We are one day away from the drop of the puck on the 2021 season. Columbus has been going in the right direction consistently making the playoffs, even in the face of a free agent mass exodus. This year however, there are several hard questions going into the season that a CBJ fans must face.
1. Is the situation with PLD going to be a distraction to the team?
While the media and fans may endlessly debate his trade value and dedication to the team, will the team also feel distracted by this? If this becomes an issue, it would be up to JK to get as much value from a trade and move on as quickly as possible. Not knowing what went on behind closed doors and what words were spoken, this may be a situation that can be managed until the next off-season. Torts will not let this be a distraction, by taking drastic measures if necessary. Which leads me to my second question...
2. Has Torts run his course in Columbus?
From the outside looking in, it seems that Torts has pushed this team in the right directions and squeezed every ounce out of them. I'm not sure how much harder he can push before he losses the room. On the other hand they may be used to his coaching style and find no issue with what he is asking of them. Starting the season with a significant losing streak (5+ games) may result in his replacement. A coaching change could also impact PLD staying or leaving as well.
3. Which Cam will show up this year?
Cam scored 41 goals in 2018-2019, but significantly dropped off in 2019-2020 with only 12. Part of that can be attributed to injury, part to the fact that Panarin was not there to give him additional space. At age 31 with is smaller build, it is likely that injury concerns are not going away. If he can stay healthy and notch 20+ goals he could work to facilitate scoring for Bjork, Bemstrom, Texier and Domi.
4. What impact will the newcomers have?
Gus was a solid add in the last off season and could have a great impact the second half of this one. Until then, is there a significant add like that in this group? Four notable players were added this off season: Max Domi, Mikhail Grigorenko, Mikko Koivu and Michael Del Zotto. All these players were former 1st round draft picks. Two are younger (Domi and Grigorenko) while the other two are vets (Koivu and Del Zotto). Domi is the outlier in this group. He has expectations based upon what the CBJ gave up for him and his cap hit. Koivu, Grigorenko and Del Zotto are additions with relatively low risk. The highest salary among them is $1.5M (Koivu). All are on one-year deals, but could earn a payday given solid performances this season. Grigorenko will have the most to gain. Koivu and Del Zotto are low risk (1 year deal, low cap hit) high reward (leadership and any points they can muster) signings. I believe the CBJ are looking for leadership skills from these two rather than point output.
5. Is this a playoff team?
More relevant, is this team a contender? Would another early exit from the post season satisfy this team and fanbase? Based upon this roster, I don't know how any fan could have the expectation of advancing too far in the playoffs. Just getting in may be a challenge even in the newly aligned division.
Those are my questions entering the season. Do they hit the mark for you or are there other concerns?
It all starts tomorrow...GOOD LUCK and GO JACKETS!