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Your 2008-2009 Columbus Blue Jackets

April 3, 2008

With the Blue Jacket season about to end, I start to think about next year. I did this a lot growing up a Red Wing fan. The Detroit team that I cheered on 25 years ago was pathetic, finding all sorts of ways to lose games, hiring bad coaches, playing to half-empty arenas, and working desperately to hold the fan base. Even after Mike Ilitch bought the team and hired Jim Devellano, there were some false starts that kept the team from becoming the juggernaut that it is today. But things worked out and you know the rest.

So when I think about next year, I examine this year’s roster and wonder who will be back. I hear all kinds of grumbling from disenchanted fans, but I haven’t heard much from the organization itself. I never heard Ken Hitchcock complain about the loss of Adam Foote or Sergei Fedorov. That tells me that Hitch is a coach who will work with what he has and not bug his GM to go out and get somebody else. Not everyone liked Hitch in Dallas, but he never played mind games with his players in the media. I can’t speak for what went on in private, but unlike Doug MacLean, he does not publicly ream his players.

It has been said frequently that we need a good center. Really? Who doesn’t need a good center? A Hitchcock team plays defense first, preferring to frustrate the opposition into turning over the puck. Detroit plays puck possession, believing that if you own the puck, the other team can’t score. It is easy do this when you have Nick Lidstrom playing defense for you. If a Detroit opponent gets the puck, they have to get by Lidstrom and the other capable defensemen before they can even get an offensive chance.

So with Columbus needing a certain type of center, can they either grow their own or obtain one? The first option is certainly the most cost-efficient, but who fits that description? A case can be made for Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek to become that type of center, but I don’t see a member of the current roster fitting that description. Michael Peca and David Vyborny were that style of player, but they are finishing their careers. So signing a free agent or trading for one will have to be considered. So which fast, strong, free agent defensive centerman will want to play in Columbus? Before you give me an answer, think about this: All NHLer’s want to win and play for the Cup, so what will attract them to Columbus? If they can get the same money from Vancouver, Chicago, the Islanders, Toronto, or one of the other second tier clubs, why would they come here? For the streetcar system? There is only one thing to offer them, a bigger paycheck. I don’t question Mr. McConnell’s willingness to pay a premium, but I do wonder how much of a premium he is willing to pay, even with Howson and Hitchcock running things. Fedorov will look like a bargain compared to what the available talent will command.

There are other things that I am thinking about for next year and I will get into them in the near future. Obviously, the team needs to re-evaluate and take action with the defense. Who will be in goal next year, the same pair or do we roll the dice? Will there be any turnover in the coaching department? The team only offers one-year coaching contracts that all expire on July 1. Meanwhile, all of the other teams in the Western Conference are going to make some changes that directly affect Columbus. You know Chicago will be better next season and there is always Detroit. Nashville is stabilized and St. Louis is right behind us.

-Truth Serum

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