Friday, June 5, 2009

The Columbus Blue Jackets - They'll Win A Playoff Game Soon, I Promise

Blue Jackets Prolegomena - How To Fail At Drafting (While Trying Really Hard)

The Columbus Blue Jackets were once almost a laughingstock. Having missed the playoffs the first seven seasons of their existence, they traded away Nikolai Zherdev, a promising player and former high 1st round pick, they signed Mike Commodore for a ton of money - Commodore was last seen failing to help the Ottawa Senators in the playoffs - and they added Kristian Huselius, a talented player but one with an up and down NHL career. It looked like another ho-hum season for the humdrum Blue Jackets - they wouldn't finish last, but they wouldn't go anywhere either. About the only thing they were known for was accidentally causing the death of a fan.

If the Blue Jackets were selecting a kickball team, they'd pick the fat kid first. Here's a look at their 1st round draft picks since the club's inception:

2000 - Rostislav Klesla, D, 4th overall - Klesla is still with the team, but he is an average defenseman, not the Chris Pronger type of player the Jackets thought they were getting.

2001 - Pascal Leclaire, G, 8th overall - Leclaire is the goalie of the future of the past - Columbus fobbed off the injury-prone netminder to the Senators earlier this season. One good season in the eight he was Columbus property - not exactly a success.

2002 - Rick Nash, LW, 1st overall - Nash is awesome.

2003 - Nikolai Zherdev, RW, 4th overall - Zherdev is a maddeningly inconsistent player whom Columbus tired of, trading him for D Fedor Tyutin and D Christian Backman last summer. The 2003 Draft may go down as the best ever in NHL history - the next pick, for example, was Thomas Vanek. Columbus lost tons of value here.

2004 - Alexandre Picard, LW, 8th overall - There's another Alexandre Picard in the NHL - this one has played 58 games and scored 0 goals. Drew Stafford, Alex Radulov, Travis Zajac - anyone would have been better.

2005 - Gilbert Brule, C, 6th overall - Brule is a fringe NHLer with 14 goals in 157 games. Columbus could have had Devin Setoguchi, Anze Kopitar, or Marc Staal. Columbus traded him for Raffi Torres before this past season.

With six top picks, Columbus had managed to land a middling goaltender, an average defenseman, a headache RW, two fringe players, and one All-Star level player. That's not the recipe for success. However, it is a recipe for getting more top picks, and the Blue Jackets appear to have struck gold with their last three. Now let's get a look at that salary cap situation, which is tremendously favorable (now with commas!)

Where's Jiri Novotny?: Novotny is an RFA this season, and so Columbus still owns his rights, but it will cost Columbus at least $800,000 to retain those rights if Novotny accepts his qualifying offer. Novotny had a totally unremarkable season not worthy of that expense. He will likely be non-tendered - he is a peripheral player with little upside.

What's It Look Like Overall? Columbus has some rotten contracts on the books - Fredrik Modin has played 73 games in the last two seasons, scoring 15 goals with 22 assists, and Raffi Torres is overcompensated for being a decent 3rd line wing. Regardless, the real thing that's going to give them a chance at a Stanley Cup run in 2010-11 is the play of Steve Mason, Derrick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, and Nikita Filatov. All four are on entry-level contracts and all four are tremendously valuable players - if Columbus can sign a top-level defenseman, they might just have a better team than Detroit in 2 seasons. It's possible to be unfamiliar with three of those players, so some background:

Derrick Brassard: 6th overall pick in 2006, he was an early front-runner for Rookie of the Year until being sidelined for the season with an ACL injury. Before that calamity he amassed 25 points in 31 games - he probably won't maintain his goal-scoring rate next season, but there is no reason to expect less than 50 points next season.
Jakub Voracek - 7th overall pick in 2007, Voracek put up 39 points in his rookie season at 19 - he turns 20 in August. While the 'sophomore slump' is always a possibility, this is another player who has a very bright future.
Nikita Filatov - 6th overall pick in 2008, Filatov played in the AHL as an 18 year old and showed a lot of promise, scoring 16 goals in 39 games before becoming injured. He has tremendous upside - think Alex Semin type of skill.

