Columbus Gears Up for Bigger Expectations
Now, however, Columbus will have to repeat the feat -- and make it past the first round -- to meet the increased expectations that that first blush of success has created. And it's Scott Howson's job this summer to put the Blue Jackets in a position to be a postseason regular.
Howson's first order of business was to get Rick Nash signed long-term, and without too much salary-cap damage. Accomplished: the team's captain signed an eight-year deal worth $62.4 million.
"That was priority No. 1 for us going into the summer," Howson told FanHouse. "We believed Rick wanted to get something done quickly and that's how it worked out, in four or five days. That was a real positive for us."
It meant that Howson could turn his attention to the Blue Jackets' biggest need: Finding an offensive-minded defenseman. That has proved to be trickier than wrapping up Nash, however. Howson acknowledged that at this point, finding a blue-liner who can jump into the attack with regularity might be a "long-term goal."
One deal that won't happen: Dany Heatley. Columbus was rumored to be a potential landing spot for the forward, who has requested a trade, but it doesn't appear as if the Blue Jackets ever had any interest. Columbus has been mentioned as a possible trade destination for San Jose's Christian Erhoff, but so far, the Sharks haven't bit at the offer of forward Jason Chimera, and Howson said in an interview with FanHouse, "We might not be able to acquire (a defenseman) in a deal."
If nothing happens soon, look for the Blue Jackets to address the issue before the trade deadline, especially if they don't improve on the power play in the first months of the season; Columbus was at the bottom of the NHL in that category last season. Down the line, Columbus hopes that recent top pick John Moore, the 21st selection overall, will develop into an elite two-way defenseman. Howson said that the team's scouts were very high on Moore.
"He's a tremendous skater with offensive instincts," Howson said. "His first instinct is to join the play and get into the offensive zone."
Moore is considered at least a year or two away from playing in the NHL. Of course, the Blue Jackets thought that Steve Mason would take much longer to develop than he did, and the goalie wound up winning the Calder Trophy.
"We didn't think he'd be an elite guy right away," Howson said. "We thought he'd spend a year in the minors, but what he did was to give us the chance to win almost every evening. He was responsible, really, for getting us into the playoffs. Now it gets harder for him. Now expectations go up."
The same is true for the team as a whole after the exhilaration of that first playoff appearance. Howson said it was good for the Blue Jackets to face Detroit, a team that he described as matching their skill level with their commitment. That's a good model for a young team that aspires to be a postseason regular.
"It's exciting," Howson said. "And it's our job (in the front office) to put it together, to make this team a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup."