The Columbus Blue Jackets need an offensive defenseman…and fast.
OK, so that may be the most obvious and biggest understatement of the year, but if the Blue Jackets want to return to the playoffs for the second year in a row and compete again in their powder keg of a division, they are going to need to address their biggest hole on the roster.
Despite owning the league’s worst power play last season – an abysmal 12.7 percent – the Jackets found ways to grind out games and somewhat made up for their special teams shortfall by having the seventh-best 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio. They had the expected dominant play from Rick Nash (does anyone bring the puck out from the corner boards to the front of the net better than this guy?); they had a number of offensive rookies step up and force their competition to broaden its defensive coverage; and they even had a prodigious rookie goalie who carried the team on his shoulders and into the playoffs.
But it won’t be the same in 2009-10. A lot of pieces fell into place just right for the Jackets – some by surprise – and that’s not something you can count on every year. As good as Steve Mason is – and I think he’ll be great – you do have to worry about his groin, the worst and most risky injury a goalie can possibly have hanging over his head. And as good as their rookies and young guns were, you do have to ponder the possibility of a sophomore sickness setting in.
As many things could go wrong for the Blue Jackets this year as went right for them last year. Columbus has a lot of great pieces in place moving forward, but so does every other team in its division and the desire to remain competitive has to be met with an approach of proper, but unrushed, hole-filling.
While all the talk of Columbus’ success comes from up front or in the crease, there is little mention of the blueline. The names Mike Commodore, Jan Hejda, Rostislav Klesla and Fedor Tyutin will never dazzle anyone, but it was this corps that held opponents to 27.8 shots per game; third-best in the league.
What is missing though is that guy who can make the crisp pass out of the defensive zone to a streaking forward on a regular and reliable basis. Sure, Columbus has the answer to that problem coming down the pipe in Kris Russell and further addressed the need last month at the draft by selecting John Moore, but much like Tampa did by bringing in Mattias Ohlund to play with Victor Hedman, the Jackets need to bring in a veteran of the offensive ilk to not only teach the youngsters, but drive the bus in the interim until they are ready to assume control.
With about $10 million in cap space still available, the Jackets could turn to the trade market and target teams who are up against the cap.
Rumors suggested GM Scott Howson was in talks with San Jose about acquiring Christian Ehrhoff, but Sharks GM Doug Wilson wasn’t interested in the return of Jason Chimera. Not yet, anyway.
Tomas Kaberle of the Leafs comes to mind, but with the price GM Brian Burke is asking, I’m not sure the Jackets should go down that road. It’s not time to be so aggressive as to trade away a blue-chip prospect, so Columbus should be eyeing an option where it doesn’t have to give up a valued asset.
To me, the perfect fit is soon-to-be 39-year-old Sergei Zubov.
The 12-year Dallas Star and 16-year NHL vet is still recovering from a serious hip surgery that led him to miss most of last season. On top of that, he has only played 56 games over the past two seasons and these injury concerns have all but ended his tenure as a Star.
But what Zubov brings to the table is exactly what the Blue Jackets are looking for.
He’d be a great mentor for Russell – and Moore – and he’d provide that instant spark for a team that wouldn’t have to give up any roster players to land him. His signing would also create excitement and stir up a little interest in a team where hockey is second-to-all, especially in the summer months.
It seems like a match made in heaven. Even if Zubov does get injured again and misses part of the season the risk is still worth it, considering the reward that comes with a completely healthy Zubov. Plus, the Jackets would still have cap room to realign themselves if Zubov did go down.
That kind of big-ticket acquisition would help ensure the Jackets make the playoffs again and keep fan passion high. Without tackling this hole, the Jackets risk being overrun by a division and conference with so many current and budding Stanley Cup contenders.
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Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com’s web content specialist and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly in the off-season.
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