Columbus Blue Jackets Free Agency Preview

The 2009 NHL Entry Draft this year really shows how smart and crafty Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is.

He made not one, not two, but three trades to get exactly the players he wanted, right when he needed to pick them. Trading from 16 to 26, and back to 21 to draft John Moore was great maneuvering. I know many Vancouver Canucks fans were hoping Moore was still available at 22, but the fact that he was available at 21 was an incredible steal.

Howson has done a good job rebuilding depth on defense, a position where we had none just two years ago. He's drafted John Moore, Cody Goloubef, Will Weber, Brent Regner, and Steven Delisle (among others), and made trades for prospects like Teddy Ruth and Jonathan Sigalet.

We may have struck gold with Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason, but Howson made a very underrated move at this years' trade deadline bringing Kevin Lalande in via trade from the Calgary Flames. He will help push Dan LaCosta in Syracuse and gives us two respectable goalie prospects, with Lalande potentially being the better of the two.

These moves have done two things in my mind. One, it's proven the immense impact Howson has had on the Blue Jackets, very quietly, in just 2 full years. But it's also making the few holes that still remain that much more noticeable. But these draft picks and acquisitions make Scott Howson's moves on July 1st have a bit more flexibility.

What we need to look for:

  • It has intensified the need of a veteran back-up goalie for Steve Mason. Lalande and LaCosta will benefit greatly from battling with each other for playing time in Syracuse. We don't want to be where we were this past Novemeber, calling on an unproven goalie with just 3 games of pro experience. Then again, it worked out pretty well, eh?
  • We need an offensive defenseman (or two) at the NHL level, immediately. The good news is, with Moore, Goloubef, and others potentially being just 3-4 years away from the NHL, we don't need to sign Jay Bouwmeester to a 10-year $75 million deal. We can find someone serviceable to sign to a 3-4 year contract and that gives us ultimate flexibility when prospects start to make the jump, and when players like Kris Russell mature.
  • Don't lose focus on the forward group. We have some good core players under contract for at least a few more years: R.J. Umberger, Kristian Huselius, Jake Voracek, Nikita Filatov, and Jason Chimera. But over the next year, we need to deal with the contracts of Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, and Antoine Vermette. The good news is, we could continue to inject this group with some free agents/trades more easily than other positions.

Tomorrow, I'll have a preview of some players I believe the Blue Jackets should target this July 1st.

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