Blue Jackets look like early favorite to win Stanley Cup
By Homer T. Barleycorn
The Columbus Times
(Homer T. Barleycorn has been covering the Columbus Blue Jackets since 2005. A native of Columbus, Ohio, Barleycorn graduated from Ohio State University with a degree in sports journalism in 1999. Barleycorn boasts the largest collection of Blue Jackets memorabilia in the country and was president of the Columbus Blue Jackets Fan Club until he took the position of beat writer in 2005.)
COLUMBUS — As the dust settles following the first week after NHL free agency, there are many questions that surround the Blue Jackets, but only one that is important and only one that can be answered now.
Are the Columbus Blue Jackets favorites to win the Stanley Cup?
Yes. Yes they are.
I never thought I’d see this day after I gave up my season tickets before the 2005-06 season, but Columbus becoming Titletown is about to be a reality.
Considering the Blue Jackets are coming off one of their most successful seasons in franchise history — a ninth-place finish and miss of the postseason — it only makes sense that after the excellent work of talented General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen this summer, the Blue Jackets are about to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
When Keka Win-hey inked Nathan Horton, easily the top free agent on the market this summer, to the very fair seven-year, $37.1 million contract that has my sources calling it the “move of the offseason,” the Blue Jackets added the missing piece to the championship puzzle. Keka’s big move to land Horts had other GMs shaking their fist toward Columbus with a mix of anger and jealousy — but mostly jealousy.
Proponents of advanced statistics — the Fenwickati and Corsiati — will tell you that he has great possession numbers, whatever that means. But scouts I’ve spoken with said Horton has “great size, grind, heart and a knack for intangibles,” the things this excellent Blue Jackets team of 2012-13 was somewhat lacking, according to my own advanced statistic — The Heart Monitor.
With heart and sandpaper under contract for seven years, it made Keka Win-Hey’s lockdown of Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky for two years appear even more brilliant. Despite Russians not necessarily being known as great goaltenders, Bob is a Vezina winner and the backbone for the Jackets’ upcoming march to glory.
Look at the most recent Stanley Cup-winning goaltenders: Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins. What do they have in common? Vezina Trophies, that’s what.
Did Corey Crawford win the Vezina this year? Of course not, but what happens in a 48-game season has no bearing here. A 48-game season is not a strong indicator of success in an 82-game season. It must be excluded.
The No. 1 thing that can’t be ignored is how the Columbus Blue Jackets played during this past season, a foolproof indicator that they are ready to ascend.
Unlucky breaks and some tough calls against the Jackets left them at 5-12-4 after 21 games through no fault of their own. But as the team came together, so did their game. The Jackets finished 19-5-3, which puts them on a pace for 125 points over an 82-game season, which seems a little low for 2013-14 expectations when you think about it.
Remember — the Jackets are leaving the rugged Western Conference, one they were beginning to dominate anyway — for the easier Eastern Conference next season. And all signs point to dominance as the Jackets find themselves in the weaker division, too, with the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
With competition the Jackets should crush, a 140-point season isn’t out of the question.
Sure, the Penguins could test the Jackets, but not likely.
It was a couple months ago when I was in the locker room chatting with Gabby, Umby and Dubes, and we were discussing how cool it would be for the city’s fans to win a Cup next season. It was a light-hearted conversation that featured Umby putting his arm around me and giggling, a warm gesture from a warm man.
Turns out it was no laughing matter.
The Jackets are coming off an outstanding season, have added talent, retained talent and find themselves in a cushy division with easier travel. The question isn’t if the Jackets will win the Cup — the question is who will the Jackets beat in five games or fewer to win the Cup.
(Editor’s note: Jon Quick did not win the Vezina in 2012; Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers did)
Contact Homer T. Barleycorn at HBarleycorn@ColumbusTimes.com
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