Thursday, September 2, 2010

Time to step up: Jan Hejda

  • Defenseman
  • 32 years old, 5th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,000,000 cap hit 
  • 3.4% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 62 games played, 3 goal, 10 assists, 13 points, -14, 36 penalty minutes, 20:38 avg. time on ice
Can Jan Hejda return to pre-injury form...
and will he still be a Columbus Blue Jacket
after this season's trade deadline?
A late bloomer from an NHL perspective, Jan Hejda toiled over in Europe before joining the Edmonton Oilers (where Howson was assistant general manager) in 2006-2007, where he had a middling-to-poor season (39 games played, 1 goal, 8 assists, 9 points, -6 rating).  Howson must've seen something beyond the numbers when he signed Hejda as a free agent for 2007-2008, whereupon Hejda was off to the races.  

Hejda was an ironman in his first two seasons in Columbus, playing in 81 and 82 games, respectively.  While his point totals weren't anything to put on a billboard (13 and 21 points), his plus-minus was off-the-charts good - not just for the Columbus Blue Jackets but for the entire National Hockey League.  In 07-08, he was a +20.  In 08-09, he was a +23.  This, on a Ken Hitchcock team that played defense first, second and third, leaving scoring down on the list somewhere next to "air out the smelly skates."  

But then 2009-2010 hit, and it hit like a sledgehammer to Jan Hejda's knees.  On October 13, 2009, he injured his left knee against Calgary and missed eight games.  He then got back on the ice (likely not at 100 percent, as injuries just don't totally heal mid-season when you're talking about joints that get worked like crazy every night like knees) and made it to March 15, 2010, when his right knee was injured against Edmonton.  At that point, the Blue Jackets called it a season for Hejda...and the healing finally began.  

Before that first knee injury, Hejda was having a pretty darned good year, as Stingers on Ice reminds us:
Hejda has played great so far this season, through five games, he has a +8 rating and ranks in the top ten in the entire league.
The pressure is on Jan Hejda to return to form quickly
and keep his career moving forward
That's right: 5 games, +8, top ten in the whole league.  And it all came crumbling down, with his Corsi rating ending up at at -13.05, second-lowest on the team.  So the challenge in Hejda's case is simple: Get healthy and play like you did before you got hurt.  Prove that last season was just one verse of a bad country and western song, and not the entire song.

It's a tad more complex than that, though.  Hejda's in the final year of his contract.  And he's not young.  And he's recovering from a couple potentially career-altering injuries.  And there are a bunch of blue liners in the talent pipeline.  In this "lock the player down or dump him at the trade deadline if you don't think he'll re-sign" world of today's NHL, Scott Howson has to be asking himself whether he even wants to bring Jan Hejda back on a new contract.

So Hejda has to prove that he can play - if not to Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets, then to whatever team Howson could potentially drop him on in a trade.  And if he wants to stay in Columbus (he's got a pretty decent house here, suggesting that he and his family have put down roots), well...the pressure's on to prove that he can play at pre-injury levels quickly and get an in-season contract extension out of the way as soon as possible.

Dollar for dollar, a healthy Jan Hejda may perhaps be Scott Howson's best acquisition as general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He has been an integral part of the Howson-era Columbus Blue Jackets at a relatively low $2 million per season, and I hope he returns to form.  Because when he's on his game, there are few in the league who are as consistently solid as he is.

2 comments:

  1. You can add to the fact that while we was not at 100%, playing in pain, there was a revolving door next to him as well. Seemed like the top pair was always in flux because of injury, or otherwise poor play.

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  2. Excellent point, but it's sadly one that could apply to just about every member of the CBJ defense. If this portion of the "Time to step up" series has done anything, it's reminded me that the Blue Jackets had a M*A*S*H unit going on the blue line.

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