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Crossing I’s: Looking back and forward at once

June 28, 2006

At the 2006 Entry Draft in Vancouver this past weekend, the latest class of potential NHL stars was selected by 30 franchises with the common goal of winning the Stanley Cup. For most of those chosen, we won’t know for years if the selections were good or not. And if you’re like me, you don’t have the time or opportunity to follow junior hockey closely so you’ve maybe heard of two or three guys who were drafted. This is not the place to come for in-depth analysis of the draft.

The Blue Jackets selected Derick Brassard with the sixth overall pick. He is reported to be a playmaking center in the Joe Sakic mold (Doug MacLean’s words, not mine). With Gilbert Brule likely to center the top line of Rick Nash and David Vyborny and Sergei Fedorov centering Nik Zherdev and a winger-to-be-named-later, I’d be surprised to see Brassard wearing the CBJ crest this fall. If he can play, by all means put him up with the team. But at this time, it looks like the center position is fairly full up with the big club (Brule, Fedorov, Manny Malhotra, and maybe Alexander Svitov?). A kid with this kind of potential needs to be playing good minutes on a consistent basis to continue to develop, and it seems to me that these could be earned on one of the top lines in Syracuse (or juniors for another year as MacLean has done with Klesla, Fritsche, and Brule in the past). I think it’s more likely that he’ll be up next year or two and fill Fedorov’s role when his contract expires. But again, I’m not the GM and I’m pretty sure that MacLean doesn’t visit the End of the Bench.

Or does he?

Not that it took a lot of brains or insider access to make the call but it should be noted that I suggested trading Denis in my season ending review of the goaltenders. And now, it’s been reported in the Dispatch (that I’ve seen) that Denis is (possibly) on the block. MacLean is supposedly having discussions with the Tampa Bay Lightning to ship Denis south for Fredrik Modin. This would be a winger that the Blue Jackets need (not to mention a blistering shot).

The concern (for me and apparently Doug as well) at this point is that Pascal Leclaire has not weathered an entire season as the #1, and while there are no durability concerns he simply hasn’t proven himself over 55-60 games. For this reason, I don’t see Denis going anywhere just yet unless a #2 goaltender is included in the return package. If MacLean can wait until February to make an assessment on Leclaire, he can likely still move Denis before the trade deadline.

My hope is that if/when this becomes the case that the Blue Jackets do not chase after an aging star that will only help the team for the short-term (if at all). Denis certainly will not fetch the return that Roberto Luongo or some others may, but it is important to make sure that fair deals are sought. We should not be looking to add older players and asking them to fill roles that are above their ability.

Looking ahead

The picture for next year is becoming clearer as time passes. It’s evident that Jan Hrdina, Trevor Letowski, and Radoslav Suchy will be allowed to seek employment from other teams. Of the three, I had hoped that the team would try to retain the services of Letowski but MacLean reports that he is asking for too large of a raise. Losing Hrdina will open a roster spot for Gilbert Brule. Suchy’s roster spot should be ably filled by one of the many young defensemen in the organization. The following is EOB’s projected lineup for opening night.

Forward 1: Nash, Brule, Vyborny
Forward 2: Zherdev, Fedorov, newly acquired winger
Forward 3: Chimera, Malhotra, Fritsche
Forward 4: Shelley, Svitov, Balastik
Defense 1: Foote, Klesla
Defense 2: Berard, Westcott
Defense 3: Hainsey, Johnson
Goaltender: Leclaire, Denis

I would feel fairly comfortable with these forward lines. Line 1 has the proven scoring ability of Nash and Vyborny, and the grit of Nash and Brule.

Line 2 has the flash of Zherdev and the reliability of Fedorov. The open wing spot could be filled by many types of player. A power forward type would be very effective here (Shanahan on a one or two year contract is me dreaming, but that’s what I do) to take the heat off of Zherdev. And Shanny has proven he can play with creative Russians in Detroit (I’ll wake up soon enough).

The third line is a checking line that has a nice combination of size, speed, and sound defensive ability. I see this as the energy line, as each of these guys is looking to go out and pound the other team and can use the physical play to create turnovers and scoring opportunities.

Looking at my projected fourth line, it looks a little like Saturday afternoon lunch. It’s the leftover hodgepodge. Shelley is a big winger who can hit and not much else, Svitov is a mostly unproven talent who has shown flashes of creativity, and Balastik is a shootout and power-play sniper who is not quick on the ice. This line will have to be carefully matched up against the opposition, as it is overly weighted towards the offensive side of the ice (and that’s not saying a whole lot right now). Mark Hartigan could crack this line as well.

I picked the defensive pairings based on 1) having an offensive D-man with a stay-at-home “responsible” player, and 2) mixing the left and right handed shots.

Foote and Klesla fit this mold, and if Klesla continues his growth this will definitely be the hardest hitting pairing on the blueline for the Jackets.

Berard and Westcott will provide a little more offense than the top pairing, but still have the ability (with Duvie in the mix) to clear the crease.

Hainsey and Johnson will be the pairing that could either be the sleeper surprise (Hainsey looks to be the first good CBJ offensive blueliner and Johnson loves to hit), or the weakest link. There may be a newly acquired defenseman who will step in here, or possibly Ole-Kristian Tollefson from Syracuse.

As noted above, I really don’t see the Jackets getting rid of Marc Denis or letting him remain the #1 netminder. Pascal Leclaire will be the goaltender that we ride for the next 5+ years, and his time is now. Denis will play 30-45% of the games, and I see him out by March. If a move happens soon, expect a quality #2 in return to back up Leclaire. Neither of the current goalies wants to share time, and both want to be (and probably could be) the #1 guy. In my opinion, this is a good problem to have. You’ll have Leclaire playing to prove he deserves the job, and Denis playing to prove to his future employer that he is worthy of being a #1 minder. Teams will be cautious about Denis because he has spent almost his entire career with the lowly Jackets, but I have a strong feeling that whoever takes a chance on him will be justly rewarded. If we didn’t have Leclaire at the point his is right now, I’d be happy to have Denis as the last line of defense. But I think this is a chance that the organization has to take.

The Good Old Summer Time

If any major trades occur, or any CBJ rumors pop up you can expect some thoughts here. I may post some thoughts on baseball (like why the Reds should hurry up and trade Adam Dunn), college football (are the Buckeyes worthy of at pre-season top 5 ranking?), pro football (can Romeo Crennel remake the love story he wrote in New England?), and basketball (yeah right).
Of course, I might just get the bug to keep writing about hockey every few days, who knows.

In any event, thanks for reading. I always look forward to the one or two of you who actually comment. If anyone has any ideas for a column or questions that you’re just dying to have answered by the EOB editorial team, fire them over. Comment on the site or leave me an email at aharris9@columbus.rr.com

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