Following a humbling defeat at home
by the Detroit Red Wings, Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock claimed that he didn't think his team wanted to beat their division rivals. What he really wanted to say was that he's sick and tired of coaching AHL talent and trying to make a winner out of players that just don't have it, but I'm not going to put words in the man's mouth.
To put things in perspective, he's absolutely right. This team, as it stands, would likely go to seven games in a playoff series with the AHL's best team. The Blue Jackets have been frugal throughout their history, and it's cost them dearly.
Where it will hit hardest, though, is at the ticket office next fall.
Fans can't turn a corner in Nationwide Arena without being reminded to renew their season tickets, or to remember that purchasing a PSL is an easy and painless process. One day, the organization will realize that in order to bring the people back and generate some much-needed excitement, the pocketbooks must be opened.
The hope is that, on July 1, ownership will come to their senses.
The Blue Jackets have holes to fill, mainly at forward. They need a scoring center, one who can open space for Rick Nash and do damage on the power play. They also need a scoring winger to replace the aging and less-productive David Vyborny. To top off the grocery list, they need a defenseman or two, namely one who can run a power play with aplomb.
Who is out there, and who fits the mold that Ken Hitchcock and Scott Howson are trying to sculpt?
These are my targets for the Blue Jackets this off-season:
1. Patrick Marleau--It is widely known that Marleau has fallen out of favor with Sharks GM Doug Wilson and head coach Ron Wilson, and with a recently-signed two-year extension in tow, the Sharks will look to move him before July 1, when his new NTC kicks in. It has been rumored that Howson kicked the tires with Marleau at the trading deadline, but with the Sharks in playoff mode, they weren't looking into dealing their captain at the time.
2. Daymond Langkow-- My biggest concern with Langkow is the shift in personnel that would be in order from the Flames to Columbus. Rick Nash is an outstanding player, but Jarome Iginla is a more proven goal-scorer, and Kristian Huselius is still rounding into form. That top line is lethal on every shift, and if Langkow can play between Nash and Fredrik Modin, it will prove to be a good signing. Is Langkow the "heavy player" that Hitchcock so often speaks of?
3. Olli Jokinen--so much has been said about this player, it does not bear repeating. He would be an excllent choice to center the Blue Jackets' top line.
1. Kristian Huselius-- A member of Calgary's sniper trio, he would fit nicely on a line with Nikolai Zherdev.
2. Ryan Malone--The kind of player Hitchcock dreams of: smart, strong and willing to get his nose dirty and go to the net. A match made in heaven.
3. Vinny Prospal-- Sound playmaker and can score big goals. He's a power play wizard, something the Blue Jackets sorely need.
4. Sean Avery-- May ask for big bucks, especially after playing on Broadway, but he would be the perfect complement to Jared Boll. The Blue Jackets would be a hated team pretty quickly. He scores dirty goals, and not many current Blue Jackets can say the same.
1. Brian Campbell--29 other teams want him, and the Blue Jackets can't afford to get into a bidding war for this guy. As wonderful as it would be, I'm not getting my hopes up. Next?
2. John-Michael Liles-- An underrated power play guy, he doesn't score goals by the box but can run the point efficiently, and is a good passer from the blueline.
3. Michal Roszival-- Not many people are talking about this soonto-be UFA, but a change of scenery may do him good.
4. Wade Redden-- He's obsessed with staying in Ottawa, but everyone knows they don't want him back, especially at his outrageous $6.5 million price tag. If Howson can sell Columbus to Redden, they may have a chance. The chance is gone if he thinks he's getting similar bucks in Ohio.
The summer will be a breath of fresh air for Blue Jackets fans, and quite honestly, some of them may be shocked when some of their favorite players get the ax come July 1.
Some things are more likely,
though. These are my predictions:
1. The Blue Jackets swing a trade for Marleau on draft day. The Avalanche are looking like gold to make the playoffs, so Columbus gets their 2008 1st-round pick. Package that pick with a young player or prospect, possibly another pick, and it's a deal closer.
2. Kristian Huselius signs, giving the Blue Jackets a formidable offensive threat for the second line. I would like to see Michael Ryder in the mix, too.
3. Ron Hainsey is let go, and the Blue Jackets sign John-Michael Liles and Marek Malik, possibly Jason Smith. Jan Hejda is re-signed, and the defensive corps starts to take shape. The jury is still out on Richard Tarnstrom, and I get the inkling his bags are packed.
4. Michael Peca re-signs for two more years, giving leadership and stability to the lineup. He will be the perfect tutor for Rick Nash's captaincy development. Word is that he wants to see a commitment from management to build a winner. Word from me is that I want to see him stay in the damn lineup.
5. Pascal Leclaire gets a fat pay raise, and Ken Hitchcock re-ups his contract which is set to expire after 08-09.
Questions or comments? E-mail me and I will return a timely response.