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Searching for an offensive D-man

The Blue Jackets have been in search of the proverbial puck-moving offensive defenseman since their inception into the league. Columbus’ first ever draft pick, Rostislav Klesla, was supposed to a can’t-miss pick. Klesla put up some monster numbers in juniors with the Brampton Battalion, but has never accumulated more than 22 points in an NHL season. To be fair, Klesla has been hampered by injuries most of his career and many argue that the MacLean regime rushed him into the NHL.

Blue Jackets fans and hoped Jaroslav Spacek was the answer to their blue line scoring prayers, but he left after the lockout to sign with division rival Chicago.

When Doug MacLean brought in Darryl Sydor in the summer of 2003, the CBJ thought they had their man. However, Sydor’s tenure with the Jackets was less than impressive. But, before Jackets fans could blink, Sydor was packaged to Tampa Bay for Alexander Svitov. Sydor hoisted the Stanley Cup later that season and the Union Blue headed into the lockout with the same questions they had been asking before the season.

Post-lockout, the Blue Jackets brought in former Calder Trophy winner Bryan Berard to put up the numbers from the point. While Berard put up some impressive numbers in his time with the Jackets (his power play hat trick against Phoenix comes to mind), injuries limited him to 55 games in two seasons of work. He might best be remembered as the first NHL player to test positive for steroids.

Ron Hainsey had a heavy shot from the point and put up some nice numbers from the blue line in his three seasons with the Blue Jackets. Although his point performance was a pleasant surprise from the former Montreal first rounder, I don’t think Jackets fans shed too many tears when Atlanta gave him $22 million over five years.

Kris Russell may be the answer to the CBJ’s blue line blues. The diminutive defenseman put up monster numbers in Medicine Hat over four seasons in juniors. He has loads of skills and is one of the most fluid skaters on the squad, but he likely isn’t ready to shoulder the scoring burden yet. Remember, Brian Rafalski was 26 before he played his first NHL game.

The Jackets have a number of high profile defensive prospects with a flare for scoring. The list is headed up by this summer’s first round pick John Moore along with Cody Goloubef and Brent Regner. All three are at least a year away from the NHL, though, and the Blue Jackets need some points from the point this season.

So who is the answer for the Blue Jackets prayers? The Blue Jackets have a glut of wingers who could be trade bait for a scoring defenseman. Columbus also has around 10 million in cap room, so perhaps the free agent market may be the answer. Here’s a list of whose left in free agent land along with some potential trade partners for Scott Howson.

UFAs

Sergei Zubov: At 39 many consider Zubov a band-aid. However, he is a right-handed shot, who has experience with Hitchcock, Stanley Cups (Dallas ’99 and New York ’94) and 767 points over 15 NHL season. Injuries limited him 46 games last season but has played fewer than 73 games only four times in his career.

Marc-Andre Bergeron: The 28-year-old has a wicked Al MacInnis-style slap shot (allegedly topped 103mph at an Oilers skills competition). However, at 5’10” he lacks size and can the Jackets field a defensive corps with Russell and Bergeron?

Derek Morris: The 14-year veteran has been all over the NHL. The former Flames first round pick is a right handed shot and put up a career-high 48 points in 2003-2004 with the Avalanche. However, his numbers have been steadily declining since the lockout.

Derian Hatcher: Just Kidding.

Mathieu Schneider: Schneider, interestingly enough, was selected by the Blue Jackets in the 2000 expansion draft. However, the team never signed him. Although he turned 40 this summer, Schneider may have enough left in him for one more run. He’s a left-handed shot with plenty of playoff experience and found new life after his trade to Montreal last season.

Trade Possibilities:

Tomas Kaberle: At 31 he is in the midst of his prime, although coming off an injury. Toronto GM Brian Burke has eight NHL-level defensemen on his roster and the consensus seems to be that Kaberle is on the way out. He’s signed for the next two seasons at a very reasonable $4.2 million. However, Burke’s asking price may be too much for Howson.

Christian Ehrhoff: Howson was in talks with Sharks GM Doug Wilson about making a move for Ehrhoff. Don’t be surprised if talks resurface between the clubs with San Jose very close to the cap and in need of a couple forwards before the season’s start. The 27-year-old German put up a career-high 42 points last season and seems like the most realistic trade option.

Marc-Edouard Vlasic: Ehrhoff’s teammate is certainly not Wilson’s first choice to move. The talented 22-year-old put up 36 points last season and has a bright looking career ahead of him. However, at $3.1 million a year for the next four seasons, Wilson may not be able to keep the youngster with their cap issues. He’s not as likely to move as Ehrhoff, but shouldn’t be kept out of the realm of possibility.

Sheldon Souray: At 6’4” 233 pounds Souray fits the mold of a bruiser more than a scorer. However, he’s put up some serious points in the last 3 seasons, even considering he was limited to 26 games in ‘07-’08. He has a cannon from the point and finished behind Zdeno Chara in the 2009 All-Star Skills Competetion with a 103.3mph blast. However, Edmonton might be looking to move his $5.1million cap hit over the next three seasons, especially with the emergence of Denis Grebeshkov.

Lubomir Vishnovsky: Souray’s teammate (see a pattern) is getting $5.6 million for the next four seasons. The former All-Star has put up 310 points in 549 career NHL games but at 5’11” doesn’t have much size. He is also coming off a season-ending injury last year, which limited him to 50 games, but he still managed 31 points. His numbers have been declining since his career-high of 67 points four seasons ago.

