Which Players Are the Blue Jackets Targeting?

In a previous article, I outlined the Columbus Blue Jackets current standings in the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference as well as what trade possibilities could be in the offing with the NHL’s Trade Deadline approaching in the next two days (March 5th at 3 P.M. EST).

Here are a group of players who the Blue Jackets have been rumored to exhibit interest in as well as a list of their current players that could be used in exchange for these desired players necessary to make the Stanley Cup playoffs:

Ryan Kesler – prior to the Winter Olympics, Kesler’s name wasn’t even mentioned as to being ‘in play’; however, Kesler is the latest in a long line of players who’s come at odds with mercurial Canucks head coach John Tortorella to the extent that Kesler has, depending on which party you talk to, has requested to be traded, although the Canucks organization has insisted that it’s merely leveraging one of their better players to shake up the fortunes of the struggling team.  No matter the reason, Kesler has quickly become the “belle of the ball” as it relates to one of the top trade deadline targets.  The 2011 Selke Trophy recipient is rumored to be heavily pursued by both the Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins and it will probably come down to who can offer the Canucks the most in return in a trade.  As for the player, Kesler is one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL, someone who possesses both offensive and shutdown proclivity.  To obtain Kesler, the Blue Jackets will have to be willing to part with a top young NHL-level player, a top prospect and a possibly next year’s 1st round draft pick.  Kesler’s game possesses the perfect level of snarl to fit in with the current Blue Jackets team makeup, although injuries have crept up due to his rugged style of game.

PA Parenteau – Parenteau has been often mentioned in recent trade discussion.  Parenteau, who recently returned from a knee injury, possesses excellent offensive skills and is also a versatile forward who is a legitimate point-producer and deft passer.  However, he has been relegated to the Avalanche’s fourth line and recently has been a healthy scratch (benched not due to an injury).  He would appear to fit the Blue Jackets needs for a scoring, top six forward who can play at top speed; however, he is at times more of an East-West style of skater rather than the usual straight-line skater the Blue Jackets have a plethora of.

Tuomo Ruutu – Ruutu has also been the subject of recent trade rumors as he has struggled, particularly this season with 14 total points and an abysmal -17 +/- rating.  With two additional years left on his $4.75 million per season contract.  However, Ruutu has twice scored more than 50 points in a season and would appear to be a definite ‘change of scenery’ type of player.  Of course, as Ruutu is of Finnish descent as is Kekalainen, there will be a natural connection to have Ruutu mentioned as a possible Blue Jackets target.  Of course, his performance in the Winter Olympics didn’t hurt his prospects for a prospective organization.  When productive, like Parenteau, Ruutu is a versatile forward who can man all three forward line positions and plays with an edge, a gung-ho style of play that at times borders on crossing the line.

Paul Stastny – the son of Hockey Hall of Famer Peter Stastny, Paul possesses phenomenal playmaking capability and two-way skill.  However, Stastny has been inconsistent at times and there is the stigma of his father’s criticism of the 2011 trade that brought Erik Johnson and Jay McClement from the St. Louis Blues to the Avalanche for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, comments that didn’t endear the senior Stastny to current Avalanche brass.  Stastny would also appear to be a “change of scenery” type of player, someone who could thrive in the Blue Jackets and Kekalainen’s young, fast, gritty organization philosophy.  But his passing proclivity, excellent vision and ability to operate in traffic could really jump-start the Blue Jackets offense, particularly on their top six forward lines.

Ryan Callahan – like Kesler, it’s hard to fathom that the New York Rangers captain has been the subject of trade speculation but it’s no secret that the Blue Jackets are extremely interested in him.  There has been quite the recent history and volume of trading between the Blue Jackets and the Rangers, to the extent that the Blue Jackets have been referred to as “Rangers – West” and likewise, the Rangers have been referred to as “Blue Jackets – East”.  There is also the former chemistry between Callahan and Blue Jackets forwards Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov and the possibility of reuniting the three is quite enticing to both the players and the Blue Jackets organizational brass.  Like Kesler, Callahan is a gritty, two-way forward with great leadership but also like Kesler, his style of play has led to questions as to his durability.

Andy MacDonald – as the Blue Jackets top defenseman, Fedor Tyutin, is sidelined with a high-ankle sprain and could be out for an extended period of time, especially a playoff push, and due to the return of the early-season struggles of defensemen Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski, the Blue Jackets certainly could use a veteran blue-liner who can provide a steady presence and defensive shutdown capability, easing the load on goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who nearly and single-handedly carried the Blue Jackets into the playoffs, last season.  MacDonald is an efficient puck-moving defenseman who is a smart, poised minute-munching player, one ideally suited to both a playoff push and the chaos that the Stanley Cup playoffs can produce.  Like Kesler and Callahan, MacDonald is a highly sought after commodity which means that he won’t come cheap in a trade and the Islanders, with the prospect of also trading Thomas Vanek who like MacDonald is a pending free agent in July, may be poised to demand top-level prospects and 1st round draft picks in exchange for a player rental.

