directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: 2007-2008 Jackets Preview & Predictions

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

2007-2008 Jackets Preview & Predictions

As promised here is my own personal preview of your 2007-2008 Columbus Blue Jackets.

We'll first start by taking a look at offense, defense and goaltending and then we'll get into some coaching, player predictions and finally season predictions.

Must light it up - The Jackets' offense tied for worst in the league with the Chicago Blackhawks last year with only 201 goals for. So when evaluating the Jackets offense the area that this team absolutely must improve on is goals scored.

So where do these goals come from? As coach Ken Hitchock has preached all offense is generated off of checking at the NHL level. So the Jackets must get better at checking and turning the puck over and then creating quick offense.

With that said key offensive players have to score. Lets start with the team's franchise player, Rick Nash, he absolutely must lead this team in goals scored and improve quite a bit on his dissapointing 27 goal effort from last season. For this team to be successfull I think we need #61 to score no less than 40.

So while Nash is our primary scorer there is a supporting cast that is more than capable of helping him out. Nikolai Zherdev, who is also coming off a dissapointing 10 goal season last year, certainly needs to get back in that 20 goal range. Fredrik Modin needs to pot 25+ while David Vyborny is capable of 20 and so is Sergei Fedorov.

Behind that group we have a guy like Jason Chimera who scored a career high 36 points last season who I think is on the cusp of a big breakout year this season. This team will need Chimera to step up his goal production from 15 to 20 next season which he is certainly capable of. Gilbert Brule and Danny Fritsche are two other support players who can also build on their goal totals from last season of 9 and 12 goals respectively.

Areas to avoid burn out - This team must improve on a powerplay that was 26th out of 30 last season. They most also avoid getting shutout a league record 14 times last year. The offense must play better team defense and play the same in your face style whether it be at home or on the road.

Finally this group of players absolutely must limit its penatlies....especially lazy ones like hooking and tipping calls. This group must also limit any penalties in the offensive zone. This team was called for a lot of penatlies in the preseason and I don't care how good your defense and goaltending is, at the NHL level, even the worst team will find a way to score with multiple man advantages.

Must light it up - The defense actually played a lot better than most of pundits gave them credit for last year. They ranked 16th in the league in goals against with 249 last year. Their collective plus/minus doesn't show it but they played much better as a unit last year especially once Hitchcock arrived.

Those numbers aside, there is plenty of room to improve here. The until as a whole must continue to improve as a defensive unit and drive that goals against down even further. Players like Foote, Tollfesen and Klesla need to continue to play a hard nosed in your face style while also improving their transition games. These three aren't the most fleet of foot so they must also keep the puck carrier between them and the net on a consistant basis.

Duvie Westcott and Ron Hainsey need to provide a strong puck moving presence and get pucks to the net to create offense. To many times last year pucks were blocked and the other teams scored off of quick transitions. When on the power play they, especially Hainsey, must also do a MUCH better job of finding the open man on the rush to gain zone while retaining puck possession. To many times the puck is just dumped in and the Jackets fail to gain control of the puck.

New to the defense are 29 year Jan Hejda and 20 year old rookie Kris Russell. Hejda is a shut down defensemen in the mold of a Rusty Klesla. His best games are those in which you really don't notice him accept when you look at the score sheet and see 18 mins in time played and hopefully a positive +/-. We'll need consistant nights like that from Jan. Kris Russell has a skill set this team has never seen before. He's a silky smooth skater with uncanny hockey sense and elite puck skills. He will need to log key minutes on our powerplay and play strong positional team defense during 5 on 5 play.

Areas to avoid burn out - The biggest key to the defense is health. Guys like Duvie Westcott and Adam Foote need to be healthy and this defense needs to get into a strong rythm and play as a unit.

This unit can also ill afford to play passive soft hockey. Guys like Ron Hainsey need to play aggresive and make teams pay the price to score.

Each and every defensemen must also work on their transition games. No, or at least limiting, rounding the puck out of the zone off the boards to clear the zone. They must do a better job of getting the puck to the forwards on the fly so they can create offense.

Finally this defensive group (and the forwards) needs to improve on a penalty kill that finished 21st in the league last year killing at a rate of 81.2%.

Must light it up - Freddy Norrena and Pascal Leclaire will battle it out for the #1 goaltending position. Leclaire is scheduled to get the start tomorrow against Anaheim while Leclaire will start the following night against Minnesota.

