So who will be gone from the defense corps?
Hainsey, Klesla, Tarnstrom, Hejda, Russell, Tollefsen, Rome, Wilson, or Methot? I’ll go with the mob here and agree that Tarnstrom will be playing somewhere else next season, maybe in Europe. That gets the number down to eight of the current defensemen, not including any acquisitions. One or two or them will have to go, either to Syracuse or another team.
The Blue Jackets gave up 218 goals last season, the lowest total in franchise history. Pascal Leclaire had nine shutouts, second in the NHL, and some credit should go to the defense. The team dumped its foundation, Adam Foote, at the trade deadline and then stopped winning. Foote actually scored his only goal of the season while playing for Columbus, but the team missed his punch and stopped scoring when he left. The mob out there (see Puck-rakers and other bloggers) think the defense had a lot to do with the fall of the team. For some reason, although their reasoning is not rational, these pucktards maybe right.
Their biggest villain is the #1, Ron Hainsey. Hainsey led the team in scoring, although none of his goals came at even strength. He was not the primary in shutdown situations, with that role given to Jan Hejda and then to Rusty Klesla when Foote took his act to Colorado. Hainsey had a 5.0% SOG number (percentage of shots on goal that scored) which put him in the middle of NHL defensemen, but he exceeded only Klesla and Kris Russell on his own team. These numbers aren’t really a cause for alarm; it is his market position that troubles a lot of fans.
You see, Hainsey is suddenly very marketable with these numbers, along with his size, his UFA status, all while doing this on a bad Blue Jacket team. Suddenly, Carolina and others find him very attractive and might be willing to pay him $3.5 million next season. Good for Ron, but it gags a large portion of the fan base here. For the good of both parties, it might be better to let him go.
But that leads to building your defense around Klesla and Hejda, which is not inspiring. Klesla, as you know, is the team’s first ever draft pick and he has turned out to be capable, but nothing more. Jan Hejda was a great find last year with a +20 number and a salary of only $1 million. He is also a UFA, so how much do you want to pay for very little goal production? Klesla makes around $1.5 million and he is only good for seven goals and 20 points a season, even though he earns less than Duvie Westcott. The market puts a value of about $1.5 million on Hejda, so do you want to tie up nearly $3 million on two players who will put up the same numbers as a single Ron Hainsey? Before you say yes, two players take up two roster slots. Maybe you should keep one of them and get better numbers from one of the younger players or make a trade to fill the other roster spot.
Kris Russell had a tough season as a rookie, but Ken Hitchcock did not throw him to the wolves the way Doug MacLean did to Klesla in his rookie year. The team probably thought that they could use Russell in situations where they had a lead or were tied and his offensive skills would contribute. Instead, the team could not score goals and Russell was placed in games where opponents were confidently pounding away at the Jackets because our scoring was just not there. If the team comes out of camp with more offensive strength, look for Russell to stay and contribute more. If not, look for Russell to play somewhere else.
Aaron Rome came out of nowhere and shined. If he can do it again and put up a 20 point season, the numbers he has put up in the minors, he will be more than adequate.
Filling out the prospects, you have Clay Wilson and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. I think only one of them is going to play here next season. Clay Wilson showed some flash and certainly has the confidence to be a puck carrying NHL defenseman. If he can get stronger in his own end, he stays. If NHL forwards can park in front of our net and have their way on him, he heads back to Syracuse.
OKT is a Hejda-type defenseman, focusing on defense and content to head man the puck. He seemed to play that way until he started being a tough guy, when his play suffered. If he becomes the tough guy and the team doesn’t sign someone else to fill that roll, he stays with the team, but his minutes go down. This is up to Howson and Hitchcock. And they still have to see if Marc Methot can play here.
Of the eight guys left on the team, two of them will probably move on to other organizations through free agency and one or two of them will probably be traded or sent to the minors. I have a feeling that the team will make a trade or sign a UFA to fill out the defense corps.