directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Looking towards next year...

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Looking towards next year...

There is still lots to talk about and play for this season, as the Jackets have never even been above .500 in December before but as the x-mas break approaches I thought I'd break out my crystal ball and look towards next year (there was a thread over on that got me thinkin about this).

First off, this is the offseason for Howson to make his mark. Lots of money coming off the books. He and Hitch have had time to evaluate the current players and come trade deadline, the draft and most importantly July when unrestricted free agency starts should have a realy good idea of the players they need to go after to build their style of team -- one in which competes every night in every facet of the game.

So with that said, here are my predictions. Granted, its pretty hard to guage at this point with pending trades, players getting resigned, etc but I'll take a stab anyways.

This is a position we are obviously weak in.

Out: Fedorov (6.08 - UFA dealt before deadline), Peca (1.3 - UFA possibly dealt at deadline)
Money Saved: 7.38 mil

In: Langkow / Ribeiro (5 mil) or Richards (7.8 mil) for 1st line center (Richards would have to be traded for). Doug Weight or Chris Kelley (2 mil) as 3rd line center (this could also be looked at to fill via trade)
Money Spent: 8.65 mil (took avg of Langkow and Richards for now)

Langkow (pictured left) would be a good fit here and I think he'll be on the market due to Calgary already handing out huge contracts to Iginla, Kipper and Regher. They still need to sign Phaneuf and Hueselis and Conroy are UFAs after this season. Problem with Langkow is he's 31 long of a contract do you give him? He'll get 5 year we want to give out something that long to a guy at the tail end of his prime? I'd go 4 years at 20 mil but no more than that.

If that didn't work I'd seriously look at dealing for Richards. His contract is too much but anyone you buy on the UFA market will be "too much". He's only 26 and is just now approaching his prime and has 3 years left on his deal. Heck we are paying Feds 6 mil for 30+ points a year, Richards has averaged 75+ his last 4 years. It cost a pertty penny to get a true #1 guy.

There is also a guy like Mike Ribeiro who may be out there. He'll be 27 and has put up the points. The problem with him is that I don't think he's a "Hitch-guy" -- not a very high competitive level. Dude has put up points though and when I've seen him with Dallas he's got great puck control and I think he could find a guy like Nash anywhere on the ice.

I think the team could also use an upgrade in the 3rd line position. A guy like Chris Kelly should be looked at. Also if the team wants more veteran experience perhaps Doug Weight? He could come real cheap.

Malhotra, Novonty and Brassard will most likely fill out the remaining center positions.

Out: Vyborny (2.2 mil - UFA dealt before deadline), Fritsche (750k - RFA used as trade), Chimera (1 mil - UFA try to resign), Glencross (522k - RFA resigned)
Money saved: 4.472 mil

In: Voracek (rookie 850k), Glencross (resigned 850k)
Money spent: 1.7 mil

I think its time to move on from Vyborny. This team just needs a bigger more competitive guys for the money and wing is not an area this team needs to invest in the most. Those areas are reserved for centers and defense. Fritsche is also traded at the deadline or in the offseason to bring back bigger needs. He's redundant on this roster and just isn't producing enough.

Jason Chimera is offered a contract but ultimately he wants to much money for what he's produced and the org is forced to let him walk. Again, the team is looking for production and must upgrade its skill positions and that is going to cost money.

Jakub Voracek makes the team out of camp and immediately upgrades both skill and the competitive level of the 3rd line. Finally Glencross is resigned after he showed quite a bit this year in his rookie year -- he'll compete for a top 6 scoring winger position or at a minimum play lower in the lineup on the 3rd or 4th line.

Freddy Modin, Rick Nash, Nikolai Zherdev, Jared Boll and either a cheap UFA or Crunchies like Gilbert Brule, Adam Pineault, Derek Dorsett, Joakim Lidstrom, Tommy Sestito or Alexandre Picard compete for that final roster spots on the wing. I wouldn't rule out Jody Shelley being resigned if the org wants to keep a seasoned enforcer handy. Shelley will need to take a reduced salary and role for this to occur.

Out: Adam Foote (4.6 mil - UFA allowed to walk), Ron Hainsey (900k - UFA allowed to walk), Duvie Westcott (1.85 mil - traded if possible), Jan Hejda (1 mil - resigned)
Money Saved: 8.35

In: Dan Boyle or Brian Campbell (6 mil), Jan Hejda (option picked up 1 mil), Depth UFA (1 to 1.5 mil), Methot (500k)
Money Spent: 9.0

Adam Foote may be resigned but I think he'll want more than the organization is willing to spend. His house is on the market if that gives you any hint as to what he's thinking. I think he's out but he's held onto for playoff push and allowed to walk after season. Ron Hainsey is another guy who will want more than he's worth and someone will give it to him on the open market, he's not traded because we need him for playoff push but he's allowed to walk after season. Duvie Westcott will be tricky, I think the org wants him out but with two years left on his deal at 1.85 mil he will either need traded, waived or bought out. I think they may have to buy him out but regardless I don't think there is any chance he'll be back.

