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Trade Analysis: Unfinished Business

Ed CmarCorrespondent IJanuary 2, 2010

UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 29: Chris Clark #11 of the Columbus Blue Jackets is stopped by Dwayne Roloson #30 of the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on December 29, 2009 in Uniondale, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

I know this is a little late – I was out of town, visiting my relatives - as Kurt Cobain once said, “All apologies” – but, here’s my analysis on the trade the Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ) made, earlier this week.

BTW, isn’t it always the case that all the earth-shattering – well, for Columbus, Ohio, this would qualify as earth-shattering – things occur when you’re out of town?

Well, the free-falling Columbus Blue Jackets made a trade, in the midst of a 2-11-5 meltdown, to “shake things up” (?) and salvage (?) a shot (?) at the playoffs.   

As is often said, “Uh, OK”…

The Blue Jackets traded speedy winger Jason Chimera to the Washington Capitals for forward Chris Clark and defenseman Milan Jurcina.

As most of you who follow the Blue Jackets know, their defensive corps is an absolute mess, with injuries – Rusty Klesla - and underperforming players – Mike Commodore, Mark Methot (his last ten games played, or so) – as well as a massive leadership void in their clubhouse.  As I, and a few other reporters have stated, on the later, I’d sure like to know IF they have a boiling point, rather WHAT that boiling point, is.

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Here are the scouting reports for the players traded to Columbus (via Forecaster.ca):

Chris Clark – Right Wing

Ht: 6-0 Wt: 196
Shoots: R
Salary: $ 2,650,000

ASSETS: Always displays solid leadership qualities. Uses speed, grit and tenacity to play a sound checking game. Is also versatile enough to occasionally play on a scoring line.

FLAWS: Is somewhat limited in the creativity department, and is miscast when used on a scoring line for long stretches. Has become more injury-prone over time.

CAREER POTENTIAL: Veteran checking winger with leadership qualities.

 

Milan Jurcina – Defenseman

Ht: 6-4 Wt: 240

Shoots: R

Salary: $ 1,375,000

 

ASSETS: Owns a huge frame and the ability to play an all-around game from time to time. Also possesses a big shot from the point. Takes up a lot of space in the defensive zone.

 

FLAWS: Doesn't play with a lot of passion and rarely takes full advantage of his tremendous size. His skating and coordination are also weaknesses in his game.

 

CAREER POTENTIAL: Inconsistent big defenseman.

 

Now, here’s the analysis on the player traded from Columbus, Jason Chimera:

 

Jason Chimera – Left Wing

Ht: 6-2  Wt: 216

Shoots: L

Salary:  $1,875,000

 

ASSETS: Has blinding speed and good size. Excels at the fore-checking game, as well as penalty-killing situations. Can score goals in bunches.

 

FLAWS: Lacks consistency on offense, and his all-or-nothing style makes him an injury risk. Doesn't use his size enough to his advantage.

 

CAREER POTENTIAL: Speedy checking winger.

 

OK, that’s all nice, and when you analyze the trade, it looks pretty good for Columbus, right?

 

As a certain College Game Day analyst all-too-often says, “Not so fast, my friend”.

 

Yes, the CBJ did pick up a defenseman, and a stay-at-home defenseman, at that.  The problem is that they have a plethora of those types of defensemen.  Yes, he’s a RH shot – now, that’s a rarity, on their defensive corps – but again, he’s not a power play, puck-moving defenseman, something that, while improved, is also lacking, overall.  

 

Here’s where they are, currently, in this skill area:   

 

Kris Russell can move the puck out of his defensive zone, but, his shot doesn’t exactly strike the same type of fear that a Sheldon Souray or a Zdeno Chara can.  Russell also gets overwhelmed, defensively, particularly by bigger opposing forwards and defensemen.  Plus, he’s a LH shot, something the CBJ have all too many of.

 

Anton Stralman, who was acquired by GM Scott Howson right before the season began, in a trade with the Calgary Flames, is a RH shot, is a power play specialist, is pretty fair at moving the puck out of his defensive zone; however, he is prone to defensive lapses and some turnovers. 

 

Then again, the same can be said about pretty much the entire CBJ team, save for the last six games, when the team figured out that abandoning Coach Ken Hitchcock’s tight-checking system didn’t work.  Thus, the huge slump, creating a hole, towards getting back in the Stanley Cup playoff race, that is now nearly impossible to get out of – that is, unless the team goes on a 26-10-4 tear, and that would be quite optimistic, considering they’re currently 15-18-9. 

