The Atlantic Division is probably the easiest of the four divisions to break down. The three teams that highlighted the division last year are all back with little to no change. The rest of the teams are not greatly changed either. If you missed the other previews just click the division name Metropolitan Central Pacific.

Top Shelf

Tampa Bay Lightning

This team is legitimate. Victor Hedman has emerged as a top level defenseman and the rest of the defensive group is solid. Ben Bishop is a high end goaltender. Up front is Steven Stamkos, the other forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and more proved themselves formidable last year as well. The addition of Stralman to the roster just makes the team even better. When the playoffs start this season don’t be surprised when this team is in the top three, don’t even be surprised if they are at the top of the division.

Montreal Canadiens

The Habs put up a hell of a fight last spring even after Carey Price went down. Since then they brought in P.A. Parenteau and removed some older, slower players. The blueline is likely to be younger than last year as well. Nathan Beaulieu and Jarred Tinordi are with the organization, Douglas Murray and Francis Bullion are not currently signed by the Canadiens (or anyone else). You can still ask “who’s going to score”, but recent history has shown that it mostly doesn’t matter if Price is playing well.

Boston Bruins

They lost future hall of fame inductee Jarome Iginla and at this point most of the team is waiting for the trade ax to fall. Even with the losses of emotional catalyst Shawn Thornton and Jarome Iginla the team isn’t a lot worse off than it was last year. The biggest question mark on for this team hovers over the real health durability, and game readiness of Seidenberg, Eriksson, Kelly, and McQuaid. Eriksson started to look better as the reason wound down, but the other three are still complete unknowns.

Wild Cards

Detroit Red Wings

In order for this team to be in the playoffs they have to get consistent star level contributions from players like Tatar, Nyquist, Joakim Andersson and more as their top level players just don’t cut it anymore. Datsyuk has already suffered an injury, Zetterberg is always just one more hit (or maybe a stack of #Pennercakes ) from a month of rehab. While I honestly expect the team to be on the outside looking in when the season ends, the brain trust in Detroit keeps surprising me.

Toronto Maple Leafs

This team should not be as bad as they were last year. I don’t think they can win the division, but in addition to a healthy David Clarkson (we hope), they made smart additions with Mike Santorelli and Roman Polack. Also of note is the return of Leo Komorov. If all are playing near peak, those four players alone are nearly enough to get the squad back into the playoffs even without David Booth who to no ones surprise is again injured. It is pretty likely that if this team isn’t in playoff position around the trade deadline they are not going to look very similar next fall.

The Rest

Ottawa Senators

The Ottawa Senators can hope for better health this season, it was a factor in last seasons finish.  With the departure of Jason Spezza, they have lost raw talent. There is however an enormous amount of room for young players to prove themselves. Mika Zibanejad, Eric Gryba, Codi Ceci, Alex Chaisson and the rest can finally go out on the ice a prove to the world where they truly stand in the NHL and hockey world. There isn’t much ahead of them on the depth chart, and who knows if they, Jared Cowen and the rest all have healthy productive seasons they might just get to bonus hockey. If you see that happening, I’d advise you not to bet the rent money, or even the tip on a mocha latte.

The Buffalo Sabres

When your first line center is horse raise between Zemgus Girgensons, Tyler Ennis, and Cody Hodgson, that tells you about where your season is headed. When fans show up to a USA hockey event with McDavid Sabres jerseys, its a sign fans know it too. Unquestionably the best unit of this team is the defense. Tyler Myers is the best known member of the group, but Josh Gorges and Andrej Meszaros have been through the wars and know their way around the NHL, Jake McCabe has an excellent amateur pedigree and I expect him to develop well. Last year they have 21 wins, I’d bet on them being within no more than six either way of that this year.

The Florida Panthers

The Cats might just surprise people a time or two this season. Nick Bjugstad, Aleksander Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau have all had a tour of duty in the NHL, and won’t be wide eyed rookies this year. Jussi Jokinen and Dave Bolland will help thicken up the top six, and Derek McKenzie and Shawn Thornton will play important bottom six minutes. Roberto Luongo on the backend makes a big difference in net. Don’t expect them to win the division (or even more than they lose) but expecting them in the NHL’s bottom five in April might not be realistic.

