Columbus Blue Jackets: Offseason Strategy

Rob MixerContributor IJune 11, 2008

It's no secret that the Blue Jackets have been an ugly duckling of sorts in the Western Conference. Seven years and nary a playoff berth to speak of. New management has brought a new attitude, and believe it or not, the team is under a "win now" mandate.

About time, you think?

Scott Howson fleeced Colorado Avalanche GM Francois Giguere at the trade deadline, acquiring the club's first-round pick (19th overall) for Adam Foote. With the chances of the grizzled veteran re-signing in Denver dwindling, the deal looks golden.

Coupled with the Blue Jackets' sixth overall pick in the June draft, things are coming together for a major summer in Ohio's capital.

Howson has told members of the media that in order to move the sixth pick, it would take a "very special player." Today, he said that he thinks 10-12 current players worthy of the sixth pick, and only three who are likely to be moved. My job is to break down what is logical and smart for the Blue Jackets, and what could possibly happen.

Just this week, the Columbus Dispatch reported of preliminary trade talks between the Penguins and the Blue Jackets, potentially dealing with two of the Penguins' pending unrestricted free agents.

The consensus picks here are Ryan Malone and Brooks Orpik, both coming off impressive playoff performances. These kinds of discussions remind us of the Flyers-Predators deal last summer, which was in exchange for the 23rd pick in a much weaker draft.

Should the two players agree to contracts with Columbus, it's a safe bet the Penguins will be compensated with the 19th pick, acquired from the Avalanche. If Ray Shero sees zero chance in re-signing those two, he may even bite on the Blue Jackets' second-round pick (#37) and a roster player such as defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.

Enough talk, though. Let's make some predictions...

At center, the Blue Jackets are in serious need of assistance. If they could avoid bumping promising youngster Derick Brassard to the No. 2 center slot, all the better. First, the top-line center job needs to be filled, and very quickly. The Sharks may have interest in moving Patrick Marleau, who will carry a no-trade clause when his new contract kicks in July 1.

1. A deal centered around the No. 6 pick and a third-round pick might get the job done. If the Sharks want a roster player, package Nikolai Zherdev with the No. 37 pick and see what happens. New Sharks coach Todd McLellan has had great success in recent years developing Russian players, namely Pavel Datsyuk.

2. The second center position could be filled using a similar deal, potentially using Gilbert Brule or Dan Fritsche as bait with the No. 19 pick to acquire Antoine Vermette, a pending restricted free agent, along with negotiating rights to defenseman Wade Redden. Two major holes are filled for Columbus, while the Senators have a little more wiggle room to acquire Top Six talent in free agency.

3. Defense is another glaring hole for the Blue Jackets, but only a couple spots need filled. Top-end talent isn't going to be readily available, and they will have to overpay or out-bid bigger market clubs to get what they want. Let's go ahead and cross Brian Campbell of the list now, because he will priced out of the Blue Jackets' range, and is likely to stay in San Jose. Should Orpik join the Blue Jackets, complementing him with Wade Redden might not be a bad idea. By filling those two holes, the back end for Columbus doesn't look so meager as in years past.

Jan Hejda had a breakout year on the shutdown pair with Adam Foote and Rostislav Klesla, boasting a team-leading +20 rating. He and Klesla will be the anchors going into next season, and it remains to be seen if late-season bloomers Kris Russell and Aaron Rome can crack the lineup this fall.

Some of this might seem like wishful thinking, but management has made it very clear in numerous interviews and meetings this off-season that the Blue Jackets are undergoing a serious facelift.

Coach Ken Hitchcock expects six to eight new faces on his roster by the fall, and has gone on record saying he thinks his club needs some outside help.

Agreed, coach. Agreed.

--Rob Mixer