After finally reaching the postseason for the first time in franchise history in 2009, the Blue Jackets took a big step backward last season as they finished dead last in the Central Division and 16 points out of a playoff spot. Columbus was swept by Detroit in its playoff debut the previous season, so the Blue Jackets are still looking for their first playoff victory as they enter their 10th season in the league. Despite last year’s disappointing finish, Columbus made few personnel changes this summer, and instead will hope that new coach Scott Arniel can turn things around.
2009-10 Record: 32-35-15, 79 points (5th Central Division; 14th Western Conference; did not qualify for postseason)
Bruins record vs. Blue Jackets: Boston holds a slim 4-3-0-2 edge in the all-time series, but dropped a controversial 3-2 decision at the Garden on Jan. 21 in their only meeting last year. R.J. Umberger scored the game-winner with 1:16 left after Milan Lucic was sent off for high-sticking despite that it was actually Columbus defenseman Anton Stralman’s stick that clipped Derick Brassard. That’s the same stick Stralman used to blast the point shot Umberger tipped in to win the game.
When to watch: The Bruins play at Columbus on Tuesday, March 15. The Blue Jackets don’t return to Boston this season.
Familiar faces: New coach Scott Arniel played 29 games for the Bruins in 1991-92, and he’s also the uncle of current Bruins prospect Jamie Arniel, Boston’s fourth-round pick in 2008. Blue Jackets forward Samuel Pahlsson had a brief 17-game stint with the Bruins in 2000-01, while Chris Clark hails from South Windsor, Conn.
Key additions: F Ethan Moreau (claimed on waivers from Edmonton); D Nate Guenin (free agent); F Kyle Wilson (free agent); G David LeNeveu (free agent); F Ryan Johansen (draft)
Key losses: D Mathieu Roy (signed with Tampa Bay); F Alexandre Picard (signed with Phoenix); D Nathan Paetsch (signed with Florida)
Burning question: Can Nikita Filatov finally fulfill his promise?
One reason for optimism in Columbus this year is the return of enigmatic young forward Nikolai Filatov from Russia. Upset with a lack of playing time and his treatment by then-Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, the sixth overall pick of the 2008 draft left the Blue Jackets to play in the KHL after 13 games last season. But Filatov, who was once ranked the top prospect outside the NHL by the Hockey News, has promised to return to Columbus this year. Filatov, 20, has shown flashes of his skill (four goals in eight games in 2008-09), and could thrive now freed from Hitchcock’s trapping system. With no other major acquisitions this summer, the Blue Jackets will need Filatov to make an impact this season.
2010-11 outlook: The Blue Jackets didn’t make a lot of changes after last year’s setback, but they are hoping that a change in leadership will create some dramatically different results this year. Arniel will bring a new style and approach to the bench, where he’ll be helped by new assistant Bob Boughner, the former Sabres tough guy who led Taylor Hall and Co. to back-to-back Memorial Cups in Windsor (OHL).
Columbus also added some veteran leadership on the ice, trading for Washington captain Clark late last year and claiming Edmonton captain Ethan Moreau off waivers this summer. They’ll join Blue Jackets star Rick Nash (33-34-67), who wears the "C" in Columbus, in trying to lead the club’s turnaround. Antoine Vermette (27-38-65), Kristian Huselius (23-40-63), Umberger (23-32-55) and Jakub Voracek (16-34-50) will add offensive support, while goalie Steve Mason will have to regain his Calder Trophy form of 2008-09 after a sophomore slump last year.
Did you know? Current Blue Jacket and former Bruin Pahlsson is the only player in NHL history to have the dubious distinction of having been traded for both Ray Bourque and Andrei Nazarov in separate deals. Pahlsson, along with Brian Rolston, Martin Grenier and a first-round pick (Martin Samuelsson), was part of the haul Boston got from Colorado when the Bruins sent Bourque to the Avalanche for a shot at the Cup on March 6, 2000. Pahlsson was then sent packing to Anaheim for Nazarov and Patrick Traverse seven months later.
Bourque went on to win his long-awaited Cup in 2001 to cap his Hall of Fame career, and Pahlsson won his own ring with the Ducks in 2007. Nazarov wasn’t quite so fortunate. He had one goal in 110 games with the Bruins, though he did add 48 fighting majors, so at least he had that going for him.
Next: We’ll head to Hockeytown on Saturday to see if the aging the Red Wings can make another run at a title in Detroit.
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