Published September 28, 2011
| Sports Network
One playoff appearance in 10 seasons will certainly lead to a frustrated fan base. In the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets, it also produced an inpatient general manager in Scott Howson.
So, Howson abandoned the philosophy of waiting for young picks to pan out and made a splash this offseason, sending Jakub Voracek and a pair of 2011 draft picks, including the eighth overall pick, to the Philadelphia Flyers for 40- goal threat Jeff Carter.
A week later, Howson signed defenseman James Wisniewski to a six-year deal after having earlier acquired his rights from Montreal.
Those moves signal that Howson wants to win now, although Wisniewski will have to sit out the first eight games of the regular season due to a suspension.
Columbus went into last year fresh off its first-ever playoff appearance, but left the postseason without a series win. The Blue Jackets then got off to the best 20-game start in club history at 14-6, but lost five straight after that and ended the season by going 3-12-7 over the final 22 games.
That poor finish led to the Blue Jackets averaging under 14,000 fans per game, but the moves to get Carter and Wisniewski could jolt those numbers up.
They could certainly energize Rick Nash, the face of the franchise who may finally have a legitimate center to play alongside of.
Of course, the Blue Jackets haven't completely given up on their youth. To add Carter and Wisniewski, they had to part ways with veterans Scottie Upshall, Jan Hejda and Mathieu Garon, leaving roster space for the inexperienced Matt Calvert, Grant Clitsome and Ryan Johansen.
The loss of Garon and the glancing acquisitions of Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford to battle for the backup role in net also firmly plants the success of the upcoming season on 23-year-old Steve Mason.
Coming off rough two seasons after being named the league's top rookie, Mason hopes to avoid become the latest Blue Jacket prospect to flame out.
FORWARDS - Carter has made it a habit of scoring goals over his first five NHL seasons, amassing 181 in 461 games. That includes a career-high 46 in 2008-09 and another 36 a season ago before he reportedly partied his way out of Philadelphia.
Carter could continue to shine under a less brighter spotlight and alongside Nash, who has been looking for someone to help shoulder the scoring load. Nash has led the Blue Jackets in goals in each of the past seven seasons, notching 32 and a team-high 66 points last year.
The biggest issue that might arise between Nash and Carter on the same line is sharing shots, so the duo will need to be complimented with a playmaker. That could be the hard-working R.J. Umberger (25 goals, 32 assists in 2010-11) or perhaps Derick Brassard (17g, 30a).
With 32-year-old forward Kristian Huselius expected to miss 4-to-6 months because of surgery on his right pectoral muscle, newly-signed Vinny Prospal should step right into a top-six forward role after being limited to just 29 games a season ago because of injury.
Calvert could also take another step this year after posting 11 goals and 20 points in 42 games a season ago after being recalled from the minors on Jan. 6. All 11 of his goals came in his first 25 contests.
Johansen could also be in the mix for the Blue Jackets this year. The fourth overall pick of the 2010 draft showed great improvement in the Western Hockey League a season ago and the 19-year-old has also grown into a 6-foot-3 frame while posting 96 points last year.
The Blue Jackets ranked 24th with 2.56 goals per game a season ago and were even lower on the power play, where they ranked 29th. Howson and head coach Scott Arniel are hoping that Carter and Wisniewski, a pair of players with powerful shots, will improve those numbers.
DEFENSE - The Blue Jackets hope that whatever they lose defensively with Wisniewski on the blue line, he makes up for in helping the offense. The 27- year-old owns 148 points in 329 career games and combined for 41 assists and 51 points in 75 games with the Islanders and Canadiens.
Wisniewski was suspended for a hit to the head of Minnesota's Cal Clutterbuck on September 23 and won't be eligible to make his regular-season debut for the Blue Jackets until October 25 against Detroit.
Martinek logged 16 points and an average of 20 minutes and 50 seconds of ice time in 64 games last year with the Islanders, but did miss most of the 2009-10 season due to a knee injury, so there is that concern.
Like Calvert, Clitsome also came on strong after joining the club in January, posting 19 points in 31 games and was a plus-two.
GOALTENDING - Mason's numbers continued to slide in the wrong direction after he posted 33 wins, a 2.29 goals-against average and .916 save percentage during his 2008-09 rookie season. He went 24-21-7 in 54 games, the fewest appearances of his three-year career, with a 3.03 ERA and .901 save percentage last year.
Columbus opted not to bring in a big name to challenge Mason and instead added Ian Clark as the club's goaltending coach. Clark most recently served in that role with Vancouver from 2002-10 and was also a member of Team Canada's coaching staff at the World Junior Championships from 2003-06.
Mason should get the bulk of the work this year considering expected backup Dekanich has played in just 50 minutes in the NHL. He could also be the wild card given his success in the American Hockey League last year, when he posted a 23-12-2 record, 2.02 GAA, .931 save percentage and four shutouts in 43 games.
WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Blue Jackets are tired of being in the lower tier of talent in the NHL and their brief taste of postseason hockey has left Howson wanting more. The additions of Carter, Wisniewski and Prospal should turn the Blue Jackets into a better scoring team, but that also means that Methot and Mason will have to take care of business on the other side of the rink. Still, Columbus has definitely taken a step forward from a season ago and it would be a disappointment if the club is not challenging for a playoff spot at season's end.