If the 2014/2015 season does in fact turn out to be "The Lost Season", there are a handful of things the Jackets can do to quickly get back to the playoffs next season. The team is currently tied for 30th in the NHL with Buffalo and Edmonton at 14 points.
The Sabres are bad, but they've won three in row. The Jackets and Oilers, however, are in funks. Look no further than goal differential to see why these teams are where they are- the Jackets are a -23, the Oilers -25 and the Sabres -34.
For the sake of discussion, let's assume that if this is truly a lost season that the Jackets get either the first or second overall draft pick. This is where the plan to get back to the playoffs starts.
1) Draft either Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Grabbing one of these players would single-handedly make the Lost Season worth it. Given the current makeup of the roster, adding a generational talent like McDavid or Eichel to the likes of Ryan Johansen, Alexander Wennberg, Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray, Kerby Rychel and Sonny Milano would give the Jackets one of the most talented group of young players in the league. There's a chance that they could be contributors for the Jackets as soon as next season, though in Eichel's case he may need another year of college hockey.
2) Replace Nathan Horton. It sounds harsh, but I'm not just casting Horton aside. The truth is, if he is in fact forced to retire, his contract comes off the books and the Jackets would be free to use his cap space to add another impact forward. If it doesn't happen during this season, a trade in the offseason (we've talked about guys like Jordan Eberle and Evander Kane) or a UFA signing (it's an ugly option) would be the way to do it. Adding a legitimate top-six winger would be crucial to ensure a return to the playoffs.
3) Re-sign Nick Foligno. He's having a great year, which is unsurprising given his contract status, but he is one of the glue guys on the roster who would be required for a return to the postseason. Remember how clutch he was in the series against the Penguins last year?
4) Re-sign Sergei Bobrovsky. This one is a no-brainer. The team's MVP being under contract is an absolute must if this team wants to even sniff the playoffs.
5) Get offensive contribution from the bottom two lines. You don't need the bottom two lines to be full of 20-goal scorers. What you do need, is for them to score the occasional goal and keep the goal differential on the positive side of the ledger. The Jackets aren't getting anything from their bottom two lines so far this season. When the Johansen or Hartnell lines aren't on the ice, there's nothing happening.
6) Avoid Injury. I know, this isn't necessarily something that can be controlled. This season has been beyond silly when it's come to injuries, but to rebound from The Lost Season a healthy roster is a must. One still must wonder if there is something going on to cause all of these injuries...
Some of these things are tall orders, especially replacing Horton. Even having one of the first two picks won't be easy, especially with the new draft lottery rules. If this is The Lost Season, a lot has to go right for the team to immediately return to the postseason.
A more realistic scenario is that as the team continues to get healthy this year, their winning percentage will increase, putting them out of the top few draft picks. It's likely too late for the playoffs, so the team will finish with a pick in the top-14. They'll be able to add a good player (hopefully a defenseman) who adds to the pipeline but won't be an immediate contributor.
Regarding the Horton replacement, that won't be easy. The Jackets won't be the only team in the running if an Evander Kane or Jordan Eberle (to name two) were to become available. The UFA crop this summer is so thin it's barely worth talking about.
The easiest things for the Jackets to do would be to take care of their key players in free agency like Foligno, Bob and Cam Atkinson, and hope that with a distraction-free 2015 training camp, and some good ole fashioned luck in the injury department, the team can get back to the postseason in 2016 with The Lost Season behind them.