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Thursday, May 28, 2009

2009 Free Agency Preview - Defensemen

This is the first entry in a series of posts I will be presenting this offseason as we build up to the July 1st free agency period.

This entry will take a look at filling a big need on the Blue Jackets blueline and that is a defensemen with offensive skills.

As we are all too aware the Jackets had the 30th ranked powerplay last season -- the worst in the league. While no magic wand will solve the Jackets powerplay issues I believe a major area that needs an upgrade is the Jackets ability to quikcly move the puck up the hitting forwards in stride with tape to tape passes, quick decisions and fast puck movement when the zone is gained and a booming one time shot from the point. Having a right hand shot as well as a offensive dman who can play in all 3 zones would certainly be welcomed as well.

First I'll take a look at a number of expected unrestricted free agents who may be able to fill this hole and then I'll look at couple of players under contract who may be available be trade.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS

Jay Bouwmeester
ASSETS: Has incredible skating ability, a keen sense of when to join the rush, size and hockey smarts. Is a capable shutdown defender.
FLAWS: Doesn't play enough of a physical game to dominate a contest, despite impressive physical attributes. Is too reserved to be a vocal team leader.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1 defenseman.

Age: 24
2008 Stats:
2008 Salary: 4.875

Outlook: A guy anyone would like to add to their team and would certainly solve a lot of backend problems with the Jackets. It's a good dream but one that won't become a reality for Jacket fans. JBo will want too much cash and by all accounts wants to go to a Canadian market. The only way the Jackets even try to get in the conversation is if the Nash negotiations go way south, like Florida south, in a hurry.

Scott Niedermayer
ASSETS: Possesses a terrific combination of vision and skating ability. Is one of the best skating defensemen in NHL history. Has awesome recuperative ability.
FLAWS: Since he sees so much ice time, there are times when he isn't as physical as he could be. He's won it all in his career; is he still motivated?
CAREER POTENTIAL: Future Hall-of-Fame defenseman.

Age: 35
2008 Stats: 82 14 45 59 -8
2008 Salary: 6.75

Outlook: Another dream for CBJ fans that won't become a reality. Niedermayer may retire but if he doesn't he'll certainly want to go to a cup contending team with his brother Rob. While the Jackets could use both of them they won't be on his short list and I highly doubt they could afford him if they were.

Francois Beauchemin
ASSETS:
Owns one of the hardest point shots in the NHL. Usually keeps the game simple from the back end. Uses his 6-0 frame to punish onrushing forwards.
FLAWS: Can be beaten one-on-one. Is a little undersized at the NHL level. His offensive production is inconsistent, as is his decision-making.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top four defenseman.

Age: 28
2008 Stats: 20 4 1 5 -3
2008 Salary: 1.65

Outlook: This former Jacket really came into his own after his trade to Anaheim. He flourished playing along side of Niedermeyer. I could see some interest here from the Jackets as he does have a nice shot from the point and may fit into their salary structure. I do worry about his ability to play at a high level without a Nieds or Pronger as his wingman. He may also have a bad taste of Columbus from his last stint here. I'm also concerned that he's not enough of an upgrade on our blueline for our ailing powerplay.

Jaroslav Spacek
ASSETS: Is a terrific passer and steady performer in defensive situations. Sees the ice very well. Can be effective on the power play.
FLAWS: Needs to play a more physical game, especially in front of his own net. Must be more consistent in order to maximize effectiveness.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top four defenseman.

Age: 35
2008 Stats: 80 8 37 45 2
2008 Salary: 3.30

Outlook: Another former Jacket who has played well since his departure. While age is a factor at 35, Spacek continues to be an effective player in all 3 zones. He doesn't take a lot of shifts off, works hard and seems like a good team guy. His 45 points last season was good for 17th overall in the league for defensemen. I really like what he could bring to a Jackets powerplay as he can move the puck well and has a nasty one timer. I would have to think Howson would kick the tires on a player like this and see what kind of term/salary Spacek's camp is commanding.

Dennis Seidenberg
ASSETS: Moves the puck quickly and efficiently out of the defensive zone. Knows when to pinch in from the point and is rather effective with the man advantage.
FLAWS: Lacks strength despite decent size. Isn't overly physical and he needs to be in order to better handle high traffic areas.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six defenseman.

Age: 27
2008 Stats: 70 5 25 30 -9
2008 Salary: 1.2

Outlook: Has steadily upped his game over the past couple of seasons. Anyone who has watched Seidenberg in the playoffs has to come away impressed. From what I've seen he's very good moving the puck in the offensive zone, especially on the PP, and is a competitive guy. I also liked his lateral mobility. At age 27 his game should continue to improve. Definitely seems to be one of those guys Howson may target for a bigger role in Columbus and could thrive in a way similar to Umberger/Vermette/Tyutin types with more ice time. He'll most certainly get a nice raise over the 1.2 mil he made last season.

