[The Columbus Blue Jackets] said the magic words to MacKenzie and Wilson: "Get a place." On 2-way contracts, but told they'll be staying w #CBJ.First, and let's not minimize this, let's congratulate Derek Mackenzie and Kyle Wilson. Both guys are former AHL lifers who have busted their tails off to stick in the NHL and, for both guys, it's the first times in their careers that they will actually do so. I waxed (reasonably) eloquent about Wilson after his shootout winner on Monday night, and my "Time to Step Up" piece on MacKenzie says all I need to say on him. Presuming that the two guys perform at an NHL level, more power to them. It's great to see merit getting rewarded, something that both Scott Arniel and Scott Howson are doing despite the strange world of the NHL collective bargaining agreement, with issues involving waivers, one-way/two-way contracts, salary caps, etc.
Pleasantries aside, let's get to the heart of the matter. Why is the front office telling these two guys to plan on sticking around for the season at this specific moment?
Was there a league deadline that I didn't know about? I find that doubtful, seeing as my other NHL sources aren't suggesting that other teams are making similar roster-settling moves.
Is it just an early Christmas gift, which surely is possible?
Just perhaps, is something else afoot? Is Scott Howson squaring up his roster to make a move or two?
Fox Sports Ohio's Eric Smith offers some insights that, taken in a grander sense, could offer insights as to whom Scott Arniel wouldn't be too upset to part with. In fact, these healthy scratches might be not-so-subtle signals to Howson as to whom he would not be heartbroken at losing.
Not surprisingly, there are a number of defensemen in that particular mix (the most recent being my very own 2009-2010 Columbus Blue Jackets Most Valuable Player, Fedor Tyutin). And why not? I've been mulling over the recent CBJ defensive deficiencies with The Greatest Sports Reporter In The World (Check, please!), 97.1 The Fan's Lori Schmidt, I learned that the CBJ's team ranking for Goals Against per Game dropped from 4th in the NHL to 14th during the recent slump. Not a good stat, one that needs to be addressed sooner than later.
Arniel and Howson have (more or less) planted their flags in the soil on the offensive side with the pronouncements that MacKenzie and Wilson will be in Columbus for the balance of the season, and both Mason and Garon appear ensconced in between the pipes with good reason, so that leaves the defensive corps. Who are they?
- Mike Commodore: $3.75MM cap hit, Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) after 2012-13
- Rusty Klesla: $2.975MM cap hit, UFA after 2013-14
- Fedor Tyutin: $2.843MM cap hit, UFA after 2011-12
- Jan Hejda: $2MM cap hit, UFA after this season
- Anton Stralman: $1.975MM cap hit, Restricted Free Agent (RFA) after this season
- Kris Russell: $1.3MM cap hit, RFA after 2012-13
- Marc Methot: $1.0125MM cap hit, RFA after this season
Of that bunch, Marc Methot is the only one that I would probably make a point to try to hold onto despite what surely will be enticing offers. Methot - with Russell in second place - has best picked up the Arniel/Berry style of defense the best.
In fact, looking at that list, there's an argument to be made that the performance/fit of the CBJ defensive corps is almost perfectly inversely proportionate to the amount of money that they're making. Not sure I'm willing to make that pronouncement yet, but I'd listen to reasons why this is the case.
It would not surprise me if a forward had to be packaged with a defenseman to make a deal work for a Commodore or a Klesla - maybe a Tyutin - but the rest of the d-men are cheap enough and/or on short enough contracts that they could be moved with little trouble. And let's be clear - Columbus does have at least one or two forwards that any objective fan could consider expendable.
A few teams apparently are actively shopping around - I gather from XM's NHL Home Ice that both Ottawa (whom I understand has had a scout at CBJ games more often than not this season despite not even being in the same conference, let alone the same division) and Toronto have "for sale" signs almost permanently affixed to their roster sheets. Beyond that, Philadelphia, Anaheim, Vancouver, Florida Calgary and Carolina have already executed trades, meaning that they're clearly looking to shop. (Boston and Los Angeles could also go on the list, but the Marco Sturm trade apparently fell apart at the 11th hour.) And we cannot forget Edmonton/Hershey's Sheldon Souray, whom the Dispatch boys were lobbying for almost as hard as they pushed Scott Howson to hire Kevin Dineen as our head coach.
Lastly, let's consider history. Scott Howson has made a roster move around Christmas before - the Jason Chimera/Chris Clark-Milan Jurcina trade on December 29, 2009 with Washington. I'm not suggesting that he will do so again, but it does stand to reason that a trade well before the All-Star break actually has a chance at impacting the regular season, which is why Howson made that trade. If that's his thinking, then why not try it again?
Now, a disclaimer. I'm no fantasy hockey guru, nor do I know every team's roster and personnel proclivities. I'm also not an "Eklund" who floats teams and players seemingly willy-nilly in the hopes that a single wet noodle will actually stick.
I'm just suggesting that, in light of the recent CBJ slump, Arniel's almost palpable displeasure with the state of his defense (which is backed up by the already-mentioned statistics) and Scott Howson's past behavior, today's "Get a place" word to Wilson and MacKenzie may indeed be a sign of personnel activity to come.