- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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KEY ADDITIONS G Mathieu Garon, C Sami Pahlsson
KEY LOSSES C Manny Malhotra, C Michael Peca, RW Jason Williams
Hell-bent practices rife with painful drills. Hours analyzing video of grown men flicking pucks down ice. An offensive system that stresses defense, defense and defense. Guaranteed time on a power play that's the worst—by a long shot—in the league. And life in the NHL's second-smallest U.S. market. These are some of the perks that superstar left wing Rick Nash (above) signed on for in July when he put his name on an eight-year, $62.4 million contract to stay with the Blue Jackets.
There's another incentive that comes with playing for Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock: winning. One of the NHL's most exacting and detail-oriented leaders, Hitchcock last season goaded the Blue Jackets to their first playoff spot in the team's nine-year history. Adhering to a dump-and-chase philosophy, he leans heavily upon Nash (40 goals), goalie Steve Mason (NHL-best 10 shutouts) and a corps of responsible defensemen. That Columbus sold out six of its final 16 home games—a stretch in which it beat the Sharks, Red Wings, Penguins and Blackhawks—is testament both to Nash's brilliance on the ice and to Hitchcock's brilliance behind the bench.
LAST SEASON 40-34-8 (10th in West)
KEY ADDITIONS None
KEY LOSSES D Greg de Vries, LW Vernon Fiddler, D Greg Zanon
The biggest story surrounding this club over the past year—with all due respect to the emergence of franchise defenseman Shea Weber (below)—was generated by William (Boots) Del Biaggio III, the scamming Silicon Valley venture capitalist who in 2007 bought 27% of the team. Del Biaggio's house of cards toppled last December, and on Sept. 8 he was sentenced to eight years in prison for securities fraud. (The status of his ownership share is unresolved.) The Predators are still standing—for now. The team finished in the red last year, and if it loses enough money ($20 million) and averages fewer than 14,000 fans, it could break its arena lease and move.