Do Mark Letestu and Antoine Vermette Make Samuel Pahlsson Expendable?
It's a strange topic, to be sure. I'm generally never one to make snap judgments about a player after just two games, but it's hard to argue that the early returns on newest Jackets forward Mark Letestu are anything other than positive.
So, the premise here is multi-faceted: Letestu's line was by far the most consistent Saturday night. Antoine Vermette, while clearly scuffling offensively, is still one of your best faceoff men, and is a solid two-way forward. Derick Brassard is still lurking in the wings. Jeff Carter is back, and is clearly your #1 center. Derek MacKenzie is solid in the fourth line center role.
So, where does that leave Samuel Pahlsson?
Pahlsson was signed after the team's only playoff run, largely as Manny Malhotra insurance. With a contract squabble between the Blue Jackets and Malhotra, the club forced the issue by signing Pahlsson. Pegged as the prototypical third-line center, Pahlsson came in as a defensive stalwart, not far removed from a Selke trophy nomination ('06-'07). Pahlsson hasn't been horrible, but I can't think of too many Jackets fans that would be sad to see him go at this point.
First, let's talk about Letestu. Stuck on the depth chart behind Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal, he was a fourth-at-best center on a deep, deep Penguins team. Since coming to Columbus, he's played two games. He has averaged almost 16 minutes of ice time, has a goal, is even, and as a center on Saturday night won 67% of his faceoffs. He played with Vinny Prospal and Ryan Johansen to make up what was easily the Jackets' best offensive line of the night.
In other words, he's clearly a serviceable offensive center. He also only makes $625,000.
Pahlsson, on the other hand, makes $2.65 million, and this is the last year of his contract. For everyone amongst us in the fan base clammoring for moves to be made, the Jackets are up against the salary cap. Pahlsson's remaining owed-money would certainly help to make a move.
For a team trading for him, what would be the allure? Pahlsson has defensive chops. He wins faceoffs (won 57% last season). He has his name on The Cup (Anaheim, '07), so he's got playoff chops as well. You're telling me a team wouldn't take a flyer on him?
Here's the thing: when the trade for Letestu went down, many (myself included after some digestion) saw it as a precursor to another move. When you look at the early returns, coupled with the salary numbers, maybe the move doesn't involve Brassard; maybe it involves Pahlsson.
Pahlsson is low-risk; his contract is up after this season, and by the time a team trades for him he's only going to cost them around $2 million--at most. For a guy who's made playoff runs, that's a bargain.
The Jackets don't need him. With Carter, Letestu, Brassard, Vermette, and MacKenzie, they clearly have enough centers. Theoretically, any of Vermette, MacKenzie, or Letestu could take Pahlsson's place on the third line, and all can provide more secondary scoring. Vermette has struggled to score, but we all know he's capable. Why couldn't he--who is quite responsible defensively--take Pahlsson's spot in the linuep? Wouldn't he provide a little more scoring touch as a third line center than does Pahlsson?
Vermette also wins draws, at a better clip than Pahlsson. He's a better skater. A better facilitator. Vermette could easily slide into that third line center role and the team would certainly not miss a beat--Vermy played wing on the third line Saturday night, even.
At the end of the day, the move to acquire Mark Letestu may have provided the Jackets with an out for Pahlsson. The trick now will be to find a team willing to part with an asset to take on Pahlsson as part of a trade. I'm sure there are playoff teams with questions on defense that could use him. The job now falls to Scott Howson to find the right match.
It's not like Pahlsson is a part of the future, anyway. Letestu, Vermette, Carter, and Brassard either are, or certainly can be. MacKenzie is serviceable in his role, and provides good insurance.
The time is now to make the move. Shop Samuel Pahlsson. The move for Letestu almost demands it.