Trade discussions around the NHL are heating up as teams move closer declaring themselves as “buyers” or “sellers.”
And with the deadline looming, speculation arises with all the hockey pundits, including TSN’s Darren Dreger, who reported that the Blue Jackets could be on the verge of a major deal in yesterday’s version of The Dreger Report.
Sources around the league consider the Columbus Blue Jackets to be among those most eager and, perhaps, closest to making a significant deal.
Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson doesn’t speak publicly about trade negotiations and won’t comment on speculation that a few of his key players may be in play. However, Columbus goaltender Steve Mason (the 2009 NHL Rookie of the Year), young forward Jakub Voracek (selected seventh overall in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft) and 28-year-old defenseman Rusty Klesla—the Blue Jackets’ first-ever draft pick (fourth overall in 2000) are believed to be drawing trade interest.
The Blue Jackets’ needs are many, although a top line center and a high-quality defenseman are said to be on Howson’s wish list. Do I believe a significant trade is in the offing? Perhaps. But, for a team that’s in a very tough position to land a blockbuster deal, no less a team with an aggravated fanbase and mounting financial losses, their options are few but the stakes are at their highest in franchise history.
Why are the Blue Jackets in a bind, as it relates to trades? A look at their current record, their position in the Western Conference standings and their prospects for making the playoffs will reveal why.
The Blue Jackets currently have garnered 51 points—a record of 23-22-5; however, in order to qualify for the playoffs in the Western Conference, it should require approximately 94 points. Therefore, in order make the playoffs the Blue Jackets will have to accumulate 43 points over their last 32 games for the eighth and final playoff spot.
If you then assume that they can continue to maintain at least a .500 record on the road or slightly above that mark for their remaining 32 road games (16 points), it will then require accumulating 27 points in their 16 remaining home games. That would translate to garnering 27 out of a possible 32 points, which would necessitate a home record of at least 13-2-1.
So, if Howson were to make a trade, it would have to be for next season and not for the remainder of this current season.
So what are Howson’s trading options? The Jackets GM is very limited in his available trading partners. Teams that are doing well are in a position of strength and would be foolish to break up any sort of chemistry they already have. Those teams whose seasons are lost have nothing to lose, so they can demand a little bit extra in a trade counter-offer (what do they have to lose?). Also a position of strength.
So where does that leave Howson as to trading partners? Well, there is a type of team and partner that is available—a team who’s on the hot seat, a team that also possesses a restless fanbase, with a GM who’s well aware of being on the “hot seat” and knows he has to do “something;" in other words, a desperate team—something that the Blue Jackets also are.
And who are those teams? The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators.
To be kind, Toronto’s fans are passionate. Other adjectives used to describe them are manic and obsessive. This is an Original Six organization that has been deprived of even a taste of Stanley Cup glory or hope. They have seen, time and time again, failed plans and directions, including the current blueprint that Brian Burke has laid out.
Ottawa’s fans are also passionate and have grown weary of GM Bryan Murray’s dismantling of a once-respected former Stanley Cup playoffs finalist. They have long embraced Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson in the nation's capital, but have never embraced their other two elite forwards from their Stanley Cup Finals year of 2007, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. They have already paid the price in granting Heatley’s request to be traded (to San Jose) and the result has been an offensively-impaired team with an often-injured and disgruntled player in Spezza and an aging and less prolific Alfredsson.
Spezza has been the subject of speculation of being possibly traded, which has led to a dispassionate player in Spezza and a Senators team that continues to plummet in the standings, which has led to the recent—and dreaded—“vote of confidence” for both Murray and head coach Cory Clouston for a team that is in disarray.
So, what possible trades can the CBJ seize advantage of from these teams and possibly make an impact, now and in the future?
Voracek, Jan Hejda and a high draft choice (preferably a first or second-rounder) for Spezza and Brian Lee.
Nikita Filatov, Mathieu Garon and Samuel Pahlsson for Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg.