Duncan Keith: Most of the Black Hawks brass will tell you that Keith is untouchable. However, someone is going to have to go on the Chicago blue line and good luck moving Brian Cambell’s contract. Toews, Kane and Keith are all RFAs next summer and Chicago’s going to have trouble staying under the cap this season. Keith is one of the top young defensemen in the league but I can’t see Barker, Keith and Seabrook all in a Hawks uniform come ‘10-‘11. Stan Bowman may simply let him get signed to an offer sheet next summer and reap the 1st round draft picks as compensation.

These are just a few names that come to mind. Will any of them end up in a Blue Jackets sweater? Not likely but it’s always fun to speculate. What do you think Jackets fans? Let’s here your trade and UFA picks. What would you sacrifice for a top defenseman?

9 Comments

  1. Paul

    July 23, 2009 at 6:05 pm

    One issue I have with your analysis, in fact with all the bloggers on this site, is that all of you keep referring to the Jackets having room under the salary cap. Every single other blog, including Puckrakers, acknowledges that the Jackets are a BUDGET team, not a cap team. Reports have it that their salary BUDGET for this season is right about $50 million, which they are very near. This means you can forget UFAs. If Howson and his associates are able to bring in an offensive d-man for this season, it will be through a trade. And until you people can get it through your heads that the Jackets are a budget team, not a cap team, this site is definitely NOT the best site about the Jackets.

  2. Dom

    July 23, 2009 at 6:41 pm

    Ehrhoff for Chimera, a 2010 3rd rounder, and a bucket of pucks

  3. DaCros

    July 23, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    No need to be so rude, Paul.. They just say what everyone wants to hear. In my opinion, it’s a great article! All of these players are obtainable and all of them fit our needs quite well.

    Most of the defencemen under contract listed would be amazing to have. Souray would be a dream. BUT, yes, to land any of them would be a steep price prospect-wise AND moneywise, but Howson isn’t retarded. Following with the name “budget team”, we’d have to send a good player and a pick along with a mid – high level prospect. That good player could be Modin, with his cap hit at like 3 or whatever and the prospect could be Voracek (1.3 cap hit? not saying I’d trade him but) ..So right there, is over 4 million shed for said defenceman. We won’t have killed the budget by a trade.

    Signing a dman is also not out of the question. If Zubov is offered a contract loaded with incentives instead of a high base salary (1-1.5 + an extra 1-1.5) it works for everyone. If he gets injured it’s not a big deal. He’s won’t make that extra $$ and he’s still probably around the team / helping or whatever. Even if he DOES reach his “incentives level” or whatever it’s called, I’m sure the team isn’t going to complain. He was an All-star defenceman so he’s bound to lift the CBJ over the top. AKA make the playoffs again, ($$) maybe make it to the 2nd round ($$$). Or AT LEAST help the powerplay.

    Puckrakers is great, but they aren’t posting interesting blogs for us all to fantasize and drool over. They write facts. They have the facts. It’s fantastic. This blog is perfect in its own fun way, and nothing is wrong with it, so don’t complain. If you want “real” hockey news, go read TSN or ESPN. They always write about our team.

  4. DaCros

    July 23, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Oh. I take one part back.

    I dont want Derek Morris!

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  6. Paul

    July 24, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    DaCross,
    My point stands. I am a fan and what I want to hear is reality, not pie in the sky hopes. Light The Lamp, A Shot From The Point and every other blog, including Puckrakers, acknowledges that the Jackets are a budget, not a cap, team.
    So, let’s be real, here. Every Dispatch report and blog states that the Jackets are at, or very near, their salary budget. What room there is, if any, is, likely, reserved for bonuses. And,certainly, Howson will want a cushion for adding salary near the trade deadline for a play off push. Ergo, no free agent signings, as the Jackets will want to shed salary. That, of course, means trading some of their abundance of wingers.
    Forget Modin. Besides his salary and his run of injuries since joining the Jackets, Hitch loves the guy. And Howson has vowed to keep young potential stars like Filatov, Voracek and Brassard. This narrows it down heavily, doesn’t it?
    If there is to be a trade for an offensive d-man, it will involve Chimera and, possibly, some lesser prospects.
    That’s called simple logic.

  7. Bob

    July 24, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    Hey Paul-if you want to be rude and obnoxious, go out and post on HFboards. I’m sure they will be glad to go back and forth with you. Quit commenting out here like you are so much smarter than everyone else who comments and blogs on this site. Kthanksbye.

  8. Rob P

    July 25, 2009 at 4:32 pm

    Whether you like Paul’s delivery, or not, he has a valid point – The Jackets won’t take on a ton of additional salary b/c they’re a self-proclaimed budget team, and want/need flexibility for the trade deadline and hopefully incentive payouts.

    The Jackets can soften the blow by trading a winger, probably Chimmer but I don’t know how much value he has…after coming back from injury he didn’t have his wheels, and showed he’s rather ineffective without his pre-injury speed. A lower level prospect (Mayorov?) might help in a trade, or a 3rd-4th round pick, but the Jackets don’t have a lot to offer (that they’re willing to part with).

  9. Paul

    July 25, 2009 at 9:23 pm

    Thank you, Rob. Bob, I am neither rude, nor obnoxious. Just very firm in my thoughts and, if this page offered italic fonts, the words I put in caps would have been in italics. While I will give the guys posting stories/opinions on this site credit for trying and, most often, succeeding to bring good information to Jackets fans, they do need to stay in touch with certain facts. And one of those facts is that the Jackets are a budget team. Therefore, the league salary cap does not matter. That is why the idea of trading for Heatley or signing a high priced UFA defenseman is nothing more than a fantasy.

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