“We are rapidly approaching a moment of truth both for ourselves as fans and for the life of our Blue Jacket nation. Now, truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary now to make a choice, to choose between two admittedly regrettable, but nevertheless *distinguishable*, post-season environments: one where you make surgical change, and the other where you go *nuclear* and start from scratch.”
With all due apologies to Stanley Kubrick, the Columbus Blue Jackets are at a crossroads. The more vocal among the fan-base are calling for the “nuclear” option of blowing up the club. While a case can be made for going this route, I highly doubt those fans realize exactly what it would entail. After 11 years of mediocre hockey, are they fully prepared for another 3-5 years of the same during a rebuild? That is what “going nuclear”, in this context, means. It means another 3-5 years of missing the playoffs. It means another 3-5 years of not quite meaningful hockey. It means another 3-5 years of giving the “pundits” around the NHL more ammunition in their quest to snuff out hockey in Columbus.
I believe there is another way to do it.
Yes, major change has to happen. It’s needed to happen for some time. But, this change needs to be surgical in nature. I’ll start with the Forwards and address Defense and Goaltending later.
The following are the players that I believe should be kept. In parentheses is the ending year of their current contract. (All numbers courtesy of CapGeek) Rick Nash (2018), Jeff Carter (2022), Derick Brassard (2014), Ryan Johansen (2014), Antoine Vermette (2015), Tomas Kubalik (2013), Ryan Russell (2012), Derek Dorsett (2012), Mark Letestu (2013), Colton Gillies (2013) and Vinny Prospal (2012). These players represent the “core” of the Forward corps.
Most of you will think I’m full of canine excrement for keeping Prospal, but I’ll tell you why. He is second only to Rick Nash in points, going 9-21-30 in 44 games. He knows what it takes to be successful in the NHL. He’ll be 37 years old next month and, to use my favorite term, has the “intangibles” that this club needs. GM Scott Howson admits he made a mistake in not re-signing Michael Peca for that very reason. A veteran presence in the room with his work ethic is worth its’ weight in gold.
To those who say “Rick, why would he want to sign an extension here” and “he’s worth more in a trade”, I say sweeten the offer to him. A 1-2 year contract with a place within the organization when he retires would be the right move. He understands the need for surgical repair versus the “nuclear” option. How can this be a bad thing? He would bring a wealth of knowledge to a club that desperately needs it.
As for the other Forwards, I say trade them for what you can get. They all have some value and, for the most part, GM Scott Howson has proven adept at making trades. In parentheses is the ending year of their current contract and dollar amount. Kristian Huselius (2012, $4.75M), RJ Umberger (2017, $4.6M), Samuel Pahlsson (2012, $2.65M), Jared Boll (2012, $725K), Derek MacKenzie (2012, $600K), Dane Byers (2012, $550K) all need to go. Umberger would bring the biggest return from this group, by far. At this point, bring up some of the kids from the clubs AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons to give them playing time in the NHL. The key is to let them play.
As for the Defense, the keepers would be (ending year of current contract in parentheses): James Wisniewski (2017), Fedor Tyutin (2018), John Moore (2014), Nikita Nikitin (2012) and David Savard (2013). These five players represent the core of the Defense and have proven that they belong here.
The defensemen that need to go are (ending year of contract, dollar amount in parentheses): Marc Methot (2015, $3M), Radek Martinek (2012, $2.2M), Grant Clitsome (2013, $1.25M) and Aaron Johnson (2012, $550K). Of this group, Methot would bring the biggest return. Once again, there are players in the AHL that can be called up to get experience.
And now to tackle that perennial shortcoming in Columbus, the Goaltending issue. The keepers (forgive the pun) should be Curtis Sanford (2012) and Mark Dekanich (2012). I’m not saying these two are your starter and back-up, just that they should be kept within the organization. It’s time for Steve Mason (2013, $2.9M) to go. This ship has sailed and to keep him would serve no purpose other than to prolong the agony. The old cliché does hold water, “a change of scenery will do him good”. The organization and fans have been more than patient with Mason, in the hopes that his “game” would come back. Alas, it has not. Thus, it is time to part ways with him.
This leaves 16 players, not including goalies, on the roster and is a surgical approach to re-tooling the club. The players I have suggested be kept all hold value in a rebuild and have proven their worth moving forward. While I know that Umberger is a fan favorite, his game seems to have stagnated. The other roster spots can be filled with short term signings and call-ups.
In regards to the coaching position, I’d like to see what Todd Richards can do between now and the end of the season before making a determination on him.
While this might seem personal, it is not. I have met and interviewed most of these players and they are all nice guys. But, the NHL is a business. The measure of success in this business is winning. The core of this club has the skill and with some re-tooling, they can take the next step and start winning. There is no need to go “nuclear”. The fans might think that’s the only way to make this club successful. To that I say, be careful what you wish for.