NHL Free Agency: Are the Columbus Blue Jackets Done Shopping?
Coming into the offseason, the Columbus Blue Jackets had several holes in the lineup that needed to be filled before the beginning of next season.
The main positions that needed assistance were center, defenseman and backup goaltender.
The Blue Jackets made their first move before the draft when they traded away young Jakub Voracek and two draft picks for All-Star center Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers. Carter is an instant upgrade at a position that the Jackets have struggled with for quite some time.
The Jackets next move came just hours before the beginning of free agency when they were able to re-sign defenseman James Wisniewski after acquiring his rights from the Montreal Canadiens. Wisniewski's power play abilities have been coveted by the Blue Jackets dreadful man-advantage, which ranked 29th last season.
With two high-profile acquisitions before free agency, the Jackets decided to go a different direction with a backup goaltender. At the end of day one in free agency, Columbus signed two young goaltenders in Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford, with Dekanich most likely backing up Steve Mason.
The Jackets would finish up the majority of their free agent signings with defenseman Radek Martinek and Vinny Prospal, who was signed after Kristian Huselius suffered an injury and would not be ready for the start of next season.
So, as of right now, it seems that the Blue Jackets have the final pieces to next year's team in place.
However, looking at some of the remaining free agents that have yet to find a new home, the Blue Jackets could still improve before next season.
The two positions where questions still remain are on defense and in net.
The main defensive question mark is recently acquired Radek Martinek. Throughout his 10-year career with the New York Islanders, Martinek was never afraid to take one for the team and block shots. With that style of play comes a lot of different injuries.
Martinek has suffered his share of injuries in his career including a broken leg in the 2006-2007 season, a torn ligament in his knee in 2009, and his most recent concussion/spinal injury during the World Championships in April.
Even though Martinek was thoroughly examined by the Blue Jackets' staff and cleared before the team decided to sign him, having a player with such a long list of injuries can be risky.
If the Slovakian defenseman finds himself back on injured reserve next season, the Jackets would most likely look to their young prospect defenseman in John Moore, David Savard or Nick Holden.
However, the Jackets could look to free agency to find a backup plan in a veteran seventh defenseman. One name still available is Bryan McCabe.
McCabe's best days may be behind him, but he still has at least one more year in him and having a veteran presence on the blue line could help a young Jackets defense.
Of the top six defenseman, Martinek is the only player over the age of 30. The Jackets are still young and could benefit from McCabe's 16 years of experience.
One player that could benefit from McCabe is the Jackets' power play quarterback Wisniewski. Wisniewski has been handed the keys to the Blue Jackets man-advantage, but does not have a lot of experience with being the top dog.
Regardless of what the Blue Jackets front office chooses to do come next season, the blue line is still an improvement from last season.
When it comes to positional improvement, the Jackets' goaltending situation is a different story. The Jackets lost veteran goaltender Mathieu Garon to free agency and added two goaltenders on to take his place.
Between the two new additions, Sanford has more NHL experience, but hasn't played in the league in three years. The 31-year old was signed to a two-way deal and will most likely start the season with the Jackets' AHL affiliate in Springfield.
After Dekanich was signed, Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson declared him to be the team's backup behind Mason believing that he was ready for the big leagues:
"We think he's ready," Howson said. "It's a bit of a risk but we think he's ready. Given what was available after a few hours, no doubt. There are top goalies in the American League who are ready for a chance. Eventually, these guys play. Why can't they play here?"
The keyword in that statement is "risk," which having Dekanich as a backup is a big one.
Mason has struggled in the Jackets past two seasons with inconsistency and one of the main ways to counteract that is with a good backup. Even with the additions of Carter and Wisniewski, the pressure still remains on Mason to deliver the kind of numbers from his rookie season when he won the Calder Trophy.
If Mason continues to struggle, the weight will fall to Dekanich who could easily break under the pressure.
Even though Mason has three NHL seasons under his belt, he is still young at age 23. For young up-and-coming goalies like Mason, one great way to teach is to have a veteran back-up goalie that can show them the ropes, like Marty Turco did for the Blackhawks with Corey Crawford.
One veteran goalie still available is Ray Emery.
Emery is only 28 years old, but has been in the league since 2002.
He came up big last season when he helped the Anaheim Ducks reach the postseason after the team acquired him late in the season.
In nine regular season games, Emery went 7-2 and finished with a 2.28 goals against average.
Signing Emery to a one-year deal would add depth and experience to the Jackets goaltending position. Mason, like Emery, started his NHL career at the ripe age of 20 and having someone who has experienced that pressure could be a huge help to Mason.
For a team that is looking to become a playoff contender, having two young goaltenders, as well as an injury prone defender are big risks for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Risks that the team hopes will pay off and help lead them to their second playoff appearance in franchise history.
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