NHL Free Agency: What Blue Jackets Are Staying in Columbus?

Patrick Drottar@pdrottarCorrespondent IMay 10, 2012

NHL Free Agency: What Blue Jackets Are Staying in Columbus?

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    With the NHL off-season right around the corner, the big question the Columbus Blue Jackets will have to face is whether or not to trade captain Rick Nash.

    However, that will not be the only challenging decision the team has to make as there are several players set to become free agents in July and the Jackets need to decide whether or not to keep them around.

    For some players, the decision is easy whether or not to re-sign them.

    Some have exceeded expectations and earned a pay raise, while others have been so unimpressive or injury-prone that several people would be scratching their heads if the Jackets did re-sign them.

    Unfortunately for the Jackets, not all of the decisions will be easy ones.

    There are those players that were brought in as temporary replacements who may or may not have earned a more permanent role.

    And those players in a position that Columbus' front office is wiping clean and starting from scratch in their reshaping process.

    Regardless of what the situation is, the Jackets have a lot of decisions to make.

Derek Dorsett

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    In his first three seasons with the Blue Jackets, right winger Derek Dorsett never scored more than four goals.

    Dorsett was brought into Columbus not to put points on the board, but to provide a different kind of contribution.

    The 25-year-old would drop the gloves when needed to try and sway the momentum back in the Blue Jackets' favor.

    However, Dorsett put together a career year for the Jackets this season, scoring three times as many goals as in past seasons.

    In 77 games, Dorsett tallied 12 goals and eight assists. Dorsett also led the league, not in goals or assists, but in penalty minutes—afeat that would not be achieved until the final game of the season.

    Dorsett has shown that he can do more than just drop the gloves and he is only getting better.

    The youngster also achieved another first this past season when he took on a leadership role, wearing the "A" for the Jackets for a bulk of the season.

    This, to me, is a no-brainer on whether or not to re-sign Dorsett.


Kristian Huselius

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    When Kristian Huselius came to Columbus in 2008-2009, he was a big part of the Jackets' first playoff berth in franchise history.

    Huselius contributed 21 goals and 56 points as he became a stable on the team's first line.

    In his second season in Columbus, it was more of the same for Huselius as he turned in yet another 20-goal season.

    However, in the past two years, Huselius has rarely been on the ice as he has dealt with several injuries.

    Last year, the Swede only played 39 games as he suffered a high ankle sprain, and while recovering from that, he injured his groin and has not been the same since.

    Then, during the 2011 off-season, Huselius tore a pectoral muscle, forcing the Jackets to do some emergency free agent shopping.

    They would end up signing Vinny Prospal, who has done very well in his first season in Columbus, leading to a contract extension.

    With the Prospal extension, it leads one to believe that Huselius has played his last game in a Jackets uniform.

    He has struggled to return to his former self and is a huge risk to re-sign because of his injuries.

    Even when he is healthy, Huselius has struggled and it would be better for the Jackets to part ways.


Nikita Nikitin

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    After the Jackets got off to a rocky start this season, the front office tried to create a spark by swapping defenseman with the St. Louis Blues.

    The Jackets sent Kris Russell to the Blues and in return, received 25-year-old Nikita Nikitin.

    In his rookie season in 2010-2011, Nikitin struggled to make any kind of impact, only registering a goal and eight assists.

    However, after coming to Columbus, the Russian defenseman got hot and put together an impressive season statistically.

    In only 54 games, Nikitin scored seven goals and contributed 25 assists.

    Nikitin found his niche on the team's second defensive pairing with fellow countryman Fedor Tyutin.

    In just a short amount of time, Nikitin can show what he has to offer to the rebuilding Jackets' franchise.

    Re-signing Nikitin would not come at a high price as the youngster was only making $600,000 this season.

    Although he has earned himself a pay raise, it won't hurt the Jackets' wallets to sign him to an extension.


Radek Martinek

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    When the Columbus Blue Jackets signed long-time Islanders defenseman Radek Martinek last off-season, it did not come without some warning flags.

    Martinek made his living in the NHL by blocking shots, putting his body on the ice to prevent a scoring opportunity to the opposition.

    However, with that type of play comes with its share of injuries and Martinek had suffered many.

    In his career, Martinek has suffered such injuries as a broken leg, a torn knee ligament, and a concussion suffered just a few months before the Jackets signed him last summer.

    After the signing happened, Jacket's general manager Scott Howson stated that he was okay with Martinek not playing an entire season.

