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Original Issue

23 Columbus Blue Jackets

Nobody's likely to confuse Ron Tugnutt with Ralph Nader, but the
Columbus goaltender did play a small part in last November's U.S.
presidential election. Tugnutt, a Scarborough, Ont., native, was
touted in several goofy Blue Jackets television commercials as a
candidate. The ads featured Tugnutt on a wayward campaign trail;
in one he delivered a baby while wearing his goalie mask. "I'm
Canadian," he said, explaining his qualifications for office. "Of
course I'm honest." Tugnutt received five write-in votes.

His integrity wasn't the only reason Ohioans show such fondness
for Tugnutt, who last year, at age 33, proved he was one of the
game's solid goaltenders. He was clearly the MVP of Columbus's
surprisingly successful inaugural season, in which the Blue
Jackets went 28-39-9-6 and finished with the fourth-highest
point total (71) ever by an NHL expansion team. Tugnutt won 22
games, a record for an expansion goalie, with a 2.44
goals-against average.

He was helped out by a rugged defense, which included
stay-at-home types Lyle Odelein and Jamie Pushor, as well as
offense-minded Deron Quint, who was acquired by general manager
Doug MacLean for one dollar. Quint goosed the offense with seven
goals and 23 points and led Columbus in minutes per game (24:05).

As with most young teams, the Blue Jackets struggled to put the
puck in the net; their total of 190 goals last season was the
fifth lowest in the league. The offense should be better this
year with left wing Geoff Sanderson (30 goals, 26 assists) and
center Espen Knutsen (11, 42) being joined full time by Ray
Whitney, who came from the Panthers at the trading deadline last
March; free-agent center Mike Sillinger, late of the Senators;
and right wing Grant Marshall, acquired in a trade with the
Stars. "We've added an NHL line," MacLean says. "Marshall is a
gritty, abrasive forward. Sillinger is very versatile. Ray has
the firepower to improve the offense."

Columbus hopes a few more goals will relieve some of the
pressure on Tugnutt and put the Blue Jackets in contention for
the West's last playoff spot. "I have high expectations," says
MacLean. Still, it looks like an uphill campaign.

--Mark Beech

Fast Fact

The Blue Jackets' Ron Tugnutt (22 wins) broke the record for
victories by an expansion goalie, which was held by the North
Stars' Cesare Maniago and the Panthers' John Vanbiesbrouck (21


FORWARDS 22 Lack of size may be big shortcoming over long
DEFENSE 16 Mobile group; if Klesla produces, unit will
be good
GOALTENDING 16 Tugnutt solid, but Denis must carry heavier
SPECIAL TEAMS 22 Heward must unleash his potent shot more on PP
MANAGEMENT 13 King is as good as any coach with X's and O's