With only eight games remaining in the 2010-2011 regular season, the Columbus Blue Jackets will clearly be playing for pride as their recent slump has put the playoffs out of reach.
After a stellar February put the Union Blue back into contention, a March with only two wins devastated their chances as well as their spirits.
These last eight games will be important for not only for the team, but for coach Scott Arniel and general manager Scott Howson as they look to an offseason most likely filled with changes.
It will be an interesting offseason for the Jackets as they have six unrestricted free agents, including newly acquired Scottie Upshall and Craig Rivet, as well as Andrew Murray, Chris Clark, Ethan Moreau, Jan Hejda and Mathieu Garon.
So who should the Blue Jackets fight to resign? Which player's time is up in Columbus? And who should the Blue Jackets look to acquire in what should be a busy, busy offseason.
Of the three players that were brought in before the trade deadline, none has made more of an immediate impact than Scottie Upshall.
Upshall brought toughness as well as offensive skill to Columbus at the trade deadline and has poured his heart and soul into each shift, even if the Blue Jackets are no longer playoff contenders. Since being acquired on February 28, Upshall has scored four goals, including one in his first game against Vancouver, as well as one assist.
Upshall has always given 110 percent for whatever team he plays for including Nashville, Philadelphia, Phoenix and now the Blue Jackets.
Every team in the league needs a player like Upshall on their team, so Upshall will be a hot commodity come this offseason, so the Blue Jackets should make resigning Upshall a top priority to make sure he stays in Columbus.
Moreau was one of the players that was acquired by general manager Scott Howson in the offseason last year. The former Oilers captain was brought on to give the young Blue Jackets leadership.
So far this season, Moreau has been a leader, but not much more. He has only scored one goal this season and five assists.
This season, Moreau has been bitten several times by the injury bug. He was placed on the injured reserve twice this season, once in October and again in January. Both times, Moreau was out for a more than a month and when he would return, he would be bothered with small injuries, keeping him on the sidelines.
His latest was a bruised foot suffered last week. He has tried to skate, but they have not gone well, and he has been seen in a protective boot.
Moreau has proven to be a great leader in the past, but the days of his prime are long behind him, and the Jackets should part ways with him come season's end.
Before this season's trade deadline, as several Blue Jackets names were tossed around as possible trade bait, I don't think anyone was mentioned more than Jan Hejda. Hejda was mentioned several times as a player Columbus would send in a package deal to get the player they wanted.
However, injuries to Rostislav Klesla and issues with Mike Commodore kept Hejda around past the deadline.
During the Blue Jackets' impressive February, Hejda registered five assists and played a lot better than he did in the beginning of the season. As the Blue Jackets began their downward spiral, Hejda was able to register three of his five goals in the month of March.
Hejda has stated in several interviews his desire to stay in Columbus and to help this team get back to the playoffs.
I think the Blue Jackets should resign Hejda in hopes that he can become a leader at the point and continue his impressive play.
A couple of days before the trade deadline, the Jackets claimed former Buffalo Sabres captain Craig Rivet off waivers.
Rivet had been a healthy scratch several times for Buffalo before being placed on waivers as the Sabres had deemed him too slow to keep up with the fast paced NHL.
Since being acquired, Rivet has struggled. Although in his first game against Calgary he was able to score a goal, he has not done anything to write home about since.
In the nine games that Rivet has been a Jacket, he has had a negative plus/minus rating in five of them, including a minus-two in an awful shutout loss to New Jersey.
Like Moreau, Rivet's best days are behind him. He brings a great deal of experience to a very young Blue Jackets team, but his days in Columbus are numbered.
This was the only one I went back and forth with whether or not to release or re-sign.
Former captain Chris Clark brings a lot of leadership to a young Blue Jackets team. Last season, he was traded by the Washington Capitals, along with Milan Jurcina to Columbus for Jason Chimera.
Clark struggled last year, as did the rest of the team, finishing with a minus-eight plus/minus rating. So far this season, Clark has five goals and nine assists in the 51 games he has played in.
Recently, Clark suffered a lower body injury last week and could be done for the rest of the season. With the sudden emergence of youngster Matt Calvert, it is unknown whether or not Clark will be re-signed at the end of the season.
The Jackets may opt to keep Clark for the third and fourth lines or they may decide to release him in favor of younger players such as Derick Dorsett, Jared Boll and possibly Scottie Upshall.
If I had to guess, I would say Clark will be released.
Murray has been with the Jackets since the 2007-2008 season. Primarily a fourth line center, he has never registered more than 10 goals in a season.
Murray has played well on Columbus' fourth line, however Columbus has a surplus of centers on their roster, and he could be in the process of being squeezed out as Derek MacKenzie has impressed on the fourth line.
MacKenzie took over the center position on the fourth line and was the spark that the Jackets needed at the time, scoring five goals in the month of March. Because of this, Murray has been a healthy scratch.
The Jackets are also looking for a No. 1 center to play alongside Rick Nash, and if they are able to acquire that center, Columbus would have to make room. Derick Brassard would most likely move to second or third line with Antoine Vermette centering the other. MacKenzie will be around for awhile, and Murray may be the odd man out at the end of the season.
The Blue Jackets will most likely also have to make room for top ranked prospect Ryan Johansen, who may be on his way to Columbus at the start of next season.
If the Jackets do end up re-signing him, I would expect him to spend most of his time in Springfield.
At the beginning of the season, I wrote an article that stated, why in my opinion, Mathieu Garon should have been the starter instead of youngster Steve Mason. Garon began the year with stellar play, winning six of his first seven starts while Mason struggled.
