Could Carter Save the Blue Jackets?

The Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson has been in long-term discussions with Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren since this past January.

The Dispatch is also reporting that talks between the two GM’s have intensified since the Flyers acquired the rights to former Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, as signing Bryzgalov will certainly command an asking price of $6 million/season.  And, for a cap-burgeoningteam like the Flyers, that leaves a noticeable asset that has to be moved in order to get under the NHL’s projected team salary cap.

While such a proposed trade might appear to be a ‘slam dunk’ move for one of the NHL’s moribund franchises, having only made one playoff appearance in their ten seasons of existence, making such a move have even greater repercussions, as in the key to the Blue Jackets’ survival in Columbus.

For the Blue Jackets, acquiring a talented, goal-scoring center can provide them with a legitimate first-line center as well as a linemate for their franchise player, Rick Nash.  But beyond that, acquiring Carter would send a signal to the rest of the NHL that, for once, the Blue Jackets are to be taken seriously.

But such an acquisition would also send a signal to their long-suffering fans that their concerns were finally being heard.  The Blue Jackets’ attendance figures dropped by almost 2,000 fans/game to 13,658 fans/game, an 11.4% drop from the previous season and 27th in the NHL’s attendance rankings.  The effects of this attendance drop also exacerbated an already horrid lease situation and resulted in estimated losses of $25 million for the 2010-2011 season.

The cumulative effect of the years of sub-mediocrity and recent promises of patience, particularly when franchises like the Nashville Predators, a team who joined the NHL only a few seasons prior to the Blue Jackets, have made the playoffs in six of their past seven seasons, has resulted in fans now demanding that changes need to be made.

They have seen years of draft picks who were either busts or didn’t garner the kind of return usually afforded one of the top 8 picks in the NHL draft, a position the Blue Jackets never picked lower than for nine of their past ten drafts.  They have seen other organizations develop late draft picks into NHL stars, have seen other teams make deft Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) acquisitions, have seen other teams make aggressive trade deadline deals that panned out, not only for a playoff run, but beyond that immediate time period.

In short, their patience has run over and they’ve decided not to fork over their hard-earned money until they believe the organization is serious about putting a contending product on the  ice.

Acquiring Carter would also demonstrate that the Blue Jackets realize that their model for building a successful organization hasn’t worked and that they will aggressively and creatively work to build this team into a legitimate and sustainable Stanley Cup contender, be it via trades and/or UFA acquisitions.  It will require creativity by Howson, it will require parting with young assets and it will require taking some risk, something Howson as not done in over two years, since the trade to acquire forward Antoine Vermette for goaltender Pascal LeClaire during the NHL’s trade deadline in 2009. That move was seen as the catalyst for the Blue Jackets’ only playoff appearance to date.

As to what the Blue Jackets would have to give up, third-year winger Jakub Voracek has been the player mentioned in trade discussions.  Voracek, the former seventh overall pick in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has been a mixed bag of promise and disappointment.  Voracek has also drawn the wrath of head coach Scott Arniel, who has called into question Voracek’s lack of conditioning as contributing to his lackluster starts to most seasons and his inability to garner a single point during his last 13 games played this past regular season.

It would also involve surrendering the eighth overall pick in this year’s NHL Entry Draft, a draft that by most accounts is a relatively modest one.  Howson has made it quite clear that he has every intent to trade his first draft pick.

From the Flyers’ perspective, parting with a solid, prolific performer like Carter may be somewhat painful to do, but to go another season with uncertainty in goal is a greater concern, as was proven during their recent second round exit from the Stanley Cup playoffs.  Obtaining the rights to Bryzgalov would solve a definite need in goal.  Obtaining Voracek would provide the Flyers not only with salary cap relief – Voracek is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) whose annual salary was $1.271 million – but provides them with a gritty young talent who, in a strong locker room of veterans and players who are amongst the most accountable in the NHL, can flourish.  Obtaining the eighth overall pick can provide the Flyers, a team with a somewhat dried up pool of prospects, with a young draft pick to develop.

While this trade appears to be a perfect fit for both teams, I wouldn’t expect it to take place without some ‘back and forth’ negotiating, particularly when Paul Holmgren, one of the NHL’s most aggressive GMs is involved.  One shouldn’t think for a minute that other savvy GMs and teams wouldn’t be willing to offer up assets as good, if not better, than what Howson is offering up for Jeff Carter.  So Howson must be prepared to consider counter-offers – in short, hehas to exhibit bringing forth a Plan A, Plan B and so on.

This potential trade should also not be construed as meaning Howson’s job is finished – far from that.  There needs to be many other aggressive and creative moves to overhaul this organization’s parent club.  But this possible move could be the springboard upon which succeeding trades and acquisitions would follow.

So, the implications of this potential trade extend beyond an overall upgrade to the on-ice product.  It could be the catalyst towards saving the organization in the Columbus market, one who deserves so much more than it’s ever been afforded, to date.

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