Welcome to the most recent file in THN.com’s persevering with “Three Burning Questions” collection – a trio of main questions for each NHL franchise heading into the beginning of the 2022-23 common season. On this file, we’re posing Three Burning Questions concerning the defending Stanley Cup champion Columbus Blue Jackets.
THREE BURNING QUESTIONS FOR THE BLUE JACKETS IN 2022-23:
1. Can new star winger Johnny Gaudreau propel the Jackets into the playoffs? Columbus’ marquee low season acquisition, former Flames star winger Johnny Gaudreau, shocked the hockey world by selecting the Blue Jackets as his new residence for the following eight seasons, signing a mammoth $68.25 million contract that makes him Columbus’ highest-paid participant at $9.75 million per season. However does that acquisition make the Blue Jackets right into a surefire Stanley Cup playoff group?
The brief reply to that query is, “no”. Whereas Gaudreau’s arrival provides the Jackets a bona fide No. 1 line – one that features winger Patrik Laine and heart Boone Jenner – and a stable, if older line in pivot Jack Roslovic and 33-year-old wingers Jakub Voracek and Gustav Nyquist, Columbus nonetheless has depth points each up entrance and on protection, and that’s an issue within the extremely aggressive Metropolitan Division. We are able to’t overlook the Jackets completed 19 factors out of a playoff spot final season, and there are seven groups within the Metro that might, if issues go proper for them, qualify for the post-season.
Gaudreau is a fabulous expertise, however he can’t be anticipated to place Columbus on his shoulders and carry them singlehandedly into the playoffs. There has to progress from inside, and maybe, an in-season commerce or two, to provide them sufficient ability and can to get there.
2. Will Columbus’ youthful gamers – particularly on protection – evolve into difference-makers this season? The Blue Jackets have eight gamers who’re not less than 28 years outdated, and 9 gamers who’re 25 years outdated or youthful. Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen is aware of what he can count on from his veterans, nevertheless it’s the children who’re the massive query mark with this group, notably on protection, the place three of the highest six D-men are 24 or youthful.
To that finish, what’s honest to ask of 24-year-old blueliner Adam Boqvist? The Swede had 11 objectives and 22 factors 52 video games in his first season in Columbus and his third within the NHL, and he’s projected to play on the highest defensive pairing alongside star Zach Werenski, however Boqvist averaged solely 17:02 of ice time final season, and he’s going to be given extra time than that this coming 12 months.
Elsewhere, 22-year-olds Jake Bean and Andrew Peeke each averaged greater than 20 minutes of ice time per sport in 2021-22, however the signing of journeyman Erik Gudbranson pushes them down the lineup into the ultimate defensive pairing. Can each of them flourish with fewer minutes from head coach Brad Larsen?
At ahead, Columbus’ projected third-line consists of two 19-year-olds (winger Kent Johnson, who has 9 video games of NHL expertise, and heart Cole Sillinger, who’s an NHL sophomore), and a 22-year-old (Kirill Marchenko, who has but to play within the NHL). That’s an space that might show to be an issue if this inexperienced trio can’t reduce the mustard. All in all, Kekalainen may goal this line as an space that wants enchancment throughout the 12 months.
3. What does Columbus have to supply in trades to deal with in-season points? The Jackets are returning with the identical goaltending duo of starter Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo, a pair of 28-year-olds who haven’t lit up the league with elite play. Merzlikins is getting into his fourth NHL season, however his save proportion has dropped yearly since his rookie 12 months, and final 12 months got here in at a pedestrian .907 SP. He’s getting into the primary 12 months of a five-year, $27-million contract that reveals him administration believes in him, and now he’s bought to show he’s value a $5.4 million common annual payday.
Korpisalo, in the meantime, signed a one-year, $1.3 million contract to remain in Columbus and start his eighth NHL season as a Blue Jacket. It’s true he’s performed on unhealthy Blue Jackets groups for a lot of his profession, however his particular person numbers – together with his SP, which has been higher than .897 simply as soon as up to now 5 seasons, and final 12 months, got here in at a five-year low of .877 – put him squarely within the backup function. He can be a lot simpler to commerce than Merzlikins if issues go squirrely in Columbus’ web, and if Kekalainen finds a veteran goalie on the commerce market, it received’t take a lot for him to say goodbye to Korpisalo. Both approach, the stress is on each Blue Jackets goalies to publish higher showings because the group’s general expectations have elevated.
In the event that they don’t, there’s not a ton Kekalainen can provide in trades until he’s keen to surrender his high draft picks – he’s bought all three first, second and third-rounders, in addition to Calgary’s third-round choose in 2023 – or veterans Nyquist (who can be an unrestricted free agent subsequent summer time) and Voracek (who has another season underneath contract after this one). However Kekalainen would wish a expertise that’s a needle-mover to half methods with these sorts of property. That mentioned, there’s large stress on Jackets brass to make sure this lineup does make the playoffs this 12 months, so don’t be shocked if there are a few extra main personnel strikes on the horizon this season.