Columbus Blue Jackets: 5 Issues Facing the Team in the Offseason
This season has been nothing but a disaster for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After the most aggressive offseason in franchise history, trading away their first-round pick for center Jeff Carter and signing top free-agent defenseman James Wisniewski, the Jackets were prepared to emerge as a contender in the Western Conference.
However, after a preseason suspension to Wisniewski and Carter struggling with injuries early, Columbus stumbled out of the gate and found themselves at the bottom of the NHL standings.
This would bring about several trade rumors, including Carter asking for a trade in November and the Jackets looking for a goaltender to replace the struggling Steve Mason.
The most surprising event to happen during the season was when the Jackets' front office made it known that the captain and face of the franchise, Rick Nash, was available before the February trade deadline.
Columbus made it clear what they wanted in return and it seemed that not many teams were willing to agree to such a hefty payment for Nash's services.
As the trade deadline came and went, the Jackets were able to trade Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings for a first-round pick and Jack Johnson, but Nash remained with the team.
Many believe that Nash will still be traded in the offseason as teams will be more willing to give the Jackets what they want in return.
Whether or not the team will trade him this offseason is just one of the several issues the Jackets will have to deal with this offseason.
1) Finding a Permanent Head Coach
Last summer, former Minnesota Wild head coach Todd Richards was hired by the Blue Jackets to be the team's assistant coach behind head coach Scott Arniel.
In 2010-2011, Arniel's first season with the team, the Jackets found themselves in the heat of a playoff battle, but they struggled in the final month and missed yet another year of postseason play.
With Richards' past success with the man advantage, it was believed that his hiring would help the Jackets' power play improve, as well as their overall offensive numbers.
However, the Jackets were in the bottom of the statistics when it came to offensive numbers, which is one of the reasons that led to the team firing Arniel and promoting Richards to interim head coach on January 9th.
Since then, Columbus has continued to struggle, but they've shown some signs of life, going 12-19 since Richards took over, including a four-game win streak at the beginning of March, their first since November 2010.
It is unknown whether or not Richards will be promoted to permanent head coach at the end of the season, but he will certainly be considered.
The players in the locker room are fond of Richards and having a familiar face behind the bench this offseason could help the team drastically.
If Richards can put together a strong showing to finish the season, he could very well likely be back for the Jackets next season.
2) Finding a Franchise Goaltender
Although he has had some strong outings recently, the reign of Steve Mason as the Jackets' No. 1 goaltender will be coming to an end this offseason, according to the Columbus Dispatch.
Since winning the Calder Trophy in 2009, Mason has had three straight seasons of unimpressive play where he has struggled with consistency.
It was believed following the end of last season that the team would look for a new No. 1, but instead the team signed two backups in Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford and kept Mason as their main man in net.
This season, Mason has put together his worst season to date with a 13-23 record, including career lows in goals-against average (3.26) and save percentage (.896).
Early in the season, the Jackets were looking for a replacement for Mason and some of the names brought up included Boston's Tuukka Rask, Vancouver's Cory Schneider and Los Angeles' Johnathan Bernier.
The asking price in return for any of these goalies was high, but when the Jackets were looking to trade both Jeff Carter and Rick Nash, one piece thought to be asked for in return was a proven goaltender.
This put these three teams in the rumor mill of teams interested in Carter and Nash, possibly as front-runners.
However, the trade deadline passed and Columbus was unable to acquire the goaltender they needed.
When asked, general manager Scott Howson stated that the team would finish the season with Mason and backup Allen York, who is filling in for the injured Sanford, and will explore their options this offseason.
This offseason, their options will be plentiful, as the team may still trade Nash for immediate impact players and Vancouver's Schneider is set to become a free agent as well.
The team's biggest need may be receiving an upgrade this offseason.
3) Are They Reshaping or Rebuilding?
With the Jackets struggling this season, there were rumors that the front office would look to take part in a fire sale, trading away their top players to playoff contenders in exchange for prospects and draft picks.
