Columbus finished last in the NHL in 2011-12, but ended up with the No. 2 overall pick after Edmonton won the lottery. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
The summer of 2012 will be remembered as perhaps the most significant in Columbus Blue Jackets history, though time will tell what effect it will have on the floundering organization.
After months of shopping franchise player Rick Nash, GM Scott Howson finally traded the right winger on July 23 to the New York Rangers (along with defenseman Steve Delisle and a conditional third round draft pick) for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon and the Rangers’ first round pick in 2013.
The trade capped one of the worst seasons in franchise history, as the Blue Jackets finished dead last despite having one of the highest payrolls in the league.
It was a campaign in which defenseman James Wisniewski (an expensive UFA signing) started with an eight-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head on Minnesota’s Cal Clutterbuck during the pre-season, then went on to miss a total of 26 more games to various injuries.
Center Jeff Carter, acquired in a blockbuster deal with the Philadelphia Flyers the previous June, missed 21 games to assorted ailments. Unhappy with being dealt to Columbus in the first place, Carter was eventually shipped to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson.
The Blue Jackets couldn't even catch a break in the draft lottery, losing out on the first overall pick to the Edmonton Oilers. If it weren’t for bad luck, the Jackets wouldn’t have any luck at all. Columbus’ outlook turned from being excited about a promising season, to once again looking to the future.
This summer, Howson used the second overall pick to draft highly touted blueline prospect Ryan Murray. He also acquired goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky from the Flyers, shipped Marc Methot to the Ottawa Senators for Nick Foligno and signed veteran Adrian Aucoin as a free agent.
In addition to the strength Johnson adds on the blueline, last fall's acquisition of Nikita Nikitin (32 points in 54 games) from the St. Louis Blues worked out well. The acquisition of Bobrovsky brings some much-needed help for struggling Steve Mason. Speculation also persisted throughout the summer that Howson had interest in Kings backup Jonathan Bernier.
If Bobrovsky and/or Mason struggle to start the season, don't be surprised if Bernier is linked to the Blue Jackets again. The Kings, however, won't be in any hurry to move him, as there could be several clubs lining up to acquire him, thus driving up his trade value.
Should the Blue Jackets once again find their playoff hopes dashed by the trade deadline, Howson could move pending UFAs Aucoin and Vaclav Prospal. Both have no-movement clauses, but could waive them for the opportunity to go to playoff contenders.
Rival GMs will likely enquire into the availability of the versatile R.J. Umberger, who has four straight seasons with 20 or more goals. Umberger, 30, starts a five-year, $23 million contract this season and his play has garnered considerable respect around the league. He also carries a no-trade clause and has shown considerable commitment to the struggling Blue Jackets. Unless he requests a trade, Howson won't move him.
Johnson, who played well for the Blue Jackets after joining them in February (14 points in 21 games, plus-5 rating), will also attract interest in the trade market, but he'll be in the same category as Umberger.
If the club continues to stumble, ownership will surely lose patience with Howson and seek a new GM.
Considering how poorly things went last season for the Jackets, there's nowhere to go but up.
Rumor Roundup appears Monday-Friday 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, Kukla's Korner and The Guardian, Charlottetown.
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