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2023-24 NHL East Preview: SENS vs COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

SWOT Analysis of the Metropolitan division continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets who finished last in the Eastern Conference with 59 pts in 2022-23.


Strengths


Despite having top end talent like Gaudreau and Laine, it’s the defense core that stands out most with the Blue Jackets.


Like Senators and Josh Norris, a lot rides on Alpha defenseman, Zach Werenski, and Jake Bean and their ability to recover from separated and torn labrums in their shoulders which happened within a week of one another in November. If they do, the Blue Jackets will not be cellar dwellers again this season.

One through six, the Blue Jackets aren’t bad after acquiring Damon Severson from the Devils and Ivan Provorov from the Flyers. Former Blackhawks eighth overall selection in 2018, Adam Boqvist has struggled to stay healthy but is a proven offensive player.


Former Senator, Erik Gudbranson, has a $4 million cap hit for the next three years that, if he regains his form from Calgary in 2021-22, could provide that grit that the Senators are looking for from Travis Hamonic in the bottom pair at half the price.


Overall, the Senators are younger and better at this position in the top four with Chabot, Sanderson, Zub and Chychrun. Columbus has stud prospect David Jiricek whom they chose sixth overall in 2022. He dominated the World Junior Championship for Czechia last year and had a great season in the AHL.


This one could be a wash overall, but the Blue Jackets could have the edge with their depth.


Weaknesses


Adam Fantilli and Kent Johnson represent the future at centre ice for the Blue Jackets. Is this a weakness? Perhaps that is a stretch. Are they ready to be impact players like Tim Stutzle is primed to be this year along with, hopefully, Josh Norris?


There could be some growing pains, but they are clearly going to be topflight.


The depth at forward is lacking. Since being acquired from the Jets along with Laine in the Pierre-Luc Dubois deal, Jack Roslovic was believed to be the sleeper in the deal. He hasn’t been bad. He hasn’t been great.


Their 2018 first round pick, Liam Foudy, has yet to develop into an impact player though he is less than 100 games into his career.


This group screams more potential than prowess at the moment. They are not to be underestimated, but the Senators are further in the development curve with key players.


Opportunities


The youth movement presents a tremendous opportunity for the Blue Jackets to surprise people. Will they? A lot will depend on their health which, as a team, was a disaster last season.


They are not a cap team with nearly $4 million to spend. This could be helpful if they overperform and need to take on some salary to make the post season or should they be out of the picture to acquire assets.


The other opportunity is the enigmatic, Patrik Laine. Injuries have been an issue the past couple of seasons for the sniper. His tenure in Columbus since the trade has been underwhelming. If he stays healthy and finds a rhythm with Gaudreau and Werenski on the power play, he could be just the X Factor that helps the Blue Jackets take a step forward.


Threats


The Ottawa Senators had seven different goaltenders this past season. Columbus had six. With Joonas Korpisalo now a member of the Senators, the pressure is on Merzilkins to haul the mail as the bona fide number one.


When Korpisalo was down with injury in 2021-22, he stepped up and took the starting job playing 59 games.


With Danil Tarasov having developed and deemed to be ready to back up, that’s not much of net to work with if things go sideways.


Merzilikins and Korpisalo have similar career numbers. Who is better? Time will tell. I would take Anton Forsberg as a back-up over Danil Tarasov.


Advantage Senators.


Though the Mike Babcock episode was an embarrassing one for the Blue Jackets and, in particular, GM Jarmo Kekalainen, it happened far enough in advance of the season that it shouldn’t be a distraction.


The Blue Jackets clearly have a plan, and they are building around some key younger pieces that they hope will gel with Gaudreau and Laine to take the step to the next level.


They may take a step forward. However, it’s hard to see a team with this many questions to answer stealing a playoff spot.


The Senators are as good or better at every position and the Blue Jackets are getting a new coach at the last minute. They should be able to exploit the youth of the Blue Jackets though it won’t be a walk in the park.


Prediction: 6TH IN THE METROPOLITAN DIVISION

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