Todd Richards (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
Before the start of this season, a number of NHL observers projected the Columbus Blue Jackets as a potential playoff contender in the Metropolitan Division. Injuries decimated their roster last season, but with their depth in promising young talent and a healthier lineup, the Jackets were expected to have a bounce-bock season.
Unfortunately, things haven't gone according to plan for the Jackets, opening this season with six consecutive losses. They enter this week with the worst record in the league, sparking speculation that change could be coming if the losses continue to mount.
Shawn Mitchell of The Columbus Dispatch reports the Jackets' poor start has coach Todd Richards “walking a fine line.” He also speculates an early season trade to shake up the roster is “a very real possibility.”
Mitchell notes Richards hasn't received any reassurances from GM Jarmo Kekalainen about his job status, though the latter claims they have a “good working relationship.” Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman believes Kekalainen prefers a trade over a coaching change.
It wouldn't be surprising if the Jackets' struggles prompted some rival GMs to pitch trade suggestions, hoping to convince Kekalainen, to part with one of his affordable young players. Defenseman Ryan Murray or forwards like Boone Jenner, Cam Atkinson, William Karlsson or Alexander Wennberg (currently sidelined by a concussion) could be on their radar.
Of the Blue Jackets' youngsters, center Ryan Johansen is by far the best. His contentious contract negotiation history with Kekalainen could prompt some inquiries. Friedman, however, doesn't believe the 24-year-old Johansen is available, citing his role as their first-line center.
The Jackets must do something soon to arrest their tailspin. Another week of losses makes a coaching change or trade inevitable.
Like the Blue Jackets, the Carolina Hurricanes have stumbled from the gate, entering this week with a 1-4-0 record. Though they've been among the league leaders in fewest shots-against per game, their blueline depth took a hit when James Wisniewski suffered a knee injury in their season opener.
Friedman believes Hurricanes GM Ron Francis likely received some calls from teams carrying defensemen they'd like to move. Though Friedman didn't name any clubs, the Philadelphia Flyers could be among them. The Flyers must shed salary and free up space on their defense. Veteran Luke Schenn ($3.6-million cap hit) was a recent healthy scratch, fuelling speculation he's the most likely to be dealt.
However, Friedman claims the Hurricanes aren't interested in quick-fix solutions. While they're carrying over $9 million in cap room, Francis could be under a self-imposed ceiling. If so, he'll want a promising and affordable young blueliner who can be part of his club's long-term plans.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly 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 The Guardian (P.E.I.).
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.