Right Wing Conspiracy is a weekly column about hockey, with the odd hockey-related conspiracy theory thrown in for good measure.
Buy, Columbus, Buy…If the Price is Right
April 1st it may be, but it’s no joke that the Columbus Blue Jackets are currently sitting in 8th place in the Western Conference. With exactly 1/4 of the season remaining and five teams nipping at the Jackets’ heels (all with games in hand) AND with the trade deadline less than 48 hours away, it’s decision time in Columbus: Buy, sell or stand pat?
Ryan Lambert at The Two-Line Pass thinks the Jackets should stand pat, as they would have to pay too high a price for a real difference-maker and they’d just get creamed by Chicago in the first round, anyway. He may be right on at least one, if not both points, but there’s an even bigger point he’s missing here: Do not underestimate the value of playoff experience.
Columbus’ roster is filled with youngsters with little or no playoff experience. Vinny Prospal and Adrian Aucoin lead the team with 65 and 62 career playoff games, respectively. After those grizzled veterans, however, there’s a dramatic drop-off in games played in hot pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup. Brandon Dubinsky has 31 playoff games under his belt; no other player has more than 28, and many key players – Calvert, Atkinson and Johansen, among others – have never played in an NHL playoff game.
The Blue Jackets now find the postseason a very real possibility – something nobody expected. Realistically, they aren’t a Cup contender this season. That said, if they can give their youthful core a taste of NHL playoff hockey at a reasonable price, they should do so. Think of the 2008-09 Chicago Blackhawks, with Toews, Kane and Versteeg all in their sophomore season, making a run to the Western Conference Finals. Though they lost to Detroit, the young ‘Hawks parlayed that experience into a Stanley Cup one year later. [NOTE: I am NOT suggesting the 2013 Blue Jackets are in any way comparable to the Cup-winning Blackhawks; I’m merely pointing out the value of playoff experience for young players. Stop your eye-rolling.]
What does Columbus need to make the playoffs, and what would be a reasonable price? The Blue Jackets need a winger who can find the back of the net with semi-regularity. They have some depth at center and on the blueline, as well as three 1st round draft picks this summer. This team has really come together after a rocky 5-12-4 start to the season, so GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s goal should be to add scoring while disrupting team chemistry as little as possible. With that in mind, some players GM JK might want to kick the tires on are:
- Alexandre Burrows, VAN (35 GP, 9-10-19, +13) – Burrows currently skates on a line with Chang and Eng Sedin. He’s under contract through 2016-17, with a cap hit of $4.5mil after this season. He does not have a No Trade or No Move Clause. The Canucks could use a center, and Derick Brassard could fit the bill. Columbus would have to give more in return, however, so Brass + the Kings’ 1st round pick in 2013 (acquired by Cbus in the Jeff Carter trade) might make this deal palatable for both parties.
- Mason Raymond, VAN (35 GP, 9-9-18, +7) – Raymond is a UFA after this season, so he’d most likely be no more than a rental for the Jackets. As such, Vancouver’s asking price would have to be much lower than for Burrows – a 3rd round pick, perhaps.
- Jason Pominville, BUF (36 GP, 10-13-23, -2) – Due to the train wreck that is Buffalo’s 2013 season, the Sabres are shopping Pominville. The catch is that his modified NTC means he can specify eight teams to which he can’t be traded. Will Columbus be on that list or not? If Pominville doesn’t rule out the Blue Jackets, the Sabres will undoubtedly ask for a 1st round pick as an appetizer, and go up from there.
- Eric Nystrom, DAL (34 GP, 4-2-6, -4) – Though Nystrom doesn’t have the stats the Jackets seek, he showed a nose for the net upon arrival in Dallas in 2011, scoring a career-high 16 goals. Another hot streak could come with another change of scenery, and Nystrom’s rambunctious style of play would fit in perfectly with the Blue Jackets. In addition, the 30-year-old winger will be a UFA this summer, so he should come cheap and could potentially be re-signed for under $2mil. A very low-risk deal for Columbus with potential for high reward.
GM JK must keep in mind another factor in any potential deal: Though the Blue Jackets have plenty of cap space right now, their entire top line (Calvert-Anisimov-Atkinson) and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky all go RFA this summer, and current hot hand Mark Letestu (whom Columbus would like to re-sign) will be a UFA. For any trade deadline acquisition this season, Kekalainen will have to carefully weigh the future salary cap implications.