Realignment has stirred the pot and the results in this division are curious at best. The big idea is clearly to draw fans into the arenas of all of the NHL’s second and third tier teams. In this case however, six of the teams are sorta close to each other, and the other two are at the other end of the continent. The shattering of the leagues second worst division brings the Florida Panthers and their Sunshine State companions the Tampa Bay Lightning into a division with all five members of the old Northeast division and a escapee of the former central division the Detroit Red Wings.

Boston: We know the Bruins would not have moved on from Tyler Seguin if they’d won the Cup this season, or if he’d actually shown up in games on a consistent basis. We know Iginla and Chiarelli are going to feel the heat if former Flames captain starts off with his usual October anemic start. We know who plays on the teams third line, and for that matter where Daniel Paille plays are questions that will be asked again and again all season long.

Buffalo: We know the first post Lindy Ruff season will not be same old same old. We know the team still hasn’t named a captain. We know that at least on paper it is hard to call this a better roster than last years. We know the hope that Tallinder will help turn Myers around might just be all that has kept Darcy Regier employed. We know that any 23 man roster that can find room for John Scott isn’t likely to be playing in May.

Detroit: We know that with their move east and the alleviated travel burden some of the older players might have better than expected seasons. We know that its likely Daniel Alfredsson will not get warm second, third and fourth visits to his old team. We know this team isn’t significantly better than it was last season, and that it is playing in a tougher division and conference than last year. We know that Lidstrom’s jersey retirement is likely to be nearly as lengthy and mind numbing as if the Habs were retiring a number.

Florida: We know that adding Steven Pinizzotto, Jesse Winchester, Scott Gomez, Bobby Butler, and Joey Crabb to a team does not constitute a significant upgrade of NHL talent regardless of where you finished in the NHL standings the previous year. We know they are hoping one or two prospects surprise the this year by earning a roster spot in camp. We know that with this roster we’re as likely to hear loud, boisterous fans of the visiting team in Sunrise as we are fans of the Panthers.

Montreal: We know the core of this roster should be better than it was last year in the playoffs, even allowing for injuries. We know that whatever tension there is in the locker room, most notably between a certain pair of long time forwards and an unnamed defenseman carries over to the ice and hurts the team. We know this team would be much better with a backup goalie who can be expected to play well in twenty or even twenty five games a year. We know Briere as a part of the package is probably the best improvement for the teams playoff chances they could have added. We know Emelin should go back to hitting and playing physically in exactly the manner he made a name for himself in, perhaps with one or two exceptions.

Ottawa: We know that Daniel Alfredsson will likely be cheered when he first takes the ice as a member of the Red Wings, and soundly booed after that. We know that if Jason Spezza ever wants to build a legacy for himself in Ottawa now is the time. We know that the team is better than it was last year by adding Ryan’s health, allowing for maturation of Zibanejad, Cowen, and Weircioch, even if they did bring back Joe Corvo. We know that Anderson is likely off to the Olympics in Sochi.

Tampa Bay: We know someone other than Steve Yzerman knows what he is doing, what we don’t is if anyone understands what he is doing. We know the best way to describe the teams defense would be Hedman, aging, aged, fragile and unknown. We know there are 157 inches of question mark in net, those inches answer to the names of Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback. We know that even with 5 NHL seasons to his name, including a run to the eastern conference finals, there are only four younger forwards on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster than Steven Stamkos.

Toronto: We know the off season deck chair shuffling didn’t address the teams major issues; resiliency, defensive coherence. We know Joe Colborne is unlikely to contribute as much in any zone as Grabovski, and certainly won’t be as much of an impact player overall. We know Phil Kessel will probably continue to light up Tuukka Rask as he couldn’t Tim Thomas. We that someday Leafs fans will get a general manager who can build a winner, won’t they?

The NHL’s compressed schedule has led to a number of weird changes in how things are done. The all in one day marathon draft, free agency being pushed back four days, and of course the Stanley Cup being handed out later than in living memory.

Worst Moves:

Ottawa Senators: I’m not sure what was done to tick Daniel Alfredsson off, but that has to count as one. Adding Joe Corvo who’s stick might as well be sponsored by a cookware line is another.

Minnesota Wild: Allowing Matt Cooke to wear Derek Boogaard’s number. Yes it is the number Cooke has worn for years, but the number could have enjoyed just a bit more time off until a more suitable player came along.

 

Best Moves:

Montreal Canadiens getting Carey Price a new goalie coach. With the regression shown over the last two seasons by the netminder it is obvious something isn’t working right in Montreal. The defense is better now than it was three seasons ago, so it is hard to blame them.

