Blue Jackets Look to Add at Deadline

With the NHL trade deadline looming, the Columbus Blue Jackets are officially buyers.

Two times in 10 years ain’t too bad, right?

It started Saturday when general manager Scott Howson plucked defenseman Craig Rivet off of the waiver wire. The former Buffalo Sabers captain brings a wealth of experience and leadership for the Jackets’ playoff push, but he’s not exactly, shall we say, fleet of foot. At first glance, the move didn’t make too much sense. Howson’s m.o. has been to  add puck-moving defensemen with offensive upside, not supplement their glut of stay-at-home blue liners.

But the claim is just a precursor of things to come.

With Rivet on board, the Jackets now have a the flexibility to move Jan Hejda, a player that’s attracted attention aplenty. Hejda’s a sound defenseman and certainly played markedly better since he was made a healthy scratch back in January. But, the soon-to-be free agent will likely be seeking a hefty raise in the summer–somewhere in the $3 million range–and that will price him out of Howson’s long-term plans.

With a suitable replacement lined up, Howson can focus on pursuing that puck-mover the Blue Jackets so sorely need. But those players come at a premium. And the Blue Jackets are far from the only team looking to add some offense to their defense.

One player to keep in mind is Colorado’s John-Michael Liles. The smooth-skating 30-year-old can quarterback the power play and is on pace for a career year offensively. In 62 games so far he’s potted six goals and added a whooping 35 assists for 41 points.

Thirty-five assists. Right winger Jakub Voracek currently leads the Blue Jackets with 27 helpers. Forty-one points. Former Jacket Jaroslav Spacek’s club record for single-season points by a defensemen is 45, set back in 2001-02. No Columbus blue liner has eclipsed 34 points in a season since.

Not only that, but Liles is under contract through next season as well. And Howson’s not looking for rentals.

Sure the Blue Jackets are shooting to make the playoffs this year, but Howson wants to build a perennial contender. Even if the club makes the playoffs, they’re not exactly expected to make a run at The Cup. It would be a savvy move on multiple fronts.

But the Jackets aren’t alone. Suitors are lining up as Colorado general manager Greg Sherman seems hell-bent on a fire sale — even though the club boasts one of the top young rosters in the league, made the playoffs last season and were on pace for a repeat appearance this season before injuries to key players derailed their chances.

Sherman knows Liles is an asset and during the chaos that is deadline day–especially this season with as many as a dozen teams in the Western Conference alone looking to add help–panicky GMs can dictate market value by setting absurd precedents. Puppet master Howson best laid plans can go awry with a phone call.

But, that comes with the territory. The Blue Jackets just aren’t too familiar with it. Well, not from this vantage.

– bartftc@gmail.com

Twitter: @bart_logan

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