The Columbus Blue Jackets made one of the biggest splashes in free agency signing Johnny Gaudreau from the Calgary Flames on a seven-year, $68.25million contract.
The capture of the 29-year-old came totally out of the blue and signalled serious intent on behalf of General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen to take the franchise to the next level.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||October 7th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100|
The Blue Jackets have been treading water for several seasons, either missing the playoffs completely or suffering an early exit.
Last season was a perfect example as they finished 21st in the NHL with a mediocre 37-38-7 record, missing the playoffs by 19 points.
However, with the signing of Gaudreau and extension of Patrik Laine to a four-year, $34.8m deal the Blue Jackets have added serious firepower to an ever-blossoming line-up of youngsters who will be better for a year's worth of experience in the league.
With an average age of 25.38, Columbus had the second-youngest roster in the NHL last season with 10 players making their NHL debut, including forward Cole Sillinger who had 31 points (16 goals, 15 assists) as an 18-year-old.
The Blue Jackets scored their fair share of goals finishing 14th in the league last season with 262 which was a franchise record. So, it comes as a surprise that their powerplay was ranked 24thin the NHL, firing at a below average 18.6 percent.
The addition of Gaudreau will not only help bring further offence in five-on-five play, but will also aid the Blue Jackets on the man advantage with Laine set to benefit massively.
With one of the better shots in the NHL, Laine scored 26 goals and 56 points in 56 games last season while Gaudreau bagged a sensational 40 goals, 75 assists for 115 points in 82 games which was joint-second of all players in the league.
The pair linking up is sure to strike fear into opposition defences, especially when Jakub Voracek, who amassed 56 assists last season, is added into the equation.
For all the good work Columbus did going forwards last season, it was nullified by a poor defensive record, also setting a franchise record by allowing 297 goals (28thin the NHL).
Following the season, rookie coach Brad Larsen defended his teams blue-line referencing the generally inexperience and his confidence that they will naturally improve.
The addition of 6' 5" Erik Gudbranson on a four-year deal from the Calgary Flames will help and add some much-needed snarl, but the blue-line is clearly still a work in progress for the Blue Jackets.
Zach Werenski is a top-pairing offensive defenceman who has committed his long-term future to the Blue Jackets, Vladislav Gavrikov is a very capable two-way player and 22-year-old Adam Boqvist clearly has a high ceiling of potential.
But ultimately, Columbus are waiting for and relying on their recent high draft picks David Jiricek, Denton Mateychuk and Corson Ceulemans to be ready for NHL action and live up their massive potential which is going to be a couple more years down the line.
Despite the number of goals conceded by the Blue Jackets, number one netminder Elvis Merzlikins produced respectable numbers going 27-23-7 with a .907 save-percentage and 3.22 goals-against-average (GAA) in 59 games.
The same can't be said for back-up Joonas Korpisalo who really struggled with both form and fitness going 7-11-0 in 22 games with a .877 save-percentage and 4.15 GAA.
It was the worst season of Korpisalo's seven-year career with the Blue Jackets and he will be looking to bounce back to his usual reliable self after having hip surgery.
Due to the big contracts handed to Gaudreau and Laine, the Blue Jackets were left with little choice but to trade forward Oliver Bjorkstrand to the Seattle Kraken to get below the NHL salary cap.
The 27-year-old was drafted by Columbus in 2013 and led them in goals last season with 28, but despite his popularity, Gaudreau is a clear upgrade, albeit a far more expensive one.
Larsen will enter a second season as head coach of the Blue Jackets after spending the previous seven seasons as an assistant under Todd Richards and John Tortorella.
The Canadian will be excited to reconfigure the team’s forward group and build upon the scoring success of last season.
But one thing is for sure, he will need to find a healthier balance to offence and cut down the goals allowed if he wants to get the Blue Jackets back into the playoffs following two years out.