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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Free Agent Focus


With Free Agency just 4 short days away I thought I'd take a look at whom I think the Jackets will target and rank them in terms of priority with a few short comments under each. I'm also taking into account in these ranking the Jackest realistic chances at landing them -- i.e. everyone would like Joe Sakic but he's not leaving Colorado -- as well as the number of holes the Jackets hope to fill.

I'll seperate each by position.

Center

1. Daymond Langkow
Rumor is that Langkow is already signed by Calgary but they are just waiting until July 1st to announce it due to cap reasons. If he were avaialbe I would have to think the Jackets would be interested given their holes up the middle. Langkow had 65, 77 & 59 points the past 3 seasons. I think if he were to hit the market the Jackets would have a shot.

2. Brendan Morrison
A bit of a risk given his injury plagued season last year but if the Jackets are thinking a short term (say 2 years) top 6 fix up the middle while guys like Brassard and Filatov develop, Morrison could be their guy. With 25, 51, 56 & 60 points in his past 4 seasons if he returns to health he could help. He also plays a Hitchcock type of 2-way n/s game.

3. Michael Peca
The Jackets haven't ruled out bringing this guy back. He had 36 points for the Jackest last season and depending on what they end up with on the market he could be brought back in a 3rd/4th line role. Three other guys I think they would have been interested in are Kris Kelley, Martin Straka and Vinny Prospal. Both Kelley and Prospal have recently been re-signed by their existing clubs. Straka just recently signed overseas to play in the Czech Republic.

4. Mats Sundin

I guess there is the chance the Jackets could shock the hockey world if they convinced big Mats to come to Columbus for a couple of years. This ain't happening though - if Mats does play and does leave Toronto he's going to a bona-fide cup contender. Even at age 37 this guy can still absolutely get it done. I'm still in love with the thought of the Nash-Sundin-Modin line titled the "Smash" line. //dream

Three other guys I think they would have been interested in are Kris Kelley, Martin Straka and Vinny Prospal. Both Kelley and Prospal have recently been re-signed by their existing clubs. Straka just recently signed overseas to play in the Czech Republic.

As you can see there is not much avaiable at the center position this offseason hence the trade for RJ Umberger and why another trade would not be out of the question.

Wing

1. Ryan Malone
Is there any worse kept secret in terms of the Jackets man-crush for this guy? There is no doubt the Jackets will make a big push for the 28 year old 6'4" Malone - just how much they are willing to spend is anyone's guess. Also keep in mind that Malone has played center in this league so the Jackets could very well move him there if they reel in the big fish. I think they have a good chance to land him but will have to pay more and perhaps throw in a NTC to seal the deal.

2. Andrew Brunette
If the Jackets strike out on Malone I think there are a big group of wingers they would be okay with. I'll start with Brunette b/c even at age 34 the guy still gets it done. He scored 59, 83 & 63 the past 3 years. He played in every game over those 3 years. He would be a short term fix but could really help our scoring, he creates as good as he scores, is great around the net and positionally responsible. He's a pro and would allow plenty of financial flexibility to address other areas.

3. Brian Rolston
Again another aging (age 35) but effective wing. Like Brunette Rolston is also the consumate pro. He would help us. He can run the point on the PP and has just a nasty point shot -- I think we could use that right? He's scored 59, 64 and 70 points the past 3 years. Again on a short term deal he would come in here and hit the ground running. He's affordable and seemed to have no problem putting up points under a defensive Lemaire system.

4. Cory Stillman
Yet again another aging (age 34) but effective wing. The dude can still play and put up the points though and we need veterans to help us over this playoff hump - Stillman is that kind of player. He's put up 65, 27, 76 and 80 points his past 4 seasons. The reason he is below Rolston and Brunette is b/c he did have that injury plagued year in 2006 where he only played in 43 games. He also isn't the best defensively. The guy is a consistant scorer though and his 65 poitns would have been good for 2nd on the Jackets last year. On a short term deal he would help a bad CBJ offense.

5. Niklas Hagman
At 28 Hagman had a breakout year in Dallas last season. Hagman is a high energy player who put up 27g last season and a career high 41 points. Reminds me more of a Chimera type but plays with more intensity. This guy is a Hitch type player. The question is are his 27 goals the result of playing hard in his contract year - his previous career high was only 17g and 29 points - or will his production take a nose dive once he signs with a new squad?

6. Darcy Tucker
Agitates, plays hard every shift, will drop the mits if need be...also has a decent scoring touch.. Howson has said recently he wants competitive players and he'll let Hitch worry about where to play them. This guy bleeds Hitchcock hockey or "Hitchockey". He certainly fits the "competitve" bill but how much does Darcy have left in the tank at age 33? Word out of Toronto is he didn't play that fierce Tucker style very much last season.

