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Ground Floor: Where will the goals come from?

By Tom

Word is coming out of New York that the National Hockey League and the NHL Players Association still have not come to an agreement, meaning that a lockout as of 12:01 AM on Sunday is a very real possibility.  The spectre of a lockout makes preseason previews seem, well, a tad silly…but there’s always that slim chance that the parties will finally come together and craft an agreement that allows the 2012-13 NHL season to go off on time.  With that view – call it optimism if you want, I prefer pragmatic in this case – the “Ground Floor” preseason preview series will keep rolling on, just in case it’s needed.

Today’s installment attacks the Offseason Agenda question that’s perplexed me perhaps more than any other:

“Where are the goals going to come from in 2012-13?  Especially if Rick Nash is moved out of town?”

Nash, of course, is gone and takes his 30 goals with him.  That leaves a team that was 26th in the NHL in 2011-12 with 198 goals even slimmer in the scoring column.  On the bright side, a 168-goal team still wouldn’t be worst in the league last season; that honor sticks with Minnesota, who had 166 goals.

To say that the CBJ are a 168-goal team now isn’t fair, however.  There are new players in the mix, some of whom are going to be looked at to put the biscuit in the basket.  Thus, it’s time to try a little roster engineering and learn what we can expect based off of last season’s performances.  Shall we begin?

The first thing we have to do is construct a roster.  Here’s my best guess (in alphabetical order – I’m not going to speculate on the depth chart, at least not now):

FORWARDS: Artem Anisimov, Cam Atkinson, Jared Boll, Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Colton Gillies, Ryan Johansen, Mark Letestu, Derek Mackenzie, Vinny Prospal, Ryan Russell, R.J. Umberger

DEFENSEMEN: Adrian Aucoin, Jack Johnson, John Moore, Ryan Murray, Nikita Nikitin, Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski

GOALIES: Sergei Bobrovsky, Steve Mason

Notable exclusions are forwards Matt Calvert and Tomas Kubalik – and defenseman David Savard.  It’s possible that they could make a training camp run at a roster spot, but I don’t see any of them meaningfully impacting the scoring picture even if they do.

With the rosters “set”, let’s look at their goal scoring statistics from last season.  Note that I’m including full-season stats for mid-season CBJ pickups like Jack Johnson and Mark Letestu, so the numbers don’t perfectly line up with what you’ll find on the Blue Jackets’ web site.

My friends, we have a 162-goal roster as our baseline.  Remember, the Wild were in the NHL scoring cellar at 166 goals.

Let’s be fair, though.  That baseline doesn’t suggest full seasons from Cam Atkinson and James Wisniewski – or Ryan Johansen, whom we can presume (or hope?) will crack the lineup on a full-time basis.  I’ll leave the rest of the team “as is” to respect the fact that injuries and benchings do happen over the course of a season.

Let’s revise on the presumption that all three will play 75 games.  That gets us to 178 goals on 2204 shots, an 8.08% shooting percentage.  Against last season, that would place the Blue Jackets in 29th place  in team scoring.

(I’m exempting Ryan Murray from both calculations because, frankly, I don’t expect anything from him as he learns the NHL game this season.  Barring a miracle, I figure that we’ll see Murray platooning with John Moore and Adrian Aucoin on the third defensive pairing.)

I think it now can be said that from a strictly goal-scoring perspective, losing Rick Nash was a net negative for the Blue Jackets.  Nash’s absence, however, leaves some room for hope in this season of wrenching transition:

1. The 900-lb. gorilla is gone: When Nash was on the ice, player behavior generally defaulted toward feeding him the puck.  That’s no longer an option.  Can this new found freedom and opportunity result in other players taking on larger shooting/scoring roles?

2. Shoot ‘em straight: No, this isn’t a golf reference.  This is about NHL-quality shooting percentage.  The top shooting percentage team in the league is Tampa Bay at 10.42%, but the 15th best shooting team, Winnipeg, clocked in at 8.94%.  If the Blue Jackets could only hit that 8.94% number – something I would expect that head coach Todd Richards and his staff could work on in training camp and practice, tweaking his scheme to put CBJ players in stronger scoring positions – that results in a 197-goal season.  197 goals gets the team back to 26th (their 2011-12 ranking).  No magic bullet, to be sure, but a start.

3. The kids are alright: I think it’s safe to say that the likes of Atkinson and Johansen have not seen their full potential realized, perhaps other young players as well.  Then there’s Ryan Murray…who knows what we’ll see out of him?  If one or two of the youngsters break out – and I mean really break out – to become legitimate NHL star-quality players, life becomes a lot more comfortable.

4. Defense wins championships: As Gallos so aptly explained elsewhere in the “Ground Floor” series, the talent shift from offense to defense is noticeable.  In fact, it could be argued that the 2012-13 CBJ blue line is probably the best defensive corps ever to patrol the Nationwide Arena ice.  If you’ve got an offense with a 200-goal upside, you’re going to need a great defense to get your team to the playoffs.  They may be the best defensive corps ever in Columbus…now, let’s hope that they are good enough to pull some wins out for the Blue Jackets.

There’s a certain “threading the needle” component involved when trying to suggest how a team so deeply in transition can be immediately successful.  When you look at last season’s performances, I think that’s where the Columbus Blue Jackets are at.  A few lucky breaks going our team’s way, and the CBJ are in business.

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