Boston Bruins Introducing Jarome Iginla who is signed for just one season, who is a hall of famer, and who has spent his career dealing with major market media before Loui “Tyler Seguin’s Replacement” Eriksson who’s contract runs for three years and who waived his no trade contract to go to Boston.

Saint Louis Blues adding Derek Roy gives them a center with 1st line offensive upside that should allow them to climb into the top half of the league in scoring.

Buffalo Sabres getting Tallinder back, with whom Tyler Myers played his best hockey. If Tallinder does nothing other than get Myers back to form, his salary is well spent..

Ottawa Senators landing Bobby Ryan for no major components.

Anaheim Ducks getting out of potential cap jail by moving Bobby Ryan and getting potential

 

Two trades:

Cal Clutterbuck & the 70th pick went from the Minnesota Wild to the New York Islanders for Nino Niederretter.

Cory Schneider went from the Vancouver Canucks to the New Jersey Devils straight up for the 9th overall pick, which Gillis used on Bo Horvat of the London Knights.

1st:

Nathan MacKinnon of the Mooseheads, goes to the Avalanche. It isn’t a surprise that they went with someone other than Jones, but it should be a disappointment. The Teams defense has been awful for years, and some years not even that good.

2nd:

Aleksander Barkov, a center that might be the perfect solution to upping their offensive ante. The Panthers need depth at every position, and this is a solid start.

3rd:

The Tampa Bay Lightning completely ignore their need to build a defense, and draft a Center and Left Winger Jonathan Drouin. Very highly regarded player, but is this the pick that eventually dooms Yzerman’s tenure as general manager?

4th:

Seth Jones is taken by the Nashville Predators, they could have taken a center here and not done themselves a disservice, but a guy with the potential to replace (and surpass?) Ryan Suter.

5th:

Carolina selected Elias Lindholm and gave themselves a very solid option at center in a year or two, and will give them a lot of flexibility going forward.

6th:

Calgary finally got a top notch center in Sean Monahan. They will need to add more on the wings. With the centers taken in the last two or three years, this is a pretty smart pick as they just about have to hit on Monahan and one or two more

7th:

It was not a surprise that Darnell Nurse was the second defenseman taken, just a surprise that Edmonton took him. The Oilers are a year or two from now a notch or two above

8th:

With all the questions surrounding Tyler Myers, the Sabres went back to the well and picked defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen.

9th

After trading Cory Schnieder for this pick they select Bo Horvat a strong two way center who may start in the NHL on their third line. We all know London Knights players are going to be solid in all three zones, so this might be a positive turning point for the Canucks after trending downward for a couple years.

10th:

The Stars tool big bodied RW Valeri Nichushkin as their pick. With not many larger forwards on the team this is a solid pick.

This season the Buffalo Sabres were expected by many to challenge for the very last Northeast Division title. The Boston Bruins were expected by most to fight like hell to win the division again. So far the Sabres have fired a head coach, declared open season on their roster, and wallowed around the bottom of the division and conference. The Bruins have missed out on acquiring future hall of fame inductee Jarome Iginla, traded away a world class goaltender the front office alienated, and had the decided displeasure of a rear view on the Montreal Canadien’s for much of the season.

Disclaimer;

You can seriously injury yourself, destroy property, or even die even if your participation in this drinking game is nothing more than water. If you should happen to do something incredibly idiotic and entertaining during this drinking game that makes it to Youtube, TextsFromLastNight or other fun sites; do send a link. It won’t make your life better, but I’ll get a laugh too. No one is responsible for the stupid you commit but you. Enjoy!

 

Take 1 Drink Whenever:

  • Lindy Ruff is mentioned
  • Jordan Leopold or other former members of the Sabres are mentioned.
  • The word “lethargic” is applied to either team.
  • The size of Zdeno Chara, Tyler Myers, Nathan Gerbe, or Tyler Ennis is mentioned.

Take 2 Drinks Whenever:

  • Sidney Crosby is mentioned.
  • Jarome Iginla is mentioned.
  • An announcer uses “shakeup” in discussing either teams problems.
  • The Lucic/Miller collision is mentioned.
  • Someone says they don’t like an officials call.

Take 3 Drinks Whenever:

  • Someone mentions players needing to wear visors or full cages.
  • Ryan Clowe is mentioned on tv, twitter or radio in connection with the Bruins.
  • Someone says “fire sale”, “wholesale changes”, or “rebuild” about the Sabres.
  • John Scott skates more than 2:25 seconds in a period.

