For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets did not pick in the top eight of the National Hockey League Entry Draft. That did not keep General Manager Scott Howson from having an active draft day. The Blue Jackets, slated to pick 16th overall, traded down and then traded back up adding a second rounder in the process.
The Blue Jackets scouting staff had several needs to fill. In the days leading up to the draft, Howson was quoted as saying that center was still the biggest organizational need. Many fans and some other writers, including yours truly during the Hockey Insider radio show from 6/18, were looking at a mobile, puck-moving defenseman. As it turns out, Scott Howson went with the offensive defenseman at #21, John Moore from the USHL's Chicago Steel and the US NTDP U-18 program. Moore was projected to go above 21, and when he was still available, Howson pulled the trigger to move up.
Moore projects as a future powerplay quarterback, being the second-best offensive defenseman in the draft behind Ryan Ellis, the highest player on my wishlist (drafted #11 by Nashville). The 18-year-old Moore is listed at 6'2" 190, giving him a better chance at handling the physical grind at the next level over the 5'9" 175 Ellis. Moore racked up 54 points in 113 games as a member of the Steel over the past two seasons. The next step for Moore will be to sit down with his family and Howson to determine if he will go play NCAA Hockey for Colorado College or play in the Ontario Hockey League with Kitchener. Moore is probably 2+ years away from contributing at the NHL level.
The draft started as many experts predicted. Super prospect John Tavares went #1 overall to the New York Islanders, with Victor Hedman going #2 to Tampa Bay, and Matt Duchene going #3 to Colorado, and maybe the Lake Erie Monsters at some point over the next two seasons. It was interrupted momentarily to announce a blockbuster deal that sent longtime shut down defenseman Chris Pronger and minor league prospect Ryan Dingle to the City of Brotherly Love. Philadelphia sent back 2008 first round pick Luca Sbisa, their 2009 and 2010 first round selections, a conditional 3rd rounder and F Joffrey Lupul to Anaheim. The move puts Philadelphia well over the cap. Keep an eye on the future destination of C Daniel Briere to free up funds for the Flyers.
One other relatively big trade was announced during the draft. The Calgary Flames traded for the exclusive rights to negotiate with top free agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in exchange for a 3rd round selection and the exclusive rights to negotiate with Jordan Leopold. The Florida Panthers had no shot at signing Bouwmeester, so they were able to get a 3rd round pick out of it. It's little consolation to failing to trade him for a king's ransom at the trade deadline.
Some other first round tidbits
Picks in Rounds 2-7 by Columbus
With their newly acquired second round pick, Columbus took another American, C Kevin Lynch from the US NTDP program with the #56 selection. Projected as a solid two-way centerman with tremendous defensive upside, the 6'1" 190 Lynch had 48 points in 63 games. He is committed to the University of Michigan.
The Jackets continued with the mobile defenseman theme taking David Savard from Moncton of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League with the #94 selection. The 6'1" 200 blueliner had 44 points in 68 games. He will likely return to Moncton again next season.
Prestigious Exeter Academy produced the Blue Jackets next pick, D Thomas Larkin. He has a very interesting background, residing in Italy, but traveling to Exeter, NH every year for school. He's a big kid at 6'5" 205. He is the first Italian-trained player to be drafted and is committed to Colgate University next season.
Anton Blomqvist was the Jackets first pick playing across the pond. Another big defenseman at 6'4" 190, Blomqvist has been termed a "project" and plays in the Swedish Jr. League. He'll stay there for next season.
The Jackets finished off their draft taking Kyle Neuber. If Neuber makes it to the NHL, he'll be a fan favorite. In this clip, Neuber is in the white jersey: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qyYn4oEmKg
Search for his other fight videos as well. You will hear the commentator say in every bout, "They talked about this before the game" or "Nobody really wants a piece of Neuber". In the past two seasons with Mississauga St. Michael's Majors of the OHL, Neuber has 268 penalty minutes. As noted in the clips, his uppercut is well respected.
Other picks of note
Miami University had two players selected in the draft, D Chris Wideman (100 to Ottawa) and G Connor Knapp (164 to Buffalo).
Jackets Offseason Outlook
The biggest question for the Blue Jackets will be how they fix their center depth. So far, the team has not been close with unrestricted free agent Manny Malhotra on contract terms. Even with a healthy Derick Brassard and trade deadline acquisition Antoine Vermette, the Jackets have a hole at the third line center position that Malhotra was expected to fill. Jason Williams could still be retained, though not much has been said about negotiations with him.
