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.
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.
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?