As I write this, many Blue Jacket players are on vacation, using the Olympic Break to soak up some sun, or in the case of Mike Commodore, using the break to work on getting back in game shape. Of course there are six players who didn't get a break; rather they are trying to achieve Olympic glory in Vancouver playing for their respective nations.
It's your turn to go on vacation now Blue Jacket fans, albeit a hypothetical one- a vacation through time. At the risk of sounding cheesy, here's what I'd like to do. Join me on a trip through the future, from today until we reach our destination of November of 2010. Why that date? You'll have to join me to see exactly why. On the way we'll stop to take a look at some important events that the Blue Jackets franchise will be experiencing over the next nine months.
Here's your itinerary:
First Stop: March 3, 2010
Your first stop is the NHL Trade Deadline. The Jackets are in a position to sell, and with three impending unrestricted free agents on the roster in Raffi Torres, Fredrik Modin and Milan Jurcina, GM Scott Howson will likely be busy working the phones. I think it's safe to say that Freddy is a goner after this season anyway, so to get any value for him at the deadline would be a bonus. Torres' situation is unique- he is coveted by a handful of teams, and he is likely to be traded, but Raffi didn't rule out re-signing with the Jackets this summer. Here's a quote from him in the Columbus Dispatch:
"I would have to see how everything works out, but they are the ones who gave me another chance," said Torres, who scored his 18th goal of the season Friday in a 4-3 loss to Vancouver. "They have been good to me here."
Personally I'd like to see Jurcina remain a Blue Jacket after this season. He seems like the perfect fit as a defence partner for Kris Russell. You also can't forget about that howitzer of a slap shot he possesses. That said, his UFA status will almost certainly mean he will be shopped.
The return for these players would likely be draft picks, and I highly doubt that the Jackets will take on salary. There could also be a surprise deal, perhaps involving Kristian Huselius, but don't hold your breath on that one.
Second Stop: June 25-26, 2010.
After experiencing the excitement of the NHL Trade Frenzy, you now make your way to Los Angeles for the NHL Entry Draft. At this point I think it's fair to say the Jackets will have a top-ten pick going into the draft. The organization has a dearth of talent at center, so that should absolutely be the focus of the scouting staff. Here are the International Scouting Service Top 15 Rankings for February, 2010:
1 Hall, Taylor C 11/14/1991 L 6.00.75 186 Windsor OHL
2 Seguin, Tyler C 1/31/1992 R 6.01 172 Plymouth OHL
3 Fowler, Cam D 12/5/1991 L 6.02 195 Windsor OHL
4 Tarasenko, Vladimir RW 12/13/1991 L 5.11 202 Novosibirsk KHL
5 Gormley, Brandon D 2/18/1992 L 6.02 187 Moncton QMJHL
6 Connolly, Brett LW 5/2/1992 R 6.02 181 Prince George WHL
7 Kabanov, Kirill LW 7/16/1992 R 6.01.75 176 Moncton QMJHL
8 Pysyk, Mark D 1/11/1992 R 6.01.25 174 Edmonton WHL
9 Gudbranson, Erik D 1/7/1992 R 6.03.75 195 Kingston OHL
10 Burmistrov, Alexander C 10/21/1991 L 5.11.5 162 Barrie OHL
11 Niederreiter, Nino LW 9/8/1992 L 6.01.5 205 Portland WHL
12 Forbort, Derek D 3/4/1992 L 6.04.5 198 Under 18 USHL
13 Sheahan, Riley C 12/7/1991 L 6.01.5 202 Notre Dame CCHA
14 Watson, Austin RW 1/13/1992 R 6.03.25 185 Peterborough OHL
15 Granlund, Mikael C 2/26/1992 L 5.10 180 HIFK Helsinki FinE
As you can see, these rankings are heavy on blueliners and wingers. After Hall and Seguin, the next highest ranked center is Alex Burmistrov. It's hard to say if the Jackets would take the chance on another Russian, given the headaches they have experienced with Zherdev and Filatov. Riley Sheahan is there, but if Columbus is higher in the draft order they could trade down to the 10-15 range to draft Sheahan, picking up a later round pick in the process. Sheahan would be a good fit with Columbus, as they have shown a preference for college players in recent drafts, and his skill set and playmaking ability would allow him to slot in beside the young wingers like Voracek and Filatov down the road.
