lineup. It wouldn’t make much sense if that was the case. It is Panarin’s business and the front office’s business; if a middle-six player is affected by it, then that says more about them than anything else.
Dan Dukart: The distractions are definitely a cause for concern, but I have a hard time quantifying it without actually being a player in the locker room. Panarin’s comments – or in some instances a lack thereof – are no secret. But at the same time, he’s a member of the Blue Jackets and is playing for his next contract. That’s true regardless of what team’s logo he’s wearing. The same can be said for Bobrovsky, who’s as laser-focused as they come. It may be a distraction off the ice, but when the team is practicing or playing a game, I don’t foresee it being an issue.
Chris Pennington: For the players, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as we may think it is. The fans might be the most distracted party out of all, really. Every time a Jackets player has been quoted about the situation, they have stated their understanding that this is Panarin’s decision and a personal matter to him. One of the ways I could see it becoming a distraction is if the Jackets struggle right out of the gate, and the rumors of trade get louder as the deadline gets closer. If they’re winning games, I find it hard to believe there will be drama. Players know that the game is also a business, and rosters are never permanent. Fans, on the other hand, are always thinking ahead.
Do you think the season begins with Artemi Panarin on the Blue Jackets’ roster?
KM: Yes, but I think he’s gone before the trade deadline. Going for it sounds appealing, but the Blue Jackets can’t risk losing him (or Bobrovsky) for nothing. There’s a strong core in place, and trading away Panarin may destroy the team’s shot at a Stanley Cup this year, but the right return could extend the Blue Jackets’ championship window.
SB: Yeah, I don’t see a drop-dead offer coming to the Blue Jackets any time soon. He will likely be the most valuable at the trade deadline as a rental option. They should be able to get a haul then. But even if that is the case, they should strongly consider adding to their core and keeping him around. Why not try and win a Stanley Cup?
DD: I do, yes. I thought that the draft in June could have been a plausible time to move him, given that every team is engaged in upgrading their team in a specific two-day period. But now that we’re in mid-September, I think that Jarmo and company are waiting to see if Panarin’s teammates can impact his decision at all.
CP: 100%. I’m willing to be very wrong with that take, but if he was going to get traded before the season, I think it would have happened by now. My thought is that Jarmo is waiting to see how the team looks at the trade deadline, and if they’re looking hot, keep him, if they’re stumbling, dish him. I’m a firm believer that Columbus is one of the hardest cities in the NHL to attract elite free agents to, meaning, you never know when they would get someone like him again unless it’s by a miraculous trade. Go for a championship or deep run now.
Which non-playoff (2017-18) Metropolitan Division opponent concerns you most this season?
KM: The obvious answer here is Carolina, but they’ve made a ton of changes this offseason and don’t appear to be done any time. The New York teams don’t seem to be in a great place to contend. Carolina has some quality pieces, but it’s tough to get excited about a team that’s in such a state of flux. Outside of the division, Florida’s acquisition of Mike Hoffman and potential impact rookies (Henrik Borgström, Owen Tippett) will make them a huge threat to crash the playoff party – even if the goaltending situation is volatile and the defense has room to improve.
SB: I think by default, it has to be the Hurricanes. The defense is once again loaded and they’ve changed coaches, so I wonder if the strategy is going to change. Scott Darling can’t be as bad as he was last year and they are going to have an infusion of young talent coming up. If they aren’t competing, then the problems with the team may be more deep-seeded than any of us realized.
DD: I guess Carolina, but only because the Islanders and Rangers don’t concern me really at all in 2018-19, and the other five teams made the playoffs last season. They added Dougie Hamilton on their back-end and drafted Andrei Svechnikov with the second overall pick in this year’s draft. He could be a threat, even at his age.
CP: Well, the Rangers are rebuilding and the Islanders just lost a top-five player in the world. Congrats, Carolina, you win as the upcoming sleeper team. But now everyone knows that.
Give us your pre-training camp potential breakout Blue Jackets player for 2018-19.
KM: There are some young guys who could hit that breakout (Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano) or bounce back after a tough year (Alexander Wennberg) but I’ll go off the board here and say Nick Foligno. Sure, he already had his breakout (in 2014-15), but he was bounced around quite a bit last season and spent a large chunk of the year at center. He’ll finally be put back into a role where he can thrive, as a middle-six left wing who plays in all situations. I don’t think he’ll top 70 points again, but he could near the 60-point mark and give Columbus some much-needed secondary scoring.
SB: I think Anthony Duclair is going to hit 30 points. I'm not sure if it is going to happen in the NHL or AHL, but I think if given the opportunity he should do well with the Blue Jackets. Every line for the Blue Jackets has skill and Duclair can play anywhere in the lineup (line wise). Sounds like Sam Gagner part deux.
DD: Oliver Bjorkstrand. He deserved to play more last year, skating just 14:18 per night, and was quietly fifth on the team with 40 points. Especially if the Blue Jackets move Panarin, Bjorkstrand would seem to be a direct beneficiary. But even if he’s not, he’s in line for more of an impactful season.
CP: I almost bought an Anthony Duclair jersey the second he signed here (and also after I got to do a little research on him). I think the kid can be a near-all-star in the coming years, and just needs the right opportunity and environment to really spring-board himself. He started off great with the Coyotes, having 44 points in his second season and at the age of 20, but trailed off a bit afterwards, especially when he was with the Blackhawks. Playing alongside Sonny Milano, Brandon Dubinsky or Vitalii Abramov wouldn’t be the worst options on a fourth line, and playing in a small market like Columbus could allow him to be more comfortable compared to the fans he had to please in Chicago.
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