Jan Hejda has a club option that I think will be a lock for them to pick up - he's played well and is cheap. Marc Methot will make the team next year as he's ready -- he was ready this year actually.

Now for the UFAs. I think the club goes after a big hitter this offseason. The three biggest names on the back end will probably be Dan Boyle (pictured right), Brian Campbell and Wade Redden. John Michael Liles will also be right below that group. I think the org grabs one of these and I'm banking on Boyle or Campbell as they need their firepower on the backend. They'll both cost in that 5 to 6 mil range. The Jackets will have to overpay like everyone else to get one. Boyle is 31 while Campbell is 29. I hope its Boyle but he's had a tough injury to his hand this season which has limited him to 4 games -- slight risk there but he could come cheaper because of it.

I could also see the Jackets signing another guy to bolster their backend. Maybe a guy like Mike Commodore or Keith Carney. They could also trade for someone in this category.

Klesla, Russell and Tollefsen are signed and round out this group.

Out: Leclaire RFA (1.4 mil)
Money saved: 1.4 mil

In: Leclaire (resigned 3 mil)
Money spent: 3 mil

Goaltending has been a strength of this organization this year. Both goalies have a save% above .900 and a GAA below 2.32. Can't ask for much more than that from your men between the pipes.

Some have mentioned trading Norrena for assets -- I see absolutely no reason to trade Norrena. He's got a great contract and is playing well. Goaltending for me is the least of our concerns. Give Mason a year in Syracuse and call him up for his cup of coffee if/when someone gets injured.

Leclaire is a RFA and will want a raise. I have him down for 3.0 but he may hold out for more depending on how the rest of his season goes.

Here is how our roster looks under my predictions next season:

Nash (6.5) UFA (Langkow/Ribeiro/trade 5 mil) Zherdev (3.25 mil)
Glencross (850k mil) Brassard (850k) Modin (3.5 mil)
Boll/Crunchie (500k) UFA (Kelley 2 mil) Voracek (850k)
Novotny (800k) Malhotra (1.5k) Boll/Crunchie (550k)
Shelley/Crunchie (550k)

UFA (Boyle 6mil) Hejda (1mil)
Klesla (1.65) Russell (575k)
Tollefsen (750k) UFA (1.5)
Methot (500k)

Leclaire (3 mil)
Norrena (900k)

Actual total player cost (not cap it): 42.575

*NOTE* Some players I listed both in the money out and money in categories -- that was to accurately represent the extra money we would be spending in raises to resign those players.

Mr. Mac would have to open his wallet a little more to make this roster work. We are right around that 40 mil mark this season and with the salary cap expected to rise to 55 mil the large markets will have even more flexibility to compete and suck up all the high end guys.

Battle in camp. Boll will be in there somewhere, so will Glencross most likely. Brassard and Voracek are gonna have to earn those spots in camp though - I want to make that clear - but because of their skill level and cost its gonna be tough to keep them out of the lineup. Guys like Brule, Lindstrom, Pineault, Picard, Dorsett, Sestito, Legein will be competing for the open winger positions.. I wouldn't be against bringing back Shelley if they wanted to keep a heavyweight either. He would need a paycut (league minimum) and willingness to accept an even lesser role that what he has now.

Some may ask why I have left Brule off. This team cannot afford to keep guys on its roster who aren't contributing on this score sheet. Brule is supposed to be a skilled guy who plays with an edge. I really have yet to see either. He's still AHL eligible so unless he wins a job in camp, he starts in Syracuse or is used as trade bait.

Keep in mind that our good buddy Doug MacLean backloaded a bunch of contracts. Nash gets will get a million more next year as he jumps from 5.5 to 6.5. Modin goes from 2.75 to 3.5. Klesla from 1.45 to 1.65. Z from 2.5 to 3.25. That's 2.7 in our budget just from back loaded contracts - that was more than Vyborny was making alone.

Bottom line for me is that Hitch and Howson are gonna want guys who have a high competitive level every single night. This current roster does not give us that. So they are gonna look to guys who never take a shift off and are always competing. At the skill level positions like 1st line center and d-man its gonna cost to get that and I think John McConnell will open up the wallet to go get a couple of these guys and put us over the hump.

Also the trade deadline is going to tell us an awfull lot about where this team is heading in terms of player/personel. I think a lot of fat is gonna be trimmed at that point.

In the draft I take all the pics from players I dealt at the deadline and either 1. trade up and grab the highest rated d-men left on the board or 2. package them for a player that can fill an immediate need. In a market like ours though I'm very relunctant to deal a #1 pick as its the cheapest way to fill a roster whole with a quality player -- must keep pipepline stocked with quality talent.

If we had multiple first round picks, I'd certainly consider trading one of those assets.

For the rest of the pics I draft as many defensemen as possible if their draft position warrants it. Would also be nice to grab another goalie, IMO we should draft at least one goalie every year.


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