With the Rick Nash deal complete, we finally have a bit of closure to the speculations and painful flood of rumors that have run amok since January. As you'd expect, some people are fairly positive about the results for the Blue Jackets, others negative, and the majority of Blue Jackets fans simply want to know what this will mean for next season here in Columbus.
One of the more interesting things I've heard in reference to the trade was XM Radio's Scott Laughlin, who asked "Is Glenn Sather building a team, or just collecting talent?"
(For the record, he didn't like the trade for New York. He suggested that they removed some excellent depth up the middle to add a winger who might improve their power play, but does little to drive their transition game. It's worth keeping that in mind...)
That question about building vs. collecting, though, is a good one, and I think it's worth looking at why this off season's changes may be rather different than last...
I don't think anyone would argue that last offseason was much more of the "Collecting talent" variety. Jeff Carter was acquired based on his offensive skills, and the questions around his off ice behavior and character would eventually spill over in the worst way possible. James Wisniewski has been a positive influence for the room, but he was acquired more for his shot and sandpaper game. Vinny Prospal was an emergency fill in that turned out to be, perhaps, the biggest signing of the summer for Columbus. Mark Dekanich was a pure "talent" signing, and sadly backfired.
The changes seemed to start when Kris Russell was sent to St. Louis for Nikita Nikitin, but aside from the simple "shake up", the most subtle, yet interesting, sign of a change in strategy was Howson's request for Fedor Tyutin to stay behind after the trade call to speak with his countryman, kickstarting the process of getting him comfortable with Columbus.
At the same time, when Prospal called out the team on their work ethic, Scott Howson made the move to pick up Mark Letestu, who brought versatility and notable dedication to hard work and earning his ice time. Colton Gillies, acquired from Minnesota on waivers, brought strong defensive play, even if his offensive talent has not translated to the NHL game.
Then, there is the matter of the acquisition of Jack Johnson. With the arrival of Johnson and the slow reduction of Rick Nash both in the media and, one would suspect, the room, the change in the locker room has been palpable. As others have noted, the team did not surrender a game when they lead after two periods once Johnson came on board, and while some of that may owe to Todd Richards getting a better handle on what his team could and could not do compared to Scott Arniel, one must wonder if the new voices in the room finally had an impact. Complacency is no longer an option, and the more the team seemed to stop looking to Nash for clutch performances, the more they found their own strengths.
The move to acquire Sergei Bobrovsky is another attempt to fix a glaring problem on the Jackets' roster, but it's worth considering that "Bob" will be given a strong defensive core to work with, and a solid group of countrymen to aid in his transition. Perhaps he and Steve Mason will be able to push each other in a positive manner, but I still wouldn't be shocked to see Mason moved before the start of camp, especially if Columbus is able to successfully acquire Jonathan Bernier to provide a true competition for the #1 job.
The July 1st acquisitions of Adrian Aucoin, Nick Foligno, and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault seem to also fit into a new "team" identity for the club. A veteran, hardworking defenseman who is looking to mentor younger players (one would think that Ryan Murray and Tim Erixon will both be getting a lot of exposure to the former Coyote), a forward just coming into the prime of his career who is well regarded for his all around play and energy level, and a prospect who has been fighting tooth and nail to earn opportunities since going undrafted, and shows signs of becoming a strong impact player who could be ready for the NHL in the near future.
You keep hearing the same words over and over again. "Gritty. Hard working. Versatile. Defensively solid. Good energy. Great character."
Perhaps there won't be a player or two with 60+ point potential on the first line, but the rise of four or five guys with 35-40+ point seasons would be an excellent change.
Then, finally, there are the new guys. Dubinsky and Anisimov both have been regarded as excellent two way players who can bring some solid offense. Dubinsky was regarded as a major leader in the room for a New York team that kept finding ways to win even when the goals weren't flowing. A.A. is a BIG guy (6'4", 200lb) who may still be able to add a bit more muscle to his game and has shown some excellent playmaking skills. Both have solid ability to play up the middle or on the wing, though feedback we've gotten from Rangers fans indicates that Dubinsky may be more comfortable making that switch.
Finally, there's Erixon, and despite some (legitimate) concerns about his attitude given his previous work to leave Calgary, it would seem he's on board with making an impact here in Columbus, and he adds an interesting wild card to what already appeared to be an impressive blue line. If the team's top two pairings are basically set, and Aucoin is likely to anchor the third pair, you have Erixon, Ryan Murray, John Moore, and David Savard all positioned to battle for that final NHL spot, or perhaps two of the younger guys rotate in and out as #6 and #7. Either way, the stage is set for some major competition, and players are going to be asked to earn spots rather than simply receive them.
Again, the guys who will play will earn the minutes with hard work, and they'll be expected to contribute with solid play on both sides of the puck, not just scoring. Seeing a theme here? Don't be shocked if players like Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Ryan Russell, and even Derick Brassard find themselves fighting for ice time in camp under the exact same expectations - and that the Blue Jackets will be a better club for it.
Are the Jackets a much less talented set of players without Rick Nash and Jeff Carter? Arguably.
Have Scott Howson and Craig Patrick built a better team in their wake?