However, lately Garon has not been reliable. Since January, in the nine games Garon has started, he has only won two of them.
Most of his time, after the new year, was spent on the bench as Mason played well during the Jackets hot streak. But when the Union Blue turned to Garon when Mason struggled after the trade deadline, Garon was not much help.
Neither of the goalies have done a superb job this season, but seeing as Steve Mason is younger and recently received an extension at the end of last season, he will probably be around next year.
For Garon, he may be released as the Jackets will look for a more reliable backup for Mason or two new goaltenders all together.
Other than Rick Nash, the Columbus Blue Jackets left wingers are not getting the job done. Kristian Huselius and Ethan Moreau have both spent most of the season on injured reserve, and when healthy, neither have played well.
Rookie Matt Calvert was called up late this season and has played well so far but is still young and inexperienced. He has also spent a lot of his time at right wing with injuries to Chris Clark and poor play from Jakub Voracek.
A player that could be a huge help in the left wing position as well as be a leader and teacher to the younger players is Simon Gagne.
Gagne, currently with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has had his fare share of injuries, but when he is healthy, he is a great player.
Before he signed with the Lightning, Gagne helped lead the Philadelphia Flyers to the Stanley Cup playoffs. He returned to the lineup from injury at the perfect time, as he scored the game-winning goal in overtime to start the Flyers amazing comeback against the Boston Bruins when they were down 3-0 in the series.
In Game 7 of that series, Gagne would again be the man to score the game winner, as he scored the fourth unanswered goal to put the Flyers up 4-3 and put them through to the Eastern Conference Championship against Montreal.
Gagne is an older player, but he has the playoff experience that the Blue Jackets lack, and I feel he still has a lot left in the tank, and if the Lightning don't re-sign him, I would hope the Jackets would make a push for him.
Like mentioned earlier, the Blue Jackets are in need of a top line center that can play alongside Rick Nash. One option is Brad Richards, but come on, let's be reasonable, the chances of the Jackets being able to lure Richards to Columbus over teams like the Kings, Rangers and Maple Leafs is slim to none.
So a second option could be Buffalo Sabres center Tim Connolly. So far this year, Connolly has recorded 11 goals and 23 assists in 60 games and had a career-high 65 points last season.
Connolly may not be the No. 1 center in Buffalo because of stellar players like Derek Roy and newly acquired Brad Boyes, but Connolly could be a No. 1 center for Columbus.
Connolly's name was brought up when Jackets center Derick Brassard was placed on injured reserve with an injured hand in February, but nothing was done.
Connolly is a great center and could run the first line with Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek, while Derick Brassard runs the second line with RJ Umberger and Matt Calvert, and Antoine Vermette runs the third line with Scottie Upshall and Derek Dorsett
If Steve Mason is going to be the No. 1 guy in net, then the Jackets are going to need a more reliable backup.
One option is Mike Smith. Smith was the No. 1 goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning until the acquisitions of Dwayne Roloson and Dan Ellis sent him to the minors. Ellis has since been traded to Anaheim, and Smith has been brought back to back up Roloson.
While with Tampa Bay, Smith has struggled, but a change of scenery may be just what he needs, and he could compete with Mason for the No. 1 spot, which would hopefully make Mason play harder with his job no longer a sure thing.
Other goaltending options Columbus could pursue is Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Tomas Vokoun and Brian Boucher. Giguere and Vokoun will be attracting attention from teams that could pay them a lot more money and Boucher may be resigned by Philadelphia as he has played well this year backing up rookie Sergei Bobrovsky.
If Boucher is re-signed, then the Flyers will have three goalies, with Michael Leighton currently in the AHL. Leighton could be an option for the Blue Jackets if the Flyers choose to let him go.
Leighton played well for the Flyers during the Stanley Cup playoffs except for the Finals against the Blackhawks where he was so-so. Leighton was going to be the No. 1 guy for the Flyers this year until injuries required him to get surgery. While on the shelf, the young Russian Bobrovsky was discovered and the Flyers have not looked back since.
The Jackets will most likely put an offensive minded defenseman as their No. 1 priority this offseason. That has been the Jackets Achilles heel this season, and they failed to fill that void at the deadline when a pursuit of Colorado's John-Michael Liles fell through.
One of the most offensive minded defenseman in the free-agent pool is Vancouver's Kevin Bieksa. Bieksa is a physical and aggressive defenseman that the Jackets would benefit greatly from if they were able to acquire him.
His offensive numbers have decreased this season, but this was because Bieksa has been working on his defensive game. In the past, Bieksa has been known to make high-risk plays that create scoring opportunities for opposing teams.
Bieksa finds himself as one of the many defenseman that the Canucks currently have, and the Canucks find themselves over the salary cap. Bieksa, who has been part of trade rumors for the past few season, may be allowed to look elsewhere so Vancouver could clear some cap space.
One of the biggest trade deadline acquisitions this season was the New York Rangers getting the services of defenseman Bryan McCabe. The Jackets had been mentioned early in being interested in McCabe, but in the end, the Rangers came out on top.
Now, it is yet to be seen if McCabe is in the Rangers long-term plans or if he was acquired just to try and put the Rangers over the playoff bar.
If it turns out that McCabe was just a rental, then the Jackets could benefit greatly from McCabe if they could acquire him. The former Florida Panthers captain does not register a large amount of goals, but he was an assist machine for the Panthers before being dealt to the Rangers.
McCabe also brings leadership to the table as the Jackets are still a very young team. The Jackets currently have three former captains in Craig Rivet, Chris Clark and Ethan Moreau, but if you look at previous slides, it is unknown whether those three will be in Jackets uniforms next season.