7. Radim Vrbata
Again scoring was a major issue for the Jackets last season - something of which the 27 year old winger did a good job at last year notching 27g for 56 points in Phoenix. His production has steadily climbed the past 4 years from 34, 39, 41 to the 56 metioned last season. He's an interesting case. He can't be ingorned for his production and youth but how would hit fit under Hitch? Does he have the fire to bring it every night? Those are the questions that move him down this list a bit but I think he's got to be on Howson's radar.

8. Michael Ryder
A 28 year old winger who had just a horrendous season in Montreal last year. Still though he's managed 30+ goals in 2 of his past 3 seasons. If Howson wants to go younger and more long term he may look to this Canadian. Ryder isn't much of a playmaker though and there isn't a lot of contact in his game.

9. Markus Naslund
Naslund's a guy that even at 34 I think has plenty left in the tank. He had 55, 60 and 79 points the past 3 seasons. He certainly isn't the game breaker he once was but he can still compliment a lineup. The reason I have him ranked so low is that I doubt he considers Columbus as a destination and I think Howson and co. know this. I think he'll want to go to a more established team and market to have a legit shot at a cup. If at the end of the day he doesn't get any offers he likes and Columbus hasn't landed the players they want there may be a chance of something getting worked out but I think its highly unlikely.

10. Marian Hossa
Probably the most sought after free agent this summer. I'm sorry folks but it just ain't going to happen. The Jackets may kick the tires but ultimately they don't have the luxury to hand out to hand out 8 mil to one high profile winger not named Rick Nash.

There are some other intruiging names out there like Cooke, Fedotenko and Huselius but I don't see them being further up than this 10. Be it age, production, style or roles Columbus would have to really strike out before I see them taking a run at what's left out there from a winger stand point.

Defense

1. John-Michael Liles
This 27 year old d-man didn't have the best of offensive seasons last year notching 6g 26a for 32p but he's been a very consistant point producer in his 4 NHL seasons overall with 34, 49, 44 and 32 point seasons. I rank Liles #1 overall for d-man on the market for the Jackets because he's exactly what a very weak puckmoving blueline in this market needs in both skill, age and projected price. From a skill standpoint Liles can run a PP and he's competitve despite not being a big man. He's only 27 and I think the Jackets could afford to take a run at him while still not sacraficing being able to fill other holes.

2. Wade Redden
I think this 31 year old d-men is absolutely on the Jackets radar but the reason he falls under Liles is because of age and projected contract demands. If you can get a 27 year old Liles who has been just as effective over the past 3 season offensively for less money wouldn't you take it? True Liles does not have the size and extensive experience or polish in all the 3 zones that Redden has but Liles has the youth. If you had to offer a 5 year deal to one of them I think I'd go with Liles first.

3. Brian Campbell
The cream of the defensemen free agent crop. Campbell is an offensive dynamo from the blueline. He's exactly what the Jackets need to jumpstart an offensively challenged Columbus blueline. If he's so good then why is he 3rd? One reason and one reason only - cost. I think Campbell will price himself right out of Columbus. Put it this way, to get Campbell here we'd have to overpay -- well if many teams are willing to throw 7 mil a year at Campbell just think what Columbus woudl have to do -- they can't afford to do it and fill their other holes. I know that will PO alot of Columbus fans but that's just the reality of the situation.

4. Michael Roszival
The 29 year old d-man has racked up the points the past 3 seasons notching 30, 40 and 38 last year. He's also finished every one of those years an even or better (he was a +35 in 2006 - WOW). Roszival is another guy that can run a PP and has a good shot from the pont -- another benefit - he shoots right. I actually don't see a big difference in his game from Hainsey other than he's an upgrade over him in certain areas - especially the PP -- and he's got that right handed shot the Jackets desperately need.

5. Mark Streit
A 30 year old PP speciatlist. Think Bryan Berard. Streit opened a lot of eyes in Montreal last year racking up a whopping 62 points in 81 games. However in Berard fashion he was also a -6. Desperate help calls for desperate measures -- if Streit is all that's left of the offensive d-men than the Jackets have to make a play for Streit. He's much better offensively than Hainsey but not as good defensively - although its not quite as far a part as you'd think. He also scored 36 points in 76 games last year and was a -5. IF Streit is brought in I see him in the bottom 6 with Russell in Syracuse and then a guy like Commodore or Orpik starts to make a lot of sense further down this list. Take this as you will but Streit also played some wing in Montreal last season.

6. Ron Hainsey
You all know I'm not fan but in a non biased opinion I really think that if these five players go elsewhere the Jackets will look hard at retaining Hainsey (if he's even still available). I've rehashed Hainsey's strengths and weaknesses to death here to so I won't get into a again but the bottom line is that both parties have a mutual agreement that before Hainsey accepts any offers they'll contact Howson to see if any renewed interest is there.

