In a tire-fire season such as this one has been, the trade deadline is one of the final milestones before the season mercifully ends in April. As the Jackets prepare to--potentially--reshape their roster as several players could be on the move, I started to get a weird feeling about the potential for trading Cam Atkinson and James Wisniewski. I am guilty of sometimes being overly optimistic or pessimistic based on one snapshot in time, but I could shake a nagging feeling that the tea leaves behind potentially trading two valuable assets means something much deeper.
Thankfully, we also have Jeff on our writing staff, and he took on the challenge of providing sound analysis to counter my outlandish claims. None of the following is being offered as "reporting" of any kind. It is merely the opinions of two of us, your trusty Cannon writers.
With that, we give you:
Point/Counterpoint: Trading Wiz and Cam
Dan P: I had a friend who is probably 10 times the die-hard fan that I am tell me over the weekend that, for the first time, he was starting to question Jarmo’s vision. While I understand what he meant, I don’t really question the vision. What I am starting to see is that vision becoming clearer and clearer. As we approach today’s trade deadline, what I see is a franchise taking off its rose-colored glasses and admitting that it’s not as close as it thought. We’ve all talked the phrase "brick by brick" to death at this point, but if Cam Atkinson and James Wisniewski are gone at today’s deadline, that tells me that the team doesn’t think we’re a playoff team for the next two seasons, and that they are going back to their roots of long-term drafting and development to build a contender maybe five years down the road.
Jeff Little: I think it’s always dangerous to read too much into trade deadline rumors and deals. IF Wisniewski and/or Atkinson move, it doesn’t necessarily signal any change in direction on the part of the organization, and really could be viewed as more of a positive move than a negative. First, no trade can be viewed only from the perspective of who goes -- perhaps the biggest part is who comes back, and what may be setting up for draft/free agent season. The injury situation with the team has simultaneously made it an anomalous year and one where the youngsters have gotten some unexpected NHL ice time. Guys like Wennberg, Dano and Goloubef have shown some real progress, and Connauton was a nice pick-up. Jeremy Morin, Kerby Rychel, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Sonny Milano --- all of these guys have real potential to play on the big club in the near future. This creates a potential logjam, but also creates flexibility and opportunity, particularly in the best draft year since 2003. So, I don’t read anything into the potential moves that would signal a departure from either the plan or the timeline.
DP Point: Nothing the Jackets get in return for either of those two players will help them MORE than those two players would for the next two seasons.
Cam isn’t going to command a huge raise. Wiz is signed for two more seasons to a contract that isn’t a killer. These are not guys that HAVE to go for salary reasons. And, they both contributed a ton to a playoff team last season, and would also contribute to a playoff team in each of the next two seasons. Whatever comes back in a trade will most likely be draft picks and prospects, neither of which will be immediate contributors to the club. A second or third round pick may never contribute as much as those two players. So, if you think this team is a contender NEXT year, why would you trade two contributors to that for assets that won’t contribute next year, and may NEVER contribute?
JL Counterpoint: I think the signs on Cam suggest that his people are asking for a big raise, which frankly is not deserved. His numbers this year are poor, even on a relative basis, He plays a 100 ft. game, has trouble finishing, and does not make those around him better. He’ll get the breakaway now and then, and is exciting to watch, but that doesn’t put points on the board and won’t put dollars in his pocket. Cam has the same number of shots as Ryan Johansen, and 30 fewer points. His numbers are easily replaceable, and he has enough potential to draw a good return.
Wisniewski is viewed through rose-colored glasses because he continues to produce on the power play. However, in his own end he remains a turnover machine, makes bad decisions and frequently causes more turmoil than he resolves. The value of defensemen is not as well captured by advanced stats, particularly in terms of own zone behaviors. Also, his even strength numbers suffer. While his contract is not awful by current standards, it’s high for a power play specialist. We don’t know what Jarmo may have up his sleeve for the blue line, but if Wisniewski can bring value -- at any position, it’s worth exploring.
DP Point: Trading away these players trades from positions of weakness already, and makes those positions weaker.
Right wing and defense are two areas we would like to IMPROVE in if we’re going to make the playoffs next season. Trading away arguably your two best assets from those positions makes the team weaker in the short term, not stronger. Yes, this doesn’t account for any moves this summer, but why make your two weakest spots even weaker at the outset?
JL Counterpoint: The simple answer here is supply and demand. We have players other clubs want, which gives us leverage. Weakness is more perceived than actual. We have a long list of forwards :Johansen-Foligno--Jenner -- Dubinsky -- Hartnell -- Wennberg -- Dano -- Anisimov -- Letestu -- Calvert -- Skille -- Clarkson. Even if Letestu also goes, you have Morin & Rychel, without even mentioning Boll & Tropp, and there are plenty more youngsters on the way.
Similar story for Wiz, though we don’t have the immediate dept on the blue line that we thought we did. Wiz is not our best defenseman (Tyutin holds that title), but his power play numbers attract suitors, and that gives the franchise leverage to get good value. If that value can’t be obtained, they don’t move him. I expect a couple of veteran blue liners to be added in June, with a couple of our waiver problems moving on.
You don’t get leverage very often, and being able to trade two guys when you don’t have to provides exactly that. The value of both of these guys is more based on emotion than reality, and I think Jarmo sees through that.
DP Point: The FO talked about "brick by brick" from the jump, and I think they were tricked by a hot goaltender and a team playing way above its head for two months.
When the team bottomed out and traded Rick Nash, and then John Davidson arrived and talked about building from the ground up "brick by brick," and then hired a GM known for his draft acumen, it all made sense: this team was going to need five years to get back into it, and they were going to do it by way of their three first round picks in 2013 and overall better scouting and drafting. That was the vision. Then, Sergei Bobrovsky got white-hot in the spring of 2013 and they went for the playoffs, narrowly missing. Slow start in the fall followed by a crazy spring of 2014 that led to a playoff berth, and I think we all thought we were ahead of schedule. These trades would mean that we were never ahead of schedule, and that the playoffs were a tiny bit of fools’ gold. This team’s window for competition is going to be when Johansen, Wennberg, Dano, Rychel, Reilly, Heatherington, Anderson, Bjorkstrand, and Milano are the everyday core of this team. That’s not next season, or the season after that. That’s at least three years from now.
JL Counterpoint: The club remains ahead of schedule. Bobrovsky is a Vezina-caliber goaltender, Johansen & Foligno have great chemistry and are both in the top 20 in points in the NHL. Hartnell was a solid addition, as was Connauton. Jenner, Dubinsky & Anisimov never had the chance to contribute meaningfully, nor did Murray. Bobrovsky had two major injury bouts, and the supporting cast was equally banged up for much of the year. Most observers have never seen an injury string like Columbus had this year, and the fact that they were almost at .500 before this latest skid is more of a miracle than anything. Much of that was riding Bob in December.
I think we have to get past the notion that every time a Blue Jacket has a good year, it’s an aberration. People said Foligno over-performed last year. He’s done better this year. Johansen is only eight points shy of last year’s total --- with 20 games to play. Dubinsky has shown his true form now that he’s healthy. Bobrovsky continues to show that he’s among the NHL goaltending elite. Sure, some guys regressed, Atkinson foremost among them. Prout and Savard seem to have hit the ceiling and bounced down. But other guys have stepped up and the organization has had the chance to see things they might not have, but for the injuries. It’s still brick by brick, and nothing I’ve seen suggests any divergence from that course.
What say all of you?