Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time to step up: Derek Mackenzie

  • Center
  • 29 years old, 8th year in National Hockey League
  • $600,000 cap hit 
  • 1.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 18 games played, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +3, zero penalty minutes, 8:41 avg. time on ice
If you don't like Derek Mackenzie, you're dead inside.  

This is a guy who pretty much lives out of a duffle bag all season long.  He shuffles back and forth to Syracuse (now Springfield) to captain the Blue Jackets' AHL franchise and, as soon as the CBJ get their first injury hit, hops a plane/train/car to Columbus and plugs a hole.  Again.  And again.  And again.

In fact, I remember one point last season where the callup was extended beyond the usual cup of coffee, and Mackenzie had to buy another pair of jeans.  That's his life, and he just keeps on, keepin' on.  

Maybe there is some justice - perhaps the Blue Jackets let him keep the frequent flyer miles that he piles up while shuttling back and forth.  I bet that would translate into an awesome post-season trip to a beach somewhere. 

As for the on-ice performance, Mackenzie doesn't screw up.  He puts in his minutes, works his tail off whenever he's on the ice and occasionally helps on a goal.  He had no penalty minutes last year.  (None! Wow.)  He had a positive plus-minus in limited NHL exposure.  What more can you ask of a guy like him?  

However, Derek Mackenzie has his own unique challenge this season.  He's 29, a rapidly aging man by this post-lockout NHL's standards.  The end of his career is closer than the beginning of it.  He's got a couple more seasons before negotiating what could be a final professional contract.  This is crunch-time, and not in a Syracuse/AHL way.

If he's going to make a run at a full-time NHL roster spot and start sleeping in Hyatts instead of Super 8's on a consistent basis, though, now's the time.  I'm not saying that it will be easy, nor will I suggest that the Columbus Blue Jackets even want him to make that type of a move, considering that they have 4 lines worth of centers right now in Vermette, Brassard, Pahlsson and Murray/Kana.  But Mackenzie is running out of time.  It's pretty much now or never.  

On the other hand, he can stay relatively satisfied with his nomadic life and continue being the valuable contributor that he is at both the NHL and AHL levels.  And the Jackets would likely be no worse for that move, either.  

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