With the removal of Scott Howson as the Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager (GM) and the hiring of drafting and development guru Jarmo Kekalainen to replace Howson, the philosophy of patience could have been replaced with one of a major upheaval, albeit one with Kekalainen’s stamp of youth and playing the game at a high rate of speed, both physically and mentally.
One seismic change which may also occur could directly correlate to April’s impending National Hockey League (NHL) trade deadline. Rather than often being hamstrung by risk aversion, the Blue Jackets may, as Kekalainen described his initial interactions with the other 29 NHL GMs, enter the deadline with a philosophy of level-setting, trading higher-priced veteran talent who have underachieved or appear stuck in a rut, concurrent with the organization for prospects, NHL-ready players or draft picks.
And while the Blue Jackets have found their stride during a four-game winning streak, at 9-12-4, it will take a sustained surge which approximates the one the Chicago Blackhawks recently concluded, a 20-0-3 run, before whispers of playoff possibilities begin to be uttered.
While I would never be so brash or clever to prognosticate what brilliant hockey minds like Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen have in mind, it would stand to reason that specific players with a specific set of parameters could be offered to begin Davidson’s ‘Brick by Brick’ process for transforming the direction of this moribund organization.
Here’s a list of possible players, along with the type of return each player could garner, that the Blue Jackets could entertain trading:
RJ Umberger – Umberger, who was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, has struggled during the past two seasons, particularly during the beginning of the year. Umberger has been there from the Blue Jackets only playoff appearance in 2008-09 through their descent to the bottom of the NHL standings, last season. It’s possible that Umberger’s slow starts may stem from growing tired of the losing but it also grows readily apparent that both the player and the organization’s direction may benefit from a change of scenery. However, there is a major problem with attempting to court offers for Umberger and that is both the salary cap hit – $4.6 million per season – and the remaining term of his contract with the Blue Jackets – five years remaining. But with a new regime committed to rebuilding, very few players will be considered untouchable and, with creativity, every option for an impinging contract like this will be explored. Umberger can serve as a veteran presence who can be counted on for 20-25 goals per season. The return for Umberger should be either a 2nd round draft pick or one of the better prospects in an organization – i.e. San Jose Sharks defensive prospect Taylor Doherty or Philadelphia Flyers’ Nick Cousins.
Derick Brassard – Brassard, the former 6th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, has come and has possibly passed a crossroads with the Blue Jackets organization. Drafted as a playmaking center, Brassard, save for his rookie year of 2008-09 in which he registered 25 points in 31 games only to have his season cut short after separating his shoulder during a fight with then Dallas Stars James Neal. Since that season, Brassard has scored 43 goals with 92 assists for 135 points in those 249 games, statistics which would be considered fine for possibly a 2nd or plus-3rd line center but quite disappointing for someone projected to be a franchise cornerstone and a consistent 1st line center. Brassard’s contract situation is a bit similar to Umberger’s in that he has three remaining years on his contract at $3.2 million per season. Given that Brassard has a slightly lesser contract term and is younger (25) than Umberger (30), it would stand to reason that, with the right team and system – more of an up-tempo style – that Brassard could flourish with another NHL squad. The return for Brassard should be either a current NHL player – i.e. Chicago Blackhawks forward Viktor Stalberg, who is an impending Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) – or a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick.
Vaclav Prospal – Prospal, acquired as an UFA at the beginning of the 2011-12 season after a pre-season injury sustained by then Blue Jackets winger Kristian Huselius, has been one of the few stellar acquisitions the Blue Jackets have made over the past few seasons, both on the ice and off, adding a veteran presence and not being afraid to call into question lackadaisical game and practice efforts. It was believed that Prospal, at 38, would retire and remain with the organization in some capacity; however, that possible ‘gentleman’s agreement’ was with former GM Scott Howson. Prospal has scored key goals in the Blue Jackets victories and seems to have defied Father Time and leads the Blue Jackets in points with 14, which includes scoring 9 goals. Prospal can be an invaluable asset to an organization preparing for a Stanley Cup playoff push, particularly a team who struggles a bit, offensively. The return for Prospal should be a 2nd round pick.
Fedor Tyutin – Tyutin has been a generally solid performer for the Blue Jackets since being acquired in a trade prior to the 2008-09 season, averaging about 30 points scored per season which places him at the top, historically, for a Blue Jackets defensemen, per season. However, Tyutin has done that primarily as a 2nd pairing defenseman and, with a remaining contract term of six years at $4.5 million per season. And with the advent of the development of young defensemen like Tim Erixon and Cody Goloubef, Tyutin becomes quite an attractive acquisition target for a team who needs a solid defenseman like Tyutin. A team that comes to mind are the Ottawa Senators, particularly in light of the season-ending injury sustained by the defending Norris Trophy recipient (NHL’s best defenseman) Erik Karlsson. The return for Tyutin would seem to be a goalie such as Ben Bishop of the Senators and a possible prospect like winger Jakob Silfverberg or a 2nd round draft pick.
John Moore – although injured, Moore hasn’t seemed to fit into the Blue Jackets long-term plans, often being paired on the bottom pairing, defensively or scratched (benched), this for a former 1st round (21st overall) draft pick in the 2009 NHL Entry draft. Moore, one of the most gifted blueline skaters, has tallied only 2 goals and 6 assists over his 82-game NHL career with a -27 +/- rating. In the American Hockey League (AHL), Moore has done slightly better, with 26 points over 78 games with a -29 +/- rating. And with the rise of the above-mentioned Goloubef and Erixon and the return, next season, of the Blue Jackets 1st round (2nd overall) pick Ryan Murray from injury, Moore would appear to be an odd man out for the Blue Jackets defensive corps. Moore could garner a current, young NHL forward such as Jamie McGinn of the Colorado Avalanche, a team in need of blueline help.
Steve Mason – with the solid overall play of Sergei Bobrovsky, it is readily apparent that Steve Mason’s days with the Blue Jackets may be nearing an end. Prior to being yanked early in the 2nd period against the Edmonton Oilers after surrendering 3 goals on 7 shots, Mason has played much steadier this season but after being one of the NHL’s worst statistical goalies, it would appear that the Blue Jackets might either be allowing Mason to play out the remainder of the last year of his contract with the Blue Jackets or they might play Mason sparingly, hoping that he’ll perform solidly enough to serve as an audition for another NHL team in need of a backup goaltender. Mason’s return would be expected to be a 4th round pick and if another NHL team doesn’t acquire him, the Blue Jackets may opt to waive Mason hoping that another team would claim him on regular or re-entry waivers.
Derek MacKenzie – MacKenzie, previously a career AHL forward, has been a solid high-energy forward for the Blue Jackets, primarily playing on the team’s 4th line, becoming one of the few Blue Jackets players who have registered a + +/- rating over the past few seasons in the process. MacKenzie will be an UFA the following season and can help a playoff-contending team with its championship push and, at $1 million per season, wouldn’t incur a hefty salary cap hit for the acquiring organization. The return for MacKenzie would generally be a 3rd or 4th line draft pick or a possible mid-range prospect.
If history repeats itself, the 2012-13 trade deadline could be much ado about nothing. During the strike-shortened 1994-95 NHL season, the trade deadline was one of the more uneventful deadlines in recent memory. And as long as the Blue Jackets keep winning games, it be it difficult to forego parting with players who are contributing to the surge. However, as mentioned above, it is readily apparent that the current talent level is not one that, high-intensity and high-compete levels aside, could compete for the Stanley Cup playoffs. So these players are tradable assets who could serve as lynchpins towards a seismic upheaval in the look and direction of the Blue Jackets organization.