Columbus' leading scorer, Vaclav Prospal, will attract interest from playoff contenders. (Photo by John Russell/NHLI via Getty Images)
The struggles of the Columbus Blue Jackets have made them frequent targets of trade speculation, but apart from a couple of minor deals, GM Scott Howson has resisted making any changes to his roster.
Now, with the mid-season fast approaching and the Blue Jackets playoff hopes all but dashed, Howson's patience appears to have run out. In an interview with Bob Hunter of the Columbus Dispatch, he stated he'll be active to improve a roster that is “just not good enough as a team.”
Howson explained his earlier reluctance to shake things up was due to the absence of key players such as center Jeff Carter to injury and defenseman James Wisniewski to suspension, but the GM now feels it's time to fix things.
Replacing Scott Arniel as coach doesn't appear to be an option. Howson pointed out, of the six teams that changed coaches this season, only one (St. Louis) has been successful in reversing its fortunes.
That leaves the trade market. Howson told Hunter, “everything's on the table,” meaning he'll consider all his options, hastening to add that didn't mean he would start shopping right wing Rick Nash, center Carter or left wing R.J. Umberger.
That won't prevent rumormongers from seizing upon Howson's “everything's on the table” remark to mean Nash, Carter and Umberger could be available. But judging by Howson’s additional comments about the three, he likely wants to retain them as the foundation upon which to rebuild.
Only Umberger lacks any sort of movement clause, but his willingness to remain with the Jackets (he recently signed a multi-year extension) makes him a player Howson should hang onto.
As for Nash and Carter, as well as Wisniewski, it's doubtful they'll be shopped unless they request a trade. If any of them do seek a deal, their movement clauses and expensive salaries narrows the field of potential trade partners.
When Howson finally goes shopping - be it in the weeks leading up to this season's Feb. 27 trade deadline or next summer - he'll have several significant needs to address. The Blue Jackets lack depth in goal, on the blueline and checking lines, plus they need secondary scoring.
An obvious starting point is to shop center Derick Brassard, who's been a fixture in the rumor mill since mid-October. While Brassard has struggled over the past couple of seasons, there's a perception he could come alive playing elsewhere.
Left wing Vinny Prospal, 36, is the Blue Jackets leading scorer and on pace for 60 points. He'll be an unrestricted free agent this summer and at this point he’s unlikely to be re-signed. He could fetch a decent return from playoff contenders.
Center Antoine Vermette has three more years at $3.8 million per season remaining on his contract, but he would attract interest from teams seeking a good two-way center.
Howson may also receive enquiries about defenseman Grant Clitsome (carrying an affordable $1.3 million per season contract) and rookie center Ryan Johansen, but the Blue Jackets GM would be reluctant to part with them, especially Johansen, since he has the potential to develop into a solid second line center.
Whatever moves Columbus makes in the coming weeks, they won't resolve all the team’s problems immediately. It's going to take considerably more time to create a contender. A couple of good moves near the deadline, however, will lay the foundation for a serious rebuild by Howson…or whoever’s in the GM’s chair at that time.
Rumor Roundup appears Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.