The Stanley Cup has been awarded, and now we begin the sprint to the draft, followed shortly by the opening of free agency. Last season the Jackets had three first round picks, and made a huge splash in free agency by signing Nathan Horton. They don't figure to be as busy this offseason, but there is still a lot to talk about.
1) First of all, congratulations to Marian Gaborik and the Kings for winning the Stanley Cup. Among the CBJ fanbase, there are those who feel stung by the fact that the Jackets gave the Kings yet another huge offensive piece mid-season, en route to a Cup win. Two years ago it was Jeff Carter and this season it was of course, Gaborik. in 2012, Carter left on very bad terms and quite frankly, most of us wanted him to crash and burn in LA. He didn't, and watching him lift the Cup sucked. This season, I think there were more fans who understood that Gaborik was simply not a fit with the Jackets, and wished him well in LA. As it turned out, he was a perfect fit alongside Anze Kopitar and was a big part of their Cup victory.
Though his time with the Jackets was brief, his acquisition was bold at the time, and showed a willingness of the then-new management team to swing for the fences. It gave the team (and fanbase) a healthy dose of swagger. Sure, in the end it didn't work out, but from a fan's perspective, how good did it feel when it was announced that the team trade for him? A special feeling, and memory, to be sure.
Re-sign with LA, Gaby, it's a perfect fit.
2) At the end of last season, assistant coach Keith Acton left the team to join the Edmonton Oilers. This offseason, Dan Hinote left the team for undisclosed personal reasons. The team elected not to replace Acton, but this year the team quickly hired Springfield coach Brad Larsen to replace Hinote. I'm a huge fan of this move. Look no further than the Falcons' record the past two seasons to see that Larsen is a rising star in the coaching ranks. It remains to be seen if the staff adds an additional coach. If not Larsen, I had Craig Ramsey as an outside option, but he was hired by Edmonton.
3) I'm not going to rehash the usual Umberger debate that you see around here (and elsewhere in the CBJ blogosphere), I'll just say this- the number of teams interested in acquiring him is more than likely fewer than the ten unwanted destinations that he submitted to the Jackets as part of his no-trade clause. The compliance buyout option is there (and not ideal) but that window ends at the end of the month. If a trade is going to take place, it'll have to be in the next 12 days. You've most likely seen the rumor involving Sam Gagner, and though that deal would be a change of scenery for each player, why would the Oilers do it? For the record, I'd be in favor of bringing Gagner in. He's younger and still has some tread on his "potential" tires.
4) The draft is next weekend, and the Jackets' first pick is 16th overall. It's not a deep draft, but the Jackets are in a position to add a very good player if they keep the pick. I like Moncton winger Ivan Barbashev, or defenseman Roland McKeown at 16. This is a best player available situation for the Jackets, so if one of the highly-ranked players falls, the Jackets can scoop him up. From an overall perspective, it would make sense for the Jackets to shore up the depth of the defense prospect pool. I have a feeling that if the team doesn't think they'll sign prospect Martin Ouellette, they may grab a goalie in the later rounds. Ouellette must be signed by August 15th.
5) Free agency opens on July 1st, and the Jackets will have some options. In terms of their own free agents, some predictions:
Re-Sign: Johansen, MacKenzie, Skille, Savard, Prout, McElhinney
Let Walk: Frattin, Tropp, Comeau, Nikitin, Schultz
Assuming Johansen, MacKenzie and Skille are re-signed up front, and the Jackets carry 14 forwards, here's what I see:
Jenner - Johansen - Horton
XXXXX - Dubinsky - Atkinson
XXXXX - Anisimov - Foligno
Calvert - Letestu - MacKenzie
Skille - Boll
The positions represented by the XXXXX can be filled with free agency, rookies, or a combination of the two. I see one of those positions occupied by a rookie- one of Alexander Wennberg, Kerby Rychel, Marko Dano, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, or the recently-signed Simon Hjalmarsson.
As for the other XXXXX, this is where things are up in the air. Does the team spend big again, like last year with Horton? If they decide to go that route, guys like Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri and Ales Hemsky are UFA. A tier lower features names like Ryan Callahan, Milan Michalek or Mikhail Grabvoski. If a top-six free agent winger isn't brought in, how does the team fill that hole?
6) The All Star Game is in Columbus this upcoming season....in case you forgot. Should be pretty neat.