Adrian Aucoin
ASSETS:
Has a howitzer of a slap shot, handles the puck well and has improved his play in the defensive zone over time. Possesses sound leadership qualities.
FLAWS: Lacks top-level skating ability. Could stand to play with more aggression, especially in the defensive zone. Doesn't shoot enough anymore.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Veteran top four defenseman.

Age: 35
2008 Stats: 81 10 24 34 -8
2008 Salary: 4.0

Outlook: Aucoin has put up a couple of decent offensive seasons in the past couple of years with the Flames. Two things I love about him 1. his shot from the point (which he has taken 120+ the past two years) and 2. he's right handed. He's also been relatively healthy after a couple of tough years in Chicago. He's getting up there in age and isn't the fleetest of foot. I'd have to think there is some interest from the Jackets side but not a 4 mil per year... if he's in that 3 mil a year range then perhaps.

Jordan Leopold
ASSETS: Owns untapped offensive potential. Moves the puck quickly out of danger and likes to start the transition game. Is positionally sound. Can log big minutes.
FLAWS: Must better handle big NHL forwards and use his frame more effectively. Needs to be more confident in the attacking zone.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top four defenseman.

Age: 28
2008 Stats: 83 7 17 24 -15
2008 Salary: 1.5

Outlook: A guy someone will definitely sign because the potential is just too high. He's only 27 and should be relatively affordable. To me Leopold is a bit of a high risk/high reward type guy. He could be the answer to the Jackets PP woes or he could spend a good chunk of the season hurt like he has 2 out of the past 3 years. Leopold's case is an interesting one. I'd really like more of a shooter (only 107 shots) plus he's left handed.

Sergei Zubov
ASSETS:
Has outstanding passing skills and is extremely agile. Possesses outstanding hockey sense and usually makes the right play at the right time.
FLAWS: Isn't physical at all and can be over matched at times when opposed to big forwards in front of the net. Injuries are also a concern.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1 defenseman.

Age: 38
2008 Stats: 10 0 4 4 -4
2008 Salary: 5.35

Outlook: Just a horrible injury riddled year for Zubov. The question I have is is it career ending? He's another interesting case. Even if the Jackets got a Zubov that is 75% of his former self he would be the best offensive dman they've ever had by a mile. Hitch also has experience coaching him. Plus he's a right handed shot. Not sure what Zubov's intentions are.. if the Stars don't sign him he may opt to retire or play in the KHL but he's a guy I'd take a chance on in a one year 2 to 3 mil type deal... after the docs checked out that hip of course.

Marc-Andre Bergeron
ASSETS: Has the ability to rack up points if given enough ice time. Makes a crisp first pass out of the defensive zone and joins the rush with aplomb.
FLAWS: At 5-10, 197 pounds, he'll always have trouble handling big NHL forwards. As a result, it's a struggle for him to receive regular ice time.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Power play specialist.

Age: 28
2008 Stats: 72 14 18 32 5
2008 Salary: 1.69

Outlook: If Howson wants strictly a PP specialist look no farther than this guy. He's been passed around the NHL like Elisha Cuthbert but this guy can run a PP and he's stronger defensively than say a Bryan Berard. Bergeron would most certainly be under consideration but he's probably further down the wish list due to his 1-dimensional play. This guy can light it up from the point though -- look no further than his 14g in 72g for proof of that.

Mike Komisarek
ASSETS: Has a tremendous physical package, good skating ability and a hard point shot. Is willing to hit anything that moves and already possesses defensive polish.
FLAWS: Must work on his coordination. Needs to learn when to pick his spots in the hitting department. Lacks high-end offensive potential.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Defensive defenseman.

Age: 27
2008 Stats: 66 2 9 11 0
2008 Salary: 1.9

Outlook: I love Mike Komisarek's hard nosed game but he is exactly what we don't need! Commodore, Hejda, Klesla and Methot all play similar defensive games. Komisarek will get his payday but it certainly won't be with the Jackets.

Mathieu Schneider
ASSETS: Has a great point shot and adds an offensive dimension to any team he plays for. Skates well laterally. Is especially productive on the power play.
FLAWS: Injuries have become a major issue over time, as he appears incapable of staying healthy for the entire season. Can get caught out of position.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Power play quarterback.
Age: 40
2008 Stats: 67 9 23 32 -12
2008 Salary: 5.750

Outlook: Schneider's long career in the NHL is certainly winding down. He may have a year or two left and is still very potent on the PP. The Jackets would have to strike out in many other places before I think they'd consider this player. I mean why go with a 40 year old when can grab a similar player for similar cost at age 28?