Third Stop: July 1, 2010
Ah, Canada Day, also known as Free Agent Frenzy Day in the NHL. As I mentioned earlier, the Jackets have three players who are UFAs. They also have a handful of restricted free agents, namely Mathieu Roy, Mike Blunden, Jared Boll and Anton Stralman. It's safe to say that Stralman will get offered an extension, but the other three are a mystery. Blunden made the team out of camp, but that may have been due to former coach Hitchcock's affinity for players of his build. He didn't impress while with the Jackets and is now with Syracuse of the AHL. Roy has filled in admirably as a depth defenseman, and if the money is right he should be brought back. He isn't flashy, but he's dependable in a depth role. Boll is a different story. Personally I think having both he and Derek Dorsett on the roster is redundant. Dorsett has the better hands, so I think we may see Boller either moved or not tendered a qualifying offer.
As for the Jackets making any major signings, I wouldn't count on it. The defence needs to be re-tooled, but that may be through trade rather than free agency. I would love however if the Jackets opened up the cheque book and signed Dan Hamhuis away from the Predators.
Fourth Stop: Summer 2010
I know, summer isn't really a "destination". That said, there are a handful of events taking place on this leg of the trip. A big question facing the Jackets is who will be their head coach going in to the 2010/2011 season. Claude Noel is the interim coach, but the Jackets could look elsewhere for their new bench boss. My personal choice would be former Blue Jacket Kevin Dineen, who is currently coaching Buffalo's affiliate in Portland, Maine.
Another event, speaking of affiliates, is whether the Syracuse Crunch will remain as the top farm club of the Blue Jackets. The affiliation agreement expires after the 2009/2010 season. Negotiations have been rocky thus far with Crunch owner Howard Dolgon, who wants a bigger commitment to winning from Columbus. It's no secret the Jackets would love to pair with an Ohio-based AHL team such as the Lake Erie Monsters, to ease travel and help boost hockey in Ohio. Personally I see the Crunch moving on, and the Jackets affiliating with the Springfield Falcons. The Falcons recently lost their affiliation with Edmonton after they moved their dormant AHL franchise to Oklahoma City.
Fifth Stop: September, 2010
The dog days of August are over, and the team is gathering for training camp. Top prospects Matt Calvert and John Moore are making the jump to pro, likely playing for the Jackets' AHL affiliate while pushing to make the Columbus roster. You can see an interview I had with Calvert HERE
There is a question though- with Ken Hitchcock fired, will Nikita Filatov make the jump back to North America, no questions asked? It's believed that Filatov didn't get along with Hitch, so there's a good chance that Nik will be back in the fold pushing for a roster spot. That would be a very good thing for the Jackets; they could seriously use his high-end skill.
While on the topic of training camp, keep an eye on this kid: Cam Atkinson. ‘Nuff said.
Sixth Stop: October, 2010
The start of a new season! The team can go nowhere but up from here, and to kick things off, the Jackets will open the season in Stockholm, Sweden. They will take on the San Jose Sharks. There are arguments for and against the NHL opening the season in Europe, but I think this will be great exposure for Columbus as a franchise. They will likely have three Swedes on the team in Sammy Pahlsson, Kristian Huselius and Anton Stralman so those guys will get plenty of media attention.
This is also the 10th anniversary of the Jackets. Their 10th season will be an important one, as the team will look to get back to the playoffs. The young nucleus is in place, it's up to the players to take the team to the promise land.
Final Stop: November, 2010
Tired yet? It's been a long, but exciting trip through time, and we finish on an easy note. A fashion show- one where the Blue Jackets will debut their new third jersey. It's been speculated that the team will unveil the new duds in November. I just hope they aren't red! This is a great site to keep up on third jersey news: Icethetics
Thanks for joining me on this excursion, for those who have to wait to experience what we did; it will be a fantastic ride as the Jackets have a busy nine months ahead!