Blue Jackets Add Some 'Flame' To Offense, But at What Price?

Tyler CharlesCorrespondent IJuly 2, 2008

Day two of the NHL free agency period has come and gone, so did the Blue Jackets springboard off yesterday's successes?

After signing Mike Commodore and trading for Raffi Torres on Tuesday, the Jackets set out to add a puck moving defensemen as well as a top line center to play alongside Rick Nash.

The first deal of the day came late in the afternoon, with Columbus sending former first round-draft pick Nikolai Zherdev and grinder Dan Fritsche to the New York Rangers for defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman. 

Now, many Blue Jackets fans were up in arms over this trade, because essentially, the Jackets were losing a combined 83 points from '07-'08 and weren't receiving that kind of production in return.  So in some eyes, this trade may look like a complete disaster. 

But Tyutin and Backman will provide more for the Blue Jackets than Scott Howson is given credit for at the moment.  Tyutin is a young defensemen who plays tough and physical, and he's the kind of guy who puts in long, hard minutes. 

He's also one of the offensive-minded defensemen that Howson has been looking to bring on board this summer, and he's coming off his second best season statistically, with five goals and 15 assists.  With 131 shots last season, he is putting the puck on the net, which is what the Jackets have needed from their defensemen.  Tyutin's valuable experience on the powerplay can't hurt either. 

Christian Backman isn't far behind Tyutin, as last season he tallied three goals and 15 assists.  Backman split time between St. Louis and New York last season, and he put up better numbers with the Rangers towards the end of the year, so we can expect some solid play out of him.

The gap at forward left by Zherdev was quickly filled when the Jackets signed former Calgary winger Kristian Huselius to a four-year/$19 million contract late Wednesday night.  This is an IMMEDIATE upgrade to the Jackets' lineup, and this could easily be just as important of a signing as Mike Commodore was on Tuesday. 

Huselius SHOULD play on the top line, as he has valuable experience playing with a team's star player, and works to get everyone on his line involved in the play.  Huselius has netted 59 goals the past two seasons in Calgary, far exceeding the production of Nikolai Zherdev, who had 36.

A key difference between Huselius and Zherdev is their playing philosophy.  Zherdev continued to be more of a "hotshot" under Hitchcock, and his toe-drags caused more turnovers than goals in the offensive zone. 

Huselius is a proven "assists" player, and is willing to pass the puck if it means scoring a goal.  And having 41 assists while Jarome Iginla scored 50 goals speaks volumes to the chemistry he has with linemates.  Rick Nash will see plenty of opportunities to find the net if he plays with Huselius.

So, was it worth the price to send away two fan-favorites in order to improve the team?  I say YES!  A resounding yes, at that.  This team is definitely headed in the right direction with the moves they made today.

However, the Jackets set out to find their top line center and a prominent puck moving defensemen, and today's deals did not yield either of those.  Brendan Morrison was tabbed to be "the guy", but he has since told The Dispatch that he is no longer considering Columbus. 

Scott Howson will have to return to the drawing board to find someone who can fill the void down the middle, since most of the big guns have been picked up by other clubs. 

As for the rest of the week, I don't see the Jackets making very many moves over the next couple of days, because Howson is not the type of man who will throw money at the next best guy.  Look for the Jackets to spend some time to look at what they have available, and who would fit in with their vision.  From there, more pieces of the puzzle will be added.

It will take time, but you can expect that come October, the best Blue Jackets team in its history will take the ice.



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