So far in our look at the players that could be part of the team's "New Foundation", we've mostly talked about forwards. Time to take a look at the back end of the roster.
There's really no better place to start than the club's $6 million (Ok, $5.5, but I'm rounding up) man, James Wisniewski.
As part of Scott Howson's last wild and crazy summer, Wiz was signed to a six year, $33 million dollar deal to provide the club with a top pairing defenseman, vocal leader, and power play quarterback.
Two out of three ain't bad.
Even though Wiz has frequently logged heavy minutes, it's fair to argue that Fedor Tyutin and Nikita Nikitin have logged the tough minutes during his tenure, while Wiz works as a second pairing / first unit PP guy. It's not a bad role, and his consistent 990-1000 range PDO says he's doing a good job of helping to drive offense, just as intended.
In the past, Wiz tended to play against team's bottom six and lower pairings, and his Corsi stats reflected it. Last season he was asked to take on the top players night in and night out, and his defensive stats dipped accordingly, but he was still good for six goals and 21 assists in 48 games, tied for sixth overall on team scoring.
Of course, we also have to talk about why he only appeared in 48 games - Wiz was one of the first major victims of the "Shannaban" last season after a pre-season incident with Cal Clutterbuck that cost him the first eight games of the season, then a series of injuries that included a busted ankle and concussion kept him out of the lineup for another 30 games.
The post-lockout season seemed like a good opportunity for Wiz to get back on track, but a scary fall on the ice sent him down for several games with a concussion and concerns over his back, and his return from that incident lasted just three games before he would break his foot blocking a shot in Chicago. It's not fair to blame him for getting hurt, especially when the shot-blocking related ones were the result of the selfless attitude the club is encouraging, but $22 million dollars for the next four years is a hefty chunk of change. I suspect the team would like to get more than half a season, on average, for their dollars.
In the locker room, Wiz was one of several players who stepped up to change the "voice" of the team. He's embraced the hard work, no quit identity and has gone out of his way to interact with the community at team events and on social media. He'll stand up for teammates on or off ice, and has shown he's not afraid to sacrifice his body to help this team win games. He's a guy who clearly loves playing in Columbus, and clearly intends to raise a family here if given the opportuniry.
I think that in terms of attitude, offensive ability, and leadership, he's a strong candidate for the team's foundation going forward, but his injury history and the fact that Wiz is currently the highest paid player on the team for somewhat questionable return are marks against him that could lead JD and JK to re-evaluate his future here. He may not have to be the best player on the team for what he's getting paid, but he should certainly be in the top three or four, and I'm not sure we can say that about him at this point.
Let's hear what you think.