The Columbus Blue Jackets went from first playoff win in franchise history, to giving the Pittsburgh Penguins a serious scare in the first round, all in the blink of an eye. Despite the first round exit, the entire city of Columbus, as well as the franchise, should be extremely proud of their accomplishments. Let’s take a look at what the Blue Jackets off-season should look like.
How They Got Here: Their New GM:
The Blue Jackets made a serious power move when they hired former St. Louis Blues Assistant General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen as their General Manager. Among Kekalainen’s main duties was the job of main oversight on amateur scouting for
the Ottawa Senators from 1995-2002, and with the St. Louis Blues from 2002-2010. With Ottawa, he was specifically focused on overseas efforts and during his tenure there, they drafted such players as Jason Spezza, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Ray Emery, and Antoine Vermette. Kekalainen’s vast experience in and around the NHL and the game of Hockey is a huge boon to the Blue Jackets organization, which lacked serious direction under past management. Kekalainen was hired early in 2013.
One of the worst moves in franchise history was the Jeff Carter acquisition where Columbus gave up Jakub Voracek and two picks — which included a first round pick in the Top-10 which turned into Sean Couturier. Carter’s tenure with Rick Nash in Columbus was a train-wreck and the problem was at the idea’s inception. Both Carter and Nash require the puck to be effective. Neither player is truly elite without the puck on their stick, and hence the disastrous results. Columbus parlayed that Jeff Carter experiment gone bad, into Jack Johnson and a 2013 pick — which turned into Marko Dano. Now, of course we have to give that pick a chance to play itself out, but I sure as heck wouldve preferred Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek to Marko Dano and Jack Johnson. Can Kekalainen prevent these kind of super-flop trades from shattering what has now become a nice core for Columbus?
Blue Jackets Off-season Plan
Let’s take a look at what the Blue Jackets need to do. First, their budding young star Ryan Johansen needs a new contract. Johansen projects as a very skilled two-way center. In fact, he received a vote for the Frank J. Selke Award last season A native of Port Moody, British Columbia, Johansen really came into his own this year, scoring 33 goals and recording 30 assists. This is no small feat for a young player that had been skating with R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno most of the season. Johansen proved versatile as well, recording 20 power-play points this season. Jarmo Kekalainen must not get cheap here. He has to sign Johansen
The Blue Jackets also require the addition of more defensemen. Three of their top-six are going to be UFA’s or RFA’s — Dalton Prout, David Savard and Nikita Nikitin — and you can count Nick Schultz if you want to as well. The big question that needs to be addressed by the Front Office, is on David Savard. Is he a Top-4 defenseman? Personally, I believe he can be, but he is not ready yet. Also, the aforementioned Jack Johnson had a terrible season possession wise, and I would not feel comfortable having him as a top-line defenseman. Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk is not on the market this off-season, but he — at 3.36 million per year — represents the type of defenseman that the Blue Jackets need to add to increase their competitiveness. A strong, good-hitting, defensively responsible guy that can play the penalty kill and work well along the boards.
Finally, the Blue Jackets are very strong up the middle if they can re-sign Ryan Johansen. They can really use another right winger to join Cam Atkinson and Nathan Horton. Also, Boone Jenner needs to successfully complete his transition to left wing.
Who is on the market?
Stephane Robidas – D- Dallas Stars - Current Salary – $3-million. Concerns about health given the broken leg in these playoffs, but if his health prognosis for a full recovery look promising, he could come at a discount.
Mike Cammalleri – RW – Calgary Flames - Current Salary – $6-million. – Cammalleri represents a significant upgrade on the wings, and his skating ability provides a nice contrast to the game of Nathan Horton. He might be too expensive, but if he is willing to take around $4.5-million, this could be a really nice get for the Blue Jackets.
Justin Peters – G – Carolina Hurricanes - Current Salary – $600,000 - Curtis McElhinney’s contract is up at the end of the year, and if the Hurricanes decide to move forward with Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin, Peters will hit the market. It’s possible
he showed enough to deserve a more competitive scenario for a starting job, but if he’s willing to slide into a back-up role, this would be an excellent solidification of the goaltending position.
Tom Gilbert – D – Florida Panthers - Current Salary – $900,000 - I would imagine Gilbert re-ups with the Panthers here, but he had an excellent season, and was even Florida’s leading scorer for a while this season. His 28 points was solid for a defenseman on a bad team, and while he doesn’t represent the upgrade the Blue Jackets really could use on the blue line, he does make for a great third pairing defenseman with David Savard. He should get about $2.5-million on the open market this off-season.
Mats Zuccarello – Winger – New York Rangers - Current Salary – $1.15-million. The Norwegian winger had his best season to date, and in a contract year to boot. A restricted free agent, the price tag may be too hefty for the Blue Jackets to pay, but with Martin St. Louis on the books for one more year in New York, its possible the Rangers won’t have enough money to pay Zuccarrello what he wants and rightfully deserves — somewhere in the $3.1 million range.
Matt Niskanen – Defenseman – Pittsburgh Penguins - Current Salary – 2.3-million. Niskanen would be a very powerful addition to this Columbus Blue Jackets squad, and he should command a very hefty price increase — into the $4-million range, which the Penguins are very unlikely able to pay. He would make an awesome first line pairing partner for James Wisniewski, on the power-play, and on even-strength. This is probably the best move the Blue Jackets could feasibly make.
Mason Raymond – Winger – Toronto Maple Leafs - Current Salary – $1-million – Raymond has been a successful role player at every stop in his career. The Leafs really need to keep him around, but perhaps the Blue Jackets can convince him that the future is brighter in Columbus.