With these talented and inexpensive players in the lineup, the Blue Jackets have plenty of cash they can throw around to make a Stanley Cup contender.

Projected Lines For 2009-10

This indicates a player who is RFA in 2008-09
This indicates a player who is UFA in 2009-10
This indicates a player who is RFA in 2009-10




There Appear To Be Too Many Wings: Vermette can play wing or center, but he is a better winger than center. There is a possibility the Blue Jackets buy out Fredrik Modin's contract - it will cost them a little over a million dollars for the next two seasons to do so. Replacing him with Filatov, who is likely of equal value right now to Modin, would free up around 1.5 million dollars the Blue Jackets desperately need.

Free Agent Search


Manny Malhotra (4/11)
John Madden (2/5)
Sami Pahlsson (2/4)
Mike Peca (1/1.3)
Dominic Moore (3/6)

This blog does not want to repeat itself - if you wish to find a little blurb on these players, a look at the Blackhawks' post should be enough. The Jackets love Malhotra, but they may want another player with Stanley Cup experience - all but Moore have that in spades.

If Mark Recchi Wants To Keep Playing This May Be A Really Good Fit: He can work the power play and add some veteran leadership. Recchi was a player on Ken Hitchcock's Flyers as well.


The Blue Jackets had the worst power play in the league last season - not only was it the worst, it wasn't even close. They scored a miserable 41 PPG, 7 less than the woeful Rangers. Not only that, they gave up 12 short handed goals, making them only a net 29 goals in all their power play time. A solid point-man might go a long way to at least getting their power play to 'not horrible'.

Jay Bouwmeester (7/50) - Bouwmeester would be an enormous coup - a shot Columbus has to take. It might be trouble in 2011-12, but problems two offseasons away are best not considered. This is a young team but it is ready to win now - if the Blue Jackets pass on Bouwmeester, they may have a shot at Paul Martin or Chris Pronger in the summer of 2010, but there's no guarantees about that. They desperately need a top-end defenseman who can move the puck, and Bouwmeester's a guy who fits perfectly. Of course, this is the same Blue Jackets team that traded up to get Rick Nash #1 overall, passing on Bouwmeester, a fact which Mr. Bouwmeester may still recall unfondly (this blog remembers the Bouwmeester camp looking none too happy when this was announced)
Mattias Ohlund (4/16) - Consolation piece if Bouwmeester is unavailable. Ohlund is amazingly consistent with his scoring - it has always ranged from 20 points to 36 points, regardless of injury.
Jaroslav Spacek
(4/14) - The same. Of course, the Blue Jackets already had Spacek, so the organization is already familiar with him. This may make them more or less inclined to sign him.
Johnny Oduya (4/14) - Oduya is not a top-end defenseman but he does have some of the same skills that a top defenseman has. The Blue Jackets need someone to run their power play, and Oduya did not do that for the Devils.


This blog is not dealing with backup goalies. It will suggest that Columbus look into a very good one and be willing to pay a little bit more because Mason may falter and he is still rather young - nickel and diming on this could cost them their season.

Conclusion: The Jackets predictably got trounced in the playoffs this season, but they have a tremendously bright outlook - the only thing they lack is a #1-type defender. Acquiring that and a year or two of seasoning and this team should be ready to cause a lot of problems for the rest of the Western Conference. It remains to be seen how much the Jackets are willing to spend, but with the distinct possibility of deep playoff runs, the Jackets should be able to increase their budget. A lot depends on Rick Nash and whether he wishes to stay in Columbus - a long playoff run might show him that the team is committed to winning. Regardless of whether or not Rick stays, Columbus fans should be very excited for their future.

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