Let’s look at the first trade offering. Murray has made no secrets of his wishes to depart with Spezza and Lee who are both firmly in his doghouse. Murray has also mentioned his wishes to obtain a sturdy stay-at-home defenseman and Hejda would fit that bill. In Voracek, Murray obtains a high-energy wing with solid scoring potential, something the Sens lack, greatly. Murray would also acquire a draft pick, something that their development system desperately needs, particularly on their forward lines.
In Lee, who’s a right-handed shot and a defenseman with some offensive potential, you obtain a former first-round pick (ninth overall in 2005) who is a classic "change of scenery" guy. In Spezza, you obtain a highly motivated player, one who would finally fit the bill of the playmate Rick Nash has so sorely needed. A healthy Spezza is a classic point-a-game center and, with a sturdy wing like Nash, should light up the scoreboard at Nationwide Arena like never previously seen before. Nash and Spezza have also been linemates for Team Canada in prior world tournaments, so there’s some chemistry there.
The obstacle? You would take on approximately $4.5 million in salary, something the Blue Jackets have not been particularly known for ever engaging in. The risk? That Spezza’s run of injuries the past two seasons continues, which could cause the Blue Jackets some potential financial harm. But for an elite, bona fide center like Spezza, it would be worth taking on both the risk and the salary.
For the second trade offering, in acquiring Kaberle, the Blue Jackets would finally possess that elusive and elite power-play quarterback and puck-moving defenseman. The risk? If obtaining Kaberle was merely as a rental, particularly for a team like the Blue Jackets with limited playoff prospects.
If however they could re-sign Kaberle, his upside should be the very acquisition that could position the CBJ for the playoffs for future years, particularly if their cadre of young defensemen—Nick Holden, Cody Goloubef, John Moore and Dennis Savard—will be NHL-ready by next season. No offense to current AHL defenseman call-up Grant Clitsome, but if he can make that much of an impact to their previously atrocious power play, a move that was directly responsible for the Blue Jackets recent 3-1-2 run, imagine the impact of Kaberle hammering shots from the point.
In Versteeg, the Blue Jackets would obtain a high-energy, high-speed wing who’s not really a fit for Burke’s gritty vision of the Maple Leafs. Versteeg would also provide proven secondary scoring, something the Blue Jackets could use much more of. Plus, the Leafs have intimated that they would be willing to talk trade for Versteeg.
The Leafs would obtain an defensive-oriented, shutdown centerman in Pahlsson. There is also a familiarity with Pahlsson, as he used to center the Ducks shutdown line during their 2007 Stanley Cup season.
In Garon, the Leafs would also obtain a solid backup netminder. And rather than bide his time with a team with limited playoff prospects, as Toronto in the Eastern Conference, Garon could serve as a dependable backup goalie to Jean-Sebastian Giguere for their playoff push, or serve as insurance if Jonas Gustavsson continues to struggle in the NHL. Plus, as Howson has made no secrets that he intends to make Mason the franchise goalie, and as the playoff prospects are nearly over, this would be an ideal time to allow AHL goaltenders David Leneveu or Gustaf Wesslau to gain some valuable experience at the NHL level.
In Filatov, Burke obtains a speedy wing, someone who is awfully similar to Phil Kessel in style and someone, despite the recent negative reports of Filatov’s struggles at both the NHL and AHL level, was once ranked as the top prospect in hockey merely two seasons ago. And Burke, who once duped the Blue Jackets to trade away Francois Beauchemin to the Anaheim Ducks (for Sergei Federov) would love the opportunity to repeat history, albeit with a different Blue Jackets GM. Acquiring Filatov doesn’t come without risk, as Versteeg is a proven NHL scoring commodity. As for Filatov? The jury is still out.
Personally, I don’t see how either Mason, with his struggles, or Klesla would garner the type of return that would make a blockbuster trade possible. But while I’m skeptical as to the level of impact a Howson trade could make, these are two trade possibilities that could warrant some serious consideration.
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