As we slowly get back into the swing of things waiting for the season to begin, we're getting back in touch with our closest hockey friends: the fans of the teams we dislike the most. (And we wouldn't have it any other way!) We'l begin with one of the Flyers' still-new-ish Metropolitan Division rivals. Mike Maclean over at The Cannon, SB Nation's blog for the Columbus Blue Jackets, sent me five questions about the Flyers to answer, and he was kind enough to answer five Blue Jackets questions of my own.
You can read my answers to Mike's questions over at The Cannon. His answers to my questions are below.
1. We'll start with the elephant in the room. Ryan Johansen, as of this writing, is still not signed to a new contract, and neither his side nor Jarmo Kekelainen's side seems really willing to budge at all from where they are. Do you applaud the GM's hard-line stance here, or do you think they should just do everything they can to make sure Johansen is on the ice for the opener? And, if it comes to this, how long into the regular season could they afford to go without him?
The Johansen situation has certainly taken a contentious turn. The team revealed their three different offers to Johansen - 2 years/$6 million; 6 years/$32 million; and 8 years/$46 million. All offers were turned down, and now Johansen has flown to Vancouver, as the team has asked him to stay away from team activities as to not be a distraction. I do think the team is being fair here - Johansen only broke out this past season, yet he is looking for the kind of money paid to guys who were stars from the moment they stepped on the NHL ice.
The team is prepared to move on without him, and they have options to fill the void. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov can each move up the depth chart, while Boone Jenner (a winger last season) is a natural center and can fill in behind Dubinsky and Anisimov. There is also a tantalizing rookie option to help shore up the center position in Alexander Wennberg, one of three CBJ first rounders in 2013.
Obviously the preference is for the Jackets to start the season with their top center in the lineup. For the team to have ultimate success this season, he needs to be the top guy. The options I mentioned above are nothing more than a band-aid solution until the situation gets rectified. If by November Johansen is still not signed, the team may be in trouble.
2. Noted Former Flyer Scott Hartnell was, of course, traded to Columbus this past summer. What are your expectations for him this season?
The Jackets spread the scoring around last season, but they weren't exactly lighting it up. Hartnell will add another 20 goals to the mix, and also brings additional leadership to the room. Like the offense, the Jackets rely on a group approach to leadership, and Hartnell offers that.
A fun thought that fans of the CBJ have tossed around is a line of Hartnell, a signed Johansen and a healthy Nathan Horton. That line has size, skill and would be a very difficult matchup. On the other hand, Hartnell would be an ideal fit on Brandon Dubinsky's line - a line that may go down as one of the most shit-disturbing in NHL history.
3. What do you think of the Jackets' defense? They have some exciting players back there like young Ryan Murray and veteran James Wisniewski (and I guess, depending on your definition of exciting, Jack Johnson), but how confident are you in the unit as a whole?
The defense corps showed last year that they are a well-balanced group, greater than the sum of their parts. Murray was a revelation, and many think his steady, no-nonsense approach allowed Wisniewski to have such a terrific season. Jack Johnson was also very good, especially after his Olympic snub. He and Fedor Tyutin log big minutes for the team, and are often put in the most difficult situations. David Savard broke out last season, and showed that he can be effective in all situations, but he remains more of an offensive defenseman. I can see him getting time on the second unit of the powerplay. Dalton Prout and Tim Erixon will duke it out for the final starting spot. This is Erixon's last chance to nail down a full-time spot.
4. Where are the expectations at in Columbus coming into this season? Last year they won a playoff game for the first time in team history, and it's a young team that on paper is probably better than last year (barring an extended Johansen
holdout absence). Would you see another first-round exit this year as a disappointment? Would the fanbase in general?
Now that the team and fanbase have experienced winning in the playoffs, the expectation is that a first round exit would be a disappointment. Many media outlets have the Jackets second only to Pittsburgh in the division, meaning a potential 2-3 matchup in the Metro with a team like Philly or the Rangers. I believe the Jackets are built to defeat those teams, and the idea of a divisional final rematch with the Penguins is exciting.
5. Lastly, I'll recycle your question: Who's the Columbus prospect you're most excited about and when do you think we will we see him in the NHL?
The Jackets are flush with exciting prospects, but I'm all aboard the Alex Wennberg train. He's a smart player, with excellent playmaking ability and he has experience playing with men in his native Sweden. If Johansen isn't signed, he'll have a better chance of making the team out of camp, but more likely he'll start the season with the AHL's Springfield Falcons. He'll almost certainly get chances with the Jackets this season when injuries occur, with next season likely being his first full NHL season.
Thanks again to Mike for answering my questions. The first Flyers-Blue Jackets game is in Philadelphia on Friday, November 14.