In a move that has shocked many fans, the Blue Jackets announced today that Tom Sestito is being returned to the Springfield Falcons today after collecting 2 goals, 2 assists, and 40 PIMs in 9 games after his recall earlier in December.
Though Sestito has played well, including some good time on the second power play unit, we need to remember that Sestito was in Columbus because of the injury to Derek MacKenzie, and the fact that MacKenzie is healthy and ready to come off of injured reserve (which I would expect to be announced later today or tomorrow when the club goes into Toronto) is not a bad thing at all.
This was a move dictated by contracts and depth, not a reflection on Sestito, and not, as some are claiming, an "insult" to the player or the fans.
Frankly, the reaction of the fanbase this morning is embarrassing. Hearing people declaring that "this is why the team will never succeed", "Howson doesn't care about winning", or "The team doesn't care about fans" is ridiculous - I'd go so far as to call it childish.
Let's look at some facts here.
1) Never Trade Something For Nothing - As has been mentioned by the dispatch's Aaron Portzline, and others, Sestito is the only forward on the current roster who would NOT have been exposed to waivers, which was one of the major factors in the decision. Had he played another game in the NHL, he'd have become vulnerable.
Consider the players that the team could have sent to Springfield instead (assuming a forward was reassigned, which is the best option for the team unless you really wanted to see another game of musical chairs in the press box.) - Kyle Wilson, Andrew Murray, Chris Clark, Derek Dorsett, Jared Boll, and the reactivated MacKenzie. Each would have been exposed to waivers, and more likely than not, would have been claimed.
For those who scoff at that idea, look at a team like the Islanders, currently only above the cap floor by dint of paying off Alexei Yashin. Think they'd consider adding an energetic player who has been showing off his scoring touch this year in Wilson? Or a veteran player with good experience to keep working with their younger guys like Tavares, Parentau, and Moulson like Chris Clark or even MacKenzie?
How about St. Louis, who lost the recently signed Marek Svatos off the waiver wire to Nashville and will be looking for another forward to replace him? Would you really be happy keeping Sestito at the cost of seeing another Blue Jacket suddenly suiting up for a divisional opponent?
What about a team like Colorado, who could take a player like Murray and use him to help plug the hole in their lineup caused by the loss of Chris Stewart and Peter Mueller? His good foot speed and recent show of hustle are exactly the type of player they've been building their team around.
Teams have contacted Scott Howson about both Dorsett and Boll in the past, particular when Boll was going into his RFA year. The opportunity to acquire one of them off the waiver wire, and not having to give the Jackets any compensation, would likely be jumped at, particularly for a team looking to add a bit more sandpaper to their lineup going into the second half of the season - how about Tampa Bay, looking to replace some of the toughness and agitation of the injured Steve Downie?
It's also a compliment, of sorts, to Sestito - the way he's finally started playing by using his hands and his size around the net rather than simply playing as a hitter or a fighter, as he did in previous callups, shows how he's been developing as a player, and likely got attention from other NHL GMs in addition to the Columbus fans. This decision also means "If we put you out there, we think we'd lose you, and we don't want that to happen."
2) Depth Is Life - Look back at the start of the season when the team was on their strong start, and even of late when they've been fighting their way back after struggling this month. How many games have we pointed out the contributions of all of the players that Howson had to juggle in this decision? Kyle Wilson has been one of the best surprises for the team this season. Chris Clark has delivered several clutch performances. Derek MacKenzie, before his injury, was not just an excellent fourth liner, but also one of our better penalty killers.
If this team wants to win (and they do, despite the snippish comments to the contrary...), they need these guys to do it. Sestito's performance was part of that, too, and a valued contribution. All the more reason to keep that depth intact, and make Sestito a hole card that can be brought up in times of injury, or to help bolster the roster down the stretch - particularly if Howson should make a trade that could potentially create a spot for him, or if the team reaches the post-season and can expand their roster accordingly.
3) Lack Of Evidence Is Not Evidence Of Lack - It's clear the team realizes Sestito played well while in Columbus - comments from Howson this morning were very positive about his future with the club. The team knows he was a strong presence for them. But also consider that this decision gives Sestito a chance to keep playing, and not riding the press box. It's a chance for him to continue to show a good attitude and strong work ethic. If he goes down, tears up the A for a few more weeks, and then finds himself back in Columbus, he'll be that much stronger and better prepared.
4) We Don't Know Everything - Nothing says that Scott Howson isn't still looking for a deal to keep improving this club - we know he was in some talks with the Islanders about the recently moved James Wisnewski, and as Dark Blue Jacket pointed out last night, Howson is very good about making a careful quiet deal that comes out of nowhere in an attempt to improve his team. If he were to make a move that improved the blue line, it could well involve a player like Murray or MacKenzie in the package, and suddenly Sestito is likely right back on the plane to Port Columbus. Is it likely to happen in the next few days? Probably not, but on the other hand, I wouldn't be shocked at all if more moves do come in the future, and Sestito finds himself back in the Nationwide Arena locker room as a result.
I will be the first to say I like Tom Sestito. I like what he brings to our lineup, I like his passion, I like his willingness to go to the net, and I like the fact that he's done a lot in the community in a relatively short time. I look forward to seeing him as a Blue Jacket in the future, and I hope he has a successful (and short!) return to Springfield. But this was a case where the numbers and the players involved left him on the outside looking in. No more, no less, and we do both the Blue Jackets and Tom himself a disservice by throwing a tantrum over it, instead of wishing him well.