    Well, Howson got what he expected as Martinek did not play an entire season in Columbus. Actually, Martinek did not play an entire month for the Blue Jackets.

    The 35-year-old only played in seven games before a concussion ended his short season.

    The Jackets were forced to fill the void and did so by calling up youngsters like John Moore and David Savard.

    Moore showed that he is ready to make the permanent jump to the NHL, most likely ending Martinek's time in Columbus.


Derek MacKenzie

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    When center Derek MacKenzie first came to Columbus during the 2007-2008 season, he struggled to find a permanent spot in the lineup.

    In his first three seasons, the fifth-round draft pick only played in a combined 36 regular season games, bouncing back and forth between Columbus and the AHL.

    However, in 2010, MacKenzie got another opportunity, centering the team's fourth line.

    Since then, MacKenzie has not gone back to the AHL, becoming one of the team's face-off men.

    During this season, MacKenzie has won more than half of his face-offs and contributed seven goals and 14 points.

    Even with the team struggling often during the season, MacKenzie still managed to finish with a positive plus/minus number with a plus-four.

    Having MacKenzie's face-off skills is crucial when it comes to killing penalties and it would not be smart if the Jackets let him go.

    The 30-year-old also would come at a low price as he only made $600,000 this season.


Brett Lebda

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    Entering the 2011-2012 season, Brett Lebda was without a team. The 30-year-old became a free agent last off-season after an unimpressive season with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    However, due to injuries to Radek Martinek, Marc Methot, and James Wisniewski, the Blue Jackets were forced to find a replacement and gave Lebda a call.

    In 30 games in Columbus, Lebda tallied one goal and only three assists in his shortened season.

    The Illinois native spent most of his time on the team's third line, being paired with both John Moore and David Savard.

    Lebda has shown in the past few seasons that he may not be able to return to his former self that found success while in Detroit.

    He has been unable to register double-digit point totals since 2008-2009 and may have found himself on the outside looking in on the Jackets' blue line.

    Those players injured during the season are returning to a healthy status and certain youngsters are ready to make the move to the NHL.

    Lebda was signed to be a temporary fill-in and unfortunately for him, his time in Columbus has probably come to an end.


Mark Dekanich

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    Heading into last off-season, it was clear that the Jackets needed to fix their issue in net.

    After winning the Rookie of the Year award in 2009, youngster Steve Mason had struggled with inconsistency in back-to-back seasons. It was clear that Mason was not the long-term answer for the Jackets in net.

    However, nobody told Scott Howson as he decided instead to improve the scoring and defense in front of Mason by acquiring Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski.

    Then Howson decided to sign two goaltenders, Mark Dekanich and Curtis Sanford, to back up Mason.

    Dekanich previously played with the Nasvhille Predators, spending most of his time with their AHL affiliate. He had little NHL experience, only playing in one game for less than 50 minutes and allowing three goals.

    Howson believed that Dekanich was ready to make the jump to the big leagues and was hoping he would challenge Mason to better himself.

    However, Howson and Columbus would never get a chance to see that as Dekanich suffered an injury during the pre-season.

    Then, Dekanich suffered yet another injury when trying to return from his pre-season ankle sprain and never made it on the ice for the Jackets.

    Mason would once again struggle this season, showing yet again that the Jackets need to find another answer in net.

    The Jackets may choose to clear out the goalie position and start from scratch, acquiring replacements via trade and free agency.


Curtis Sanford

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    Mark Dekanich was not the only Jackets' goaltender to suffer an early injury as Curtis Sanford also spent time on the mend early on in the year.

    The injuries to both players forced Steve Mason to start several games in a row, where he struggled to collect his first win until his ninth start.

    When Sanford was able to return in mid-November, the 32-year-old was thrown right into the mix and was able to put up good numbers in net.

    Due to his impressive play, Sanford was given several starts in a row and helped string together some wins for the Jackets.

    Although his record did not show it, 10-18-4, Sanford played well filling in for Mason.

    On several occasions, Sanford stood on his head, keeping the Jackets in the game. However, Columbus' offense rarely could reward Sanford by putting points on the board.

    Sanford has shown that he can still contribute on the NHL level and could serve as a reliable backup if the Jackets decided to keep him around.

    The team should still look for a permanent franchise goaltender in the off-season, but having Sanford to back that player up could be a relief to the Jackets.

    Sanford has the best chance out of the three goaltenders mentioned of sticking around in Columbus.