The Columbus Blue Jackets off-season has started. It has been three weeks since the Blue Jackets were eliminated by the Washington Capitals. Another first-round Stanley Cup Playoff exit has fans wondering what does Columbus need to fix for them to finally advance in the postseason.
Things Columbus needs to fix this off-season
The power-play yet again
A big concern for the Blue Jackets this off-season is an issue the team was concerned with last off-season, the power-play. The power-play was once again terrible this year finishing 25th in the league. Columbus scored on just 17.2 percent of their man advantages, the worst of any team to make it into the post-season. The next teams to make into the postseason was the Los Angeles Kings and The Minnesota Wild. Both teams had a power-play converting at 20.4 percent, putting them seven and eight spots ahead of Columbus in the league.
The front office took steps at the trade deadline to improve the power-play and it worked for a while. On the deadline, the Blue Jackets power-play was averaging 14.6 percent, second worst in the league. From the deadline until the end of the regular season the power-play was running at 25.4 percent. This miraculous run at the end of the regular season was somewhat able to mask how bad the power-play truly was throughout the campaign. It looked as if the issue was fixed but once the Stanley Cup Playoffs started the power-play reared its ugly head once again. The Blue Jackets went 2-19 in their playoff series and didn’t score on their last 17 man advantages.
Jarmo Kekalainen, the front office, and John Tortorella have some work to figure out on the power-play. Whether that is changing the teams power-play system or changing some of the personnel on the power-play, it can’t stay the same.
Free Agent signings
The Blue Jackets also have a lot of players up for new contracts during the off-season. The unrestricted free agents are Matt Calvert, Thomas Vanek, Mark Letestu, Jack Johnson, and Ian Cole. The restricted free agents are Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.
Unrestricted Free Agents
Jack Johnson requested a trade at the deadline so it is assumed he will not come back. For a player like Matt Calvert, his postseason play made this off-season very interesting. Calvert lead the team in goals this postseason with three, he had nine all regular season. Calvert seemed to be a player the Blue Jackets might let walk. With his incredible playoff series, he might have put him in position to where Columbus might give him a decent offer. Players like Mark Letestu and Thomas Vanek could have their stints in Columbus come to a quick end after having disappointing postseasons. Both players were expected to help contribute to the Blue Jackets making a playoff run. Letestu and Vanek were very quiet in the series against Washington scoring just one goal between them.
Ian Cole is a player the Blue Jackets should try to keep as long as it is a reasonable salary. Cole would be a very good replacement for Jack Johnson. Cole is 29-years-old and has plenty of playoff experience from his time with the Pittsburgh Penguins. If Cole stays in Columbus that would allow the team to already know who its six defensemen are before the season even starts.
Restricted Free Agents
Boone Jenner was the subject of trade talks at the deadline and is now an RFA the Blue Jackets must sign. Jenner had a terrible first half of the season but found himself on a hot stretch to end it. Jenner’s momentum carried into the playoffs where he had three points in six games. Like Jenner, Murray and Bjorkstrand are RFAs that Columbus must keep. Murray is a solid young defenseman that is great when healthy. Bjorkstrand is still young and could turn into something very special very soon for the Blue Jackets.
Find someone to go with Artemi Panarin
Last year it was the Blue Jackets main focus to bring in someone that can be the guy on offence. They addressed that need when they traded for Artemi Panarin. Panarin lived up to the hype becoming the main source of offence in Columbus. He leads the team in points (82), goals (27) and assists (55). When it came to the postseason Panarin’s success continued at first. Eventually, the Capitals figured out how to take Panarin away. The Blue Jackets need to find someone that can compliment Panarin and take away the other teams focus.
From Within the Organization
The Blue Jackets could look inside the organization to fix this problem. If the team does that they might stick with Cam Atkinson. Atkinson, who had a slow start to the season but really showed up late. Atkinson had 24 points after the trade deadline and had four points in the six postseason games this year. If Atkinson can get back on track and have a season like he’s had the two years prior to this season, he could be the answer.
Another player the Blue Jackets might look at is Oliver Bjorkstrand. Bjorkstrand had 11 goals, 29 assists for 40 points this season while playing in all 82 games. He also added one goal and two assists in the postseason. Bjorkstrand is poised to have a breakout season come this October, especially if the other team’s main focus is on Panarin. Bjorkstrand is entering his third year in the league and just his second-year full time in Columbus. If Bjorkstrand keeps improving like he has each year he has been with Columbus he could be the fix to this need.
Outside the Organization
If the Blue Jackets were to look to free agency to find a player that could help take pressure off of Panarin they might look at Valtteri Filppula. At 34-years-old Filppula would most likely be a one-year rental play. He would not cost Columbus a lot of cap space and could provide not only a spark on the second or third line but on the power-play. While a second or third line player with 11 goals and 22 assists does not seem like the answer, it could be, Filppula could help stabilize the other lines. If that happens it would take the pressure off of Panarin and the first line to constantly score.
The Blue Jackets were once again shown the door after the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Blue Jackets want to be better as a team next season these are the needs they are going to have to fill before they can make it past round one next season.