Christian Ehrhoff – after the trade of franchise player Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues, the floodgates of the Buffalo Sabres ‘Fire Sale’ may indeed be on.  And, in Ehrhoff, possessor of one of the NHL’s most ferocious Howitzers from the point, the receiving team would obtain a player with both several years of term, but, with the big money years of his long-term contract already incurred, would obtain Ehrhoff at a sizeable discount, given the player’s abilities.  Ehrhoff’s ability as a power play quarterback would be a valuable asset to the Blue Jackets up-and-down power play and is an adept defensive player capable of big minutes incurred.  Like the other sought after players mentioned above, Ehrhoff will be in great demand and could be interested in returning to the San Jose Sharks, a Stanley Cup contending team in the brutal Western Conference.  But the possibility of teaming the left-handed shooting Ehrhoff and the right-handed shooting Wisniewski on the power play could cause nightmares for goalies throughout the NHL.

Other names to consider are, but not limited to, forwards Thomas Vanek, Matt Moulson, Mike Cammalleri, David Legwand and defensemen Chris Phillips, and Alex Edler.

As for the current Blue Jackets’ players who could be offered in a trade to acquire these sought-after trade targets, here are some of the players thought to be ‘in play’ in a transaction:

Marian Gaborik – the prolific, scoring winger has struggled with injuries and fitting into the current teams style of offensive play but has returned from a 39-game injury period to contribute immediately to the Blue Jackets.  Blue Jackets General Manager (GM) Jarmo Kekalainen has stated that Gaborik is “exactly what we need” for a playoff push but any GM, particularly one as brilliant as Kekalainen will not show his cards, particularly prior to the trade deadline.  Did anyone really guess that he was working to acquire Gaborik, last season, in a trade?  That, combined with the fact that the Blue Jackets are making and taking calls in the past several weeks and a lot of it could depend on whether Kesler or Callahan are traded, leaving an interested team who could acquire him as part of making a statement, a trump card towards a playoff push.  There is no doubting the 3-time, 40-goal/season Gaborik’s goal-scoring ability, the bigger question is his durability, as the term oft-injured certainly applies to him.  It would seem that Gaborik would be a perfect fit to the Avalanche fast-paced system of its coach, Patrick Roy.

Nikita Nikitin – the sturdy, steady defenseman possesses great size, mobility and solid anticipation on the defensive end, although he is prone to inconsistent defensive play, at times.  Nikitin, who is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of this season, could be a valuable depth addition to a team with question marks on its blueline.  Teams like the Avalanche could use a defensive presence like Nikitin as could the defensively putrid Edmonton Oilers, or Nikitin could be a part of a multi-player trade to obtain one of the desired players mentioned, above.

Jack Johnson – to many within the I-270 corridor, trading the Midwestern-bred Johnson, at times dubbed ‘Captain America’ for his All-American boy persona and desire to play for the Blue Jackets when very few were interested in playing here during the 2011-12 season would seem to be sacrilege, but Johnson’s name has often been mentioned in recent trade discussions.  There is no doubt that Johnson is a physical specimen; however, Johnson is also prone to getting caught out of position, quite often, as evidenced by his abysmal career -94 +/- rating and it doesn’t appear that the Los Angeles Kings suffered much by trading the former number 3 overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft to Columbus and then proceeded to win the Stanley Cup just a few months later.  Johnson could be the type of valuable trading chip that could garner a player like Callahan or one of the more prolific available scoring forwards.

Cam Atkinson – as they often say in the art of the trade, in order to get something, you have to give up something and Atkinson, who is on pace for a 25-plus goal-scoring season, could be a valuable trading commodity.  Atkinson is a high-energy forward who possesses a nose for the net and a high hockey IQ.  The down side with Atkinson is being undersized and is at times prone to scoring droughts but is considered a scoring winger with upside.

Other players to consider from the Blue Jackets as part of any trade could include, but not be limited to, forwards Matt Calvert, Boone Jenner, and Jack Skille and defensemen Tim Erixon, David Savard and Cody Goloubef.

As they say, between now and 3 P.M. on March 5th, hold onto your hat – or, it could be an uneventful day for the organization, which is the beauty of trade deadline speculation.

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