Can you believe that we’re into the first week of March and there’s a team that the Columbus Blue Jackets have not yet faced? There is, my friends, and they are the Dallas Stars.
Dallas has undergone all sorts of turmoil in the last offseason, resulting in the proverbial "reset" button being pushed on the franchise. Former Detroit Red Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill hired in as GM for the Stars, and Nill hired longtime (legendary?) Buffalo bench boss Lindy Ruff as his head coach.
Canadian Olympian Jamie Benn is the top dog in Big D, but former Boston Bruin Tyler Seguin is actually ahead of Benn in scoring. Other notables from the NHL publicity machine include former Penguins Sergei Gonchar and Alex Goligoski, former Bruin Rich Peverley, former Capital Eric Cole, former Oiler Shawn Horcoff, former Coyote Vernon Fiddler…and a couple of former Blue Jackets, Ray "The Wizard" Whitney and Aaron Rome. 2013’s first round draft pick, Valeri Nichushkin, already is a contributor. Quite a patchwork Nill’s put together.
As it stands right now, the Stars have squeezed out the Central Division’s number four team, Winnipeg, for the wild card playoff slot. That brings me to my big picture thought on this game: Two teams, clearly rebuilding, on the cusp of breaking through to the playoffs. They both can score decently, and they’re almost identical in terms of goals given up.
I’d say that this has the makings of a rather exciting game between two playoff-desperate teams…even without tomorrow’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.
(And as I type, it appears that 37-year-old Alternate Captain and defenseman Stephane Robidas has been traded to Anaheim.)
Interestingly, Ruff appears to be starting backup goaltender Dan Ellis tonight. It makes sense given that starter Kari Lehtonen played last night, but it still is noteworthy seeing as the Stars have to be as desperate as the Blue Jackets to hold down a playoff slot. Ellis has 10 starts, is 5-5-0, a 2.94 goals against average and a .906 save percentage.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
The playoff implications are clear for both teams. Win and continue to consolidate your position as you try to grab one of the last playoff spots in your respective conferences. Lose at your own peril. That’s pretty clear.
It’s also important as tonight’s game is the last one before the 2014 NHL trade deadline. If players are going to make one last statement on why they should (or shouldn’t) stick around the Arch City, now’s the time to do so. Word is already on the street that forward Marian Gaborik is being shopped (which should not surprise readers of this game preview series in the least). Other players could be in the mix as well.
Tonight has a bit of a "calm before the storm" feeling. Should be interesting.
WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:
It has to be Gaborik. He’s the only "confirmed" (term used loosely, but more than one media outlet is reporting that GM Jarmo Kekalainen has dangled him out there) player that is being looked at for trading purposes. So let’s presume that he’s on the block. What will he do in potentially his last game as a Blue Jacket? (Remember, former Blue Jacket Jeff Carter dropped a hat trick on San Jose right before he was shipped to Los Angeles at the 2012 trade deadline.)
I think we can all agree that when healthy, Gaborik is probably as good as any of the top players in the league. Problem is, he can’t stay healthy. It makes sense that, as a coach, you rework your scheme to give a talent like Gaborik space to shine. But does it make sense to do that when you can’t rely on Gaborik to be available for any period of time? Talk about frustrating.
Past that, he’s a mismatch for the Blue Jackets as it stands. Gaborik is a Ferrari on a pickup truck scheme team. The way that the Blue Jackets play, his talent is being wasted. So something has to change, the scheme or the player. If Gaborik was consistently healthy (and under contract for longer than this season), I’d say change the scheme. But he’s not, so I think the team would benefit best by getting some value for him.
One other Gaborik thought: His contract carries a "No Trade Clause." That means that Gaborik has the right to approve or veto any proposed trade.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
It’s a Blue Jackets and Cavs night at FOX Sports Ohio, so check this link out to ensure that you’re catching the game that you want to catch. As for the CBJ side of the FSO house…
– Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" at 6:30 p.m.
– The puck drops at 7 p.m., with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.
– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with insight and analysis.
Desperate playoff-contending teams. Trade deadline rumors abound. Sounds like a fun night to me. Enjoy, everyone!