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Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Capitals' 2017-18 Metropolitan Division Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.

How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?

This week, CSN is taking a look at each club's offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.

RELATED: CSN'S 2017-18 CAPITALS PREVIEW

Team: Columbus Blue Jackets

2016-17 Results: 50-24-8 (108 points). Third in division, 3rd in conference. Eliminated in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins in five games.

Notable acquisitions: C Jordan Schroeder, LW Artemi Panarin, C Tyler Motte

Notable departures: C Sam Gagner, LW Scott Hartnell, D Kyle Quincey, RW David Clarkson, LW Brandon Saad, G Anton Forsberg, C William Karlsson

When they will play the Caps: At Washington Dec. 2, at Columbus Feb. 6, at Washington Feb. 9, at Columbus Feb. 26

MORE CAPITALS: WHY IS PHEONIX COPLEY IMPORTANT FOR THE CAPS THIS SEASON?

2017-18 Blue Jackets Analysis:

The Blue Jackets were arguably the biggest surprise of the regular season last year, but they will enter the 2016-17 season with more doubters than you would expect for a young up-and-coming team that finished with the fourth best record in the league.

After a great regular season that included a 16-game win streak, Columbus fell in the first round of the playoffs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The biggest difference was the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy for an incredible regular season that saw him post a .931 save percentage and 2.06 GAA. The playoffs saw a massive regression with a .882 save percentage and 3.88 GAA. It’s hard to win when your goalie is putting up numbers like that, but the fact that the Blue Jackets’ postseason lasted only five games shows just how important he is to his team’s success.

In addition to Bobrovsky, Columbus also returns a strong, young core that is looking to take the next step this season. Cam Atkinson led the team with 62 points last season, Alex Wennberg scored 59 points at the age of 22 and Zach Werenski was named a finalist for the Calder Trophy for rookie of the year. The one thing this team seemed to lack last season was a dynamic goal scorer. To address that, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off a big trade with the Chicago Blackhawks to acquire Artemi Panarin.

Playing alongside Patrick Kane, Panarin has scored 61 goals and 90 assists in his first two NHL seasons. The Blue Jackets are betting Panarin can remain as productive in Columbus even without Kane.

The Blue Jackets lose some production with Brandon Saad and Sam Gagner, but they could bolster their ranks with prospect Pierre-Luc Dubois if he is able to make the NHL squad. In the QMJHL, Dubois tallied 55 points in just 48 games.

2017-18 Blue Jackets Season prediction:

The biggest question for Columbus is how will Bobrovsky respond to his postseason performance? Ultimately it may be unreasonable to expect him to play as lights out as he did last season, but the Blue Jackets cannot compete in the toughest division in hockey if he plays like he did in the playoffs.

In addition to Bobrovsky, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of Panarin. He is a good pick up, but ultimately no one knows what he will be without Kane. How will he play when defenses are game planning for him? Even if Panarin disappoints, however, the arrow is still trending up for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets are not going to catch anyone by surprise like they did last season. If they hope to stay among the top teams in the Metropolitan Division, they will have to earn it. To me, this team is absolutely a playoff team and a dangerous one at that, but still likely a year away from winning the division. They may be better than last season, but too much went right for them to not expect some regression. Still, the future looks very bright for Columbus.

More Metro Division previews:

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Capitals trim 11 players from training camp roster in first round of cuts

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Capitals trim 11 players from training camp roster in first round of cuts

The Capitals made their first round of roster cuts on Thursday, trimming 11 players ahead of their back-to-back preseason games against the Blues and Hurricanes.

Among the youngsters who were returned to their respective clubs: forwards Robbie Baillargeon, Tanner Jeannot, Brendan Semchuk, Mark Simpson, Jimmy DeVito, Damien Riat, Kristian Marthinsen, Beck Malenstyn, Garrett Pilon as well as defenseman Dmitri Zaitsev and goalie Adam Morrison.

Forward Kevin Elgestal, meanwhile, was returned to his European team on Wednesday.

MORE CAPITALS: EARLY ROSTER PROJECTIONS

A week into training camp, Washington’s roster now stands at 53—30 forwards, 17 defensemen and 6 goalies. That means 30 more players will be cut or reassigned as the team gets down to the roster maximum of 23.

Coach Barry Trotz said earlier this week that a second round of cuts could come over the weekend.

None of the Friday cuts qualify as a surprise; Pilon, Riat and Malenstyn—all 2016 draft picks—appeared in a preseason game before being released back to their clubs.

The Caps were off on Thursday. They return to the ice Friday for a morning skate at 10 a.m. (for players suiting up against St. Louis) and 11:15 a.m. (for players who aren’t).

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Projecting the Caps' roster after the first week of training camp

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USA TODAY Sports

Projecting the Caps' roster after the first week of training camp

The Capitals are one week into training camp with two preseason games already in the rearview mirror. The roster battles are coming into focus and some players are already staking their claims.

So what will the final roster ultimately look like on opening day? Here's a projection based on what we have seen and heard through the first week:

Forwards (14)
Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov - Jakub Vrana
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Tom Wilson
Nathan Walker - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson
Anthony Peluso - Devante Smith-Pelly

Defensemen (7)
Dmitry Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Aaron Ness - John Carlson
Brooks Orpik - Madison Bowey
Taylor Chorney

Goalies (2)
Braden Holtby
Philipp Grubauer

Notes:

  • According to Cap Friendly, this roster would put the Caps $40,000 over the salary cap. My caveat is that the salary cap is so complex that no one really knows exactly what a team's salary number is except for the team and the NHL. Cap Friendly is an incredibly useful tool, but it is a projection. A difference of $40,000 is well within the margin of error I consider to be realistic. for the Caps to make this roster fit under the cap.
  • If the Caps can't make this work, don't be surprised to see them start with 22 players.
  • Peluso is not talked about all that much, but the team needs Wilson to focus on his offense and not fighting. They need someone else to take that responsibility from his shoulders. Peluso may spend more time in Washington than you may think, even if he spends more games in the press box than on the ice.
  • Chiasson played well in Washington's first preseason game and his versatility makes him attractive to Washington. In a pinch, he could play on the third line, perhaps even the second if needed. The only way it can really work in Washington, however, is if he agrees to sign for a league minimum $650,000 which you would think is certainly doable. He was without a job a few weeks ago, is he really going to haggle over price?
  • Christian Djoos did not play particularly well in the team's first preseason game and given his size, the team will not simply give him a spot because they have a hole in the lineup. As of now, I would predict the Caps will send Djoos back to the AHL and hope his size will dissuade any potential poachers form snagging him. If he hopes to make the NHL roster, he needs to make an impactt with his next opportunity or he will almost certainly be back in the AHL.

 

MORE CAPITALS: JAKUB VRANA MADE THE MOST OF HIS OPPORTUNITY MONDAY