Sunday, July 13, 2008

Columbus On The Road To Mediocrity

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been a bad team for their existence. They have never made the playoffs. A lot of the blame for that goes to their first GM Doug MacLean, although Scott Howson will soon be earning some of that blame for himself.

This summer, the Columbus Blue Jackets have made significant changes to their roster. The acquired RJ Umberger from the Philadelphia Flyers (along with a fourth rounder) for a first and third round pick. Is Columbus the kind of team that should be trading away their first round draft picks in order to bring in players like Umberger who are clearly not stars and would not be on the top line in many NHL cities? Not if the want to make a run at the Stanley Cup in the future. However, if they are will to take a longterm loss in order to try to make playoffs for a first time it can make some sense. Columbus has given up on any goal of being a great team and would be happy to finish 16th and in the playoffs.

Umberger was not the only trade that shows this desperation. 2005 first round draft pick Gilbert Brule was shipped to the Edmonton Oilers for Raffi Torres. Brule possesses the potential that he could be an important part of a young core (though he may never realize it) and Torres is a proven NHL player who lacks that upside. This is another move which shows the goal is to make playoffs now even if it costs the chance of being great later on and for a longer period of time.

Columbus also traded their first and second round picks from 2003 in Nikolai Zherdev and Dan Fritsche to the New York Rangers for Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman. This is yet another example of trading the younger players with higher upsides away to bring in safer NHL players who are likely to never be dominant.

All three trades show that Columbus is will to trade pieces of their youth and future for prove NHL players without upsides. It gives them more NHL players right now and helps them out in their goal to make playoffs. They are more likely to in the race for 16th place and a final playoff spot, but it moves them further away from what should be their goal of winning the Stanley Cup someday.

A lower budget team like Columbus has had to sign some free agents to ensure they make the salary floor. Since, in general free agency is no way to turn a team around; these signings won't turn Columbus around. Sure they added Kristian Huselius, Mike Commodore and Mike Peca and that gives them more NHL talented bodies in their quest for a playoff spot, but it won't help them if their goal is Stanley Cup contention.

It is easy for a GM of a weak team to turn his goal toward making playoffs instead of eventual Stanley Cup contention. The goal will take less time to obtain and is a much easier one. The problem is the two goals can contradict one another. To make playoffs now it makes sense to trade young players with bigger upsides for established NHL players who lack those upsides. Columbus has done that. They traded out a first round pick and two former first round picks to get an older team this summer. While it might put them closer to a playoff berth (and likely first round loss), it moves them further from any hopes of actually winning the cup. That is a shame, because Rick Nash and Pascal Leclaire might have been two important pieces of a goodyocore that could lead them to success if they could find a few more pieces to join it. Some of those potential pieces have now been traded for players who won't offer that potential.

The Doug MacLean Columbus Blue Jackets failed in part because too much of their roster was used on older players who were on the downsides of their careers (Sergei Fedorov, Adam Foote, Luke Richardson etc.). This impeded the progress of their young players. It looks like the Scott Howson Columbus Blue Jackets have decided to move out those young players for an older group of guys who lack those upsides. In either case, a successful Columbus blue Jacket team looks unlikely.

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