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Cuts Made – Decisions Await

The Blue Jackets pared their roster to 27 players on Monday, placing two on waivers, returning one to juniors, and assigning the remaining six to Syracuse. While these moves embodied a few surprises, the truly hard decisions remain to be made over the next 48 hours.

Columbus placed center Derek MacKenzie and defenseman Jonathan Sigalet on waivers, with the intention of assigning them to AHL-affiliate Syracuse if they are not claimed by noon on Tuesday. The Sigalet move was widely anticipated, as he had received little ice time down the stretch in camp. The MacKenzie move was undoubtedly a bit tougher, as he saw significant minutes in the last few pre-season contests. While he had some good moments, and would have had a real shot at making the final roster as recently as last year, he was a victim of the increasing depth of young talent Columbus enjoys at forward. (Who would have considered that last statement possible just a couple of years ago?)

Wingers Stefan Legein, Tom Sestito and Maksim Mayorov were all assigned to Syracuse, as were defensemen Nick Holden, David Liffiton and Grant Clitsome. Mayorov and Sestito had very strong camps, and are likely to see a solid share of action with the big club at various times this season. Legein is simply too early in his comeback bid from a self-imposed hockey sabbatical, but he too showed flashes of real skill. Holden has been battling mononucleosis, and was never really a factor during camp. Liffiton failed to impress, despite some significant ice time. Clitsome was perhaps the most surprising of the moves, as he had seen big chunks of ice time throughout the pre-season, and had some good moments. Ultimately, I think he simply failed to have enough shining moments to put him over the top. Some call-ups are likely in his future as well.

Finally, young phenom John Moore was returned to his junior club in Kitchener. He captured the hearts and minds of everybody, coaching staff included, with his smooth skating, pinpoint passing and eerie confidence level under pressure. While everyone “knew” that he was going back to juniors, if most observers were honest, they would admit to harboring a flicker of hope that he would stay around for awhile. Ultimately, reason prevailed over prejudice, and Moore will spend a year being a star in juniors, adding some muscle to his frame. Barring injury, he is a lock to be on the big club next year – and remember you heard it here first.

With the roster now trimmed to 27, the organization now faces some difficult choices. Winger Fredrik Modin is on the shelf with a strained MCL for another four or five weeks, so the number of cuts required to reach the 23 man limit stands at three. We know that the team is negotiating an entry level contract with Mark Calvert, who was a leading point scorer in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and has consistently impressed in camp. Once he is under contract, he is likely headed to Syracuse. Defenseman Mathieu Roy has been good and has received a lot of ice time in camp, and may be battling veteran Martin Skoula, in camp on a tryout agreement for the seventh defenseman slot. Skoula has been steady, if unspectacular, but clearly is not the offensive punch the Jackets are looking at from the blue line. The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that GM Scott Howson has a trade offer outstanding with an unnamed team, but barring that, either Roy or Skoula is likely to hold down the seventh defenseman slot. If Skoula wins the slot, Roy goes back to Syracuse. Otherwise, Skoula would be released from his tryout agreement.

That leaves one immediate cut to come from the ranks of the forwards. Based upon pre-season performance, the “bubble” forwards would appear to be Michael Blunden and Jared Boll. While Alexandre Picard might also fall into the bubble category, he seems to have shown the right combination of grit, hustle and skill to make the club this year. Blunden has been uneven, but has shown a good work ethic, and has the versatility to play either center or wing. Boll has been a disappointment. After emerging two seasons ago as the young, energetic troublemaker who made enforcer Jody Shelley expendable, his game has failed to appreciably progress. While he can still lay a solid check, his pugilism skills are not what they were, and he lags far behind his competitors in skating and skill level. While Jackets teams of the past had room for a player like Boll, he could be a victim of an organization that has developed some depth of talent.

A trade is always a possibility, and perhaps even probable in this climate, where the Jackets have some forwards to spare, and maybe even a defenseman, in exchange for that offensive minded defenseman and possible a depth player up the middle. Barring such a trade, look for Boll to lose out in the immediate roster lottery. Another big decision comes in another month or so, when the oft-injured Modin once again becomes available for duty. However, by that point, a lot of other situations should have more clarity.

Stay tuned, as the next couple of days will likely be interesting.

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