As part of the our SBNation 2016 NHL season preview, we put our heads together here at The Cannon to come up with three major questions facing this team as they prepare for the 2016-2017 season. See what you think of our choices, and let us know how you’d answer them!
1: Will a full training camp allow John Tortorella to get more out of this club?
Landing in Columbus in the aftermath of Todd Richards’ disastrous final month as the head coach of the Blue Jackets last October, Torts was asked to pick up a team that had nothing to play for, managing to scrape together 34 wins, 33 losses, and 8 OT/Shootout losses while losing his team’s top center and trying to evaluate how much of roster might be salvageable.
Promising a demanding, intense training camp experience, Torts juggled his responsibilities to Team USA at the World Cup with his duties in Columbus thanks to help from his assistants, and by all accounts he’s been pushing vets and young players alike for more speed, more stamina, and to establish a system for this team. But with those demands come a lot of questions - particularly after watching the U.S. implode so spectacularly in the pre-season tournament. Added to that concern has been a wildly uneven pre-season for the Jackets. Even though coaches insist the pre-season results don’t matter, the “on again, off again” behavior looked terribly similar to the worst parts of the last few seasons at Nationwide Arena as touted prospects and vets alike failed to impress.
Normally there would be an expectation that the Blue Jackets should see a better record in the 2016-2017 season thanks to a full offseason to prepare the team, but if Tortorella is trying to push a flawed system, or begins to “lose the room” thanks to his abrasive coaching style, it’s very possible this club will find themselves competing for a lottery pick, not a playoff spot.
2: How Many Players Could Be On The Move Before This Season Ends?
On paper, the Blue Jackets only made one trade last season - but it was a doozy, sending Ryan Johansen to Nashville in exchange for Seth Jones. In reality, things were a bit more complicated. Trade rumors swirled over players like Sergei Bobrovsky, Scott Hartnell and Jack Johnson all season, and Columbus parted ways with a number of their long serving veterans during the offseason and free agency.
Even though a deal for Bobrovsky appeared close at the NHL entry draft, and Hartnell waived his No Movement Clause during the summer (and later “re-exercised” it), both will start the season in Union Blue, but questions remain over how secure their positions are.
With the NHL expansion draft looming next summer, we know the Jackets are likely to lose at least one player from this roster to the Las Vegas Unnameables, and as players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Sonny Milano, and Oliver Bjorkstrand make their case for NHL duty, the front office may want to kick the tires on clearing roster spots and opening cap room, especially if there’s a need to ‘shake up’ the locker room should the team fail to perform up to expectations once again.
3: What will the goaltending situation look like in Columbus and Cleveland?
Last season’s injuries to both Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney required prospect goaltenders Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo to spent quite a bit of time driving up and down I-71.
Both had respectable performances when called, particularly Korpisalo, who saw action in 31 games last season, while Forsberg backstopped the Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters through their Calder Cup run, boasting a 1.34 GAA and .949 SV% in the postseason.
After an excellent performance in the World Cup of Hockey, Sergei Bobrovsky seems ready to reclaim his net, and many fans hope he will show something closer to his Vezina winning season numbers than his recent struggles, while McElhinney is a wildcard. Most agree that “C-Mac” is nearing the end of his career, but the front office is playing their hand close to the vest on how secure his job as the backup actually is.
It is likely that the young RFA goalies will begin the season in Cleveland as a tandem once again, but between the trade rumors around Bobrovsky and McElhinney’s injury history, it’s a safe bet that Forsberg and Korpisalo will be pushing each other as they attempt to secure a permanent NHL job.