The Columbus Blue Jackets have been in the news lately and for all the wrong reasons. Columbus hired Mike Babcock as head coach in July to lead the team for the next few seasons. However, allegations of Babcock going through the phones of his players emerged in recent days. And on Sunday, the veteran head coach resigned without having even run a practice session.
In his place is Pascal Vincent, who was also a candidate for the job this summer. Vincent takes charge of his first preseason game on September 24, a road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. His first regular season game comes on October 12 against the Philadelphia Flyers in front of Blue Jackets faithful.
Before the puck drops, let's take a deeper look at this Columbus team. Here is an overview of the Columbus Blue Jackets ahead of the upcoming 2023-24 NHL season.
Vincent's in charge
Of course, the most relevant storyline heading into the new season involves the recent drama. The shift from Babcock to Vincent represents a rather drastic shift in a few aspects. Babcock is a veteran, having coached three teams in the NHL and winning the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.
Vincent, however, has experience in the NHL, namely with the Winnipeg Jets. However, he has no experience as a head coach in the NHL. Furthermore, Babcock is much more of a hard-nosed coach, as his controversial past certainly speaks to. Vincent, on the other hand, prefers to reach players through positivity.
The effects of a shift like this can be mitigated through the offseason as players can prepare for a different approach. However, Blue Jackets players have less than a month to prepare for this shift. One has to wonder how the players will respond to Vincent without having a full offseason picking his brain.
Fantilli's first season
Moving past the drama, one of the more anticipated new faces on the Blue Jackets is Adam Fantilli. Fantilli, the third overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft, has already turned heads. He scored a hat trick against the Red Wings at the annual Traverse City Prospects Tournament on Saturday.
Fantilli enters his rookie season with the potential of immediately slotting in as the team's top-line center. The other option is captain Boone Jenner, who could at least begin the season on the first line. However, if Fantilli plays well, he could usurp the Blue Jackets captain by season's end.
Fantilli was considered the best player not named Connor Bedard in the 2023 NHL Draft. The Blue Jackets were ecstatic that he fell to third overall, and the Michigan product has a major opportunity to establish himself as a franchise cornerstone this year.
A revamped blueline
Outside of Fantilli, there is one area of interest on this Columbus roster. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen put in work over the summer to rework the team's defense. He made a massive three-team trade with the Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings that landed him Ivan Provorov. And he landed Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils in a sign-and-trade.
On paper, there seems to be an improvement here. Provorov especially has shown flashes of brilliant play earlier in his career. And this isn't even taking into account David Jiricek's potential to crack the opening night roster. That said, there is a question of just how much this blueline is improved.
If the new guys mesh well with Zach Werenski and Adam Boqvist, then Columbus should be in good shape. If not, the Blue Jackets may have some problems on their hands. Any potential rebound from last season rests on this defense being able to perform and hold their own.
Potential odd men out
There are a few players on the Blue Jackets looking in from the outside. Forwards Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy have work to do during training camp if they'd like to make the roster. Both are relatively young, so it might not exactly be a make-or-break scenario. However, there are others waiting in the wings with a bit more potential who could steal their jobs if they aren't careful.
On defense, the reworking of the team's blueline could see two players losing their jobs. Nick Blankenberg has shown some promise through his short NHL career thus far. That said, he is exempt from waivers when being sent to the AHL. This allows the Blue Jackets to send him to the minors if they feel a full-time NHL opportunity simply isn't there for the Michigan native.
The other defenseman in question is 25-year-old Tim Berni. Berni played 59 games last season, but may not have a defined role on the NHL team in 2023-24. He is a restricted free agent at the end of this season, so in this case, it truly may be a make-or-break situation for Berni.
Final roster projection
Forwards: Johnny Gaudreau, Boone Jenner, Patrik Laine, Kent Johnson, Adam Fantilli, Kirill Marchenko, Emil Benstrom, Cole Sillenger, Jack Roslovic, Eric Robinson, Sean Kuraly, Yegor Chinakov
Defensemen: Zach Werenski, Damon Severson, Ivan Provorov, David Jiricek, Erik Gudbranson, Adam Boqvist
Goalies: Elvis Merzlikins, Danill Tarasov