Columbus Blue Jackets’ Post-Lockout Outlook

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By Tim Lucarelli (@tlucarelli)

On January 6th, hockey fans woke up to what felt like Christmas morning. It was the moment everyone had been waiting for – Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr had finally announced that the NHL and NHLPA had come to an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.

Hockey fans and players alike are ecstatic for the season to finally open. For Columbus Blue Jackets fans, quite a bit has changed since the 2011-12 season ended, and many players found work elsewhere. To prepare for the long-awaited 2013 season (forget that “2012-13” label now), we will take a quick look at what has happened since the last CBA expired.

The biggest news of all is the hiring of John Davidson, considered to be one of the most sought-after presidents an NHL club could have. He brings something that the Columbus organization has lacked since its inception – experience. Davidson took the St. Louis Blues franchise from struggling to absolutely dominant – and flat-out stacked in goal (Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Jordan Binnington, and Niklas Lundstrom among others).

When talking about the work that needs to be done to turn around the Columbus franchise, Davidson made it clear that he is not afraid to get his hands dirty and get to the root of the issues. “You build it one brick at a time. That’s the only way to go. That’s what’s going to happen here.”

When looking at Davidson’s track record, it would appear that the Blue Jackets’ front office is in the best position it’s ever been in, and that will only get better as Davidson assembles his team.

So what have these players been up to?

Nine players chose to skate in at least some regard over in Europe. Anisimov was tied for 19th in KHL scoring before he left, while Vinny Prospal was tied for 10th overall in points-per-game in the Czech league. Sergei Bobrovsky was phenomenal in his time in the KHL, leading SKA to the top of the Western Conference standings, while going 18-3 with two shutouts.

Six players stayed in North America, mostly playing for the Springfield Falcons, although Brandon Dubinsky (ineligible for the AHL) chose to venture home and join the Alaska Aces (as did fellow Alaska natives Scott Gomez, Nate Thompson, and Joey Crabb). Dubinsky did break his hand in Alaska, but has since returned to the lineup and will be ready to join Columbus for the start of the season.

Cam Atkinson has been on an absolute tear in Springfield, where he is the third highest scorer in the AHL, trailing only Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle and Justin Schultz. Ryan Johansen has progressed a little slower than expected, but his time in Springfield should have really helped prepare him for the start of the NHL campaign. Tim Erixon has still yet to play a game for the Blue Jackets, but his AHL performance certainly has him in the mix as he currently stands seventh overall in defensemen scoring.

Although fans were anxiously awaiting Ryan Murray’s arrival, he sustained a severe shoulder injury that has sidelined him for what will be the remainder of the season.

That leaves eight players – forwards R.J. Umberger, Nick Foligno, Colton Gillies, and Derek MacKenzie, defensemen James Wisniewski, Adrian Aucoin, and Jack Johnson, and goaltender Steve Mason – who chose not to play at all during the lockout. Umberger chose to give back to Ohio State, where he played his college hockey, by serving as a volunteer assistant coach, but the others stayed out of the spotlight and chose to prepare for the season in their own way.

With the excitement of hockey finally returning, the Columbus Blue Jackets are ready to come together as a group and get down to business. Early Sunday morning, Aaron Portzline wrote, “Derick Brassard was packing his bags to fly to Columbus tonight, while Blue Jackets players in Russia and Europe were said to be buying plane tickets to arrange their return trips home.

Jackets right winger Derek Dorsett joked, ‘Can we start tomorrow?’”

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