Columbus Blue Jackets: Evaluating the Offseason Moves
At a point when many thought it could not get any worse for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers proved the Jackets are the worst team in the NHL. The Jackets gave up eight goals in just 40 minutes and were embarrassed in a 9-2 beat-down.
During the offseason, the expectations for the Blue Jackets were the highest they have been in some time when general manager Scott Howson was the most aggressive he has been in his tenure with Columbus.
Howson traded away the team's first-round pick for Jeff Carter and signed defenseman James Wisniewski during free agency. The team also signed goaltender Mark Dekanich, defenseman Radek Martinek, and Vinny Prospal to finish out their roster for opening night.
However, like any season, teams are forced to deal with injuries and Columbus was given a huge road block in the first month of the season.
To start things off, Wisniewski was dealt a eight-game suspension during the preseason after an illegal hit at the end of regulation against the Minnesota Wild.
Dekanich, who had an opportunity to take over as the team's No. 1, injured his ankle before the beginning of the season and spent the entire month of October on the sidelines.
To make matters worse, the Jackets would also lose Carter, as well as Martinek that put the Blue Jackets in a huge hole and they have yet to get themselves out of it.
The Blue Jackets and the rest of the league had little time to see what type of impact these new signings could bring to the team.
So let's take a look at the results of the latest acquisitions so far.
When the Blue Jackets acquired Jeff Carter before the NHL Entry Draft, the city of Columbus rejoiced.
The team finally had a top-line center to play alongside Rick Nash and having the two of them together would make the team's first line one to reckoned with.
In his first couple of games with the Blue Jackets, Carter looked impressive as he picked up three assists in two games and was leading the team in shots on goal.
Since then, however, the 26-year-old has struggled to get anything going and has yet to record his first goal as a Blue Jacket.
To make matters worse, against the Dallas Stars, Carter blocked a shot and suffered a foot fracture that has sidelined him since.
Carter has yet to get back on the ice as he is still feeling pain, however, he could be back in the lineup in the next week or two. When he returns, it will be interesting to see if the Jackets are able to turn things around.
As good as Carter looked in the team's first two games of the season, he was unable to score and has yet to show the team it made the right move in trading away its first-round pick as well as talented youngster Jakub Voracek.
For the first time in a long time, the Blue Jackets finally had a power play quarterback when they were able to sign defenseman James Wisniewski in the offseason. After a year where the Blue Jackets' power play ranked close to last in the league, the excitement was at a high level for the upcoming year.
However, as mentioned in the introduction, that excitement was put on hold as Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight games of the season.
Wisniewski's absence was missed—the team was unable to win a game, and its power play was once again irrelevant.
Blue Jacket fans counted down the games until Game 9 when the "Wiz" would make his Blue Jackets debut.
In a game against the Detroit Red Wings on their home ice, you could tell that the Jackets were amped up with Wisniewski in the lineup for the first time, and they picked up their first victory of the season. Although Wisniewski was unsuccessful in building his stats, the team's special teams were impressive as they notched both a power play and short-handed goal.
Since then, the hype has gone away as the Jackets' power play is again in the bottom of the standings. Like Carter, Wisniewski has yet to register his first goal, only having four assists to his name.
Overall Grade: D
Their power play has looked impressive in their first two victories this season, which can be attributed to the play of Wisniewski. However, the team has played 14 games, and showing up for a couple games here and there isn't going to cut it. After having a career year last year that earned him the large contract with Columbus, he has yet to earn it.
When the Blue Jackets signed both Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford in the offseason, it was clear that the front office was putting their faith in former Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason.
The plan was for Dekanich to serve as Mason's backup, but if Mason struggled, the 25-year-old would have an opportunity to take over as the team's No. 1.
Dekanich was a stud in the AHL with the Nashville Predators' affiliate but had little NHL experience (about 50 minutes) under his belt, and it was unknown whether or not he was ready for the big leagues.
Dekanich looked decent during the preseason, and there was hope that Blue Jackets would have stability in net.
However, Dekanich suffered the ankle injury previously mentioned and has yet to return to the lineup. The goaltending position took another hit when Sanford also went down with an injury and just like that, even more pressure was added to the shoulders to Steve Mason, if there wasn't enough already.
Mason has been forced to start every game so far this season except for one and has struggled throughout the beginning of the year.
This week, Dekanich was finally able to skate with the team and will most likely have a rehab start in the AHL next week. As soon as he is ready to go, he will most likely get plenty of starts to give Mason rest and so the Jackets' front office can see if they need to go shopping for goalies before the trade deadline or in the offseason.
Overall Grade: N/A
This offseason, the Columbus Blue Jackets were determined to re-sign shut-down defenseman Jan Hejda. Hejda wanted to stay in Columbus and the front office wanted him to stay, so one would expect an easy process.
However, the two sides could not come to an agreement. Hejda went to Colorado, and the team signed former New York Islander Radek Martinek to fill the void.
Martinek had played his entire 10-year career with the Islanders and brought experience to a young Jackets blue line.
Signing the 35-year-old was a risky move for Columbus as Marinek has suffered several injuries in his career, including a broken leg, a torn ligament in his knee and a severe concussion suffered during the World Championships last April.
The Blue Jackets knew what they were getting into, knowing full well they would likely not get a full season out of Martinek.
In the first seven games of the season, Martinek averaged close to 20 minutes of ice time and tallied his first goal on an impressive slap shot against the Avalanche.
However, Martinek suffered yet another concussion and has been sidelined since, his return date unknown.
The Jackets have been forced to call up several of their younger defenseman in Martinek's absence, and the team's blue line has struggled so far this season, making opponents scoring look easy.
Overall Grade: B
Martinek has never been known to light up the scoreboard with points, but rather contributing with blocking shots and killing penalties. In his time with the Jackets, Martinek has done his job, but he could be out for quite some time. Now that he has suffered multiple concussions, the Jackets—as well as the league—will be cautious in his recovery.
Vinny Prospal was not in the Jackets' offseason plans this summer. However, winger Kristian Huselius went down with a torn pectoral muscle and Columbus was running around trying to find a quick solution.
Prospal would be the answer as the team signed the 36-year-old to a one-year deal. So far this season, he has been the most impressive acquisition.
First off, Prospal is the only offseason acquisition to play in every game this season. This comes as a surprise as Prospal missed a bulk of last year with the Rangers because of injury, and it was unknown if he could continue to contribute at his age.
In only 14 games, Prospal has shown that he still has some left in the tank as he leads the team in goals with five and is tied for the lead in points with 10 alongside Rick Nash. Prospal is also second on the team with 37 shots on goal and has been one of the team's best contributors.
Prospal has also served as a leader in the locker room as he called out his teammates early on in the season when he felt there was a lack of effort and determination in their practices. He has been open with his opinions of the team's struggles and does not care whose feelings are hurt by it.
If Prospal can stay healthy, he could have one of his best seasons in quite a long time.
Overall Grade: A
Prospal has been the only acquisition that has earned his contract already and could be one of the biggest bargains of the season. He has impressed in a short time and has been a leader in the locker room. If the Jackets continue to struggle, look for the veteran to continue to be vocal.
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