Johnny Oduya
ASSETS:
Is a great skater with persistence and aggression in the defensive zone. Owns an infectious attitude and is a solid teammate.
FLAWS: Isn't big by NHL defenseman standards. Needs to limit his mistakes in the defensive zone and make better decisions in the offensive zone.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six defenseman.

Age: 27
2008 Stats: 82 7 22 29 21
2008 Salary: .600

Outlook: Let me just come out and say it, I think the Jackets take a hard run at this guy. Great skater, solid teammate with aggression? Can we just say Hitch/Howson type player? Heck he's even played in a disciplined system in Jersey and thrived (he was a +21 last year). I like the fact his offensive numbers just keep getting better (his 29 points would have been 2nd on the Jackets D last season) and that I think he'll be affordable (well in free agent terms). He's also just now starting to enter his prime. I see Howson thinking in a larger role this guy could really develop into a difference maker and help anchor this team's backend. Biggest question mark for me is how is he on the PP? Keep your eye on him.

Derick Morris
ASSETS: Possesses a well-rounded package of top-level skills, specifically an excellent skating stride and booming shot from the point. Is very strong and aggressive along the blueline.
FLAWS: Has a tendency to lose his concentration in the defensive zone and give the puck away at the most inopportune moments. Must learn to better harness his aggressive nature.
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 2 defenseman.

Age: 30
2008 Stats: 75 5 15 20 -10
2008 Salary: 3.95

Outlook: Morris hasn't really put up the offensive numbers that I'd like to see but it's hard to ignore his well rounded game. I do like that he's a right handed shot and has a cannon. I wouldn't be upset if Morris ended up a Jacket but at the end of the day I think the Jackets need to target a more offensively gifted player. That and I think his price tag will be too high.

Mattias Ohlund
ASSETS:
Has size, skating ability, a blast from the blueline and intelligence. Is capable of shutting down the very best forwards in the NHL.
FLAWS: Is an inconsistent offensive performer. Doesn't always play at 100 per cent health, which hinders his performance.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top pairing defenseman.

Age: 32
2008 Stats: 82 6 19 25 14
2008 Salary: 3.5

Outlook: I've always like Ohlund and thought he would really compliment the Jackets blueline. The problem, like with Morris, is that he doesn't really bring enough offense to the table to get me real excited and his game has regressed. He's a solid 3 zone player whose lost some mobility and if for some reason we landed him I'm not going to complain but we really need a guy who excels offensively on the backend. Ultimately he's going to price himself out of Columbus anyhow as he will want a raise over that 3.5 mil he made last season.

Rob Blake
ASSETS:
Is physically imposing. Uses his size to rock opponents. Owns a rocket of a shot, which is a lethal scoring weapon for him. Can log boundless minutes.
FLAWS: At times, he tries for the big hit when it's not necessary. Has had injury problems at various times in his career.
CAREER POTENTIAL: All-around defenseman and future Hall-of-Famer.

Age: 40
2008 Stats: 73 10 35 45 15
2008 Salary: 5.0

Outlook: Pretty impressive stats for a 39 year old d-man last season -- granted he was playing on the offensively super-charged San Jose Sharks. Like Zubov I'd love to add this guy and his booming right handed shot on the PP on a 1 year deal but this guy ain't leaving the west coast and he ain't playin for anyone other than a cup contender -- even though the Jackets ultimately made it as far as the Sharks last season.

TRADE TARGETS

Tomas Kaberle
ASSETS:
Possesses tremendous hockey smarts and the ability to find his teammates with excellent passes. A swift skater, he loves to join the attack. Defends well.
FLAWS: Still makes occasional mistakes when pinching in. Could use more strength to better handle big NHL forwards. Doesn't shoot enough on the power play.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Premier puck-moving defenseman.

Age: 31
2008 Stats: 57 4 27 31 -8
Contract Status: Signed for 2 more years @ 4.25 per

Outlook: Kaberle's name has been rumored to be on the block for 2 years now. This guy can make a PP rattle and hum and certainly that Jackets would love to add him. Unfortunately I don't think Howson is willing to part with the assests it would take to land him. The chances of Kaberle becoming a Jackets are slim to none.

Marek Zidlicky
ASSETS:
Is a major offensive threat from behind the blueline. Has a wealth of top-level experience and plenty of polish working the power play.
FLAWS: Lacks the size and strength needed to excel with big minutes in the NHL. Is prone to making bad decisions in the defensive zone with frequency.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six defenseman.

Age: 32
2008 Stats: 76 12 30 42 -12
Contract Status: 1 year @ 3.5 mil

Outlook: As I've mentioned before I think Zidlicky is exactly what the Jackets need. He's not the greatest defensively but he's not Bryan Berard either. He can launch one time rockets and moves the puck quickly and efficiently. That -12 is concerning, especially under a Lemaire coached team. The Jackets would have to part with an asset to get him and the Wild would have to want to move him but if he's on the table Howson needs to pull up a seat and see how much it costs to place an order.

