The offseason free-agent additions of center Jeff Carter, defenseman James Wisniewski and swag of veterans had preseason predictions for the Blue Jackets understandably high. They were meant to be in the thick of the playoff race by this time of year. Instead, they sit comfortably at the very bottom of the league.
Playoff plans evaporated very quickly, poor play cost coach Scott Arniel his job, and they have virtually locked-up the number one overall pick in the 2012 entry draft.
That means there really is only one option for Blue Jackets’ GM Scott Howson moving forward – blow up the roster and stockpile draft picks and build through the team from the ground up.
Aside from captain Rick Nash and rookie all-star Ryan Johansen, everyone on the team is a candidate to be traded come February 27.
But one trade Howson should not make is to send Carter packing to the highest bidder.
Sure, Carter hasn’t had the best season. But that’s mostly due to an extended injury absence. He is currently out with a shoulder injury and missed time and the start of the season with a broken foot, limiting him to just 30 games.
But when he is in the line-up, Carter has been a solid contributor. Despite the limited action, he is tied for seventh in team scoring, with 10 goals and 7 assists.
There were rumors that Carter was getting frustrated with the losing atmosphere at the Nationwide Arena and was seeking an exit. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I haven’t asked for a trade,” Carter told the Columbus Dispatch. “Nothing. I’m here to play hockey.
“There’s not much I can do about [the trade rumors]. That’s something I can’t worry about or control. My main focus right now is just getting healthy and getting back into the line-up.”
So that’s all the more reason Howson should hang up the phone as soon as Carter’s name is mentioned by any fellow GM willing to take on his “lifetime” contract that has 10 years remaining and a $5.27 million cap hit.
The way forward is to follow the path forged so successfully by the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins in the post-lockout NHL – keep key assets and build through the draft.
It took the Penguins and Blackhawks four or five years to become Stanley Cup winners and the young-gun Edmonton Oilers are well on their way to being playoff-bound in the very near future.
The 2012 draft class looks strong and there are not one, but two bona-fide studs in Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko, who look to be future NHL stars.
At 27 years old, Carter is still in his prime and has plenty of fruitful years ahead of him. If the Blue Jackets make a rash decision in shipping the sniper, it will be a massive set-back in their path back to respectability.