Nick Obergan. 16th March, 2012 - 3:12 pm
The 2011-12 season was supposed to be one where the Columbus Blue Jackets took their biggest step forward in franchise history. They have made the playoffs but once, and are without a postseason win. Superstar winger and captain Rick Nash had never played with an above-average center. Their defense was never productive.
All of that was supposed to change in the summer of 2011 when GM Scott Howson traded the 8th overall draft pick, a third-round pick and Jakob Voracek to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter, and then followed that up by signing James Wisniewski to a hefty free agent contract.
Instead of living up to the high expectations created by his contract (6-years, $33M, $5.5M cap hit), Wisniewski started the season suspended, has missed over 20 games in total and is a dreadful minus-20. Instead of providing an offensive boost from the blueline, he has four goals and 23 points after putting up 51 last year.
Instead of being the star center Rick Nash had so longed for, Carter proved what many already believed: that he is a shoot-first winger, not a center. He also proved to be unhappy, uninspired, and underproductive (39 games, 15-10-25, minus-11), and didn't gel with Nash one bit.
This lead to a month of trade speculation surrounding Nash, who it turns out, gave the club five teams he would waive his No-Trade Clause for, as he felt it was best for the franchise to get assets to rebuild. The Jackets were rumored to be asking for a huge package in return, and rightfully so, but failed to deliver a trade before the deadline.
They did however find a taker for Carter, as the L.A. Kings sent defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick to Columbus for his services. If you are scoring at home, that is Johnson and a first-round pick in the 12-18 range for Jakob Voracek, a third-round pick, and Sean Couturier (the 8th overall pick); not a horrendous deal. Johnson appears to be very happy in Columbus, and has produced four points in nine games with a plus-1 rating.
What they need to do is build around the 25-year-old Johnson (signed for six more years) and young rookie center Ryan Johansen (4th overall pick in 2010). Unfortunately, they lack other building pieces, and have unsightly contracts that will be nearly impossible to move (Marc Methot 3-years/$3M per, Fedor Tyutin 6/$4.5M, R.J. Umberger 4/$4.6M, and Wisniewski). They don't have a goalie prospect that rates better than average, have a couple of average defensive and offensive prospects, but nothing to consider a key building piece.
Thus, in addition to trying to move bad contracts, they absolutely need to trade Nash this offseason if the franchise is going to properly build something that will have sustainability going forward. We wrote here about some possible deals and the type of return Nash could bring, and some of the places involve a young goalie that looks like a #1 guy, something Steve Mason is not. Poor crease-play has only accelerated the fire on this mess of a season.
And that is just the beginning. In total, a Nash trade could bring in a top-flight NHL-ready prospect, a good young NHL roster player, and a first-round pick. That is three additional building blocks for a franchise that sorely needs them. If the Jackets end up with the first overall pick, there is a superstar waiting for them in Nail Yakupov. They also have the Kings' first, which could provide a solid top-six forward or top-four defenseman.
Columbus has a poorer track record in the draft than any other team, but Johansen looks like a keeper, and they have picks available to them here that require home runs being hit. It is very likely that there is a GM change once the season is complete, and the new GM will be able to put his stamp on the team right away. In turn, the organization needs to rub off the stamp on a team that was virtually eliminated from the playoffs in November. To do that, they need to hit the Restart button on the roster, and build through the draft like Pittsburgh and Chicago had done before them, and Edmonton and the Islanders are trying to do now.
Nick is RealGM's NHL Feature Writer. You can reach him by email firstname.lastname@example.org or on twitter @NickObergan