Rather than the standard previews of Central Division foes from an outsider’s point of view, I decided to take a different approach. This week, Behind Enemy Lines will take a look at our divisional rivals through the eyes of those invested in the team in one way or another. Today, it’s the Columbus Blue Jackets with Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Disptach.

Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images

Bartl: One of the biggest surprises of the free agency period – especially to Blackhawks fans – was the 6-year, $33 million contract the Blue Jackets gave to defenseman James Wisniewski. From what we saw in Chicago out of Wisniewski, it’s tough for us to justify such a contract. Why do you feel Columbus targeted Wisniewski from the get-go by trading for his rights? Did the Blue Jackets overpay? What does he need to contribute in order to live up to that deal?

Portzline: It’s only right that fans in Chicago were perplexed by the contract given to Wisniewski. Fans in his many previous stops were probably perplexed, too. Is it too much term? Sure. Is it too much money? Yep. But here’s two points to consider: 1. that’s what free agency is … too much term and too much money. 2. scarcity was the rule in this year’s free agent class with respect to defensemen who could provide scoring. Wisniewski had a banner year in 2010-11 and the Blue Jackets do not believe it was a fluke. They needed a defenseman with toughness and power play acumen, and he provides both.

 

Bartl: The acquisition of Jeff Carter from Philadelphia was another big splash with the hopes of surrounding Rick Nash with more talent to make annual runs at the postseason. What do you feel Carter can bring to the Blue Jackets’ offense which it didn’t possess last season, and will these moves be enough to get Columbus over the hump and into the playoffs?

Portzline: Carter gives the Blue Jackets a bona fide top-end scorer in their top six, a guy who can think the game on the level of Rick Nash. He’s an All-Star, Carter, and guy who can score 35-40 goals per year. Look around the league: the best teams have at least two grade A talents along with a solid supporting cast. The Blue Jackets needed to get a running mate for Nash and Carter is the guy. Players like Carter rarely get traded. The last two I can recall were Brad Richards and Joe Thornton, but that’s a five- or six-year window.

Rick Nash

Bartl: Is there any chance Nash made “demands” to improve the roster, or do you believe management had a plan to be a player this offseason all along?

Portzline: Nash is not the type to make demands. He’s not the type to play general manager. He could have justified being far more vocal about the needs of the club, but that’s not his personality. Mangement met with all of the “leadership” players after the season and spoke to them about needs of the roster. I’m sure Nash, along with the others, had many of the same requests. The roster clearly needed help. But I don’t see him making demands. Management knew they had to take a different approach this summer. The status quo — while justifiable at times — could no longer be maintained.

Bartl: We’ve talked about the big moves, and obviously Nash’s production will be there. Who from the supporting cast of players will Columbus count on most to take his play up a notch this coming season?

Portzline: I could see Derick Brassard taking a big leap forward in points, especially if Richards ends up on the right side –as he did last year in Philly — and Brassard lands between the two horses. Whomever ends up on the line with Nash and Richards could see a boost. Prospal, Umberger and Vermette are all possibilities.

Bartl: Finally, given the offseason movement, where do the Blue Jackets stack up against the rest of the Central and the Western Conference? Is this a playoff team?

Portzline: The Blue Jackets should be a playoff team. They have the talent now, especially higher in the lineup. I could see them finishing anywhere from No. 6 to 10 in the West this year. Who’s firmly ahead of them? Detroit, Chicago and Nashville in the Central, San Jose and Los Angeles in the Pacific and Vancouver in the Northwest. My feeling is they could push Nashville in that group, but either way they’re right there. No playoffs, no excuses.

Follow Blue Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline on Twitter @APortzline

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