 

I’m all for flipping the switch, but, surges like the Saint Louis Blues made, the 2nd half of last season, are all too rare.  And, as was reported, today, they fired their coach, Andy Murray, he who was a Jack Adams finalist, last season.  So much for a feat like that securing your job.  Too bad he didn’t coach in Columbus – here, you can lose 16 out of 18 games, and your job is safe.  In fact, there’s not even talk of your job being in jeopardy.  But that’s for another article – so sorry to digress.

 

In acquiring Jurcina, yes, they pick up a big body to help with their defense, but, Jurcina isn’t exactly top-four defenseman material – he’s more a 6th or 7th defenseman, on most NHL squads.

 

Now, onto Chris Clark.  Yes, he’s a proven leader in the clubhouse, something so sorely lacking, with this team.  Had former de facto clubhouse leader Michael Peca seen better days?  No doubt.  But, love-hate jousting with Ken Hitchcock, aside, was his leadership sorely missed?  Absolutely.  So, acquiring Clark certainly does help fill that void, a bit; however, acquiring Clark still creates an imbalance – too many forwards, not enough versatile, top-four defenseman, something Scott Howson stated was his intent, to salvage this season.

 

Also, the CBJ also take on more salary - $2,150,000, to be exact - something that the team is, and has always been, adverse towards doing.  Don’t believe me, then explain how they wouldn’t, instead, offer prospects and/or draft picks, rather than offer Chimera, only, over the summer, for Christian Erhoff, the supreme puck-moving, power-play specialist, formerly of the San Jose Sharks.  So, you don’t think this isn’t a budget team, with approximately $6 million available, under their salary cap?  My thoughts exactly.

 

Which leads me to my point about the trade – I believe this will be Scott Howson’s answer to the loyal fanbase, crying for a team shakeup.  Think the Dick Tarnstrom acquisition, two seasons ago, when the CBJ were still in the playoff hunt, but were saddled with burdensome contracts from the prior regime.  How’d that turn out?  Yep, not too well.

 

As for Chimera, the player traded to the Washington Capitals?  As anyone who knows the players in the CBJ locker room, you’d be hard-pressed to find a nicer guy than Jason Chimera; however, while he possesses great speed and solid penalty killing ability, Chimera also didn’t possess the greatest hands and a finisher’s/scorer’s touch.  He also wasn’t known, as provided in his scouting report, for utilizing his size as much as he should.  As was often said: Chimera’s next open-ice hit will be his first.

 

Again, on the surface, it looks OK.  But, the problems – a team in freefall, a team lacking confidence, a team with a glut of forward, yet lacking versatile, athletic, defensive talent, a team who’s now pretty much, barring a near miracle, going to miss the playoffs – remain.

 

So, what should Scott Howson’s approach be, between now and the trade deadline?  Well, Scott Howson is, perhaps, the most underrated GM in the NHL; however, he’s burdened with an overly budget-conscious organization, so doing what he’d like to do is out of the question. 

 

Were he able, Scott Howson could opt to do the following:  Trade off overpriced, underperforming assets for draft choices, call up the American Hockey League (AHL) players, take your lumps, for the remainder of the year, hope that the draft lottery is, for once, kind to the CBJ, and rebuild the team, the way Scott Howson, were he given that leverage, would probably like to.

 

Also, much unlike the case in cities like Philadelphia and St. Louis, Coach Ken Hitchcock’s job isn’t in jeopardy, so firing the coach, and perhaps changing the personnel to fit the successful organizations in “today’s NHL” – see Chicago and Pittsburgh.  Thus, young talent like Derek Brassard and Jake Voracek could thrive, and Nikita Filatov might actually return to Columbus.  So, allowing Brassard and Voracek to play on the top line, again, taking their lumps, and learning how to play against the opposing top lines or shutdown units, is out of the question.

 

What I believe will occur – perhaps it’s wishful thinking – is that this recent trade will be the precursor to future trades, closer to the trade deadline, and after the Olympics have concluded.  If they are serious about salvaging this season, and to position themselves for future seasons, they, at least, trade off some of their forward glut – Raffi Torres, an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA), who’s yet to have been offered a contract to remain in Columbus;  Frederik Modin, who, while the CBJ didn’t buyout his contract, when they had the chance, over the summer – something about the coach being in love with the player’s size and game, despite his oft-injured status, over the past three seasons – might still provide a contending team with some leadership and Stanley Cup experience;  Kristian Huselius, a dynamic playmaker, who, while dazzling, at times, is also an asymmetric fit for Ken Hitchcock’s system.

 

So, in summary, while I generally liked the trade, as a cure all, or even a band-aid, it’s unfinished business.  But, if this was the shakeup that was to occur, there’s only one thing left to do:  Start planning for that draft party, in June.

 

 

 

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