directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Moving forward

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Moving forward

The draft is now in the Jackets review mirror. With what we hope will be our last top 10 pick for a long long time (we could always trade up I guess) the Jackets focus now points to free agency.

Here is a great quote from Scott Howson:

"We need to add a couple of defensemen, either through free agency or trade," Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said in identifying his potential shopping spree. "And we need to add two or three forwards. So that's what we'll be seeking to do, one by one. And we'll be active."

This is my best guess as to how I see our roster right now:

Nash Umberger Modin
Zherdev XXX XXX
Chimera Brassard Voracek
Boll Malhotra Murray

XXX Hejda
XXX Klelsa


Of course Voracek could start on the 4th line or as a scratch but I think he'll be kept up with the big team. Brassard would really have to lay an egg in camp to not make the squad and the way he's training I really think he's going to come in motivated and make it real easy on the coaches to keep him.

Tollefsen, Fritsche and Brule I just don't see room for them and think they'll be moved but you never know. Zherdev is also another guy I could see moved. That could be the 3rd forward position Howson is referring to.

Question now is how does Howson fill these spots?

We know he and the organization are putting a premium on high character guys who have good skill and come to compete every single night. Anyone wondering why the Jackets didn't make a big push for Jokinen (although apparently Howson did make some kind of an offer) well that appears to be the reason -- from The Palm Beach Post :

One league executive, who team was rumored to be among those pursuing Jokinen, called the former Panthers center “a dog” late Friday night and said any talk of sincere interest on the part of his team was “a plant.”

Panther fans today are bemoaning Jokinen’s departure, many insisting they won’t renew their season tickets as a result. But the league view on Jokinen is he’s a player who lost his motivation after Mike Keenan headed out of South Florida and has been on a steady decline ever since.

So perhaps there may be a guy out there that looks good on the stat sheet like a Jokinen but when you pull back the covers things don't look so rosy.

Unlike MacLean, Howson appears to understand what it takes to build a competitive team. He'll trade flash and splash for competitiveness and character without thinking twice. That's not to say he won't get guys will skill - he will - but just because Kristian Huselius put up 60 points doesn't make him an automatic for the Jackets for instance.

With that in mind lets look at what Howson can do about filling these holes.

The market for free agent defensemen is going to be really tight and really competitive. I think Howson must absolutely make a trade for at least one guy - Kubina?. He can then try to land one of the higher profile puck moving defensemen on the market in a guy like Campbell/Redden/Liles/Roszival.

In terms of the forwards Howson already filled one forward hole with the move to bring in RJ Umberger. I think for the remaining two holes (center and wing) he'll look to free agency to fill them.

There is no question in my mind he is going to make a hard push for Ryan Malone -- think 5 year 25 million dollar deal with a NTC kind of push -- will it be enough? -- we'll see. If he can close that one it will fill that open top 6 winger position. If Malone falls through then there are some guys that I can think could fit into our lineup on shorter term deals in guys like Brunette/Hagman/Rolston or maybe Ryder. Regardless I think this hole is addressed via free agency.

It gets a little trickier for that open center spot. Don't expect a big name here. In fact looking over available free agents the one that looks like the best fit is Brendan Morrison. Now he did have a tough year last season in terms of injuries but before then he had been Mr. Reliable playing in all 82 games in his last 7 seasons prior. He could be an affordable stop gap on a 2 or 3 year deal while a guy like Brassard -- he's been a lock for 50+ points every year.

Of course the other option would be to make a trade for somebody. There could be some attractive young players available -- especially RFAs if their teams have a hard time getting them signed. A guy like Antoine Vermette could certainly be one of those guys. Heck after teams go on their spending sprees some may look to dump salary on the cheap and Howson could be there to gobble someone up that makes sense.

We also can't rule out offer sheets if Howson can't either 1. trade for guys or 2. get the UFAs they've targeted under contract.

To recap here is what I expect:

Position / Acquisition

1 defensemen - UFA
1 defensemen - trade
1 winger - UFA
1 center - UFA or trade

I also think it would be very important if Howson could swing another trade this week to really hammer home to pending UFAs that the Jackets mean business this year.

Don't look for all these holes to be filled by July 1st though. If there is one thing we've learned is that Howson is a very patient man. If a UFA target doesn't pan out he won't panic and just sign someone to sign someone. If someone else out there makes sense he'll move to plan B if not he'll go back to the drawing board.

Howson also needs to get both Lelcaire and Umberger locked up to extended contracts. This will also be the case for Dan Fritsche if he is not moved.

I do think by the start of the season all of these holes will be filled. Perhaps not by "all star" players but very capable players who will be playing where they should in this lineup.

7 days til free agency!!



Anonymous said...

I still think there's an outside shot that SJ resigns Campbell (once they know his market value from his preliminary talks) and thus making Marleau expendable. Is there a chance that Howson & Co. are hoping those cap issues become reality in SJ?

LTL said...

Remember that Marleau's no trade clause kick in on July 1st. So if Campbell wants to test free agency he want be signing anywhere before then.

With that decision by Campbell I really think San Jose holds onto Marleau. I just don't think they can afford to lose Campbell and Marleau.

I'm not really dissapointed with that. Especially with Umberger in the fold.

That said we need more acquisitions but if we can add say or Morrison or Vermette to compliment Umberger than we'll be okay up the middle.

..and who knows, mabye we take a run at Campbell. I'll post on those chances later.