Last week Andy gave his thoughts on why the Jackets need to trade Cam Atkinson. I'm going to state my case as to why the team needs to keep him. The main takeaway from Andy's post was that he didn't consider Atkinson to part of the core of the team-this is where our opinions differ.
Good teams are deep. Good teams have balanced scoring. Good teams have guys like Cam Atkinson providing secondary scoring. Last season, when the Jackets were actually a playoff team, Atkinson put up 21 goals, among 40 points. It was his breakout season as an NHLer, with the expectation that the next step for him would be to crack 30 goals. Had this year's team been able to continue their upward trajectory, building off of the momentum gained from the playoff appearance last year, I'm confident that Cam would have hit that mark.
We all know that hasn't happened, as this season was quickly derailed by the inability to ice a complete lineup. The lines have been in flux, with no chance to develop chemistry. Cam himself missed time due to injury.
If the organization considers this season to be a one year setback (and most of us would agree that it is) it's important to not stray too far from what got the Jackets to the playoffs last season. Having Cam as a key secondary scorer was part of that success.
We all know that he's a pure goal scorer. He's not a checker, he doesn't pass very often, but he can be absolutely relied on to shoot the puck, and shooting the puck leads to goals. When guys like Ryan Johansen, Scott Hartnell and Nick Foligno are facing the opposition's top checkers, Todd Richards can turn to guys like Atkinson to chip in offensively.
Teams that don't make the playoffs usually fall into two categories: teams that are terrible and are either in need of, or currently in the midst of a rebuild; and teams that are on the rise that just miss the playoffs, but are trending towards becoming contenders. The Jackets don't fall into either of those categories this year. They are a contending team that suffered terrible luck, leading to a temporary setback. The rebuilding teams trade off players that aren't part of the future at the trade deadline, while a team on the rise or a current contender either stays the course or adds to their lineup.
The Jackets aren't a rebuilding team. Their position in the standings is not indicative of the short-term future of the team. The Jackets should not be trading away players that are a part of their future.
At 25 years old, Atkinson is about to hit his prime. With a healthy, winning lineup he can hit 30 goals. He's in just his third full season in the NHL, and though his numbers have fallen off a bit this year, he's still on pace to score 19 goals.
He also plays a premium position on the Jackets, as the team is thin at right wing. Nick Foligno has spent time as the top line right winger, but aside from those two the other two starting right wingers are Jack Skille and Jared Boll.
Part of the reason his name has popped up in trade rumours recently is the fact he's an impending restricted free agent. On teams that are tight to the salary cap, re-signing restricted free agents can be a problem. The Jackets are not one of these teams, so dealing him because of financial reasons doesn't carry any water.
There's also the issue of return: how much can the Jackets expect to get for him in a trade? A second round pick perhaps? On a team that's built to win soon, sacrificing a "now" asset for a potential future asset doesn't make sense. This is a classic case of the player being worth more to his team than what they could get if they traded him.
If the organization truly believes this is a temporary blip, they would be unwise to deal a young, goal-scoring right winger who is just hitting his prime. He provides the secondary scoring depth that winning teams possess. He'll be given a fair contract this summer, and if next year the Jackets can avoid what scuttled them this season, they may have themselves a 30 goal man, signed to a cap-friendly deal.
Stay the course.