Eyes on the Enemy: Columbus Blue Jackets

"Eyes on the Enemy" will be a continuing bi-annual series on the NY Rangers Blog giving fans updates on the Rangers closest rivals. Part 5 of the offseason version of 'EotE' will focus on the Columbus Blue Jackets. All contract figures listed below courtesy of capgeek.com 

The Rick Nash trade to the NY Rangers marked an end of an era in Columbus. The long time captain and former No. 1 overall pick had demanded a trade and was shipped out of town in return for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and defenseman Tim Erixon. While the trade itself was expected to go down for several months, the season the Blue Jackets wound up having without the former face of the franchise caught the attention of many around the league. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky obtained on draft day 2012 from the Flyers, took the NHL by storm last season. As the trade deadline approached, the Blue Jackets had quietly let it be known that they were going to be buyers in an effort to sneak into the playoffs. At 15-14-7 and just one point out of 8th on deadline day, the Blue Jackets called up the Rangers once again and obtained Marian Gaborik for 3 players. It was a high-risk, high-reward move well outside the norm for the often maligned organization and represented a shift in philosophy by new, fresh faces in the front office. Before the season, the Blue Jackets tapped former Ranger John Davidson to be the new president of hockey ops and hired GM Jarkko Kekäläinen to replace a fired Scott Howson in February. Although the team fell just one point short of the postseason, the shortened year will perhaps be recorded in history as a stepping stone to greater success.

On the Farm: 
In the interest of time, I'm going to quickly touch on the Blue Jackets' 2013 draft as they had three first round picks as a result of acquiring the Rangers' 19th overall selection in the Rick Nash trade and the LA Kings' 27th overall in the Jeff Carter-Jack Johnson swap.

The Blue Jackets selected Swedish center Alex Wennberg from Djurgården with the 14th pick. He's not expected to make the jump to North America just yet as he recently signed a 2 year contract with Frölunda in the SHL.

At 19th overall, Columbus selected Kerby Rychel from the Windsor Spitfires in the OHL. Rychel was the Spitfires leading scorer a season ago and is expected to play at least one more year in juniors. 

Finally, at 27th overall, Columbus took Marko Dano of HC Slovan Bratislava in the KHL. Dano made a name for himself at the 2013 U-20 WJC for Team Slovakia with 4 goals and 9 points in 6 games. Currently deemed "most NHL ready" of the three, Dano will spend another year in the KHL.

Columbus' top prospect goes by the name of Ryan Murray. Murray, 19, was taken 2nd overall in the 2012 draft and the defenseman is expected to make the jump right to the Blue Jackets in the fall. Hockey's Future lists Murray as "a talented defenseman with few holes in his game." "The look of a future NHL captain; he should help anchor a top defensive pairing in the NHL for years to come."

Cap Situation: 
The traditionally low-spending Blue Jackets have taken on quite a bit salary in recent trades/signings. Both trades with the Rangers, in addition to recent raises given to Anisimov, Bobrovsky, RJ Umberger, Nick Foligno, Fedor Tyutin and the big free agent contract given to Nathan Horton at 7 years, $31 million, Columbus has nearly spent to the cap ceiling leaving themselves with $2 million left in space.

Odds and Ends:
The separate trades of two superstars 9 months apart will dictate the fates of the Rangers and Blue Jackets over the next 5-7 years. Both teams paid heavily for the services of Gaborik and Nash, although Ranger fans do have a case that they came out a better team when all was said and done. While there is plenty of talent to go around not just in Columbus but their prospect pipeline as well, the jury is still out over how good the Blue Jackets can be. Can Bobrovsky repeat his Vezina performance? Can former Rangers Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Ansimov provide adequate secondary scoring behind Horton and Gaborik and at the same time, exceed the production that Rick Nash normally puts up every year to justify the trade? Same goes for Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen whom haven't found their niche at the NHL level. Coach Todd Richards who is going into the final year of his contract, is under a bit of pressure not only to get his new weapons to meet expectations but to stay competitive in a much tougher division.

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