This space was originally going to be used for another "Free Agency is Coming!" post, but two of the three guys I was going to profile have either signed or are close to signing with different squads. One of the players I was going to profile-Christian Ehrhoff- signed with the Buffalo Sabres today. The second was James Wisniewski-his rights were traded to Columbus. Fingers crossed we get him signed. The third player I was going to profile is Anton Babchuk, formerly of the Flames.
Rather than go with the original arrangement, I got to thinking about how the defense is currently constructed:
Judging by this post over at Puck Rakers, it would seem that unless a big snag occurs, The Wizz will be a Blue Jacket. For the sake of this exercise, let's count our chickens early and say a deal gets done.
That makes four NHL blueliners locked up.
Marc Methot, who had what many believe was his breakout season last year, will almost assuredly be back. He was one of the most dependable blueliners on the Jackets, and worked the shutdown role to perfection.
If he signs, there's five d-men.
Again going back to the Puck Rakers well, this post gives us pause regarding the potential of Hejda coming back. Put me in the camp however that wants to see him brought back, to specifically partner with Kris Russell, covering his back when (here's hoping...) Russ is pinching in on the attack. Again with the barnyard theme, I'm going to predict that Hejda goes to market and is not in Ohio next season.
The question then becomes, if things fall into line as I envision above, who are the sixth and seventh defensemen?
There are options.
FIrst of all there are the in-house guys. Moore, Savard and Holden are the most talented. That said, they have to be playing every night, and if they stay in Springfield for another season they'll get top pairing minutes and lots of powerplay time. This is especially the case for Savard and Moore, oue two blue chippers. Holden on the other hand, may just be the perfect seventh defenseman. He was just signed to a one-year, last chance deal and he looked good in his brief stint with the big club at the beginning of last season. In fact, I have just convinced myself- Holden is my pre-camp favorite for seventh defenseman.
Now to talk about D6- and this is where free agency comes in.
My guy is Babchuk.
Babchuk made $1.4 million last season and put up 11 goals, 24 assists for 35 points with the Flames and Hurricanes. He's basically a hired gun, a one-timer specialist on the powerplay. That said, he was a +14 last season- but that doesn't mean he's a stellar defender. He won't necessarily be a liability, but for a number six defenseman (in my scenario) his special teams contributions would work just fine. The Jackets would have to offer him something in the neighbourhood of $2.0 million, which is what Hejda made last season.
A defense corps consisting of James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, Marc Methot, Kris Russell, Grant Clitsome, Anton Babchuk and Nick Holden is mobile, physical, and experienced. There are powerplay quarterbacks, setup men and shutdown defenders. Throw in the fact that the organization's two stud blueline prospects in Moore and Savard are able to develop in the AHL, and not rushed to the big club- this is a playoff defense.
Let me know what you think.