- Right wing
- 23 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
- $590,000 cap hit
- 1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
- Contract expires at end of season
- 2009-2010 numbers: 40 games played, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4 points, +3, 59 penalty minutes, 8:07 avg. time on ice
To figure out where Mike Blunden's head is at, you just need to look at this year's salary and last year's. This season, he's making $590,000 on a one-year contract. Last season, he earned $735,000. That says to me that Blunden is 23 years old, a fourth-liner and perhaps looking at the prospects of living out the rest of his career in the AHL. This is a pivotal year; the fact that his new contract was for one year could be taken any of three ways: 1) Scott Howson doesn't want to invest in him for the long-term, 2) Howson and/or Blunden are looking at this season as a "step up" year to either boost his value or cut him loose or 3) Blunden is a placeholder as the restocked talent pool in the minors starts percolating up to the NHL (see: Calvert, Matt).
Blunden's NHL games (he also logged 39 games for the CBJ's AHL team last year) appears split almost equally in the pre- and post-Hitchcock games in 09-10, his first season where he had any extensive playing time. Interestingly, though, he scored both goals and both assists toward the end of the season in games coached by Claude Noel. Makes you wonder if some shackles came off once Claude took over. The fact that he had a positive +/- rating on a team littered with negative numbers last season also speaks to a playmaking/defensive capacity that he displayed in limited ice time.
I really love the CBJ's AHL-NHL 'tweeners' like Blunden, Grant Clitsome and Derek Mackenzie. They all play with a level of heart (desperation?) that those who are a little too comfortable in Columbus could learn from. At the same time, you can't be a 'tweener' forever; either you take the step up to becoming a legitimate NHLer, perhaps as a role player, or you step aside for The Next Big Thing and become the cornerstone of the American Hockey League.
What's it going to be?