Let's have some fun.
I'm about to embark on an exercise that is likely too ambitious to ever happen, but we're in the discussion-startin' business, so here goes:
Five things the Jackets need to do this summer:
1) Sign Mike Reilly. Yeah, I know. This one's obvious. It's also out of the Jackets' hands, to a point. The defense needs to be re-worked, and Reilly would be an inexpensive addition who would bring his offensive flair to a defense corps that could really use it in the post-Wisniewski era. If Reilly decides to sign with the team that drafted him, it would be beneficial to both sides. He'll have a chance to play a significant role right away, and there would be positive mojo gained from it.
2) Trade a forward or two for a veteran defenseman. Given the small number of defensemen available in free agency, look for the Jackets to use the trade route to upgrade the defense. I've previously talked about trading for guys like Dan Hamhuis or Brayden Coburn. These guys have one thing in common- they have one more year left on their deals before becoming unrestricted free agents. I am targeting these players because of the security in knowing that if things don't work out, the team won't be on the hook long-term.
The Jackets have some interesting trade chips. With Alexander Wennberg showing that he can handle playing center in the NHL, Artem Anisimov could be dangled. We know what Arty brings: strong two-way play, and a decent helping of offense on the side. Sonny Milano, taken in the first round of last year's draft, is another piece that could help bring a decent return. The Jackets are loaded with young forwards, both on the roster or knocking on the door. With the team re-signing Cam Atkinson, Milano will have an even harder time cracking the lineup.
The Jackets also have six picks in the first three rounds of this June's draft- the 8th overall pick, three second-rounders and two picks in round three.
Some combination of Anisimov, Milano and one or more of the picks I mentioned would form a tantalizing package for a team willing to deal a defenseman.
Using my expiring contract criteria, there are a few other players that are in the same situation as Hamhuis and Coburn- Brent Seabrook, Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski. Seabrook has the highest cap hit of the bunch, and it would likely take the full package of Anisimov, Milano and a second round pick to get him out of Chicago. The Blackhawks may need to shed salary again this summer, so Seabrook may not be as far-fetched. The Rangers paid a lot to get Yandle, and would they want/need Arty back after trading him for Rick Nash? Goligoski has a similar cap hit to Hamhuis and Coburn.
The down side to targeting players on expiring contracts is that they could bail after just the one season after the Jackets paid a lot to get them. If we expand the targets to defensemen who are UFA after two seasons, the pickings become slim. Brent Burns and Kevin Shattenkirk headline the group, but I find it hard to believe their teams won't re-sign them. There are names like Dmitry Kulikov, Dennis Wideman, Victor Hedman and Karl Alzner there too.
Hedman will re-sign with the Lightning, while Kulikov is overpaid for his production and Wideman is not getting any younger. Alzner is interesting, but he's a shutdown defenseman and the Jackets have enough of those.
Let's stick with Coburn, Hamhuis, Yandle or Seabrook. You want Seabrook? Give them the full package. For my money, trade Arty, Milano and the lowest second rounder for Yandle. Arty goes back to New York, Milano gives the Rangers a top prospect, and the pick helps offset New York's lack of a first rounder.
Johnson - Tyutin
Murray - Yandle
Reilly - Savard
Connauton - Prout
3) Draft Ivan Provorov or Zach Werenski 8th Overall. I'm hopeful that one of these two players will still be on the board when the Jackets head to the podium. They'd still qualify as BPA, while filling an organizational need for a high-end defense prospect. Assuming that the remaining picks aren't dealt for the sake of discussion, in the second round the Jackets should target forward Jack Roslovic, goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood or Ilya Samsonov, and defenseman Parker Wotherspoon. In round three, defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler and forward Nicolas Roy are my targets.
Obviously some or even all of these players may go higher, but if the Jackets can come away with Provorov, Blackwood, Roslovic, Wotherspoon, Siegenthaler and Roy in the first three rounds - wow.
4) Have Nick Foligno, wearing his Jackets sweater with a big "C" stitched on it; announce the team's top pick. This one doesn't need much discussion, Foligno is my choice for captain and the draft would be a great way to announce it.
5) Miscellaneous: Re-sign Calvert and Letestu. Trade for Jakob Markstrom to back up Bob. Sign Boone Jenner to an early extension. Work with the Lake Erie Monsters to design new sweaters for them - it's Dan Gilbert's team, but see if they go for a name change to Cleveland Cannons. Put every player on the Ryan Johansen summer training program.
Go ahead and give me some of your must-dos for the Jackets this summer. Think outside the box! Think big, have some fun with it.