When you look at the deal Scott Howson made for Rick Nash at first it seems underwhelming. Fans hoped for and Howson presumably asked for top talent, Logan Couture for one. But he didn't get that and all signs were he wasn't going to get that. Make no mistake Nash is a big loss for the Jackets, but he didn't want to be here and it showed in his play. Realizing he wasn't going to get a top line player for Nash, Howson moved to Plan B and continued a theme in recent moves made by the Blue Jackets, he built the defense first.
The return for Nash were forward centers Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and defensive prospect Tim Erixon along with will probably turn out to be a late first round pick. The Jackets also sent defensemen Steve Delilse and a conditional 3rd to the Rangers. Listening to Rangers fans, both Dubinsky and Anisimov are regarded as among, if not the top of their list of defensive forwards. Both are young, big, top defenders, and both regularly score double figures in goals. Dubinsky is 26 and has scored a peak of 24 goals and 54 points, legit second line numbers, before tailing off to 10-24-34 last year. Anisimov is 24, really big and has so far peaked at 18-26-44. Both are regarded as character guys who will go hard into a corner and come out with the puck. Neither offers what Rick Nash brought, but their value is considerable.
My suggestion is that Howson realized he wasn't going to get a real top line player so he chose to try and rebuild the third line. Most cup contenders get at least some scoring out of their third line, and many offer dangerous, if not prolific scorers. Last year we got ten goals out of Derrick Dorsett (a possible career high) but pretty much nothing out of anyone else. Sammi Pahlsson potted two goals and many thought he'd lost a step as a respected but purely defensive center. Ryan Russell's total was zero, and may remain there. If you simply slot Dubinsky and Anisimov in with Dorsett now a checking line can reasonably be counted on to produce 40 goals. That replaces Nash's goal production, and forces the other team to at least consider the possibility that line might score on them. The top six is still weak relative to other teams, but there is hope that players like Cameron Atkinson and Ryan Johansen might continue to develop while R.J. Umberger and Derrick Brassard might rebound after sub-par years. And we now have a third first-round pick for a draft which is widely regarded to be loaded.
So where does Tim Erixon fit in? First of all he doesn't have to play. The blue line has long been considered a weakness of the Jackets, now it's a team strength, a point particularly important in a year where Nashville and Detroit appear to have taken a step back thanks to age and free-agency. Before the deal we brought in Adrian Aucoin to stabilize the third pairing and serve as mentor to John Moore and Ryan Murray.
But let's face it there are going to be injuries. Last year Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski and Marc Methot lost significant time to injuries, and that's leaving out the early loss of Radek Martinek. Murray does not have to play. It's not clear what another year in juniors would benefit him, but at least we can send him there without much apparent loss. Moore does not have to take a step forward with Erixon, David Savard, Cody Goloubef, David Savard and more in Sprinfield. We don't need to rush anyone. We can cycle young defensemen between Springfield and Columbus, partner them with Aucoin, giving them experience while letting the cream rise. We also have defensive prospects to trade should that be the price for say Jonathan Bernier or a forward. Erixon solidifies an already strong defensive corps. And a defensive corps that really can get the puck into the offensive zone, which is the best way to defend.
The Jackets have lost their star. But they're deeper offensively and defensively and have three first rounders next year to stock up on offensive talent. They also have plenty of cap space should a free agent forward become available. They added two character forwards, and got rid of a problematic Captain, freeing the C for Vinny Prospal or Jack Johnson.
The Jackets really are becoming a defense-first team with physical players. That forms the outlines of an identity. My guess is that management (including Craig Patrick) has an intermediate goal of being competitive next year, and adding talent at forward in 2013-14 and then making a real run --- in the playoffs.