By now you've read Mike's and Matt's thoughts and predictions for this year, now I'll take a shot at it. This is going to be a crucial year for Columbus. Ticket sales are going to be down, way, way down. I don't think it will be to the point where we threaten Atlanta's low attendance marks, but its discouraging nonetheless. I beg Jackets fans everywhere not to give up on this team. I won't promise a Stanley Cup, even a conference championship, but this team will be successful on the ice.
A lot of the team's success will hinge on chemistry. There are a lot of young guys, some of whom need some guidance. I think the vets (Moreau, Pahlsson, Clark, Rusty, Jan, Garon, etc.) will provide great leadership for these guys, much like the team's only playoff season when Manny, Pec, Chimmer, Freddy Mo and Jason Williams were around.
I hope fans don't look at the offseason moves (or lack thereof) and think this will be the same old stinking CBJ. A lot of the problems, I think, were from the system they were playing in. Hitch is a great, great coach, don't get me wrong. He'll be in the Hall of Fame someday, but when you have a group of skill players, its not easy to force them into roles they're not used to playing (see: Nikita Filatov).
Regardless, a new system brings new hope. I'm putting a lot of faith in Coach Arniel and his gameplan for the team, the season, and the future of the club. The objectives he has in place (d-men pushing the puck, cutting down on "lazy" penalties, scoring, scoring and more scoring) aren't outrageous. I don't think its asking much to push the puck, not be lazy, and score a few goals. From what I've seen, the team is responding in a positive way.
As for the players themselves, its put up or shut up. The continuous arguments of "Rick Nash is often criticized for his shaky leadership", "Antoine Vermette isn't an elite center", "Brass was a flash in the pan," "Mase will never be the same!" Everyone has something to prove. Steve Mason has to prove that his sophomore slump was just that, and it won't carry on. Nasher needs to prove he can be a leader and he has to do it vocally as well as continue his on-ice success.
Brassard needs to show that he can contribute consistently and be a top guy that people made him out to be. Jakub Voracek needs to prove he can be a star in the league, Ethan Moreau needs to prove to everyone that he's not washed up, and to make sure Edmonton knows that.
Are the players ready to step up? Is the coaching staff going to prove their mettle in the NHL? Time will tell. There's a lot of hockey to be played, and it starts TOMORROW with San Jose. Take them down, Columbus!
On to the predictions...
1 - Nash will score 45+ goals and be in contention for the Rocket Richard Trophy.
2 - Mason wins 40 or more games for the first time, and is a Vezina finalist once more.
4 - Voracek will see time on the top line opposite Nash, and next to Vermette.
5 - Columbus makes the playoffs as a 5-6 seed.
6 - We will have 4 All-Stars on our team (Nash, Voracek, Mason, Filatov)
CARRY THE FLAG and LETS GO JACKETS!