In the salary cap era, where NHL teams have to be efficient with their money, it's important for each club to have a core group of players who set the foundation on which to build the rest of the team. This group often includes the players who consume the bulk of a team's cap space, while also providing the greatest on-ice impact.
With that in mind, Eye on Hockey introduces our summer series: "Core Values." We'll take the rest of summer to evaluate the group of five to seven players who make up the core of each team. Using criteria like point production, average age, how the players were acquired, total cost and cap hit, we'll detail which teams have the strongest cores and which need work. On top of that, we'll also gaze into the future to look at the players who could one day be part of this crucial group for each team.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have ridden a wave of optimism the franchise has not been often accustomed to. Having made the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history, winning two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening-round series was viewed as a step forward for the organization. Now it's time to take another step.
Since John Davidson has taken over as the club's president, the changes have come in all facets. Adding Jarmo Kekalainen as GM has proven to be a fruitful maneuver paying off both at the draft, in trades and in free agency. His measured approach has helped chart a new path for this organization and the results have been near immediate.
The club actually has some building blocks in place to be a long-term competitive franchise. It starts with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and trickles down through the rest of the lineup. The Blue Jackets are in such a different place as an organization than they were three years ago.
Now they'll be expected to not only make it to the playoffs, but at least get out of the first round. It's not going to be easy as there's still plenty of work to be done on the roster, but it's not the laughable thought it used to be.
Core Values: Columbus Blue Jackets
Players (Age, term remaining on contract): G Sergei Bobrovsky (25, 1 year), C Ryan Johansen (22, RFA), C Brandon Dubinsky (28, 7 years), RW Nathan Horton (29, 6 years), D Jack Johnson (27, 4 years), D Ryan Murray (20, 2 years), LW Scott Hartnell (32, 5 years)
Total cap hit in 2014-15^: $29,876,310 (43% of salary cap consumed by six players)
^ - Includes conservative estimate of $4.75 million for Ryan Johansen next season
Average age: 25.2
Total point production in 2013-14#: 62 goals, 123 assists, 185 points (30.4% of team's total production)
#-Does not include Scott Hartnell's 20-32—52 line from the Flyers last year
Columbus Blue Jackets Player Usage Chart via ExtraSkater.com*:
*Circle size represents time on ice, shade of circle represents possession (5v5 Corsi For percentage -- total shot attempts for relative to total shot attempts against). Blue represents CF percentage of 50 or better. Red represents below 50 percent. The darker the shade, the further away from 50 percent.
About the Core
Sergei Bobrovsky: When you look at how the Blue Jackets franchise has changed over the last two seasons, it pretty much begins and ends with the play of Bobrovski. After posting a sparkling .932 save percentage, 2.00 goals against average and four shutouts in 2012-13, he won the Vezina Trophy. The Blue Jackets just missed the playoffs that year. His numbers dipped slightly in 2013-14, but he still posted a solid .923 save percentage and 2.38 goals-against average. The Jackets made the playoffs and Bobrovsky did his best under a bombardment of shots. In the end, it wasn't enough, but it was a step in the right direction for the franchise. Bobrovsky will be playing on the last year of his contract this year and is destined for a long-term contract. At just 25 years old, there seems to be a lot of good years ahead of the Russian netminder. And as the Blue Jackets continually get better around him, the results should, too. How he was acquired: Traded from the Philadelphia Flyers for a second and two fourth-round draft choices on June 22, 2012.
Ryan Johansen: After posting the third best goal-scoring season by a player aged 21 or younger over the last five years in the NHL, Johansen took the gigantic leap forward the team had been waiting on. After his first two seasons with the team ended in relative disappointment, Johansen exploded for 33 goals and a team-best 63 points in 2013-14. Now he's looking for a bigger contract and the two sides seem to be at a stalemate on a new deal. As important as Johansen has become to the organization, it's not terribly surprising to see the team be a little hesitant to go with a long-term deal. Johansen has had one good year out of three, though it really does seem that he's turned the corner in his career. It is expected that Johansen will earn an expensive bridge deal, but if he meets expectations over those two or three years, the money and term should be substantial on the other end. Though a hold-out may be forthcoming, Johansen will remain the key forward for this team to build around. How he was acquired: 2010 NHL Entry Draft, first round, fourth overall
Brandon Dubinsky: The key piece in the Rick Nash trade, Dubinsky's value to the Blue Jackets is multi-fold. He finished third on the team with 50 points last season and brought his edgy style to a team that needed more of an attitude to break its playoff drought. After watching how he draped himself on Sidney Crosby defensively in the playoff series, it's not hard to understand the long-term extension the Blue Jackets handed Dubinsky this summer. If Dubinsky can continue to hover around 50 points while playing rather strong defense, he should remain a high-value player for the Blue Jackets over the course of his contract. How he was acquired: Traded from the New York Rangers with Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and a first-round pick for Rick Nash, Steven Delisle and a third-round draft pick on July 23, 2012
Nathan Horton: Though Horton was unable to really fulfill much value in the first year of his long-term deal after missing a good chunk of the season while recovering from surgery, his signing last summer was part of a growing level of optimism in Columbus. His Stanley Cup experience in Boston increases the value he already brought with a history of being able to produce. The former 30-goal scorer appeared in just 35 games last season and missed the playoffs, but if he's at full strength this year, he's a vital forward to the Jackets. He has 420 career points in 626 NHL games. If he can put up 50-60 points for the Blue Jackets next season and somewhere in the 25-goal range, they should be happy considering how much time he's missed over the last three seasons. There's plenty of risk in Horton's contract, but if he can play, he is going to help a lot. How he was acquired: Signed as an unrestricted free agent on July 5, 2013