The second biggest question for the Jackets is how they handle Rick Nash. Do they sign him to an extension now or do they play out his contract and try to get him before he goes to the open market? Or, if Columbus does not contend during the 2009-10 season, does he become the most valuable trading chip at the deadline? It could produce a PR disaster to deal Nash, as he is the face of the franchise. The best case scenario is to extend him now just to make sure he does not have a monster season and get even more pricy.
On defense, Columbus is pretty set. A bottom pairing mean defenseman would be a welcome addition to play with Kris Russell. There are a few of those out there including Steve Montador and Jassen Cullimore that fall around the $800k price range.
In terms of goaltending, Columbus is set with their starter. Calder Trophy winner Steve Mason will probably play 60-65 games. That said, Columbus needs a capable backup. If Dan LaCosta cannot handle 15-20 games, they'll need to get a Mikael Tellqvist or Patrick Lalime to handle that small workload.
Columbus probably will not be big players in the free agent market this year. While there are players available, none of them really answer their biggest needs without steep financial burden. With their 2007-08 drafts starting to produce depth, and the promising 2009 draft, they may have to stand pat and wait to build from within.
League-wide Offseason Outlook
The Jay Bouwmeester watch is on. His agent has expressed a desire to wait until July 1 and let him hit the open market. A contract comparable to Brian Campbell's 8/56 is to be expected.
Prediction: Vancouver; 7 years 49 million
Why Vancouver?: As seen further down, Vancouver probably will not retain the Sedins. Players like Alex Burrows and Mason Raymond can fill in. Vancouver almost got J-Bo at the trade deadline and have had their sights set on him for a while. They need a stud in front of Luongo and a replacement for Ohlund.
Marian Hossa is the other big name drawing interest. With "sunny-side down" egg on his face after leaving Pittsburgh and their huge contract offer to join Detroit and be a Stanley Cup runner-up for the second straight season, rumors are circling about Hossa's destination. The Los Angeles Kings are an early front runner. They're a young, exciting team and Hossa's offensive prowess fits well in their system.
Prediction: San Jose Sharks; 5 years 26 million frontloaded (a note about the cap: The number that counts against the salary cap is the average during a player's contract. As a result, a team could sweeten the deal by front loading the contract (in this case, 7-7-5-4-3) and just paying the average against the cap)
Why San Jose?: The Sharks have to be tired of choking in the playoffs. Hossa provides a finisher with tons of playoff experience to fill Ryane Clowe's void with a more offensively gifted player. He can play with Thornton or Marleau.
The most interesting storyline this offseason will be the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. Both unrestricted free agents, the Sedins had a "no separation" clause in their contract with Vancouver. In other words, they are a package deal. If one was traded, the other would need to be traded to the same team. This severely handicaps their allure on the free market. With an unwillingness to play apart, very few suitors have the cap space to handle both of them at once. Both players had equal contracts, a 3.575M cap hit. Collectively, $7.5M, but they are both due raises for recent play.
Prediction: St. Louis; 6 years 60 million (collective)
Why St. Louis?: John Davidson is building a future juggernaut in the Western Conference. They have a tremendous young team already and continue drafting extremely well. Thanks to building from within, especially on defense (and a great pick of David Rundblad this year), Davidson can spend a little in free agency. With 12 million coming off the books after this upcoming season (Kariya, Tkachuk, McKee), Davidson can tap himself for this year and get it back next year. Plus, imagine TJ Oshie with the Sedins.
Two things really stick out to me about this offseason. Outside of the Sedins and Bouwmeester, many of the big named free agents are pushing 35 or over it. This is what happens in a salary cap system. Teams are signing their young talent long term to enormous contracts. It can be a blessing or a curse. It is also hard to deal older guys with big contracts (Chris Drury, Daniel Briere, Scott Gomez). Many of the free agents available are not star players. They are solid veterans, but no impact players are really available.
With that, the other thing that sticks out to me is the concept of the bidding war. There will be few suitors for the guys mentioned above, and the other free agents, but those few suitors may have blank checks available. Take the Sedins for example. You may see each one of them get 7 or 8 million on the market. With a 2009-2010 salary cap at $56.8M, the Sedins account for nearly 30% of the cap if they each get 8M per year. It's hard to put together a competitive team around that. There has to be a cheap, young core in place. That rules out a lot of teams.
Should be a great offseason. The Hockey Insider will be back on the air the first week of October. Enjoy your summer, everybody!