Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Sealing the Deal

Howson closed three deals this week that should show fans that he means business: re-signing veteran center Michael Peca, inking the expected deal with R.J. Umberger and extending Coach Hitchcock through the 2012 season.

After trading for Umberger, it was apparent that a deal would get done with the possible restricted free agent. Howson would have been ridden out of town if he had not signed Umberger after trading away players for his rights. The Canadian Press reported that Umberger received a 4 year, $15 million contract. A hard-nosed player who can provide some scoring, Umberger will be a fun player to watch assuming he stays out of the path of Brian Campbell. Go to YouTube and search for Umberger if you don't know what I mean. Yikes...

Last season Peca provided leadership, good faceoff skills and steady defensive play. Despite the decline in his offensive numbers, Peca was a valuable signing as he often had tough defensive assignments.

Hitchcock had the team playing well for much of the season and, despite a late season swoon, the team ended the year with its best record to date: 80 points and 34-36-12. Hopefully he can push them into the playoffs so we can finally never again read "Columbus: the only NHL team to never make the playoffs."

Friday, July 04, 2008

Getting Defensive

A flurry of activity has shaken up the Jackets roster and seen a young exciting player, Nikolai Zherdev, get traded. The moves demonstrate Howson's determination to bolster the team's blue line and build around rising star goalie Pascal Leclaire.

The trade: Blue Jackets send Nikolai Zherdev and center Dan Fritsche to the New York Rangers for defensemen Christian Backman and Fedor Tyutin. Though Zherdev, the biggest name in the deal, does lack defensive skills, he was exciting on the ice and possessed that old Denis Savard knack of instantly creating a spectacular play, though without Savard's consistent conversion of those plays into goals. The Rangers will be thrilled if they get 50% of Savard performance out of Zherdev. Fritsche, a native Ohioan, was a tough but low-scoring center. Hopefully he can flourish with the right players around him. Good luck to Nikolai and Danny.

Tyutin is a defenseman with good puck-handling skills who should find a home on the power play. At 6'4", Backman will provide needed size on the blue line. Add the signing of defenseman Mike Commodore, who stands at 6'5" and brings a Stanley Cup winner's experience, and the defense looks much improved. Well, super-sized anyway.

On Tuesday, the Jackets obtained winger Raffi Torres from Edmonton for former #1 (6th overall) pick Gilbert Brule. Torres adds another physically tough veteran who has playoff experience, going to the finals when an Oiler. It should be noted that Torres is coming off an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his right knee. Brule never made a splash in Columbus, but hopefully he will find success back home in Edmonton.

Next Howson signed Kristian Huselius $19 million contract over four years. Last season Huselius had 25 goals and 66 points in 81 games for the Calgary Flames. After a season in the dog house of head dog Mike Keenan, we will have to wait-and-see how he fares under coach Hitchcock. Possessing excellent passing and stick-handling skills, he will have to play defense as well as score.