USA Today had their NHL season preview in this morning's paper. Unfortunately for NHL fans they annual insert they typically include for their preview was replaced by a two page preview burried deep in the Sports section -- really a dissapointment for a paper that typically gives hockey and the NHL a fair shake. Here is their preview capsule for the Jackets:
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Goaltending: It's hard to know whether Pascal LeClaire and/or Fredrik Norrena can lead this team to respectability because the overall team performance was so inferior last season.
What's up: This team could surprise you. Coach Ken Hitchcock will make them play better defensively and there is enough talent to be dangerous. When you ponder the potential of Rick Nash, Fredrik Modin, Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Fritsche, Adam Foote, Sergei Fedorov, etc., you wonder why they have played so poorly.
Pressing question: Can Nash stay healthy and perform consistently well enough to be among the NHL's top five NHL players, as projected?
Forecast: Hitchcock's presence is probably worth 10 or more points over a full season, but they will still miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.
So another prediction of last in the conference but they do leave a little crack in the door for a surprise season.
They pick the Penguins to win it all.
Next up are the latest power rankings from ESPN.com - the good news is they aren't last -- the bad news, they are close at 28th:
28. Columbus Blue JacketsCan a team that sports Sergei Fedorov in its lineup really go far? We'd like to see coach Ken Hitchcock work his magic on that one. It's hard to remember that Fedorov was on those Wings' Cup teams ... and dated Anna Kournikova. Michael Peca signed on during the offseason and Rick Nash was buying into Hitch's system late last season, but can that provide a spark?
Hey...no place to go but up right? ...well except two places down.
Next up the power rankings from cbssports.com:
Ken Hitchcock has something to work with in his first full season as coach, just not enough for the Blue Jackets to realistically think about the playoffs this season.
Ahh....more of the same.
Spector from FoxSports.com has this to say about the Zherdev situation:
Columbus Blue Jackets winger Nikolai Zherdev did not have an impressive training camp, sparking internet rumors the club was shopping him.
Not so, according to the Columbus Dispatch, citing Zherdev's agent and Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, both claiming the rumors were "without merit."
Howson stated this summer he's given Zherdev a clean slate for this season, allowing him the opportunity to make amends for his poor performance in 2006-07, but if his training camp struggles carry over into October and November, expectations of a trade will only grow.
If Howson does shop Zherdev, however, he might not find many takers. The enigmatic winger is considered to have a poor work ethic, particularly when it comes to the defensive game, and his $2.5 million-per-season contract will also dampen interest.
There were also rumors last week of the Jackets involved in talks with the Vancouver Canucks for a first line center, but the Dispatch shot those down too, correctly observing the Canucks themselves have no available centers of their own to deal.
That doesn't mean the Jackets won't be in the market for depth at center, particularly as they've been reduced to trying Jiri Novotny, Manny Malholtra and Kris Beech in the first line center role.
Pretty much stuff we've all seen and read before but figured I'd note this one.
The Jackets have also announced opening night activities and its clear they have finally embraced their Civil War connection - some highlights from the article:
To kick off the first Nationwide Night of the year, several pre-game entertainment elements represent a salute to the Civil War connection honored in the team's name. Beginning at 5 p.m., Battelle Plaza (Front St. entrance) will showcase Civil War era fife and drum performers, Civil War re-enactors demonstrating the life of a soldier, and a craft station for kids to make their own Ohio state flag. Also starting a 5 p.m., fans are invited for free public skating and skate rental in the Dispatch Ice Haus until 6:25 p.m. Free cookies and hot apple cider will be offered before the game at both Battelle Plaza and the Dispatch Ice Haus.
Inside the arena, fans will be entertained by the 338th U.S. Army Stage Band, The Thunderbolts, performing on the Bud Light Terrace before the Opening Night show and during intermissions. Fans can also view the Ohio Civil War battle flags on display from the Ohio Historical Society and enter to win an autographed Blue Jackets jersey.
Fans are encouraged to take their seats by 6:45 p.m. for the start of the Opening Night pre-game show. This year's ceremonies feature a live skating performance by Olympian and six-time U.S. National Men’s Figure Skating Champion Todd Eldredge while the video show pays tribute to fans who submitted personal photos demonstrating how they “Carry the Flag.” Other highlights of Opening Night include the traditional player introductions and the unveiling of the new goal celebration.
I'm excited about this (and the pre-game celebration at the Rbar of course!)...and don't forget about the cannon!! Read more about opening night here and there are tickets still available so don't miss out on this event as opening night is always special and we want Nationwide packed!
Finally some interesting nuggests from around the league:
Sidney Crosby was named Captain of the Pittsburg Penguins in just his 3rd NHL season.
2007 6th overall draft pick, Sam Gagner, has made the Edmoton Oilers roster.
Jason Smith was named captain of the Philadelphia Flyers.
3 more days until opening night!!