Tom Gilbert
ASSETS: Moves the puck quickly and efficiently out of the defensive zone, and can also provide his team with offense. Plays a smooth brand of defense.
FLAWS: Isn't physical at all for a 6-3, 210 pounder, which limits his overall effectiveness in the defensive zone.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Solid offensive defenseman with sound all-around instincts.
Age: 25
2008 Stats: 82 5 40 45 6
Contract Status: Signed for 4 more years @ 3.5, 5.0, 5.0 & 3.5

Outlook: I throw his name out there as I've seen it suggested in a lot of trade rumors. Gilbert plays for Edmonton and we know Howson's relationship with that team. Gilbert would certainly solve some offensive problems for us on the backend as he's young, signed for 4 more years, is a right handed shot and an all around good d-man. Of course you don't get a player like this without sending something significant back -- that is where things get dicey.

There are certainly some other names that could pop up in the trade rumor mills (Dion Phaneuf, Pavel Kubina, Christian Ernhoff, etc) depending on how draft and free agency unfold but those are a couple to consider.

Also there is a possibility for Howson to chase after a Restricted Free Agent (Jack Johnson, Denis Grebeshkov, Cam Barker?) with an offer sheet but I just don't see that happening.

There are also a couple of other things to keep in mind here.

One is that the Jackets aren't going to get the perfect d-man who is superb in all 3 zones. The Bouwmeesters and Niedermeyers are not comin here so prepare yourself now for that so when July 1st does get here you are not dissapointed.

Two is that the Jackets will expect improvement from within. They will expect Russell to continue growing in his 3rd year of pro. They will also expect Tyutin, now with a year under his belt in Columbus playing major minutes under Hitch's system, to hit the gate running and improve on his career year last season.

That said, even when considering the improvement from within, when I look at the Jackets needs on the blueline I think offense, offense & more offense. So when I look at this list that is priority #1 that I want to see in their skillset. From there its a combination of age, size, cost, experience and how well they play in all 3 zones.

I certainly won't rule out a trade to land one but there are some guys who can help in this free agency group. I think Howson makes a pitch and if he strikes out he will turn to the trade market.

Guys that I like that I believe are realistic: Spacek, Bergeron, Oduya, Seidenberg and Beauchemin. Leopold and Aucoin may be in that mix as well.

Also keep in mind that everything done this offseason is going to revolve around getting Rick Nash signed. If they can't get him under contract early in July then all bets are off as who knows what direction this offseason may go.

Fire away - who do you like and why?

-LTL

4 comments:

anml034 said...

I have always liked Zidlicky. I am with you LTL on the concerns about the +/- but I am willing to put up with those concerns to have someone that can blister the puck from the point. I am also a fan of Gilbert, but again as you said, I think the cost of a return player would be way to high for what you would get.

Realistically I am with you on the names you have thrown out, but of those names I think Morris stands out as someone who was a big name about 3-4 years ago, got stuck in Phoenix and Florida and under the right circumstances could really bring something to the table on both ends of the ice.....sands the Nash play from a couple years back.

Bruce said...

"...He's been passed around the NHL like Elisha Cuthbert..."

Nice.

eplagge said...

LTL,

Excellent list...

Beside the players who are too old, too expensive or both.. I really like...

Seidenberg, Leopold, Bergeron, Morris, Oduya, Zidlicky

And I would like to add this RFA - James Wisniewski (ducks)... he was excellent in the playoffs... and worked well on the Duck PP...

I would consider 2 players PP specialists: Zidlicky and Bergeron... (and they should be on the top of the list... put Tyutin on that line as the last man back and we can create some serious havoc !!!) My reasoning is that, yes they are high risk/high reward players... but we have Tyutin, Hedja, Commodore, Method and Klesla to balance that out...

Seidenberg and Leopold: Very similar players.. .I feel they would be solid Defensive additions I am not confident about them being able to improve our PP... very well rounded and very safe choices.. (sounds like a Howsen move) (remember both Leopold and Seidenberg have been on the untapped offensive list for many years now.. I really don't think it's going to happen.. )

Morris, reminds me a lot of Green in Washington... little bit of a loose canon... but under Hitch's system and with Hitch controlling him we could tap his offensive potential.. .I think he has a good chunk of it... but he's definitely a risk choice.. .PLUS he has lost a lot of credibility in last years trade fiasco .. which should hurt his salary.. I like Morris but I think this would probably be too much of a risk for Howsen...

Oduya, I only saw a couple of times in the playoffs against Carolina.. and he didn't stand out to me.. just don't know enough about it... he looked OK..

LTL said...

Thanks for the comments everyone.

I can tell ya this is the most competitive poll I've thrown up in a while!

I only wish this could have been our focus over the next couple of days :(

-LTL