Other than acquiring forward Scott Hartnell in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers on June 23, the Columbus Blue Jackets didn't make any major moves this summer. But Columbus president of hockey operations John Davidson sees a fully formed team capable of taking a big step during the 2014-15 season.
"This is a team that I think now is being recognized not just as a team that is young and up-and-coming, it's a pretty good hockey club. We have a chance here to make a real good statement with this upcoming season," Davidson told the Blue Jackets website. "I like this hockey club. I like it a lot. I like its character, I like the way it plays, I like the intestinal fortitude it has, I like how it sticks up for each other. I like all aspects of it. We have a chance to be a very good club."
The Blue Jackets certainly took a step in the right direction last season. Center Ryan Johansen established himself as a potential franchise player with 33 goals and 63 points, and the Blue Jackets made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time, capturing the first wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and winning their first playoff games against the Pittsburgh Penguins before bowing out in six games.
Even in defeat, they captured the imagination of fans. Trailing 4-0 to Pittsburgh with less than 10 minutes remaining in the deciding sixth game, the Blue Jackets stormed back to within a goal and came close to tying the game in the closing seconds.
With the lessons learned from their playoff experience, Davidson sees the Blue Jackets taking the crucial next step this season. They'll benefit from young players, including forward Boone Jenner and defenseman Ryan Murray, continuing to develop, and wing Nathan Horton reporting to camp healthy after missing 46 regular-season games and all six playoff games with a variety of injuries.
"To see the depth we have, not only with our team here but the youngsters coming, I think that getting Nathan in healthy is going to be a big boost for us," Davidson said. "It's about knowing you have a chance to do some damage. This isn't on a wing and a prayer anymore. This isn't hoping [goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky] stops 55 shots. This is a team that has capabilities of winning at home, winning on the road, and doing some damage."
Able to become a restricted free agent in 2015, Bobrovsky will be a big part of the Blue Jackets' success this season. At the moment, Columbus must reach a contract agreement with Johansen, a restricted free agent who has yet to re-sign. Davidson made it clear general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wasn't willing to mortgage future cap flexibility in order to lock up the 21-year-old.
"Jarmo is still working with Johansen's camp. We're a team that feels if we have players that earn it, we will certainly respond with appropriate contracts," Davidson said. "We're working with their camp trying to figure out what exactly is the right thing to do. We like Ryan Johansen; who wouldn't? But we have to be responsible regarding long-term contracts."