CBJ Season in Review: The Big Stories
As we work on summing up the 2014-2015 season here at The Cannon, we wanted to take a look back at the stories that defined this season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There's no doubt that this season had some incredible ups and downs - and trying to determine the biggest ones was a real challenge.
The most difficult part, really, wasn't finding them - it was narrowing it down to just five.
1) The Johansen Contract
Though there were a few other pieces of news in the offseason - the Scott Hartnell trade in particular - the dominant storyline through the summer and into training camp was the contract battle between Ryan Johansen and the club, with a number of public broadsides being unleashed between Blue Jackets president John Davidson and Johansen's agent, Kurt Overhardt. Things looked incredibly bleak on the team's Media Day in mid-September, with JD going so far as to disclose the contract offers the club had made in an effort to shame Overhardt back to the table.
Johansen would go dark at that point, with Overhardt giving a few interviews, but otherwise laying low. The dispute would run through the team's entire training camp, but the two sides finally reached a deal two days before the start of the regular season. Fans were glad to see the matter settled, but the whole saga left a lot of unanswered questions about the young forward's preparations and willingness to play in Columbus.
2) Injuries, injuries, injuries.
Speaking of something that started in training camp, the epidemic of injuries and illnesses that took players out of the lineup defined this season - and I suspect that when we look back in a few years, it's going to be the main thing people remember about this season.
During media day, the first drops of the rainstorm came when GM Jarmo Kekalainen reported that everyone was "ready to go", except for Nathan Horton, who was experiencing some back issues. That "lingering issue" would eventually be disclosed as degenerating discs - and barring a miracle, are likely to be a career ending injury.
The next bit of bad news came when Boone Jenner suffered a broken hand in practice, followed by the news that Brandon Dubinsky needed abdominal surgery, and would miss 4-6 weeks. Oh - and Ryan Murray, having had offseason knee surgery, wasn't actually ready to go for game action.
The team made several waiver pickups to help fill out the roster with stopgaps, but the loss of these four players would have been bad enough to start the year - but there were still more to come. Before the end of October, Curtis McElhinney, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu, James Wisniewski, Cody Goloubef, Corey Tropp, Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert, and Sergei Bobrovsky would all miss time with different injuries.
For those keeping score, that's 13 NHL level players out in the first month - many of whom would be unable to play until late November or December.
The hits kept on coming. Scott Hartnell would break a finger. Jack Johnson got suspended. Fedor Tyutin would break his leg, leading to the trade for Jordan Leopold.
The miasma began to clear as the team FINALLY began getting healthy in December, leading to a not-very-coincidental winning streak, but things went from sweet to sour when Bobrovsky, who had been named to the all star game roster, was injured in the final game before the ASG break. A few other injuries came up in the back half of the season, but that really was a backbreaker for the team's playoff hopes. It would take Bob's return to health and players like Anisimov, Dubinsky, and Jenner returning before the club pulled out of the tailspin, but January and February's losses put the nail in their postseason coffins.
The team would end the year with 508 man games lost - ahead of the Colorado Avalanche by 13 games. The nearest team to them who actually made the playoffs was the Ducks, with 354 games lost. It's a staggering that they managed to get this club back above .500 before the end of the year when you consider that.
3) Youth Movement
If there's a positive from all those injuries, it was the organization getting the opportunity for a long look at several of their younger players - particularly Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano.
Dano was a real surprise in camp, earning a spot on the Game 1 roster through his tenacious play, great hands, and incredible energy. He had a few ups and downs, including a return to Springfield for part of the season, but once he returned to the lineup in the middle of February, the young Slovak was a fixture on the third line, racking up 8-13-21 in 35 games.
Wennberg wasn't as surprising - he'd been forecast as an NHL regular almost from the day he was drafted - but he didn't seem to catch on as quickly as many had hoped. Like Dano, it took a trip down to Springfield to really get comfortable with the North American game, but once he returned, the young Swede caught fire - particularly once he, Scott Hartnell, and Dano were assembled into a ferocious scoring / checking line.
The team also got an injection of exciting talent when they picked Kevin Connauton off waivers from the Dallas Stars, and the young defenseman quickly carved out a niche for himself thanks to his heavy, accurate shot.
It wasn't entirely good news on the youth front, though - in particular, in net. Goalie prospects Oscar Dansk, Anton Forsberg, and Joonas Korpisalo were all expected to make strides in North America this year, but it's been rough going this season.
Dansk in particular has been struggling, having posted a 3.57 GAA and .880 SV% in 21 games with the Falcons before being assigned to the Kalamazoo K-Wings of the ECHL, where he's posted a 3.73 GAA and .889 SV% in 11 starts. Not the numbers you want to see for someone who was projected as being a future #1 goalie.
Forsberg has done better in Springfield, where he took over the starting job. Posting a 2.01 GAA and .927 SV in Springfield over 30 starts, he was unfortunately lit up like a Christmas tree for his one NHL start, posting a 4.69 GAA and .866 SV.
Finally there is Korpisalo, who joined the Falcons at the end of his SM-Liiga season, and had a rough start, posting a 3.20 GAA and .877 SV% in his three starts to date.
It's not entirely terrible - I think Forsberg in particular has shown that he's adapting to the North American game, but this was an area that we projected as a strong pipeline for the future. I wouldn't be shocked if the organization decided to look at drafting another goalie prospect or two this summer to make sure they've got talent in waiting.
4) The All Star Game
Hosting the 2015 NHL All Star Game was an amazing and often crazy experience for the entire city of Columbus, and we could probably do an entire post just on the many twists and turns the process took. You had the excitement of Nick Foligno being named the "home" captain against Jonathan Toews, the fan voting, where the power of even the Chicago Political Machine was nothing as compared to the Might of Latvia.
There was the ASG fan fair, the...ah...spirited affair that was the fantasy draft, Johansen going all Braxton in the NHL breakway challenge during the skills competition, and the general sense that the players were having fun. Amid all the crap that this season served us, it was a refreshing reminder of how entertaining and lighthearted this game can be, no matter how mediocre the actual game was.
Oh, and then there was the Visa commercial - and the blooper reel! It was the gift that just kept on giving.
5) The March Charge
When this team finally got healthy, it did it in a big way. From March 1st on, the team went 15-3-1, including their 13-0-1 run to end the season, setting new team records and just barely managing to squeak under the wire with 227 goals for this season, beating the previous year's team record of 226.
Along the way, we got to see Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell and Nick Foligno record hat tricks, Ryan Johansen perfecting his shootout move, a truly ridiculous shutout, a raucous home finale, and the capstone game of the season, featuring Scott Hartnell's last minute heroics to force OT and a brilliant shootout move by Cam to seal the deal.
There are those who continue to argue that the team "ruined" their draft position, but it's clear that the players, coaches, and front office couldn't disagree more. Winning breeds winning, and this team's made it clear that they want, and expect, to win.
This season was a turbulent one. But there's no doubt in my mind that the future will be a brighter one because of what this team has been through, and what they have proven to each other.
As I said, in many ways, this barely scratches the surface of the season - in particular, the trade deadline stands out because of James Wisniewski's heartfelt wish to remain in Columbus, only to be dealt to Anaheim, but I feel like it does give you a good sense of what the most important storylines were.
Feel like I left something (or someone?) out? Leave us a note in the comments and let us know what you think!