It's one of the worst kept secrets from the Blue Jackets' front office this off-season, but the rumors are there that Scott Howson wouldn't be opposed to trading away his eighth pick in this year's first round of the entry draft. Matt linked to an interview with Howson in today's Shrapnel piece, so I thought I would take a little time to break down exactly what Howson might be looking for if he decides to move the pick.
First, the housekeeping: what did Howson say, exactly?
"Possibly we'd look to move the pick -- even for a player, if we could," Howson told NHL.com. "We're open for anything. I don't think it's likely we'd move up, more likely we'd either make the pick or move back or perhaps trade it for a player."
It's no secret that the Jackets need help now, so packing assets to move up in the draft wouldn't be a prudent move in that context: you can't really get immediate help in the draft without creating additional holes by packaging up assets. It's a zero-sum game.
But what about trading the pick for a player?
First things first, Howson also covered his bets, stating that there is a plan in place if they end up using their #8 pick:
"We generally draft for best player available, but there are some positions we would like to fill with this pick and it seems like those positions will be available with the pick," he said. "If he's the best player on our board, that'll dictate it."
Obviously, the Jackets have needs (center, defenseman, goalie?) and at this point can always use solid talent in their system. Howson, however, has to see the writing on the wall that it's getting to be put-up-or-shut-up time for him. I would argue that he's done a far better job stocking the system with talent coming up than did his predecessor, but it's time for that talent to bring some wins on the ice.
To that end, it's more likely that Howson will look to deal the #8 pick for immediate help on the CBJ roster. So, we ask again: what about trading that pick for an established player?
There are, of course, some wrinkles. First and foremost, who might be available? The conventional wisdom says the Jackets would be more inclined to move the pick (plus assets) for a higher-shelf defenseman, but let's be honest: anyone of impact would be welcomed on this roster. In addition, there are likely more chances to make a move in free agency on the blue line this summer with a large crop of free-agent defensemen out there. So, let's focus on some forwards and a netminder.
As always when one scours the internet for trade options, one has to take the results with a grain of salt. These are just possibilities. All salary figures are per CapGeek.com.
Jeff Carter, RW, Philadelphia Flyers - Carter is 26, has a cap number of $5 million, and is coming off of two years in which he underachieved a bit after his 46-goal 84-point 2008-2009 season. He notched just 61 and 66 points the past two seasons, but still has scored more than 30 goals each of the last three years, and has been under 23 goals just once in his six year career. Why would Philly trade him? Well, as Matt noted this morning, it's a bit of a long-shot, but Carter's contract is humongous: he's got 11 more years left on his deal with a $5.272 million cap hit each of those years. The salaries are all $6 million-plus for the next seven years, with drops in each of the last four. In short, Philly would trade that contract.
Obviously, putting Carter on Rick Nash's right wing is probably a boost for both players. To that end, it would probably take more than just the #8 pick to get Carter. So, the question is: what else would Philly want, and can Columbus reasonably part with it--AND take on that behemoth contract--and see immediate improvements/returns? Columbus would probably need to unload some salary in this deal, but maybe Philly would be willing to take a shorter-term expensive contract along with some trade assets just to get out from under the 11-year contract.
Stephen Weiss, C, Florida Panthers - Weiss is 28, and has six more years left on his deal with a cap-hit of $3.1 million each season. This would be a deal Columbus could probably pull off without having to send too much back, as Florida was close to trading Weiss at the 2011 trading deadline. He's never put up the numbers that Carter has (averaging 19.2 goals and 32.8 assists per season over the past five, with a high of 28 goals in 2009-2010 and 47 assists in 2008-2009), but he would be a legit 50-60 point guy to add to the lineup. He can play center, though hs probably not a "#1" center; if paired with Nash, though, it would help solidify those numbers. Weiss could also allow Antoine Vermette to move back to the wing, which would also strengthen the top six. Depending on who Florida takes #3 in the draft and who's on the board at #8, it might not take too much more to get Weiss, as it would return Florida two of the top eight players in the draft.
Jason Spezza, C, Ottawa Senators - Mike talked about this potential trade chip a few weeks back. Suffice it to say, the Ottawa folks didn't seem to think that Spezza was on the block. Even still, he would be a nice piece to add.
Paul Stastny, C, Colorado Avalanche - Stastny is 25, and has three more years at $6.6 million per year left on his contract. The only season he finished under 20 goals in his five years in Colorado was in 2008-2009 when he missed almost half the season due to injury. For his career, he has 321 points--including 115 on the Power Play--in 348 games, including 105 goals. Think the Jackets couldn't use a young point-per-game guy right now? He's not cheap, and given Colorado's full-on need to rebuild (including shipping Chris Stewart away last season) you would think he wouldn't come cheap in terms of assets to go with the #8 pick.
Cory Schnieder, G, Vancouver Canucks - Schneider is 25, and has one year left on a contract that will pay him $900,000 next season. With the Canucks just two wins away from the Stanley Cup, and Roberto Luongo under contract for 11 more seasons, it's looking likely that Schneider could be trade bait for the Canucks. And, what better than to trade into the top-8 in a draft after (circle one) making the Finals/winning the Cup? Schneider played in 25 games--22 starts--this season, and was very good: 16-4-2, 2.23 gaa, .929 save%. Schneider would instantly provide a couple of things for Columbus, depending on what new goaltending coach Ian Clark can do with Steve Mason: Schneider could be the starter to give Mason some time to catch his breath and/or push Mason to improve and be more consistent, or Schneider could be the legit 1A/1B guy with Mason. Given his contract, the Jackets might have to take a salary-dump contract along with him to pry him loose from Vancouver, but that #8 pick would be a nice bargaining chip to have as well.
I'm sure Howson has a far more extensive list than these five guys, but these were five names that popped into my head after doing some searching, and could all be legit trades the Jackets could pursue. Obviously, a lot will depend on how the first seven picks pan out, who's on the board at 8, and who's looking to move up and/or coveting a specific guy on draft night.
But, all signs point to Howson doing everything in his power to move the pick.