Take 4 Drinks Whenever:

  • Game of Thrones is mentioned or alluded to.
  • Someone makes a trade deadline prediction.
  • Peter Chiarelli or Darcy Regier are mentioned or shown on tv.
  • There is a mention of any teams scouts.

Switch Drinks:

  • Between periods.
  • Whenever Mike Milbury makes the least sense in an intermission.
  • Whenever Doc goes more than four minutes of game play without using; knife, stab, or pitchfork.
  • If Patrick Kaleta, Andrew Ference, John Scott or Shawn Thornton score a goal.

Skip a drink;

  • You start to have faith the Sabres will make the playoffs.
  • You think the Bruins will fall out of the playoffs.
  • You think Liam McHugh is funny.
  • Greg Campbell wins a fight.

 

 

The Calgary Flames and the twice traded Jarome Iginla may end up being the biggest trade of the year, but the first general manager to say they are listening to everything is Darcy Regier. Mike Harrington reports in the wake of the Jordan Leopold to the Saint Louis Blues that the embattled general manager is talking to every front office in the league. Nobody is off the market at this point, so let’s take a romp through the roster.

Top tier;

  • Ryan Miller should be an easy chip to move if he’s willing to get gone no goalie with more games played has a better save percentage than his .911, his $6.25m contract isn’t ridiculous, and at 32 he’s probably got four to five more years of solid play ahead of him minimum. When you look at guys around his size like Tim Thomas, Martin Broduer, and even Hedberg and Biron, you get the idea he might have another 8-10 years in him. He’s putting up solid numbers despite an awful season from the team, and that means even teams starting to rebuild might want to consider him.
  • Drew Stafford, the 27 year old right wing is having an off year, his point percentage is usually a bit closer to .66 per game, versus the less than half a point per game this season. With two more years at four million he’s in  the price range where he should be getting second line minutes, but if he’s outperformed by someone, or just fits better on the third line most competitive clubs won’t have sunk their chances of success. At six-two tall and two hundred pounds and change the former 30 goal scorer presents a pretty compelling , where he plays in all situations, even if his scoring touch isn’t there he can still contribute.
  • Cody Hodgson is not a player I would want to trade if I were the Sabres, but he’s one that might draw some pretty nice offers is anyone is paying attention. He’s young, he’s already taken part in a run into the Stanley Cup finals, and he’s a skilled one or two center. While he’s hardly large or physical, he plays on both the powerplay and the penalty kill and plays big minutes.
  • Thomas Vanek might be hard to move, not because of his skill set or age, but because his contract is a bit large to shuffle into the mix with the salary cap going down. This might be a situation where a team like say the Islanders or Red Wings takes on the player and most of the contract. When you can be more than a point per game on less than 19 minutes of ice time a game on a bad team in a compressed season your skill set is worth taking note of.
  • Jason Pomminville, another year with 5.3m left on the contract should really only slow down those with no cap flexibility at all. Twice a 30 goal man, five straight years of more than 20 goals, and a career points per game percentage of .79? The biggest question should be is anyone worth keeping wearing his number on your roster.

Mid tier:

  • Tyler Ennis, low risk, potentially high reward. The small forward is tenacious, a great skater, a good passer, and should easily fit in at anywhere from the 4th-10th forward spots. A bit over 2 million for his cap hit for one more year, a twenty goal year to his name, and just 23.
  • Tyler Myers, high risk, but the reward could be huge, or a perpetual drain on the payroll. He’s got a forever long contract and has taken a couple dozen steps back from his Calder Trophy form. A team that has a solid defenseman who can coach up the towering Texan into better play is probably in the best position to get the most from Myers. That defenseman might not even need to be on ice, Lidstrom played recently enough that he could likely make big strides Myers.
  • Christian Ehrhoff, while most defensemen age pretty well, this one has had more than one knee injury, and carries a cap hit of four million through 2012. The actual pay out is only only one million a year in the last three seasons, but a guy who relies on his speed and skating signed for that long with those problems already is worrisome. On the other hand, he’s only increased his minutes in the last two or three years and is playing in all situations. The contract length could mean the German defenseman stays in Buffalo even if someone has some interest.

I can’t see anyone targeting most of the rest of the roster. Marcus Foligno might garner a bit of interest, and defensemen are always in demand so shuffling out the current blueline for some prospects and picks is possible, and the fact that Regier traded for Ott shows there’s at least two people who think he’s got value (aside from his agent). Overall this team isn’t horribly built, it just can’t seem to ever get on the same page or four games in a row.

