With free agency just around the corner on Sunday afternoon, it's worth taking a look at the market to see if there might be some help for the Blue Jackets.
While the team is obviously counting on a Rick Nash trade to help restock the roster up front, there are some interesting options on the market who may be able to help out in Columbus - and best of all, hopefully without requiring Scott Howson to break the bank.
One of the team's biggest needs is for guys to fill out the forward lines with some additional experience. While players like Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Russell, and Colton Gillies were able to move into increased checking line roles at the end of the season, and the club carries several potential "wild cards" in Ryan Johansen, Tomas Kubalik, Michael Chaput, and Boone Jenner who could potentially play in different roles, an injection of proven NHL experience - especially if it comes with a decent scoring touch and some defensive ability - would be a good improvement.
Current Team: San Jose Sharks
2011-2012 salary: $1,000,000 ($950,000 cap hit)
Part of the trade that sent Winnink and T.J. Galliardi to San Jose from Colorado in exchange for Jamie McGinn and Mike Connolly, Winnik came out of the University of New Hampshire to the Phoenix Coyotes for the 2007-2008 season, where he delivered 11 goals and 15 assists in 79 games, but didn't match that production until landing in Colorado in 2010-2011.
Last season, Winnick had 8 goals and 15 assists split between the Avalanche and Sharks, plus one assist during San Jose's brief playoff run. More importantly, he also had a 3.9 relative corsi - the fifth best among San Jose forwards. He's an excellent third / fourth line defensive forward who is comfortable at every forward position and fairly solid on faceoffs as well.
Winnik would be a great addition to the third or fourth line, and could easily team with Derek Dorsett and Derek MacKenzie to shine on the PK.
He's due somewhat of a raise, but ~1.5 million likely gets it done.
Current Team: Chicago Blackhawks
2011-2012 Salary / Cap Hit: 2,000,000
Brunette could easily be a winger in the style of Vinny Prospal last season - a veteran, experienced winger who has a history of excellent production and solid character in the room. Even though his goal production has been sliding over the last few seasons, he still contributed 12 goals and 15 assists last season and another goal in Chicago's first round series loss.
Offering him a similar 1 year, 2 million deal to his current contract could well get him interested, but it wouldn't shock me if the Blackhawks also look to extend him as well.
Current Team: Winnipeg Jets
2011-2012 Salary / Cap Hit: $700,000
Feel free to make all the fat jokes you like - Wellwood has been laboring hard to get rid of his old reputation. After going from the Vancouver Canucks to the KHL, then back to San Jose, and finally landing in the 'Peg, Wellwood has been improving his scoring over the last several seasons, hitting a career high 18 goals and 29 assists last season despite missing several games due to injury at the end of the season. One of the best faceoff men on the Jets, he only took four PIMs all season and finished with a positive +/- despite heavy minutes at even strength and a great deal of PK work.
Wellwood has certainly earned a raise, and he's a player who has done great work to redeem his career after being written off several times. That kind of character could be a big boost in Columbus, and he'd instantly become an excellent third line option with potential to step up into the top six when needed. I wouldn't be shocked to see him entertaining offers from several clubs, but the way to win this deal is term. Wellwood's spent so much time bouncing around teams and leagues that a 2-3 year one way deal would likely be very attractive.
Current team: Ottawa Senators
2011-2012 Salary / Cap Hit: $700,000
A guy that Columbus fans are familiar with from his time as captain of the Syracuse Crunch, the Big Z has made a name for himself beyond his pugilistic skills. Spending time in Tampa Bay, Long Island, and Ottawa as a defensive zone specialist and faceoff man, Konopka won almost 60% of his faceoffs in 55 games. Not exactly a scoring threat, he still would provide a great deal of grit and defensive capability in the bottom six, plus continue to work as an off ice leader and mentor for some of the younger players.
Current Team: Calgary Flames
2011-2012 Salary: $2,300,000 ($1,900,000 cap hit)
"Streaky" is a good word to describe this journeyman forward. Stempniak earned a 3 year, $2,500,000 contract after a 50 point season in 2006-2007, but never quite hit the same level again. He seemed on the verge of regaining his touch in Phoenix two years ago with a 19 goal, 19 assist season, but his production dipped back down to 28 points when he was traded up north, though in fairness he did miss almost a quarter of the season due to injury.
More of a power play weapon and offensive forward than a checking line player, Stempniak could help to boost the club's offensive punch in the wake of a Nash deal, especially if the club is hesitant about putting Cam Atkinson or Ryan Johansen on the top line.
Another player who made his bones in the NHL with his fists, Prust had one 13 goal / 16 assist season in New York, but his production dipped this season, scoring just 5 goals and 12 assists in the regular season, and only two points in the playoffs.
Prust doesn't have exceptional foot speed, but he has exceptional defensive instincts and was a major part of the Rangers' PK. Regarded as a major character guy in the locker room, he fits the mold of the guys Scott Howson and Craig Patrick have been trying to bring in to help build a new culture in Nationwide Arena.
Prust has stated that he'd like to remain in New York, but the Rangers appear content to let him go on July 1st. A 2-3 year, ~1-1.1 million dollar deal would be a reasonable raise...and might just make Jared Boll into a tradeable asset.
At one point, Mueller was one of the most promising young players on the Phoenix Coyotes, but several injuries, including a nasty concussion, have left him adrift heading into free agency.
Colorado's concern about bringing him back is understandable - Mueller missed half the season after a concussion suffered in early October - but his natural talent is undeniable, and if he's done the right kind of rehab work over this offseason, he might be willing to take an inexpensive deal for the chance to show he can make it in the NHL.