directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: The unrestricted

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Monday, August 10, 2009

The unrestricted

11.5 million.

That is how much is scheduled to come off the books after this season in unrestricted free agents.

3.5 - Modin
3.0 - Vermette
2.75 - Torres
2.25 - Klesla

There is an outside shot all could get re-signed. Then again there is an outside shot the Jackets will invite me to training camp in a few weeks.

Oh yeah.. laugh it up... here's the thing though.... I am a right handed shot!

So who stays and who goes? All are competent NHLers when healthy and all could certainly have productive years next season. The issue of course is Howson will need to reallocate alot of that money to his young and upcoming core.

To begin with we know the Jackets strengths are on its wings.

After this season Nash, Huselius and Umberger are veterans who all have 2 or more years left on their current deals. That is 3 of your top 4 wings filled. Combined those 3 will make 16.55 million.

Filatov and Voracek are two young studs who should only get better. Both will challenge for top 6 duty as early as this season. The Jackets have to make room for their skill and combine that with their entry level deals and they are welcome additions to any lineup.

When you throw in bottom 6 wings like Dorsett, Boll, Chimera and prospects on the farm like Mayorov, Picard, Blunden and Sestito there is a lot of depth to fill out the bottom two lines.

Should both Modin and Torres prove to stay healthy and put up productive years both would have to take a drastic pay cut to remain Jackets. There just won't be enough money to go around and plug other key holes in the lineup otherwise.

To me though where things get interesting are when I ponder what the future of both Klesla and Vermette hold after this coming season.

Klesla is the lone ranger. The final connection to that inaugural Blue Jacket season way back in 2000 -2001. He was arguably the Jackets biggest surprise in their short playoff run. He's 27 and has spent parts of 8 seasons in the NHL.

The question is does he fit into Howson's equation after this year?
We have heard time and time again how the Jackets have a lot of similar type defending defensemen. Klesla is one of those.

With Commodore, Hejda, Tyutin and Methot signed for at least another year after this one he could be the odd man out.

Klesla's future as a Jacket will depend on a number of factors.

1. We saw a glimpse of the type of player Klesla can be as he was flat out mean and punishing in he playoffs. Can he keep that level of play up over an 82 game campaign?

2. Health. Klesla only played in 34 regular season games last season. Before that he had two relatively injury free seasons but struggled with health the previous two before that.

3. How does the defense depth look? How is Methot developing? How close are guys like Clitsome and Holden towards becoming full time NHLers.

4. Does Klesla want to stay? Does Howson want to sign him?

5. If yes to #4 then it comes down to money and term. What is the middle ground and does it make sense for both parties.

Vermette plays a position that the organization is weak in - center. The Jackets have 3 legit NHL center ice men - Vermette being one of course along with Brassard and Pahlsson. A guy like Umberger could be shifted to center ice as well if needed. After that they have Derek MacKenzie as an AHL "tweener" on the farm and some other wings that may see spot duty in the middle of the ice.

That's pretty much it.

Vermette is 27 and has spent parts of 5 seasons in the AHL. Last year after coming over in a trade for Pascal Leclaire Vermette tallied 7g, 6a for 13p in 17g with a +5. He certainly gave the Jackets a much needed spark and depth down the middle.

He'll be counted on to provide key minutes in all situations for the Jackets this coming season. This will be his first season holding down a full time top 6 center position as he was shifted to wing quite a bit in Ottawa.

Vermette's future as a Jacket will depend on the following:

1. How does he perform as a full time top 6 center over the course of an 82 game grind?

2. Are there better options to pursue in the offseason? Names like Marleau, Jokinen and Savard are all scheduled to be unrestricted next season.

3. Does Vermette want to stay? Does Howson want to sign him?

4. If yes to #3 then it comes down to money and term. What is the middle ground and does it make sense for both parties.

A big consideration Howson we must always keep in mind is saving enough budget room to sign the kids. For instance both Brassard and Boll will be restricted free agents after this year. If Brassard has the type of year I think he's capable of having he'll be in line for a hefty raise.

To me the question as to which player you sign first between Vermette or Klesla is a pretty easy one to answer.

The Jackets have tried for years to fill the center of their lineup and while they aren't quite where they'd like to be they are better than they have been.

Here were their centers at the start of 2006-2007 season:
(Fedorov was injured)

* All players currently out of the NHL although Manny should find a home somewhere.

(Peca was injured)

* Currently all of those players are out of the NHL


* Umberger as we know didn't last long at center. After Brass went down Malhotra held down the top center position for most of the remaining season.

Now this years projected group:

* A lot depends on health and progression but on paper that is the most solid group the Jackets have ever iced.

I'd love to see the Jackets keep Klesla but the first priority should be locking down Vermette and securing that center ice for the next few seasons. It's just too thin to take a chance on. Plus the odds of landing one of those marquee centers is slim to none as quite frankly they will want too much dough and too much term. We've also seen how difficult it is to make trades in this environment.

As we saw last year a lot can happen over the course of the season -- I mean who thought we'd trade Leclaire and send Norrena packing right?

Howson will be patient for those reasons and make sure he knows what he's got in Vermette but I'd be surprised if converations between the two camps didn't kick off relatively early into the season. I think a 4 year deal in that 15 to 16 mil range for Vermette could do the trick.

Fire away - which UFA would you like to see Howson sign first? I've also added a poll question.



snappy said...

Nice analysis, LTL. I might be thinking with my Union Blue heart, but I just have a feeling Klesla will really turn it up this coming season given this will be a contract year. The CBJ sweater is the only one he knows. I have got to believe he wants to keep wearing it and this will affect his play next stanza. As you mentioned, he really stepped it up during the playoffs and was loads of fun to watch. Rusty showed us what he can be capable of. He has his moments but he can be a horse when he is on. Tough, but maybe really great decisions for Howson down the line.

BZArcher said...

I think it needs to be Vermette (we need to correct the lack of depth, not make it worse!)

Rusty...a lot depends on how his year starts. He's been in trade rumors almost constantly the last three years, and if he gets off to another slow start, I have to wonder if Howson might not use his playoff performance as bait for a deal.

Max said...

I think Howson's #1 target will be Vermette. Personally I'd like to see Raffi Torres return, but at a pay cut. Now that his knee and shoulder will be fully healed, it'll be nice to see what he brings to the table. I remember him when he was healthy, the guy was a maniac. Klesla I still think is being touted as trade bait. That playoff performance really ups his stock, and I think that he could bring back a quality player or pick.