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Your 2012-13 Blue Jackets: Where will the goals come from?

By Tom

Scoring goals: It’s been a challenge for the Columbus Blue Jackets throughout the franchise’s history.  Here’s a quick stroll down memory lane:

Secondary scorers like Derek Dorsett will help, but the CBJ need top-line scoring badly

- 2000-01: 190 goals (26th in the NHL)

- 2001-02: 164 goals (30th)

- 2002-03: 213 goals (16th)

- 2003-04: 177 goals (29th)

- 2005-06: 215 goals (28th)

- 2006-07: 196 goals (28th)

- 2007-08: 190 goals (29th)

- 2008-09: 220 goals (21st)

- 2009-10: 214 goals (20th)

- 2010-11: 210 goals (24th)

- 2011-12: 198 goals (26th)

That’s right – in 11 seasons of NHL hockey in Columbus, Ohio, the home team has never been in the top half of the league in scoring.  They’ve broken through the 220 goal plateau once, and they’ve scored fewer than 200 goals in six separate seasons.

With a functioning defense, that’s tolerable.  (Defense wins championships, you know.)  When you can’t trust your goaltending or blue line, however, scoring like that puts you into the draft lottery.

That was the historical challenge, now let’s look at the present.  The CBJ were south of 200 goals this past season, miles away from the top scoring team of 2011-12, the Pittsburgh Penguins (273 goals).

To smooth out some of the rough edges of the Blue Jackets’ recent coaching instability, I’ll offer a hybrid of the present and recent history.  The three-year (’09-10 through ’11-12) CBJ scoring average is 207.3 goals, which is 26th in the NHL and 48.4 goals behind the top-scoring team of the last three years, the Vancouver Canucks (255.7 goals).  The 15th-ranked scoring team over the past three years – simply the median but a level the CBJ have never achieved – was the (I can’t believe I’m typing this) Nashville Predators with 220.7 goals.

The Blue Jackets desperately need scoring, but what are we talking about right now?  How the CBJ are on the verge of jettisoning their scarce scoring prowess this offseason.  This, after sending scorers like Jakub Voracek, Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter packing over the last 12 months.

A bright spot in '11-12, Cam Atkinson scored 7 times in 27 games in Columbus. Will he be part of the scoring solution in '12-13?

Who will score the goals next season?  Where will the scoring come from?  This scares me as much as any issue facing the CBJ going into 2012-13.  I’m not bright enough to answer that question, but I can offer some suggestions as to whom the Blue Jackets might not be relying in the forthcoming campaign.

The lack of any mention of Rick Nash (salary cap hit of $7.8MM) in relation to his being a part of the 2012-13 solution for the Blue Jackets at the press conference announcing the “permanent” hire of Todd Richards as head coach tells me that the die is cast, that Nash will most likely be shipped out of town before the season starts.  With Nash goes a three-year average of 31.7 goals (again being generous, as Nash had 30 goals last season), bringing the CBJ’s three-year average down to 175.6.

Throw in Kristian Huselius, who started his CBJ career with a couple 20+ goal seasons and apparently ended it with two injury-riddled campaigns.  I won’t go so far as to suggest that his loss will meaningfully affect the CBJ’s three-year goal scoring average – he hasn’t played enough to impact the team beyond taking up salary cap space ($4.75MM salary cap hit) – but his inability to contribute put a huge crimp in the Blue Jackets’ offensive game plan.

Then you have the enigmatic Derick Brassard (salary cap hit of $3.2MM), whose ability seemingly ebbs and flows with the coach under whom he serves.  He did OK with Ken Hitchcock (at least until he destroyed his shoulder in an ill-considered fight), couldn’t see the light of day under Scott Arniel, and experienced a bit of a renaissance under Todd Richards.

Brassard’s three-year scoring average is 13.3 goals, but note that the majority of his 14 goals in 2011-12 came under Richards.  A full season with Richards might be just what the doctor ordered; Brassard could break out and start scoring in bunches.  At the same time, there’s no trade value like that of a youngster on the rise…so should we lop off another 13 goals and push that three-year average down to 162.3?  (Don’t forget that it was common knowledge that Brassard was getting shopped around the league toward the end of Arniel’s tenure, so trading him is not unthinkable.)

Let’s take the most extreme scenario presented here and say that all three players are moved out.  That’s a savings of $15.75 million.  It also drops the 3-year average goal level for the team to 58.4 goals behind the median – and 93.4 goals behind the league leaders.

Presuming the CBJ want to reinvest all of their salary cap savings into players (and not reduce the team’s salary budget), scrounging up 58 goals isn’t impossible.  93 goals…that might be a stretch.  But I’ll take average right now.

Take R.J. Umberger, for example.  His new contract kicks in next season with a $4.6MM salary cap hit, and he gave the team 20 goals last season.  Give me three more R.J. Umbergers, which the Blue Jackets theoretically could afford, and we can go grab some coffee.

How to get there?  Nash and Brassard would need to be traded, and the players coming back in return hopefully will have some scoring punch.  Then there’s the free agent market, which has a few people who have figured out how to put the puck in the back of the net.  Heck, even a top draft pick (which the CBJ possess this offseason) can net you upwards of 20 goals if you use him properly and he stays healthy.  It’s also reasonable to think that some of the younger Blue Jackets will put up more goals as they grow into the league.

We’re not talking about a Kobayashi Maru exercise for Misters Howson, Priest and Patrick.  But let’s be clear, this is an exercise that must be successfully completed if the Columbus Blue Jackets are serious about being a legitimate National Hockey League team.  This team must score more if they want to be competitive.

What do you think?

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