Goaltending is another area where we were stronger than our record indicated. While Leclaire batteled more injuries Norrena quitely racked up a quality season in his first year in the NHL finishing with a record of 24-23 -- in the process becoming the first Blue Jacket goaltender to rack up record of better than .500.

For the Jackets to have a good season they must get great - not good - but GREAT goaltending. I really don't care who it is, it could be one or both, but the collective goaltending numbers but have to have a save % of over .900 and goals against average of less than 2.4 - we just don't have the offensive firepower to outscore opponents most nights.

Areas to avoid burn out - One big area here and that's avoid the injuries. Pascal Leclaire has shown that he has the NHL talent but so far he's failed to show the NHL durability. Fredrik Norrena, while realtively healthy last year, has experienced both groin and knee injuries throughout the offseason and preseason. Both goalies appear to be healthy and assuming that is true, they should make a very potent goaltending tadem - however - with goaltending being so critical to an NHL team's success, this team is being cautious even going as far to keep 19 year old Steve Mason up with the big club until the team feels comfortable with the health of both guys.

Nobody in the NHL prepares a team better than Ken Hitchcock. He has identified an identity for this team and is well on his way to implementing it. A coach has been added in Claud Noel to the existing staff of Gary Agnew, Gord Murphy and Clint Malarchuk. Hitch and his staff have given input on the season schedule, revamped the locker room and video room, modified training camp, overhauled the conditioning programs of players, identified a leadership team, installed a system and set roles and expectations for each and every player among many other things.

This team will not lose because of failed or lazy coaching. Its the biggest strength of the organization at this point and will continue to be until the team on the ice turns the corner and becomes a bonified contender.

Hith has said that this team needs about a 60 goal swing to make the playoffs. Either score 60 more, reduce 60 or some combination of the two to get on par with the playoff teams throughout the league. To achieve this goal all three key areas of the team, offense-defense-goaltending, will need to chip in.

Player Predictions:
Alright, time to put myself out there this season. Here are my season point predictions for the players on the opening night roster:

Rick Nash 41g 42a; 83p
David Vyborny 21g 48a; 69p
Sergei Fedorov 19g 32a; 51p
Fredrik Modin 25g 22a; 47p
Jason Chimera 20g 19a; 39p
Gilbert Brule 18g 14a; 32 p
Dan Fritsche 15g 15a; 30p
Nikolai Zherdev 15g 17a; 32p
Manny Malhotra 7g 20a; 27p
Jiri Novotny 8g 11a; 19p
Curtis Glencross 4g 4a; 8p
Jarod Boll 4g 3a; 8p
Jody Shelley 1g 2a; 3p

Misc (Brassard, Sestito, Platt, Lindstrom, Pineault, etc) 4g 21a; 32p

Kris Russell 11g 25a; 36p
Duvie Westcott 8g 26a; 34p
Ron Hainsey 7g 14a; 21p
Rusty Klesla 10g 10a; 20p
Jan Hejda 2g 15a; 17p
Adam Foote 3g 7a; 10p
OK Tollefsen 2g 5a; 7p

Misc (Methot, etc) 1g, 12a; 15p

Fredrik Norrena
Pascal Leclaire

Season predictions
Record: 42 - 32 - 8
Points: 92
Goals for: 245
Goals against: 232
*thats a 63 goal swing from last season's GF/GA
Standings: 9th in Western Conference

The Jackets give it a helluva a run this season but ultimately come up short after running out of gas down the stretch in April. They miss the playoffs by no less than 10 points which is a marked improvement which puts them in great shape heading into next offseason.

During the season a couple of trades are made.:

Nikolai Zherdev is eventually moved for a puck moving defensemen that help immediately.

Sergei Fedorov is moved at the deadline for a 1st round draft pick -- this is regardless of where the team is at in the standings.

Adam Foote is retained. His leadership is way to valuable to let go during the playoff push. Same with Michael Peca. To close to call if either are resigned in the offseason - really depends on performance this season.

Both David Vyborny and Jason Chimera are resigned during the season. Ron Hainsey is let go to test the unrestricted free agency market after the season concludes.

So that's it Jacket fans. I, like all of you, hope we make the playoffs and I truly feel we'll sneak up on the NHL this year and be right in the mix for that final playoff position right up to that final game. It would not shock me at all to sneak into that 8th seed - but there are a lot of teams to leap frog to make that happen.

Remember, coach Ken Hitchcock has never missed the playoffs when he's had a full year with a team. Can he keep that streak alive -- stay tuned Jacket fans -- its gonna be a helluva ride to find out!

Less than 24 hours until the puck drops for real!


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