My first thought (and I'm sure I wasn't alone on this) when I heard that the Jackets traded a fourth round pick to Pittsburgh for center Mark Letestu was...
...Ok, what's next?
If there was ever a move that left you thinking that it was a precursor to another deal, this one is it. While the Jackets haven't been lighting the league on fire offensively, the team's biggest issues are on defense and in goal. Acquiring a forward should be the last move that GM Scott Howson should be making, especially with Jeff Carter potentially returning to the lineup this week.
This moves leaves the team with seven centers: Jeff Carter, Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, Samuel Pahlsson, Derek MacKenzie, Ryan Johansen and now, Letestu. Granted, Johansen has played the last few games on the wing, but long term the plan is for him to be playing up the middle. With Rick Nash, Vinny Prospal, R.J. Umberger, Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson, Derek Dorsett, Jared Boll and Cody Bass on the wing, something has to give.
Bass goes to Springfield. Nash/Carter/Prospal gets reunited as the top line. Umberger and Johansen flank Vermette. Pahlsson and MacKenzie continue to man the third and fourth line center positions. Who are the four wingers in the bottom six? Dorsett and Calvert are energy players, and make sense on a line with Pahlsson. That leaves Letestu, Brassard, Atkinson and Boll fighting for two spots on the fourth line. Of those four players, you can make it an offensive line with Brassard and Atkinson, or a hodge-podge line with Letestu and Boll. Heck, whatever the combination you create, Brassard and Atkinson don't make sense. Atkinson is developing and should be playing. That leaves Brass.
He's got value. Packaged with other assets, he may be attractive to other NHL teams looking for help at center. The Jackets need an upgrade on defense, and I see a fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Tim Connolly is hurt, again. Luke Schenn, who just signed a new 5-year, $18.0 million dollar deal, is in the doghouse. Would a Brassard for Schenn straight up trade work? I think so.
Here are some particulars:
- Both are former first round picks, for whatever that's worth.
- Leafs are thin up the middle, Jackets are in the same bind on defense.
- Brassard is due $3.0 million this year, $3.3 next season, and $3.7 the following year, at which point he'll become a restricted free agent.
- Schenn is making $4.6 million this season, and in each of the next four years his salary will be $3.35 million.
- Given the near-identical salaries, money shouldn't be an issue, the only difference being Schenn is under contract for two more years.
- Brassard has steadily increased his point totals the past three seasons, from 25, to 36 to 47 points.
- Schenn has done the same, putting up 14, 17 and 22 points his last three seasons. (Consequently, those are his first three years in the league)
- Both players are currently the odd man out on their respective rosters, and have struggled so far this season.
- Brassard is 24 years old, while Schenn is 22. Both have yet to hit their prime years.
- A potential stumbling block- Schenn has a modified no-trade clause. I'm unsure of the particulars. Brassard has no such clause in his contract.
While this is almost entirely speculative, this deal, or one like it, makes sense for Columbus. It's clear that a shakeup is needed, and if nothing is done with the goaltending situation, a move to potentially improve the blueline could spark the team by itself.
I've focused on Brassard, but it's entirely possible that Antoine Vermette could be dealt as well. He's struggled as well this season, yet to score his first goal. I've keyed on Brassard though, because unlike Vermette, Brassard has been bumped throughout the lineup, spending a majority of the season on the fourth line.
For a more visual view of what a healthy lineup (pre-Huselius) could look like, check this out:
Prospal - Carter - Nash
Umberger - Vermette - Johansen
Dorsett - Pahlsson - Calvert
Letestu - MacKenzie - Boll
Wisniewski - Tyutin
Schenn - Methot
Martinek - Russell
In this scenario, Atkinson, Aaron Johnson and John Moore are in Springfield. While Moore has played well, the fact he's on his entry-level contract, and the fact that he's only in his second pro season, makes this an easy decision. If Boll isn't going to be a regular, make him the thirteenth forward and slot a guy like Bass or Maksim Mayorov on the fourth line with Letestu and MacKenzie.
While we're talking trade, if not Schenn, who else would be a good fit for the Jackets? Let me know in the comments.