Fixing Columbus (an opus)

Happier Times. (PHOTO-Getty Images)

This past summer, the Columbus front office went all-in with Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski, over paid a bit for both assuming they were a couple players away from contending for a playoff spot. After 48 games, The Blue Jackets find themselves at the bottom of the league. While saying they’ve been in the position before is true- this year is different. They’re near the cap, and have grown their team salary 18 million since the 2009-10 campaign. That year, Columbus finished with 79 points. 32 points in 48 games so far this year, and that season will be erased in the minds as their most disappointing season.

Where to start? The mind.

This past offseason, the Blue Jackets’ brass truly must have thought they were one or two players away from making a run. Given their history of development, the trading of draft picks and assets for Jeff Carter seemed very wise. They severely overpaid James Wisniewski, but the need was there. But now they are married to two long term deals that could handcuff their future in acquiring something that is severely needed in Ohio’s capitol.

DEPTH.

From a Nashville perspective, it’s very easy to lust after flashy playmakers in prospective trades. Unless they are drafted and developed, those players must be acquired through free agency or overpaying in trades. Depth wins. We’ve seen it for years in the finals, it’s the third lines that carry the water. It’s the second and third pairings that make the difference. No Mike Richards is worth half the team. Or Zach Parise, for that matter.

So now it’s clear the Jackets weren’t two players away. They were correct in how they handled the goaltender situation, but injuries hindered the ascension of Mark Dekanich this year, and he’s beginning to struggle some in the AHL. They were correct to not give up on Steve Mason in the summer, but his time has run out as of this year. The needs are becoming more clear- depth on the blueline, solid goaltending, and some speed in the forwards.

Lucky for them, teams like to overpay at the deadline.

  • Clean house in the front office, then give them time. 

It hasn’t worked. The premise of building around one star hasn’t worked too well around the league. It’s drafting and developing in a pattern that’s bringing home the Cup. Edmonton has been drafting, but developing hasn’t been their strong suit. Drafting is the easy part, it’s developing that’s the key. Developing takes patience, and patience is bought through the front office through lower priced free agents and acquiring depth to buy the time needed. Vinny Prospal is a solid example of this, so it can be done in Columbus. There’s nothing wrong with bringing in guys in their 30s to hold down a roster spot while the kids are in the incubator.

  • New marketing department

The entire mentality needs to shift in this franchise. Becoming the Cleveland Browns of hockey is not acceptable in a sport that isn’t as mainstream in a state that is dominated by football with a stagnant population. Between 2000 and 2010, Ohio’s population grew 1.6%, Tennessee’s grew 11.5%, Arizona’s grew 24.6%. Ohio had the smallest increase, Michigan was the only state with a decline. This is a more indictment of the economy of the state than the city. Columbus is the light of Ohio. It’s growing quickly, and known for being the more cosmopolitan of the three major Ohio towns. Jobs are there. A GREAT university is there. It’s a younger city.

Stick tap to the guys a LightTheLamp.com for this collection of schedule magnets.  You can see the arc of the team’s success plain as the day.

2001-2004: Come check out the Arena District! Hockey is fun! Visit the R-Bar!!!

2005-2009: Carry the Flag! THIS. IS. OHIO!!! Team doesn’t suck anymore! Playoff chances! 

2010-present: Please buy a ticket. 

Successful marketing is never that desperate. Desperate is never cool. Cool is the girl in her late 20’s drinking something fruity at the end of the bar wearing the little black dress, drinking it slowly. Desperate is the 40+ in way too tight jeans drinking Bud heavy dancing by herself, then on you. Desperate never wins in the long run. You may get someone in your building one night, but that’s usually it.

 

  • Trade Rick Nash
While Carter may get more talk, no one has a higher value than Nash. Nash is by far the best player, but he’s been hard to build around. He’s a rare commodity, but not essential (large power forward, great wheels, slick shot, perfect offensive player, great hair, etc) to winning. He also has the higher salary of the two. And his trade value as mentioned will be NUTS. Perfect case in point would be how the Bruins handled the Phil Kessel situation- found a team willing to overpay, ended up with Tyler Seguin. They definitely won that deal.
Fans are smarter now. We know about the salary cap. I’ve seen it in Nashville where blank jerseys aren’t a popular as player jerseys now are, since now we know who is staying compared to who is likely to leave, hence Weber jerseys sell better than Suter’s. Rinne and Tootoo sell better than anyone’s. Fans want to identify with players, and want players that are fun and are winners. Most importantly, they want a player that’s staying. While Carter is a bit bummed as of now, he’s cheaper than Nash, and his contract is longer. He’s not who I would put on a pedestal, that would be the goalie I acquire with his team standing with him.
IMPLEMENTATION
It all boils down to who they could get for Nash. I would call a few teams first, such as Winnipeg, who could make a playoff push and needs top end players, and Anaheim. My shopping list would be: Good puck-moving defenseman, 2 young dynamic forwards, and a draft pick. If the deal is made before the deadline, getting value for Huselius as well? SURE. For argument’s sake and since I mentioned them in my last trade related piece, let’s do this model with Winnipeg.
Rick Nash
Kristian Huselius (UFA, 2012)
for
-Tobias Enstrom (must have)
-Combination of Aleksandr Burmistrov, Zac Bogosian, Blake Wheeler (2 out of the 3)
-Draft pick.
UFA Goalie – Josh Harding (preferred), Dan Ellis, Andrew Raycroft
or
Trading draft pick for Corey Schneider
In the matter of months, you have a younger, and deeper team with a stout blueline. You have a team that can grow together. You now also have a team that sell that  “The losing is over”. You now have a young team with some flashy players, and can roll with most teams in the west 4 deep in the defense corps; Wiz/Toby/Methor/Tyutin is pretty solid.
We all mocked that the Jets would be terrible since they are the Thrashers 2.0 with Eric Fehr. Taking pride aside, that’s a young team that NO ONE wants to play next year. They are what we thought the Oilers would be this year. It’s a process, and eventually they’ll need another strong top 6 stud forward. But if we’re just talking about returning to respectable and a tough out, it could work.

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