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1) Can goalie Dan Ellis, 28, a longtime minor leaguer who impressed as a rookie last year (23 wins, 2.34 goals-against average, league-best .924 save percentage) and performed well in a first-round playoff loss to Detroit, handle a full-time load? Ellis has played in 45 NHL games; his backup, Pekka Rinne, has appeared in three.
2) Can the team overcome the stunning departure of 26-goal scorer Alexander Radulov (he skipped out on his Nashville contract for richer paydays back home in Russia) and injuries to forwards Steve Sullivan (bad back) and Jed Ortmeyer (blood clot), both of whom are out indefinitely? To do so it will need increased scoring from forwards Jason Arnott (above, 28 goals last year) and J.P. Dumont (29) and a successful transition into the league for 21-year-old Patric Hornqvist, who starred in Sweden.
It's all a bit too much to ask. Nashville's playoff streak is nearing an end.
NO TEAM was as weak up the middle as the Blue Jackets last season: Manny Malhotra led their centers with 11 goals. That explains why Columbus traded for 6'2", 215-pound R.J. Umberger, who scored 10 times in 17 playoff games for the Flyers last spring. Nor were many teams more tepid on overall offense than the Blue Jackets, whose 190 goals were last in the conference. That explains the signing of free-agent winger Kristian Huselius, a five-time 20-goal scorer who averaged 30 over the past two seasons in Calgary.
That pair, along with ever dangerous forward Rick Nash (above)—he scored 38 goals while playing 2,286 shifts last season, most among NHL forwards—give Columbus some punch. The team lacks depth, though, as well as a strong point man for its power play. Goalie Pascal Leclaire, who had nine shutouts and went all season without allowing a shorthanded goal, should again steal more than his share of games. But this eight-year-old franchise has never made the postseason, and it doesn't look like a club that's about to start now.