The Jackets have 4 primary needs this offseason.
1. Sign Rick Nash to an extension
2. Find a puck-moving d-man that ideally can help a struggling PP
3. Sign a quality backup goaltender - CHECK!
4. Sign a 3rd line center - CHECK!
They accomplished 2 of these goals in free agency when it opened on July 1st.
The first move of the day.
Checking center Sammy Pahlsson signed to a 3 year 7.65 million dollar deal.
Date of birth: December 17, 1977
Place of birth: Ange, Sweden
Ht: 6-0 Wt: 203
NHL Seasons: 8
Drafted by Colorado in 1996 (7/176).
ASSETS: Has good instincts and defensive prowess. Is strong on his skates and works hard. Excels in defensive situations.
FLAWS: Needs to produce more points at the NHL level. Doesn't shoot enough when in good scoring position.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Checking line center.
* When healthy Pahlsson is an elite checking shut down center. He is the kind of guy Hitch will feel extremely comfortable putting out late in games.
* Adds much needed depth down the center of the ice.
* Guy knows how to win in the playoffs. He won a cup with Anaheim in '06 and was part of the Western Conference Finals run for the Blackhawks last season.
* Its always a positive when a player chooses to come to your team.
* This guy is a Hitch-type player. He competes all over the ice.
* Can he stay healthy? He missed a good chunk of last season with a viral infection.
* What's up with the negative +/-? I know he goes against the other teams top players but a -17 last season for a top shutdown centerman?
* Overpayment. I don't think there is any question Columbus overpaid Pahlsson by at least 500k.
* How does a contract like this impact re-signing a guy like Vermette who I think has to be the next priority after Nash?
* Not going to contribute much offensively (the guy has never scored over 26 points in his career) which primarily concerns me if we lose Brass or Vermette to an extended injury.
Its a solid move. Clearly the Jackets targeted Pahlsson after they failed to get Malhotra under contract. They may have overpaid but that is how it works in free agency. They got their man and in the process filled a big hole in the center of their lineup. He is definitely an upgrade over Manny defensively which is the role Hitch will maximize his ability for. He also knows how to raise his level of play in the playoffs which Manny failed to do.
My biggest concern is what happens if Brass or Vermette go down with an extended injury? Can Pahlsson be effective with a stretch in the top 6? He can't be worse than Manny can he?
The second move of the day:
Backup goaltender Mathieu Garon signed to a 2 year 2.4 million dollar deal.
Date of birth: January 09, 1978
Place of birth: Chandler, Que., Canada
Ht: 6-2 Wt: 207
NHL Seasons: 8
Drafted by Montreal in 1996 (2/44).
ASSETS: Has tremendous poise. Shows an excellent glove hand. Is a hard worker and displays the ability to bounce back from adversity.
FLAWS: Must prove capable of handling the pressure of playing major minutes. Does he have the demeanor of an above-average NHL starting netminder?
CAREER POTENTIAL: No. 1A goalie.
* Garon has over 204 starts in the NHL with a career Save% of .905 and a GAA of 2.84. He has 94 wins to 83 losses. Solid numbers.
* Garon should be capable of finding the trust of the coaching staff and playing in 15 to 20 games giving Steve Mason the critical rest he'll need.
* Should Mase go down to an extended injury or battle the sophmore slump Garon has proven he can handle a starter's load making 47 starts for Edmonton in 07/08 and 63 starts for LA in 05/06.
* Had an injury free season last year.
* Howson is very familiar with Garon from both of their days in Edmonton so he's had an up close view of what kind of person he is and how his personality will mesh with Mase and the team.
* He's a guy capable of pushing Steve Mason. Competition is never a bad thing.
* He's a right handed glove just like Mase -- to have two goalies who catch right is a rarity in this league.
* He didn't contribute a whole lot to it but he did win a cup with the Penguins this past season. Never hurts to bring in a winning attitude.
* Like Pahlsson, he's choosing to come to Columbus. Always a plus with me.
* For the dough I personally like some of the other options better. Especially Clemmensen, Anderson and Conklin.
* His stats the past few seasons have been less than impressive. Last year he finished with .894 Save% and a 3.12 GAA. That said he was a 19-8-9 in his starts so he was winning.
* With the exception of last year he has had a few injuries. Missed 9 games due to a finger in 07. 5 games due to an ankle in 08. 12 games due to groin in 06. Need him to stay healthy.
* Another guy I think we overpaid by a few hundred thousand. Also would have preferred him on a 1 year deal in case Lalande/LaCosta are ready (could always trade him I guess).
At first I wasn't that excited with this move. I put a lot of stock in goaltending, even backups, because the position is so important to achieve success. I liked some other backups more who got similar deals. The more I thought about it though the more I've come around.
The Jackets clearly needed a seasoned NHL backup with lots of starts under his belt. They certainly got one in Mathieu Garon. Howson is very familiar with this player which gives me confidence as he puts a lot of value in character in addition to ability. He should fit nicely with this group. Like Pahlsson he was overpaid by a couple hunder thousand but so it goes in free agency (I mean what first day signee isn't overpaid right?).
My biggest concern are his recent numbers but I am very impressed with his W/L record for last season. The W/L record tells me he's making the big saves when they matter to preserve wins.
Players signed - 20
Total committed salary - $47.166
Projected player payroll - $50.000
Estimated remainder - $02.834
Overall in terms of the moves made I give Howson a solid B. Nothing spectacular but just some solid depth moves that address direct holes in the Blue Jackets lineup. Yes he overpaid but not horribly and as I stated, everyone overpays on the first day of free agency as they to try get their guys.
Probably the biggest surprise for me was the fact he was so active. In fact I didn't think he'd sign anyone on day 1 as we had heard that he was going to be very patient. Uhh.. wrong!
Speaking of lineup. Here is my latest projection:
Nash Brassard Huselius
Umberger Vermette Voracek
*Modin/Chimera Pahlsson Torres
Boll/Dorsett Murray ***Filatov
*A winger will need to move.
** I expect a trade to be made for a top 4 puck moving d-man.
***Filatov takes the Voracek path. Starts the season on the 4th with PP duty and earns his way up the lineup as he gains the coaches trust.
Fire away - be sure to place your votes in the poll or comment below!