Stop looking at me like that. I'm not crazy, I'm just looking for some interesting ways to pass the time.
Though the Jackets haven't exactly been poster children for success, they've had some players pass through their locker room who have made big impacts here in Columbus, and throughout the NHL. After hearing some "All time team" talk on XM this morning, I decided it would be an interesting thought exercise.
The first problem I encountered was if I wanted to construct a full roster, or simply a "Best of" group to put on the ice for one shift. I decided to go with one of each, and I set a couple of rules down in the process.
- Player has to have already played a full season in Columbus (Sorry, Jeff Carter!)
- Player has to be considered on his perfomances with the Jackets, not his entire NHL career.
With that said, here's what I came up with - I'm interested in hearing what you guys think.
Option #1: All Time All Stars
Left Wing: Rick Nash
Without a doubt, Rick Nash has been the most productive player at the position since he stepped into the NHL. Leading nearly every offensive category, there's no other choice for this team.
Center: Antoine Vermette
I had some debates on this - Andrew Cassels actually had a slightly better season on pure points in '02-03, but Vermette has come in with better defensive numbers, and his exceptional faceoff skills and shooting percentage make him a lock.
Right Wing: David Vyborny
Wrestling between Vyborny and Nikolay Zherdev was a serious battle. Both had some excellent scoring years, and while Z's candle burned a little brighter (and faster), Vyborny's contributions still have him near the top of the franchise leaderboard for assists, power play points, and he was one of the team's franchise ironmen until the end of his career.
Defense: Jan Hejda
The "Big Plus" owns the franchise single season +/- record with a sparkling +23, and though he priced himself out of town, he was one of the best shutdown defensemen to play for the Jackets in their history.
Defense: Jaroslav Spacek
Though his -23 in the 2002-2003 season was cringe inducing, Spacek's 9 goal, 45 point season is still the best ever tallied by a Jackets' blueliner to date. If we assume his defensive numbers were impacted by the fact that the goaltending came from Marc Denis and J-F Labbe...well, one would assume that he might improve, especially if the goaltender was...
Goaltender: Steve Mason
For all of his problems, Mason's Calder Trophy winning season, with a 2.29 GAA, 33 wins, 10 shutouts, and .916 save percentage is a perfect storm. The only Jacket goaltender to ever record a winning record, we wait as fans to see if he can regain that remarkable form as the team around him improves. Overall, his 2.77 GAA is just behind Ron Tugnutt for best in Franchise history, and his save percentage of .906 isn't that far off of Tugger's .910 - and Tugnutt only played 97 games for Columbus.
So, there's a "conventional" all star list. But if we expand the roster out, we can pad it a little...
Option #2: Full Slate
If we keep the lines from Option 1 as the "First Line / First Pairing / Starter", that gives us room to expand out the remaining lines nicely.
Left Wing: Ray Whitney
One of the biggest games of "What If" I used to think about was if Doug MacLean had hung on to Ray Whitney rather than deciding to let him go. With the Wizard's puck skills and the dynamic ability of Nash, you have to think that the Jackets would have created an impressive 1-2 punch.
Center: Epsen Knutsen
I seriously debated Andrew Cassels here, too, but I decided to take 1 career year against consistent performance, and Shampoo won out. Even Sergei Federov and Derick Brassard never matched the scoring that Knutsen provided in the early years of the franchise, making him the Blue Jackets first All-Star.
Right Wing: Nikolay Zherdev
Now Z gets his due. Though his defensive lapses were, at times, infuriating, and his effort level often questioned, there's no doubt that Zherdev was one of the most gifted forwards to ever play for the Jackets, and his play in New York and Philly spoke volumes about his talent...and about his struggles to play at a top level in the NHL. Now back in the KHL for a second time, it's doubtful he'll get a third chance to come back and prove he can run with the big dogs.
Left Wing: R.J. Umberger
Though many fans were willing to get behind R.J. simply for being a product of Ohio State, his willingness to get his hands dirty, play hard on both sides of the puck, and become such a vocal member of the locker room have made him one of the most beloved players in Blue Jackets history, and if he continues to push himself, I wouldn't be surprised if he re-writes a few pages in the Jackets' record book before all is said and done.
Center: Manny Malhotra
Still a franchise leader in assist totals and points, Manny's faceoff skills are still some of the best to appear in Nationwide Arena, and equally well remembered for his work in the community as one of the faces of the franchise.
Right Wing: Jakub Voracek
Though Jake has yet to fully embrace his potential, he was still one of the best players at the position for Columbus - a reason to be quite hopeful if you're a Flyers fan.
Left Wing: Geoff Sanderson
"Sandy" was one of the key pieces of the expansion years, and still one of the better goal scorers to line up for the Jackets. Though Nash has eclipsed him in most respects, he's still an important part of where this team came from.
Center: Sergei Fedorov
If we were considering the entire body of work, Fedorov would be a lock for the first team. As it is, though he was never quite the game-breaker that many fans hoped for, he still was an important contributor - but oh, god, that contract...
Right Wing: Steve Heinze
Right Wing isn't what you'd call a historical position of depth for the Jackets, unless you count Nash switching to the opposite side. Heinze really made his best impact in the Jackets' inaugural season, where his 22 goals and 42 points made him third in team scoring.
Second Defensive Pairing
Rusty was never the franchise offensive d-man that he was projected as in his draft year, but he was one of the most consistent d-men on the Jackets' blue line from day 1, despite his injury woes. Still the overall leader in scoring from the blue line, his marks are likely to be eclipsed in the near future by...
Acquired for Nikolay Zherdev from the Rangers, Tyutin has been one of the better blueliners for the Jackets in the post-lockout era, eating minutes with aplomb and scoring some clutch goals - including the shootout tally that clinched the franchise's only playoff spot to this point. Though he struggles with consistency, particularly on the road, he's still one of the best "all situations" players on the club at this point.
Third Defensive Pairing
"Hollywood" may have suffered defensively at times in Columbus, but his scoring ability pretty much peaked as a Blue Jacket, much to the chagrin of fans in Atlanta. It will be interesting to see how he does with the transition into the 'Peg.
On sheer "Best single season" merits, I should probably be recognizing Bryan Berard, but I simply can't do it. A single season Jacket, a -29, and add on the issues of performance enhancing drug abuse? No, sorry. Kris Russell, on the other hand, though he continues to be something of a work in progress, is actually worth some honors - did you know that he's currently the leader in games played among active Jackets' defensemen? That he's #4 on the all time list for scoring among Columbus blueliners? Should Russell take another step forward this season, it's entirely possible that he could shoot up those rankings.
I'm not crazy, and I can explain this. Despite being the franchise loss leader with 146, it's worth considering that Denis has more minutes as a starting goaltender than any other in franchise history - including Mason - and has more wins in his career. Still the franchise leader in total saves, he's got a body of work worth considering.
You could alternatively go with Ron Tugnutt or Pascal LeClaire, but the more I look at Denis, it strikes me that despite the battering he took at the hands of opposing teams (and, at times, the home crowd), he's earned the honors.
So, there you go. A bit of fun BSing for a summer evening - take a look, think about your own choices, and let me have it in the comments, as usual.