 

Filling out the Team USA roster will require a mix of youth, international experience, and attitude. The Russians, the Canadians, and the upper echelon of European teams will not be intimidated by half the roster returning, or even two thirds. Part of what will be needed is a bit of familiarity, so anyone who has played with likely players wins the tie breaker over complete outsiders.

Top Priority:

  • Craig Anderson, he’s played with Erik Johnson, he’s the best goaltender in the NHL this season, and he’s got enough of a different style from both Miller and Quick that if the coach has to make a change, the opposition will have to make adjustments.
  • Dustin Byfuglien, big body, can play defense and forward, has won the Stanley Cup has played with Patrick Kane.
  • Jason Pominville, an infusion of skill is needed and this guy has it.
  • John Carlson, is highly talented, knows the tendencies of several of the big names from some of the other national teams.
  • Max Pacioretty has turned into one of the most interesting players in the NHL. Almost a point per game player on a team that has been injury prone over the last two seasons.

Priority:

  • Kevin Shattenkirk, has played well in the very defensive system in St Louis, has also played in the more free wheeling Colorado system in the past.
  • Seth Jones, has won World Junior gold, will likely be part of team USA for years to come, even if he only plays seven or eight minutes a game, good experience for the future.
  • Alex Galchenyuk, has played with Jones internationally, and plays with Pacioretty on the Habs.
  • Rob Scuderi, no international experience, but has won Stanley Cup’s in two radically different systems, the Los Angeles Kings and the Pittsburgh Penguins, among the leaders for US born defenseman in shorthanded ice time.
  • James van Riemsdyk has had solid international experience, currently playing with 2010 Silver Medalist Phil Kessel.

Possible:

  • Alex Goligoski, the Dallas Defenseman gets overlooked a lot, but it should be noted he’s putting up almost identical offensive numbers on the far less talented Dallas team as he did with the Penguins. Has a small amount of international experience.
  • Justin Faulk, great young defenseman burdened by a poor defensive team. Has played under the flag, plays in all situations, like Jones will likely be around for the next three Olympic cycles, has played with Gleason.
  • Drew Stafford, scored 52 points in 62 games including 31 goals two seasons ago, plays with Pominville, some international experience.
  • Erik Cole, former Olympian, World Championship experience, two time thirty goal scorer, played briefly with Galchenyuk, and a season with Pacioretty.
  • John Gaudreau, speedy little pure goal scorer,
  • John Gibson, WJC tournament MVP, stud goaltender.
  • Rocco Grimaldi, speedy, agile, had two goals in the WJC win over Sweden.
  • Blake Wheeler, great reach, good speed, plays in all situations.
  • J.T. Miller, played in on the WJC gold team with Gibson, Gaudreau, Grimaldi, Jones, playing for the Rangers and getting compliments from John Tortorello.

Long Shots:

  • Emerson Etem has proved himself at the junior level in the WHL, he’s yet to make a big mark in the NHL, but he’s got speed to burn and plays on the same team as Bobby Ryan, some games for the NAHL national team.
  • Tyler Myers if he can somehow get his grove back he’s undeniably talented, has developed some aggression, and is both a good skater and puck handler.
  • Brandon Dubinsky, has had a downturn in production lately, but had a good World Championship and is a great two way player.
  • Jack McCabe, captain of the gold team, solid defender, but the defense is the area where the team is likely to have the least turnover.
  • Jimmy Howard no slight on his talent, but he’s about the fourth best American goaltender in the NHL right now. National development team veteran.
  • T.J. Oshie, depending on how the top lines shake down he might find himself tapped to captain the penalty kill effort, also plays with Backes, some national experience, plays physical.
  • Kyle Palmeri has a hat trick this season, and half of his goals have been game winners, national experience, and plays with Bobby Ryan.
  • Paul Gaustad, incredible faceoff man, great penalty killer, like Oshie could end up as a “role player”, team guy.

Given the eventual composition of Teams Canada and Russia, ensuring there is a viable penalty kill, players at all positions who can skate, and guys who won’t wilt under physical play or the bright lights of Olympic play take priority over pure skill with questionable fortitude. With a deep enough team, playing against the weaker teams gets easier because you can use your whole bench and stay reasonably fresh for the games where one bad five minute stretch can bounce you from the metal round.

