It was a rough year on defense for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The revolving door in net probably did not help matters, but the team gave up 252 goals, good for second-worst in the entire league. The mid-season trade for Seth Jones reshaped the blue line after Ryan Murray was hailed before the season as the missing key to the group. Now, the Jackets appear to be set on defense for many years to come.
Top Pair Set to Lead
Seth Jones: It was sometimes hard to remember during the year that the 6'5'' defenseman was only in his third season in the NHL. Jones played 41 games after being acquired in the Johansen trade (he played 40 for Nashville prior to the deal) and he put up 2-18-20 in a CBJ sweater. His 1.04 points per 60 minutes led all Jackets defensemen for the season as did his even-strength CF% of 52.7%. Perhaps the most glaring weakness this season was his inability to find the back of the net - Jones had just two goals on 83 shots for a 2.4% shooting percentage with Columbus. His career mark is 4.5% so it is reasonable to expect a few more goals from him next season. Jones showed signs throughout the year why he was taken #4 overall in the 2013 Draft and all indications are he should be set to be the #1 guy for Columbus for many seasons to come. He remains the only NHL regular blue liner not yet with a contract for next season (Justin Falk - UFA - and Michael Paliotta - RFA - also remain without contracts). Provided Jones signs a new contract, he should anchor the top pair and power play for the Blue Jackets next season and beyond.
Ryan Murray: The #2 overall pick in 2012 came into the season with questions about his durability and ability to stay healthy. Though he got off to a slow start (was very nearly made a healthy scratch early in the season), Murray found his game and took on more responsibility alongside Seth Jones on the top pairing. Murray was the only Blue Jackets defender to play more than 65 games this season, appearing in all 82 contests. He set career-highs with 4-21-25 and led the way (along with David Savard) in points among CBJ defensemen. Murray also blew past the 20 minute TOI mark as he played 22:51 per game, the highest of any his three NHL seasons. His advanced stats were not great compared to his first couple of seasons (EV CF% of 47.6) but Jackets fans have to be happy with an injury-free season from #27. Murray also appeared more comfortable on the ice after the acquisition of Seth Jones. Both have already been named to Team North America for this fall's World Cup of Hockey. Murray signed a bridge deal extension late in the season will see a raise to $2.825 million for the coming season.
Middle Pair in Appropriate Roles
Jack Johnson: Injuries cut Johnson's season short (specifically a shoulder injury) in what was mostly a quiet year. He led CBJ blue liners (though that's not saying much) with 6 goals, but he only managed 14 points in 60 games. It was the lower point per game output from Johnson since his first full NHL season in 2007-2008. Johnson finished in his customary position in +/- at -16, far and away the worst on the Columbus blue line. He did manage to maintain his lofty minutes at over 24 minutes of TOI. His minutes did not diminish much despite the addition of Jones to the group. Later in the year Johnson was slotted into the middle pair of the defense, a role he has never played in Columbus. It is, though, the position many believe to be the appropriate one for the former Los Angeles King as it takes him away from playing extensive minutes against the top lines of the opponent every night.
David Savard: Expectations were high for Savard coming into this season after he put up career highs in scoring in 2014-2015 (11-25-36). Unfortunately, he struggled much of the year and battled injuries as well, appearing in 65 games and set to undergo ankle surgery this offseason. Savard was unable to match last season's output as he posted an identical stat line to Murray of 4-21-25 this season to along with a -7 rating. Once "over positioned" on the top pair, Savvy played a more-appropriate middle pair role during the back half of the season. Prior to the season, he signed a five-year contract extension which begins this fall. His cap hit will increase substantially, from $1.3 million to $4.25 million next season.
Rotating Bottom Pair
Dalton Prout: Despite being a healthy scratch several times throughout the season, Prout played in 64 games this season which was good for 3rd most on the blue line. He set career-highs on goals (3) and points (9) as well as PIM (102). Prout took 29 minor penalties, tied for 22nd in the entire league in that category and 10th most among defensemen. He managed to earn a contract extension late in the year and his new deal will pay him $1.575 million (AAV) per year over the next two seasons. Prout brings a toughness and willingness to fight to the blue line, but his play struggled for much of this season. He saw his ice time (16:10 TOI) dip to the lowest mark since he became an NHL regular.
Fedor Tyutin: John Tortorella acknowledged that Tyutin probably lacks the speed to play much longer in the NHL. This could be a problem as Tyutin still has two more years left on his current contract. The team tried to move him at he deadline but there were no takers for his $4.5 million cap hit. Will he be dealt this summer? Tyutin had, statistically, his worst season as a professional hockey player. His stat line reads just 1-2-3 in 61 games. His ice time dropped to below 18 minutes a game for the first time in any NHL season and he was made a healthy scratch for several games. Tyutin's tenure in Columbus might be over...if the front office can find a buyer this offseason.
Cody Goloubef: It was a roller coaster season for Goloubef in Columbus. He entered the season in a battle with Dalton Prout for a role on the bottom pair, won a full-time job, broke his jaw, and struggled to stay in the lineup after his recover. That's understandable given that he could not eat solid foods immediately after breaking his jaw. Cody appeared in 43 games due to injury and healthy scratches and posted 1-7-8. His cap hit is just $750,000 next season, but that also makes it easier to deal him if the team wishes.
Out of Town
Kevin Connauton: The Arizona Coyotes claimed Kevin Connauton off of waivers a season after the CBJ did the same thing. Connauton's bomb of a shot and power play abilities were touted as a replacement for James Wisniewski. That never panned out as Connauton produced just 1-7-8 in 27 games this past season.
Andrew Bodnarchuk: After receiving playing time because of injuries to other defenders, Bodnarchuck was also claimed on waivers. He was off to Colorado after posting 0-2-2 in 16 games in the union blue.
Justin Falk: Falk's season will probably remembered for two things - 1) getting undressed by Connor McDavid in McDavid's return from IR and 2) being a human yo-yo the last couple weeks of the season. Other than that, Falk posted four assists in 24 games with the Jackets this season, playing just over 14 minutes per game. He is set to become a UFA this summer.
Got Their Cup of Coffee
Dean Kukan: The undrafted free-agent pick up appeared in eight games down the stretch. Kukan matched a CBJ rookie record (twice) for +/- in a single game and ended up as a +9 in those eight games he played. He provided a steady, left presence and showed an ability to skate the puck out of trouble. The sample size was small so he will have to prove himself in camp next fall to make the team in October.
Michael Paliotta: His first NHL game was forgettable, but many still believe Paliotta has NHL upside. He still needs a contract extension for next season, though.
John Ramage: Did you know John Ramage played an NHL game for the Blue Jackets in 2016?
While not counted on to provide a substantial amount of the offense, the blue line collectively took a step back this season. In 2014-2015, the defensemen combined for 43 goals and had three players with over 28 points each. This season, they scored just 22 goals and no individual scored more than 25 points. The goals and points were down from the defenders but they also struggled in their own zone. The Jones trade changed the dynamic on the back end and has set up 2016-2017 to be a much better season for the defense.