NHL Season Preview 2014-15: Three Big Questions Facing the Blue Jackets

Here are three questions that will be on the minds of Jackets fans this upcoming season.

Will Ryan Johansen improve on his breakout 2013 / 2014 season?

The story that has dominated the headlines for the Jackets this offseason and through the start of training camp has been the contract impasse between the team and the young star. The season opens next week, and the two parties are still far apart in contract talks.

I'm confident that a deal will eventually get done, but the longer he remains unsigned, the longer it will take for him to get to game speed. He played in all 82 games last year, putting up 36-30-66.

If a deal can get done over the next few days before the season starts, he'll have some time to work with potential linemates and maybe get into an exhibition game. With even a short stint in camp, he should be able to continue where he left off last season. He's got all of the atributes you want in a number one center- skill, size and smarts. He showed last year that he can withstand the opposition's top checkers, and as he moves toward his prime years his numbers should only improve.

If he's out for an extended period of time while waiting for a new deal, the chances of him improving on last season's numbers decreases. A slow start is almost inevitable. Another factor working against him is the fact that he will be likely be without Nathan Horton on his wing due to the latter's lingering back issue. Though the duo only spent limited time together last season, a full season together on the team's top line (an expectation for this season) has the potential for improved offensive numbers.

In short, if he signs before the season, and Horton doesn't miss significant time, Johansen should take the next step toward being an 80-ish point scorer. If he misses games due to a lack of contract, he'll likely plateau or take a step back offensively.

Are the Jackets ready for an extended playoff run?

The 2013 / 2014 season was the most successful in franchise history. The team not only returned to the playoffs, but they finally tasted victory, eventually falling to the Penguins in six games. The expectation for this season is to not only make the playoffs and win a game or two, but to go on an extended run.

The Metropolitan Division is in flux, and full of uncertainty. It's the Penguins' to lose, but the Jackets have as good a shot as any to finish right behind them in the division standings. The Jackets showed last year that they could compete in the playoffs, and brought in Scott Hartnell to help take them to the next level.

As for an extended playoff run, look no further than the New York Rangers last season. They finished as the second seed in the Metropolitan, en route to a spot in the Stanley Cup final. Granted, the Rangers caught some breaks in the playoffs, but a similar run is possible if the Jackets can follow the same path this season.

When Ryan Johansen signs, he gives the team their offensive star. Depth and goaltending wins in the playoffs, and the Jackets have both. The rest of the scoring will again have to come by commitee, but any significant drop off in offense will keep the team from going on any sort of playoff run.

Sergei Bobrovsky is in a contract year. Will he return to Vezina form?

Two seasons ago Sergei Bobrovsky was acquired from the Flyers, and made his debut when the NHL resumed operations post-lockout. "Bob" went on to win the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender that season, and earned a two year bridge deal valued at $5.625 million per season. This upcoming season is the second year of that deal, meaning he'll be a restricted free agent at season's end.

Bob just turned 26, so he's about to enter his prime years as an NHL goaltender. He's looking for a long-term deal that will take him well into his thirties, and the Jackets should be all too happy to have their goaltending situation locked-up long term.

Given his age and the expected overall improvement of the team, he's primed for his best year yet. If he can remain healthy and get 60-65 starts in, his numbers should be among the upper echelon of NHL goaltenders. The drive for a long-term contract could push him closer to Vezina territory.

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