The Blue Jackets went into this past season with higher expectations than ever before. They were fresh off their first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and added support to their young core with free agent signings Samuel Pahlsson and Mathieu Garon. Franchise goaltender Steve Mason also took home the Calder trophy as the league's best rookie.
There were a handful of good moments this season, one of which gives hope for the future- for the first time ever, the Jackets had five 50-point scorers. Rick Nash finished with 67, Antoine Vermette had 65, Huselius 63, Umberger 55 and Voracek 50. This season also saw the breakout of defenseman Kris Russell. His point totals of 7-15-22 aren't earth-shattering, but game by game you could see him improve. By the end of the season he was showing a ton of confidence carrying the puck up the ice, pinching in on the offensive and he was becoming more solid in the defensive zone. His strong play earned him a spot on Team Canada for the World Hockey Championship. Six Blue Jackets represented their nations at the Olympic games, one of the highest totals in the NHL.
The Jackets started off hot, but things quickly came down to earth. They finished the season with a record of 32-35-15. Mid-way through the season, coach Ken Hitchcock was fired, replaced by Claude Noel. There are many reasons for the Jackets' bad season- lack of growth from Mason and Derick Brassard, poor defensive zone play, and so-so special teams. (To be fair, there was a long stretch where the Jackets had the league's best powerplay, but that, like everything else this season, didn't last)
In terms of meeting expectations, I would say that every forward met expectations with the exception of Brassard and rookie Nikita Filatov, who bolted for Russia after seeing limited ice time under Ken Hitchcock. Antoine Vermette set career highs across the board, and is my pick for team MVP.
Personally, I think every blueliner on this team not named Kris Russell failed to meet expectations. The top shutdown pairing from last season- Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda- never hit their stride and dealt with injury and conditioning issues throughout the season. Fedor Tyutin put up points, but was also guilty of sloppy play in the defensive zone. Anton Stralman made an immediate impact when he joined the team, but his numbers fell off as the season wore on, which also led to the powerplay going downhill. Marc Methot had a rough season up until the last few weeks, where he managed to find his stride and was a top shutdown defenseman. Rusty Klesla missed half of the season due to injury.
Steve Mason obviously did not meet expectations, but I would say that goaltender Mathieu Garon certainly did. He had a couple of shaky starts, but otherwise he played very well and was virtually unbeatable at home.
- Anton Stralman was acquired from the Calgary Flames for a 2010 third round pick
- Jordan Lavalee-Smotherman was acquired from Atlanta for future considerations
- Stefan Legein was traded to the Philadelphia organization for Mike Ratchuk
- Milan Jurcina was traded back to the Capitals for a conditional pick (based on Jurcina's games-played)
- Prospect Matt Rust was acquired for Mathieu Roy
- Chad Kolarik was acquired for former first rounder Alexandre Picard
The Jackets' AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, were equally as bad as the big club, finishing out of the playoffs. An agreement to renew the affiliation never came to fruition, and the Jackets partnered with the Springfield Falcons for next season.
The season was a disappointment, but there was some growth. A coaching change gives hope for the future, and the Jackets will pick fourth overall in the 2010 Entry Draft. They will get a very good player, one who could make an impact in the coming seasons. A big question going into next season is whether or not Nikita Filatov will return from Russia, or be traded. Outside of Filatov, the forwards next year are basically set- a good thing given their statistical success this season. The goaltenders will remain the same, but the defense should get an overhaul. Look for GM Scott Howson to be busy rebuilding the back-end this summer.