Blue Jackets Ready for East Coast Spotlight
Updated: Wednesday, September 25 2013, 05:21 PM EDT
COLUMBUS (Alex May) -- The Columbus Blue Jackets are ready for the benefits of playing in the Eastern Conference.
The CBJ, along with the Detroit Red Wings, will move to the Eastern Conference, while the Winnipeg Jets finally move to the Western Conference after leaving Atlanta before the 2011-12 season. As part of the realignment, the Blue Jackets will shift into the newly formed Metropolitan Division.
Here’s a breakdown of the ‘Metro’ Division opponents:
Led by Eric Staal, the Hurricanes finished last season with a record of 19-25-4 in 25th position in the NHL.
The team has offensive weapons in forwards Jeff Skinner, Alex Semin, and defensive minded Jordan Staal, younger brother of Eric.
Defensively the team has its work cut out. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen will miss the season with a broken heel. Offseason acquisitions Andrej Sekera and Mike Komisarek will be relied upon heavily.
Between the pipes the team has Cam Ward. When healthy, Ward is a solid goaltender. He was the Conn Smythe winner as playoff MVP in 2005-06 when the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Changes are happening in New Jersey. A year removed from making the Stanley Cup Finals, the Devils missed the playoffs, finishing with a 19-19-10 record.
Instead of using their top 10 draft pick, the Devils traded it to Vancouver for goaltender Cory Schneider, heir apparent to the goal crease occupied by NHL Legend Martin Brodeur since the early 1990s.
Brodeur, with 669 career wins in tow, has been named the starter for Opening Night for the Devils.
Offensively, the loss that stings the most was Ilya Kovalchuk’s decision to leave the NHL, and 14 years and $77 million remaining on his contract. The team signed free agent “gun-for-hire” Jaromir Jagr to a 1-year deal to help their powerplay. Travis Zajac is another forward to keep on the lookout.
Defensively the Devils are led by captain Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene. They are also hoping for a breakout year from Adam Larsson.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Newly named captain John Tavares hopes to push the Islanders back into the playoffs for the second straight season. They finished last year 8th in the East with a 24-17-7 record.
The Islanders are a dark horse team in the Metropolitan Division. In last year’s playoff matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Isles showed they are a team that has arrived. Joining Tavares are forwards Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson , and Michael Grabner. Combined these players at times dominated the heavily favored Penguins, chasing goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the cage.
On defense, Travis Hamonic is a rising defenseman not scared to get in the face of top tier talent.
Evgeni Nabokov is back in net for the Islanders this season, after lengthy contract negotiations with the Islanders during the offseason.
NEW YORK RANGERS
No longer the Blue Jackets of the East, only because the Blue Jackets themselves are in the East. This team features many former Jackets, led by Rick Nash. The CBJ and Rangers have been involved in several high profile trades in the past two seasons, including Nash and Jackets’ forward Marian Gaborik.
Other recent Blue Jackets in the Big Apple are Derick Brassard, who benefitted from the change of scenery, crowd favorite Derek Dorsett, Defenseman John Moore, and former coach Scott Arniel.
The team has one of the best goalies in the game playing for them in Henrik Lundqvist.
The Rangers fired head coach John Tortorella after last season, replacing him with former Vancouver coach, Alain Vigneault. Their record last season was 26-18-4.
The Broad St. Bullies missed the playoffs last season with a record of 23-22-3, and underwent an offseason of change. Compliance Buyouts were used on enigmatic goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, and diminutive forward Danny Briere.
The Flyers big offseason acquisitions included forward Vincent Lecavalier, defenseman Mark Streit, and goalie Ray Emery.
The team is led by center Claude Giroux, winger Scott Hartnell, and defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
Former Blue Jacket Jakub Voracek is relied upon for offense.
Emery will share the net with former Blue Jacket Steve Mason, who the team feels is ready to breakout again in the NHL.
Burdened with postseason shortcomings, the Penguins hope this is the year to win their franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.
Captained by the face of the NHL, Sidney Crosby, and also featuring Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are top heavy with offensive talent. James Neal, Chris Kunitz, and the underrated Pascal Dupuis round out the top 2 lines for Pittsburgh. A player to watch on Penguins is forward Beau Bennett, entering his second year in the NHL. The bottom two lines for the Pens are unknown outside of center Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen, who may end up on Malkin’s line.
On the blue line, Brooks Orpik is the outspoken leader. Defensive minded free agent Rob Scuderi was brought back into the fold to play alongside dynamic Kris Letang, who is known to focus on offense, and lack concentration on the defensive aspects of the game.
In the net, the Penguins have Marc-Andre Fleury, who racks up wins in the regular season, but is plagued by postseason collapses. To start the season, the Penguins will have Jeff Zatkoff as backup goalie, as Thomas Vokoun underwent emergency blood clot surgery Saturday, and is sidelined indefinitely.
Alexander Ovechkin had resurgence last season after a sluggish start.
It’ll be intriguing how head coach Adam Oates gets the Capitals going with a full training camp and season to work with.
Ovechkin’s slow start mirrored the Capitals, who rebounded to finish 27-18-3. The transition to the Metropolitan Division will mean much tougher opponents for the Caps and ‘Canes.
Offensively, Niklas Backstrom, Martin Erat, and late free agent signing Mikhail Grabovski will complement the “Great 8.”
On Defense, Mike Green, Karl Alzner, and John Erskine will hold the fort in front of a tandem of Michael Neuvirth and Braden Holtby.
How do you see the CBJ stacking up against their new Divisional Rivals? Tweet me at @AlexMay985
Puck drops on the Blue Jackets 2013-14 campaign Oct. 4, against Calgary.