Next Year *Should* Be Fun

The Blue Jackets showed us over the last 15 games of the season what they can do when healthy. Can we just fast forward to next fall and watch them pick up where they left off?

The 2014-2015 injury-filled season is in the books. Safe to say, the season did not go quite as planned. We'll have more for you with our Season in Review series coming up over the next week. We'll also get you set for the draft, free agency, and all the offseason talk this summer, so don't be strangers just because the season has ended!

Before each of us here at The Cannon take a look back on the 500+ man games lost, what could have been, and even some of the fun that was, I'm going to take a quick peek ahead. To next season, when hopefully the team isn't leading in MGL and CHIP.

The injuries, for the most part, subsided the last month of the season for the CBJ. We got to witness an energetic fourth line with offensive upside that Todd Richards trusts. Matt Calvert and Jeremy Morin flanked Mark Letestu these last few games. Calvert and Morin had previously played up on the 2nd and 3rd lines. That's how deep the injury situation ran. That's also how deep this team is up front when most everyone is healthy.

Trades, especially at the draft, are a possibility. The Jackets have flexibility with three second-round picks. They are also pretty loaded with high-end forward prospects. As Andy discussed in his Fourth Line piece, there may be a player or two on the way out to correct the over-crowding in the bottom six. The Jackets played without Rene Bourque and David Clarkson the last couple weeks, and didn't seem to miss them. William Karlsson couldn't hold his spot and played pretty well. Corey Tropp and Jared Boll became the healthy scratches. All five of those guys are under contract next season, and conceivably may not be in the franchise's top 12.

Of course, there are the "kids" as well. Oliver Bjorkstrand lit up the WHL and will be looking to make the jump from juniors. Kerby Rychel was on the cusp of making the squad THIS season. There are some young centers in Springfield who will push for a spot - the aforementioned Karlsson, Michael Chaput, and T.J. Tynan. Perhaps Sonny Milano has an impressive summer and wows the team at camp.

Yes, the forward group looks to be very solid. That is, of course, assuming there aren't six or seven regulars out at a time. It will be a tricky situation to manage up front with all those contracts of players that seemingly don't fit into the Jackets top 12. David Clarkson on the 3rd line RW or Marko Dano?

Let us not forget that Todd Richards is at the helm, so surely line combinations will change. That said, the Jenner-Johansen-Atkinson line wasn't together long, but those three all bring a little something different to the table and the big bodies of Johansen and Jenner might be just what Atkinson needs to operate in space.

Artem Anisimov is a popular player in trade speculation because he will be in the last year of his deal and is likely expecting a raise next summer. Arty is a luxury as a 3rd line center and would likely slot up to a second-line position on many other teams. But that Anisimov-Dubinsky-Foligno line (with Arty playing some LW) is solid all the way around as each guy plays a strong two-way game and has a little flair on the offensive end.

The last month or so of the season, Scott Hartnell seemed to find great chemistry with rookies Alex Wennberg and Marko Dano. Both Dano and Hartnell piled up the points the last 20-25 games of the year. Wennberg seemed to find his footing after struggling early in the year. Perhaps credit his stint in Springfield for the turnaround. The "kid" line was fun to watch and hopefully they stick together.

Both Matt Calvert (RFA) and Mark Letestu (UFA) are waiting on new contracts. It would be a luxury to have BOTH on next year's fourth line, as they have proven they can play up in the lineup as well. We will have to wait and see what Jarmo decides to do with those two spots. Of course, if you lock those 11 players in, that leaves a starting spot and two "extras" amongst Morin, Boll, Clarkson, Bourque, and Tropp. The numbers just won't work without injuries or a trade.

On the back end, Bob is locked up with his new extension. There is some uncertainty in regards to the backup role as McElhinney is a UFA. Ryan Murray HAS to be healthy next season for this blue line. He is, in my view, the only "top pair" worthy player on the team. I think Jack Johnson and David Savard would be more successful as a 2nd pair, against lesser competition. Both Justin Falk and Cody Goloubef are RFAs. There are seemingly too many bottom 4 type defenders, so we will have to see if Jarmo and JD try to trade for a top tier defender.

Outside of a massive trade, though, the team should be at least 85% of what it was coming down the stretch this season. Perhaps they let Letestu walk, or package Anisimov with a defender and a pick to upgrade the blue line. Some are hoping thinking Jared Boll could be a buyout candidate. There are still some roster tweaks to be made, but the last month showed us that this franchise isn't too far away.

This season may have laregly been a brutal one to follow as a fan, but I for one cannot wait to get to camp next year and kick things off in October. I want to follow the top of the standings, not the bottom. I want my blood going in March games. I want April hockey to matter. I want hockey in, gasp, May.

Sometimes, I watch highlights from the playoffs, specifically games 2, 4, and 6. It takes me back to the formation of the Fifth Line, the city coming together, and the team playing some great hockey against a division rival.

We have to be patient, but all signs right now look good for 2016 to include all those things we want as fans. Here's to next season getting here sooner than we think.

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