In many comments to post game analyses players have been ripped and quite a bit of nastiness about the Jackets has been spewed. But let's be real. The Jackets are, pretty much, the team we could have realistically expected this season. They are rarely outworked, though a lack of talent and on ice mistakes leave them as "wannabes" and, as we move towards the end of the season, spoilers. Despite everything, we can honestly say that, for the first time in a long time, the Jackets are an entertaining team. All things considered, I, for one, truly appreciate that fact.
Rather than bitch about the Jackets' shortcomings, this season, I'd rather look ahead to where they can improve for next season and beyond. To me, the two most obvious means of improvement are the draft and trades. As others have posted about draft possibilities (And I am not as informed about players eligible for the draft as others are.), I will concentrate on trades and on whom I believe the Jackets should employ their contract buyouts.
Starting with goalies, though there are several possible trades, I'm going to advocate patience in allowing the talented youngsters in the system time to develop. My reasoning is simple. Though not terrific, Mase and Bob have, overall, played well and, at times, been exceptional. Therefore, I would offer both one or two year contracts, granting the younger players time to develop while having adequate goaltending in Columbus. (And it is possible that either Mase or Bob could develop into a #1 goalie.)
With defensemen, the Jackets are blessed with a wealth of talent and ability. Though I, for one, would be hesitant to break up the majority of the group in Columbus right now, Erixson and Goloubef have shown that they are ready to be full time starters in the NHL. As Aucoin is, obviously, going to be allowed to leave after this season, that leaves one current Jackets defenseman to move to make room. I propose making John Moore available. No knock on Moore, as he has been (for the most part) solid, but solid simply isn't enough and Wiz, Johnson, Niki6 and Toots have been better overall than Moore. Trading Moore for a mid-level forward prospect and a 2nd or 3rd round draft pick makes sense.
Up forward is where I see the most "fat" on the current roster. First off, I would buyout Umby's contract, while offering to resign him at less money. Nothing against Umby, I love his spirit and attitude, but the results on ice just haven't been there. As a "swingman" between the 2nd and 3rd lines, he would be a strong part of the team going forward. Just not at the price being paid. Jared Boll should be bought out or sent to Springfield. His only real "skill" is fighting, yet he's not big enough to be a true enforcer. When a team has Derek Dorsett, who is big enough to be an enforcer while also being defensively responsible and providing a bit of offense, Boll is merely taking up a roster slot which could be filled with someone able to provide some offense.
Looking at the rest of the forwards, the biggest problem I see is an over-abundance of grinders. Therefore, the Jackets need to let some go, or trade some. Colton Gillies, Derek Mackenzie, Matt Calvert and Mark Letestu are, essentially, the same player. Of these four, Calvert and Letestu have the bigger "upside", therefore, let Gillies walk - as his contract does expire after this season - and see if there is any interest in Mackenzie. (Yes, Mac is a crowd favorite, but he seems to have leveled out, which is simply not good enough.)
Now, personally, I like Derick Brassard and still think he could be a very productive 1st or 2nd line center or wing. However, of the forwards left, he also has the highest trade outside of forwards I simply do not think should be traded. So, I would let it be known that I was willing to trade him for the right price, just to see what I'm offered. If the right deal was offered - Say a solid 2nd line wing and a draft pick - trade him. Otherwise, hold on to him.
These moves would open three to five roster spots immediately. Depending upon whom the Jackets receive in trades and the draft, there would, potentially, be more offense on next year's team and a slightly stronger defensive corps going into next season. As for Vinnie Prospal, I'm sitting on the fence with him. I would, happily, see him playing another season or two, both for his offensive ability as well as being a mentor to the younger players, but I could also see him as a kind of roving coach, moving throughout the system and teaching prospects and rookies/younger players on the Jackets how a professional prepares and plays.
As a final suggestion, JD has repeated the mantra that the Jackets will not be outworked. Over in Philadelphia, there is a long time fan favorite being paid to sit in the press box, night after night. Talk to the Flyers and Jody Shelley. Make it clear to Shelley that the reason for re-acquiring him is his work ethic and that he is wanted to be a player-coach, then coach, primarily at Springfield, teaching our younger players about dedication and working hard. Not only would JD be acquiring a player who has defined hard work throughout his career and making a move that would, overall, be popular with fans, but Shelley would be a very good teacher.