 

 

It is no secret that Tyler Myers had a sensational rookie season. It is kind of hard not to notice a defenseman winning the Calder Trophy. It’s even harder when that lanky adolescent is compared to nearly every Norris trophy winner in the last quarter century. Unfortunately for pride of Houston Texas his career is currently on a Jonathan Cheechoo like trajectory. His point production has gone down each year of his career. Despite an enormous second contract he has been scratched twice already this season. In 12 games he has just 1 goal, and is a team worst minus nine, 30% worse than the next nearest player.

The question is what is to be done? A player who has the raw ability to walk into the NHL and win the Calder trophy especially as a defenseman, and then gets worse points to one of three things. The first is injury, which did happen, but after his sophomore season. The second is motivation, that is unfortunately not something that can really be measured unless a player comes into camp grossly out of shape and doesn’t participate in off ice conditioning. The third, is environment, specifically coaching.

The Buffalo Sabres have been a mediocre team for a full generation. The list of players they lost to free agency includes names like Danny Briere the point per playoff game stud, and trades the most recent of which was the indefensible dumping of Derek Roy for Ott,others you can name, and if you can’t Sabres fans can sing you their woe. Myers own mentor, now a Devil, is another one of those players lost to free agency or bad trades. So do the Sabres import a mentor for Myers? If Vishnovsky becomes available, is he the right guy for the job of reforming the Sabres “franchise” blueliner? Or maybe they make a move for a player like Kuba, or Girardi.

Or, is Myers in need of a fresh work address? Would exposure to John Carlson, Carl Alzner, and Roman Hamerlik be the cure for what ails him? Equally intriguing is what sort of player he could develop into if taken under the wing of guys like Pietreangelo, Chara, or hell, nearly all of the senior members of the Kings blueline. Rob Scuderi has won Cups in two very, very different systems, Drew Doughty is a phenomenal talent and still improving, Matt Greene too has the chops to help stabilize the tail spinning 22 year old.

Whatever is, wherever the repairs start, they need to find a way to get the youngsters confidence back in one way or another. They can start with his defensive work, or get him back in touch with the offensive abilities that so intrigued the NHL not long ago, and I leave that to whoever is lucky enough to work with him. The only must is a mentor.

Scott Howson takes a lot of heat. Some of it deserved, some of it just plain silly. Could things with Nash have smoothed over? Possibly. But even for a hockey player who’s the face of a franchise Rick Nash played an unbelievably passive aggressive game with the media, the fans, the Columbus team and well anyone not his agent. No one can blame him for wanting to go to a place that will improve his chances to win.  The way he did it probably half a step below Dany Heatley’s methodology and without having ever faced the pressure of a long established hockey market.

So what do we know about Scott Howson’s plan going forward. Well, he’s nailed down three of the planks any good team is built on. Depth is number one. As the Sedin twins, Stamkos and company, and others have well illustrated over the years you can’t win with just one or two elite talents and a roster full of four-A players. With Dubinsky who might prove to be a top center if given room to grow but is already comparable to Kesler or Plekanec they have one undeniable top two center. Anisimov gives more offensive talent at a younger age than second and third lines have seen in Columbus.

Defense is the tricky one to build. Defensemen as rule take longer to mature than forwards, but they tend to stay at their top level longer. With Wisniewski and Johnson as two veteran mentors to younger players Tim Erixon and Ryan Murray are less likely to get thrown into the deep and and left to flounder like Buffalo Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers. Taking that two hundred games to learn defense at the NHL level will give the Blue Jackets a more dynamic defensive unit in the near future than much of the central division can claim. Don’t overlook Nikita Nikitin as part of this defense. He’s an all situations defenseman who’ll end up playing top four minutes.

The model that has worked best in the last decade for building teams has been draft your core and fill in the rest later. The Penguins, BlackHawks, Bruins and Kings all boasted a lot of home grown talent when they hoisted the cup. This year the team will have three first round picks. While they could flip one or all of those for NHL players or NHL ready prospects, I would in no way be surprised if Howson uses all three selections. Hockey’s Future gives them a very low rating for total prospect pool talent and three first round draft picks of the right kind will go a long ways toward reversing that.  With the talent that is expected to be available in the first round next year, they could be a contending team in not too long if their goaltending can settle in and produce at an average level.

Some may not like Howson. Some make not like the Howson plan even if it didn’t have his name on it. That said, it does appear there is a plan, and he’s certainly demonstrated he won’t be deviating from it for anything less than direct godly intervention.