7. Mike Commodore
A stay at home guy who bring that "competitve" edge to his game. To me he's redundant on this roster but after hearing Howson say that he just wants to bring competitve guys in here and let Hitch figure out where to play them then you have to think Commodore is on their list. He's a 6'5" 228 tower of power back on that blueline. He won't give you much offense according to Sportsnet.ca he's well liked in the locker room and is improving with age. He's also very willing to drop the mits as he had 100, 113 and 138 PIMS that past 3 years. Two years ago he did score 7g, 22a for 29 points though.

8. Brooks Orpik
Similar to Commodore Orpik is a competitive player. The reason I have him below Commodore is that 1. I think Commodore is more competitive and 2. believe it or not Commodore actually has more offensive upside. Orpik is younger at 27. There were rumblings that the Jackets were interested in negotiating rights for both he and Malone. Both Orpik and Commodore wouldn't solve our offensive problems from the blueline but if all those guys are gone Howson and co. may have to focus on at least strengthening our backend with solid NHLers. We would have one helluva a PK! You can also never have to many d-men and they make for nice trade assets.

9. Paul Mara
A 29 year old d-men whose offensive game has really taken a nose dive in New York. I could see him being an under-the-radar Hedja type acquisition for the Jackets if they miss on the guys above. He only had 1g 16a last year but just 2 years prior he put up 15g and 32a for the Coyotes. He's not as great defensively however. He could be a cheap addition with a lot of upside but since he's struggled a bit the past two years he more of a risk thus falls way down the priority list.

10. Dmitri Kalinin
A 27 year old d-men who really struggled with injuries last year in Buffalo only getting in 46 games registering 8 points. He's another one of those under-the-radar types who two seasons ago put up 7g, 22a for 29 points. Really doesn't excel in anything but is decent at everything. Again not a guy I see the Jackets targeting but if they really strike out with their priority guys they could look in his direction.

So there you have it. How many of those names will be Blue Jackets by the start of next season? We'll have to wait until July 1st and beyond to see.

A couple of things to keep in mind.

One is that Howson has already filled a hole with the acquisition of RJ Umberger so one down. That leaves at least 3 holes, maybe 4, to fill either by this crop of free agents, trades or offer sheets. With that many holes and with an internal budget set at (I don't care what Howson or Priest say there is a budget) at between 48 to 50 million the Jackets cannot afford to throw 8 million at just one player. This is a team game and the team needs a competitive lineup from A-Z -- from goaltender out.

Secondly just because a guy may be in his 30s doesn't mean he can't help us. We had two players above 50 points last season. Two! Bringing on proven scorers like Brunette/Rolston/Stillman who all scored over 50 last season would absolutely help this offense. These guys on 2 year deals allow players like Brassard/Voracek/Filatov/Legein time to develop lower in the lineup and fill that scoring gap without jeapordizing our future.

Also stay patient. If Howson doesn't reel his preferred fish in come July 1st all is not completely lost. He still has a couple of months to bring in players.

Discuss - if you could bring in 3 guys from the above list who would it be, how much would you spend and where would they fit in the lineup?

-LTL

8 comments:

Matt said...

First - AAAAAAAAA. That picture hurts my eyes, sir.

I'd be very happy with a package something like Morrison, Malone, Liles, Mara?

Honestly, even if all the holes aren't filled, if there's at least some productive activity on July 1st I'll be very happy.

I wouldn't mind having Peca back in the right situation, and Vrbata's at least an interesting idea.

Lots of possibilites out there...here's hoping we see something come together soon!

OT: Are you planning to attend any of the development camp in a couple of weeks?

LTL said...

matt - yep I'm absolutely planning on hitting a couple of the practices. I'll have a full report here of the ones I do attend.

I'm also with you on your comments. We need a productive body or 2 out of that group at a minimum.

With the cap going up it really hurts us - I'll have a post on that soon.

-LTL

Todd G said...

Just stumbled onto your blog..good stuff!

I think Morrison (provided he stays healthy) and Malone would put us in decent shape on offense.

I like Redden and Liles on D though I think they would have to overpay Redden which I'm not a fan of.

That being said, if they can snag Liles and see significant jumps (fingers crossed) from Russell and Rome we might be alright.

Should be exciting regardless!!

Pub said...

Morrison, Malone, Commadore, Barnaby.

Pub said...

Can I just say i am sick and tired of my electricity going on and off. Damn thunderstorms.

Anybody else in their basement last night?

G2BH said...

FYI-Ryder is Canadian not American

LTL said...

I stand corrected - thanks for heads up G2BH!

-LTL

G2BH said...

No problem, glad I could help :-)