The midseason acquisitions of defensemen Jack Johnson and Nikita Nikitin were not able to salvage the Blue Jackets' season, but they have given the franchise a dramatically different outlook heading into what could be a wild summer.
For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets' strength might be their blue line.
"It's got a chance to be a real strong aspect of our club," general manager Scott Howson told The Columbus Dispatch. "We added two big-minute defensemen in Johnson and Nikitin, two guys who are capable of obviously defending very well but also producing point. There's a real good nucleus there for us to build off."
Johnson, acquired along with a first-round draft pick in a February trade that sent center Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings, has logged 30-plus minutes in four games since joining the Blue Jackets.
He joins Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski and Nikitin as Blue Jackets worthy of playing on the top two pairs. All four players have the ability to play 25-minutes plus and can generate 40-plus points per season.
Nikitin, acquired from St. Louis early this season, has been a pleasant surprise. His seven goals, 24 assists and 31 points are tops among Blue Jackets defensemen.
The Blue Jackets also expect Marc Methot and John Moore to return next season.
Nash's Columbus career might be over one game early
--Rick Nash's career with the Blue Jackets might have ended prematurely on Thursday. Nash, expected to be traded this summer after requesting a trade that never materialized at the deadline, left Thursday's 4-2 win in Colorado with an injury after two periods. It's unknown whether he'll be able to play Saturday in Columbus, when the Blue Jackets host the New York Islanders in the season finale.
--Goalies keep dropping in Columbus. This time, it was rookie Allen York's turn to go down with an injury. He limped off the ice during Thursday's morning skate in Denver, suffering an apparent groin injury that knocked him out of the lineup after four quality starts.
The Blue Jackets' top four goaltenders -- Steve Mason, Mark Dekanich, Curtis Sanford and York -- all suffered serious injuries this season. Mason, out the last five games with a concussion, was able to start in York's stead, with recently signed rookie Shawn Hunwick serving as his backup.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As a coach you think you've seen it all. And then you have a season like this one." -- interim coach Todd Richards, describing the wave of injuries and suspensions that cursed the club this season.
Roster ReportPLAYER NOTES:
--RW Cam Atkinson had his first hat trick in Thursday's 5-2 win over Colorado, becoming the third Blue Jackets rookie to record a hat trick. Nikita Filatov did it in 2008-09 and Matt Calvert did it last season. Atkinson has five goals and 11 points in 26 games with Columbus this season.
--RW Rick Nash scored two goals vs. Colorado on Thursday but left after two periods with an undisclosed injury. Nash has 29 goals, but it's unclear whether he'll be able to try for No. 30 in the season finale Saturday vs. the New York Islanders.
--G Steve Mason returned following a five-game absence because of concussion symptoms. He had 35 saves in a 5-2 win over Colorado, snapping a four-game losing streak. He had been pulled from his previous two starts.