Well, it's May in Columbus, which means it's time for our annual tradition of watching playoff hockey...in other cities.
Scott Howson had his 'trial run,' and now Columbus’ fans are going to start pressuring him more than they ever pressured MacLean. The team, who has been the worst in the NHL during their tenure in the league, finally showed promise this year.
They showed they had personality, grit, and determination on defense. They hit more than in any previous season. They back checked more than in any previous season.
They killed penalties better than in any previous season. They had better goaltending than in any previous season.
What is the reason for this? It's hardly worth the time typing that question. The entire hockey world knows that these are the foundations of a Ken Hitchcock team.
The foundation is in place. Now it's time for the team to make moves this summer that will guarantee success. The team needs to improve.
More so, the team needs to improve at a pace better than the Blackhawks and the Blues, who both will see large jumps in the standings next season.
There are two things to consider: who do we have that is necessary, and who do we need to add to complete the equation?
The current lineup: For the most part, I'm not unhappy with the Jackets’ roster. Most of the team plays well defensively, contribute on the forecheck, etc. The biggest issue is the serious lack of scoring.
Whom do we keep? First and foremost: We keep Jan Hejda. Done, and done. Signed for next year. Hejda was the Jackets’ most reliable player last season. Period. He played heavy minutes.
He had the best plus/minus in team history. He spent the whole season with Adam Foote, which helped him out, you might say. Wrong. He helped Foote. Adam Foote was a disappointment in Columbus before this season.
He looked like he lost a step, took dumb penalties, etc. It was the year he spent with Hejda that finally made him look good again. More so: when Foote left, Hejda's game didn't fall off, it improved.
Michael Peca: Peca has been one of my favorite players for years. I loved him in Buffalo. I loved him on the Island.
He is a great defensive minded forward who hits, forchecks, backchecks, makes responsible choices, and does all those things Hitchcock demands of his players.
What didn't he do this year? Score. He had a poor year offensively. His job is not as a scorer, and especially not as a scorer on the top lines.
Peca thrives as a checking forward who gets his offense from great choices and defensive play. He also can shut down the top lines of others.
Peca MUST be resigned. Unfortunately, he will not be all because of his inability to score more than eight goals this season.
Nikolai Zherdev: He brings fans out of their seats. He can make great passes. He has a decent wrist shot. He's fast and creative. He's improving his game defensively and become more of a team player and teammate in general.
He will also never fit in entirely with a Ken Hitchcock team. Zherdev is happiest in a run-and-gun style game. He wants to play pond hockey.
He belongs in Ottawa, LA, Chicago, or Carolina (wouldn't it be fun to see a Zherdev-Samsonov line succeed?). This isn't a knock on Zherdev.
It's just a realization that the Bluejackets will lose every single time they try to play run-and-gun.
Ron Hainsey: He reminds me a ton of Christian Backman. He is big (6-foot-3) but doesn't play that way. Backman and Hainsey play under their size.
They should be playing tougher Adrian Aucoin style hockey, but instead they try to play like Sergei Zubov: slick and offensive minded.
They won't succeed like that. Period. And that's too bad because I like Ron Hainsey, just not in Columbus.
Gilbert Brule/Derrick Brassard: The Jackets WILL trade a prospect this summer, and it will be one of these two. Most likely, it will be Brule. Why?
Brule has had a horrible time scoring in the NHL, whereas Brassard managed to look somewhat decent in his brief NHL tenure. I disagree with this for a few reasons.
One: because Brule hasn't been successful in the NHL, Brassard will attract a better deal due to his higher trade value. Brassard may be better offensively than Brule...today...but that may only be temporary.
Brule looks to be a late bloomer. After all, Chris Drury was older than Brule is today before even joining the NHL. He wasn't a star yet, he was a third liner on a really good Colorado team.
Brule has another season or two to go. But until his offense catches up to the NHL, his ability to play Hitchcock style hockey started showing up already in the latter part of this season.
Brule hits, forechecks, and backchecks. He’s no Mike Peca, or maybe not even a Jerrod Boll, but he will start surprising people as soon as next season.
And, considering the quickly rising stock or Jakub Voracek, Derrick Brassard has now become expendable as trade-bait.
Whom do the Jackets acquire? Many will demand high-priced free agents who will score and score and score. Sounds nice.
I know, Jaromir Jagr, Ollie Jokinen, Patrick Marleau and others will most likely be available this summer, but high price and clout does not mean a great fit for the Jackets.
Sean Avery: Yes. I said Sean Avery. No, I'm not kidding. This guy is perfect for this team. He and Boll give the Jackets a 1-2 punch in the physical forechecking department. But Avery brings even more to the table.
In the last three years, he has averaged 16 goals a year. This alone puts him third on the Jackets in goals.
He’s smart. He’s tough. He's creative. (He had a rule changed take place in mid-playoff because he tried something that hadn't been done and hadn't been banned yet. Your opinion of the act aside, that was creative).
He LOVES to win and does what it takes. He'll hit and fight, but he'll also work the power play and, oh yeah. This notorious trouble maker may be tough and take penalties and earn infamy around the league year after year, but he's never been suspended.
He knows where the line is and though he may try to move it or straddle it, he doesn't cross it.
Wade Redden: The Ottawa Senators of the past decade or so. They saw Patrick Lalime, Dominick Hasek, Ray Emery, and others. None of whom were the game breaker they needed.
They had pre-Heatley high-scoring teams. They had post-Chara teams who stopped offensive teams in their tracks.
Besides Alfreddson, who else was so steadfast and reliable every single season he spent in Ottawa? Wade Redden was near the top of the league in plus/minus year after year.
He’s +159 in his career. Since 1999-2000, he hasn't scored less than 34 points in a season and has gotten as high as 50. He's responsible, mobile, a great passer, has a decent shot, is a leader, and is only 30.
Ottawa will be revamping this season, and this is Columbus' chance to get that defenseman they hoped for in Luke Richardson, Scott Lachance, Adam Foote, etc.
He will shore up the Jackets’ back end, giving the team two top-pairings (assuming Klesla and Hejda are pairing number one, Redden can lead the second pair).
There are forwards that the Jackets need and could definitely afford, but unless they make sure they are 100 percent solid on the back end and in following Hitchcock's mold, it won't matter.
On a Hitchcock team, offense comes from backchecking, bodychecking, and solid defense.