The idea of rebuilding the franchise would mean the Jackets plan on spending a few more years at the bottom of the league's standings while building a strong young foundation like the Chicago Blackhawks and Edmonton Oilers have done in past seasons.
Players like Rick Nash, Jeff Carter and Derick Brassard were all mentioned as players that could be traded for draft picks to begin the process.
As already mentioned, Carter was traded to the Los Angeles Kings for young defenseman Jack Johnson and the team's first-round pick in either 2012 or 2013.
However, the move of Carter would be the only major move the Jackets would make, as the team made minor trades of Antoine Vermette and Samuel Pahlsson, both for draft picks.
After the trade for Carter, Columbus general manager Scott Howson revealed that the team was "reshaping" rather than rebuilding.
With reshaping, instead of trading their top players for just picks, the Jackets will look to acquire immediate impact players as well that can mentor the team's prospects to try and speed up the improvement process.
This is a risky move for Howson because if they reshape instead of rebuild, they will most likely be expected to show major improvements from this season next year.
If they had chosen to rebuild, the expectations for the next few seasons would be low, possibly keeping Howson in Columbus.
Howson will most likely be out of a job if the Jackets cannot drastically improve next season.
4) Whether or Not to Trade Their First-Round Pick
With the Jackets' struggles this season, they will most likely receive the first overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft by way of the lottery.
The pick would most likely be used on Russian winger Nail Yakupov, a player that could make an immediate impact for the Jackets next season.
Selecting Yakupov could also bring a replacement for Rick Nash if the team were to trade him before the entry draft.
One option the Jackets could use the pick for is acquiring immediate help at the goaltending position as well as swap first-round picks with the other team.
Columbus has had an unmemorable history when it comes to Russian first-round picks (Nikolai Zherdev, Nikita Filatov) and may look to pick another top 10 prospect instead of trying for a third time.
However, Adam Gretz from CBS Sports made a good point that the Jackets should not pass on a talent like Yakupov just because he is Russian.
The fact that they could not develop Zherdev and Filatov does not mean they should avoid drafting another Russian, but it only proves that the team's development staff has not done their job.
Picking Yakupov should be the Jackets' No. 1 option, as he is a player they could build a franchise around.
There is only one logical reason they should not draft him and that is if another team makes an offer that the team can not refuse, one that fills several of the Jackets' needs.
Does Rick Nash Stay or Go?
Rick Nash was the most talked-about player before the February trade deadline this season.
After spending close to nine seasons in Columbus, the team that drafted him in 2002, the relationship seemed to be coming to an end.
However, Nash was not traded at the deadline because Scott Howson was not willing to lower his asking price for the 27-year-old.
Howson was asking for a front-line player, a top prospect or two and a first-round draft pick.
Although he was not traded before the deadline, many teams stated that they may be more willing to work with Howson at the end of the season so that they would not have to tear their roster apart during the middle of a playoff race.
After the deadline passed, it was revealed that Nash was the one that had asked for the trade because he was informed that the team was rebuilding and felt that trading him could help bring the team important assets.
Nash loves the city of Columbus as well as the Blue Jackets and wants to do whatever it takes to help this franchise succeed.
With the Jackets deciding to "reshape" rather than rebuild, would there be any chance the front office would change their mind and keep Nash in town?
Instead of trading Nash, the Jackets could trade their first-round pick for a franchise goaltender and continue to build a strong core around Nash in free agency.
With the acquisition of Jack Johnson, the team's defense is the strongest it's been in some time and acquiring a goaltender would only strengthen that core.
Columbus could look to free agency to acquire the necessary scoring to help the team not only look better on paper, but on the ice as well.
As much as some Columbus fans would like that (this writer included), this is a scenario not likely to happen.
The team's front office tried doing this exact same thing last year, building around Nash with Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, and we all saw how that worked out.
Although he will most likely be on another team next season, Nash will always be a fan favorite in Columbus.