Columbus Blue Jackets: 3 Burning Questions For 2017-18

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Columbus Blue Jackets

Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Is this finally the year the Columbus Blue Jackets come out of the Metropolitan Division?

Being in a division with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals is no easy feat. Going up against generational talents like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin multiple times a year has been a challenge for the Columbus Blue Jackets since they moved to the Eastern Conference in 2013, but they haven’t shied away from it.

Last season, the Blue Jackets won a franchise high 16 consecutive games in a row.  Their head coach John Tortorella won the Jack Adams Award for coach of the year, and their goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender.  Their young defense proved to be one of the best units in the league featuring Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, while their forward group emerged a top play-maker in Alexander Wennberg and a 60-point producer in Cam Atkinson.

So what’s the problem?

The way the NHL playoff system is structured forces teams with the best records in their divisions to play each other in the first round.  Therefore, the Blue Jackets had the tall task of beating the 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins right off the bat.  The Blue Jackets lost the series 4-1, while Pittsburgh went on to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup.

Next, let’s take a look at the three burning questions for the Blue Jackets’ 2017-18 season.

1.  Can Artemi Panarin Produce Without Patrick Kane?

In a blockbuster trade this off-season, the Blue Jackets traded Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg, and a draft pick to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte, and a draft pick.

The Blue Jackets obviously felt they needed more offensive firepower, and that’s exactly what they’re getting in Panarin.  The past two seasons, Panarin, Patrick Kane, and Artem Anisimov combined to form one of the best lines in hockey.  Together, they terrorized the league putting up points on a nightly basis.  In 2016, Panarin won the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year while Kane took home the Hart Trophy for most valuable player.

The Blackhawks were looking to get back a solid two-way forward with Marian Hossa missing next season so Brandon Saad was a perfect match for them.  The ‘Hawks know exactly what they’re getting back in Saad, so the big question for the Blue Jackets is if Panarin can create on his own.

Panarin has had two 70+ point seasons alongside Patrick Kane, notching at least 30 goals in both seasons.  The Jackets’ Cam Atkinson was the only 30+ goal scorer last season with the next highest goal total being 26 by captain Nick Folingo.  Adding Panarin and his potential 70 points will hopefully give the Blue Jackets more of an offensive advantage in the playoffs and may be the piece that finally puts them past their division rivals.

One criticism that has come out of Chicago is that Panarin was very reliable on Kane most notably for only scoring one-timer goals.  Another complaint was that he disappeared in the playoffs, somewhat contributing to the Blackhawks’ two consecutive first round playoff losses.

Only time will tell whether Panarin can step into a new role with a talented Jackets team and prosper, or if he shows that he indeed is as one dimensional as Hawks fans claim.

Either way, acquiring a 25-year old sniper on a modest contract the next two season is a risk the Blue Jackets were willing to take to get them to the next level.

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