Jack Johnson: This may be a controversial choice as Johnson has become the scourge of advanced stats advocates and understandably so. Johnson's advanced metrics like Corsi and Fenwick are not good. That said, it's fairly clear that the Blue Jackets view him as a key player. He averages more ice time than anyone on the team and is utilized in very difficult defensive situations. For what it's worth, the head coach trusts him. Though Johnson really struggled in the first half of the season, costing him a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, he really played well in the latter half. Maybe it was motivation. Additionally, Johnson was arguably the best of the Blue Jackets during the playoffs with seven points in six games while averaging over 29 minutes of ice time per game. Perhaps he's being over-used, but Todd Richards said something rather interesting about Johnson, stating that the team's turnaround actually started when they traded Jeff Carter, who admittedly hated it in Columbus, and brought in Johnson. The two-way defenseman is going to remain a divisive player among fans, but apparently not for his team. How he was acquired: Traded from the Los Angeles Kings with a first-round pick for Jeff Carter on February 23, 2012
Ryan Murray: Like Horton, a player that's tough to fully gauge due to injuries last season, it's still pretty clear that Murray has a bright future with the Blue Jackets. At 20 years old he was averaging top-four minutes for the Jackets and having been the former second overall pick, the team is going to give him every opportunity to succeed. In 66 games last season, he posted 21 points. In five playoff games, Murray averaged nearly 23 minutes a game. After getting his first taste of the NHL last year, more should be expected from the oft-injured Murray. Considering how much time he lost to various injuries in junior hockey, his continued development is somewhat of a marvel. If he remains on this track, he'll be the Blue Jackets No. 1 defenseman before long. How he was acquired: 2012 NHL Entry Draft, first round, second overall
Scott Hartnell: This last spot included some heavy internal debate, but it feels like Hartnell is another player that can help make the Blue Jackets both edgier and more productive as a whole. After putting up 52 points for the Flyers last year and having 537 career points under his belt, Hartnell should boost the offense by a fair amount as a top-six winger. Having centers like either Ryan Johansen or Brandon Dubinsky, he should be able to put up some points. Hartnell also brings a hearty dose of playoff experience, which is something the Jackets certainly could have used more of. He might be on the wrong side of 30 and he may not produce like he was able to in Philadelphia, but with five years remaining on his contract, the Jackets will have to squeeze everything they can out of Hartnell as he enters the downside of his career. It will be known pretty immediately what kind of impact he'll have on the club. How he was acquired: Traded from the Philadelphia Flyers for R.J. Umberger on June 23, 2014
Who's next in line
What I think is important to note about the Blue Jackets' core is that this team has a good central group, but it's also growing the depth around them.
Not included among the core was 21-goal scorer Cam Atkinson, who really seemed to start putting together more offense last season. Also not included is the very promising Boone Jenner, who is a likely candidate to hop into this core group in the near future. Jenner had 29 points last year as a 20-year-old and has a bit of edginess to him.
Additionally, leaving out Artem Anisimov, who also scored 20-plus goals last year was a tough call considering he was also part of the Rick Nash trade that really started to help this organization complete the shift that was already beginning. He's just 26 and has two years left on his contract.
This is a great position for the Blue Jackets to be in, and that doesn't even mention their very promising first-round draft picks of the last two seasons in Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, Marko Dano and Sonny Milano.
Having compiled a number of first-round picks through trades, the team is really setting itself up now for the present and future. That's why I think there's good reason that this optimism surrounding the Blue Jackets is completely warranted. There's a visible change in the way things are being done and there appears to be clear vision.
There's a lot to like about the Blue Jackets. As noted above, they really don't need to lean heavily on the core because the supporting cast is getting better and more productive. Considering the fact that last year's second-leading scorer, defenseman James Wisniewski, wasn't included in the core group says a lot about where this team is headed.
The defensive corps is not going to look much different than it did last year, but considering a year of growth from Murray, being hopeful that Wisniewski will maintain a certain level of production and the sturdy defense of Fedor Tyutin, on top of Johnson coming out of a strong postseason, there's reason to believe they'll be better. The team also has Dalton Prout and David Savard in the mix after both played a more established role last year and they are solid depth defensemen.
Bobrovsky remains the backbone of this team, but the Blue Jackets' forwards sure look more exciting for next season.
There's still the pesky issue of getting Johansen under contract, but that's bound to happen in the near future, even if there's a hold out attached. To have Horton and Hartnell in the mix definitely helps, while there's a good foundation with guys like Anisimov, Atkinson, Matt Calvert and Nick Foligno. Meanwhile, Mark Letestu helps provide some solid depth down the middle.
The Blue Jackets are looking like strong playoff contenders in the Metropolitan Division this year. They may still fall behind the Penguins, but they still look better than a wild card team at this point. It also just seems that this organization is ready for another step forward. They have a lot to look forward to in the core that they've assembled and the youth that is waiting in the wings.
This sure doesn't look like your dad… er, uh, your older brother's Blue Jackets, that's for sure.