With rumors around the status of Jeff Carter, Rick Nash, and the rest of the Blue Jackets continuing to swirl, a real consideration is what, exactly, Scott Howson (or perhaps more accurately, Scott Howson and Craig Patrick) will be shopping for at the trade deadline and going into the offseason.
If we presume the club is looking at the top pick in the draft (or at least a top two pick, given the team's only real competition for the top pick is Edmonton, and the Oilers still possess a 9 point lead in the standings), the team is likely to acquire a talented scoring forward. The team is also likely to fill out their top six with the likes of Derick Brassard, Ryan Johansen, and Cam Atkinson. Versatile forwards like Vinny Prospal, R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette might also be options, to say nothing of any other potential returns or offseason acquisitions.
The rest, then, depends on the route the front office believes is most likely to take them to their stated goal of building a Stanley Cup Champion, and what the team will have left when the dust settles.While it would seem that the "nuclear" option is likely to send much of the existing team out of town, there are limits to how much the team can realistically move at the deadline or at the draft. While the team seems committed to moving Jeff Carter, and Rick Nash is certainly the most likely to provide a big return, the contracts of players like Vermette, Umberger, and Tyutin who might otherwise be desirable are likely to keep them in Columbus.
If we assume that the pending UFAs will be moved, and perhaps a decision to move a player like Grant Clitsome or Curtis Sanford, the team is still likely to retain players like Mark Letestu, Nikita Nikitin, and pending RFA Derek Dorsett.
Even if Nash and Carter are both moved (and the team almost certainly will part with Steve Mason in the offseason), the depth chart may look a bit like this:
XX - Brassard - Prospal
2012 1st Round Pick (?) - Johansen - Atkinson
Umberger - Vermette (?) - Dorsett
Russell - Letestu - Gillies
Tyutin - Nikitin
Wisniewski - Moore
Savard - Methot
Unless more significant players like Vermette, Umberger, or Tyutin are moved, the core of the team is...not so different from this year, but there are a few critical areas where we could see changes.
First and foremost is what SHOULD be the top of the shopping list: A new starting goaltender. Regardless of the rumors one looks at, nearly every "real" contender in the Nash and Carter derby has a young, strong goaltender who could step into the starting role in Columbus. Perhaps the team will look to retain Curtis Sanford as a backup, or perhaps look for an option in free agency like Alex Auld or Scott Clemmensen. This move would also give Allen York a chance to get his development back on track in Springfield, or to perhaps give Paul Dainton a chance at the Falcons' starting job.
At forward, the obvious holes will be in the team's top six, but it's worth considering that the aforementioned Atkinson (currently tied for the AHL scoring lead) and perhaps Tomas Kubalik will be in position to challenge for spots. Similarly, the potential holes in the defense could be an opportunity for a player to step up from the AHL.
If the team wishes to embrace the "Edmonton / Chicago" style of rebuild, this seems like the ideal route - and perhaps would also be a reason to bring up players like Kubalik, Atkinson, and Matt Calvert after the deadline so the team can evaluate how they will perform at the NHL level.
On the other hand, if the team wishes to take an approach closer to Florida's revitalization, the deals for Nash and other players MUST bring back additional talent in addition to a starting netminder. Perhaps not an elite player like Nash, but a forward capable of fitting into the top six and a defenseman capable of playing in the top four will be a must - and could well lead to the departure of other current "core" players to make room on the roster.
The other factor to consider is that even without losing Nash and Carter, the Jackets will have over $10 million in salary opening from the expected departures of Kristian Huselius, Samuel Pahlsson, Radek Martinek, and other minor contracts (including the end of the Duvie Westcott buyout).
If we assume that the numerous players having career low years will rebound (particularly with more stable goaltending), the idea of perhaps looking to keep this core relatively intact and adding one major forward is oddly tempting. If Nash was dealt, one interesting name who could be on the UFA market is current Devils captain Zach Parise - particularly if New Jersey's financial difficulties continue.
In either scenario, a new goaltender is a must, and given the team's defensive depth issues due to injury, adding another strong d-man seems a real option, perhaps to pair with Wisniewski while the Moore / Methot pairing is reunited, leaving Savard in the #7 slot.
These should be the most pressing needs for major trades. Scoring talent, while certainly desirable, is also ultimately much easier to find, while the available free agent pool for the other positions is much shallower, and likely to bring a much higher level of competition.