Blue Jackets thinking playoffs thanks to new additionsPosted: Friday September 13, 2002 5:58 PM
"A lot of things point to the positive," Dineen, a winger who broke into the NHL in 1984 with Hartford, said Thursday. "Do you want me to come out and say something? Am I going to be the one guy who puts it on the line and says the word 'playoffs'?"
He laughed. His statement would seem laughable coming from about anyone else on the roster of a team that finished last in its conference with 57 points -- 12 fewer than in its first season -- and scored the fewest goals in the NHL (164).
Yet these are heady days at Nationwide Arena.
The Blue Jackets enter their third year with several new faces following a busy offseason for general manager Doug MacLean. He rebuilt his blue line with free-agent acquisitions Luke Richardson and Scott Lachance, signed his best players, dealt up to take Rick Nash with the No. 1 pick in the draft and added a scoring threat in Andrew Cassels.
"It's a hardworking team," Cassels said. "As a new franchise, the main thing you have to do is work hard and try to be close in every game and give yourself an opportunity to win. If we can stay healthy and score a few more goals this year, I think we're going to win a lot more hockey games."
Marc Denis is now the top goalie, backed up by Jean-Francois Labbe or rookie Pascal Leclaire, the Blue Jackets' first-round draft pick a year ago.
"I don't feel any extra pressure," Denis said. "Any competitor wants to be the man, the go-to guy between the pipes."
By trading goalie Ron Tugnutt to Dallas in June, MacLean was able to add three prospects and saved enough money to sign Lachance from Vancouver.
Still, MacLean does not promise a playoff trip. His modest goals are "an improved year, an improved point total."
Geoff Sanderson is back after a year of injuries that cut his production from 30 goals and 56 points in the franchise's expansion year to 11 goals and 16 points a year ago.
Coach Dave King, entering the third and final year of his contract, believes the addition of defensemen Richardson, Lachance and Jaroslav Spacek -- who came from Chicago late last season -- along with the maturation of former No. 1 pick Rostislav Klesla will help the Blue Jackets clear the puck and avoid easy goals.
A healthy Sanderson, Cassells (50 points last year) and perhaps even Nash will add much needed goals.
Rookie camp started Monday, with the veterans reporting Thursday. Columbus plays its first exhibition game Sept. 20 against Buffalo in Syracuse and opens the regular season on Oct. 10 against Chicago in Nationwide Arena, where the Blue Jackets sold out every game last season and are riding a 56-game streak of sellouts.
"Yeah, the playoffs are realistic," Dineen said. "Why not?"