The possible trade of Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash will grab most of the headlines this summer in Columbus, but it’s not the only seismic move on the club’s horizon.
The Blue Jackets have a desperate need for improved goaltending but have only two goaltenders under contract heading into next season — struggling starter Steve Mason and prospect Allen York.
Curtis Sanford, the Blue Jackets’ best goaltender last season, signed a one-year contract with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in Russia’s Continental Hockey League for next season.
So now what?
General manager Scott Howson has made it clear that Mason could return to the Blue Jackets next season, but it won’t be as the Jackets’ No. 1 goaltender. Since winning the Calder Trophy and finishing second in the Vezina Trophy in 2008-09, Mason has been statistically one of the NHL’s worst goaltenders. Last season, he was 16-26-3 with an .894 save percentage and 3.39 goals-against average.
The Blue Jackets would love to trade Mason, but that won’t be easy. He has one year remaining on his contract at $3.2 million.
Look for Howson to make a significant move to try to land a starting goaltender, either a trade (Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo?) or through free agency.
“We have to get better at that position,” Howson told The Columbus Dispatch. “There’s an understanding by everybody involved that we have to be improved on that end of the ice.”
SEASON HIGHLIGHT: Somehow, the Blue Jackets managed to salvage some sense of pride in the final two months of the season, finishing 11-8-0, including five wins in their last six games. Put another way, the Jackets won as many games in their last 19 as they did in their first 42. Not exactly a playoff pace, but it did earn them a modicum of respect.
TURNING POINT: The Blue Jackets started 0-7-1 and 2-12-1, ending their season by the midpoint of November. By early January, they were 11-25-5, leading to the firing of coach Scott Arniel. There’s false starts, and then there’s falling flat on your face at the starting blocks.
Blue Jackets interview Davidson for front office
–The Blue Jackets, seeking an upgrade in experience in their front office, have interviewed St. Louis Blues president of hockey operations John Davidson, according to The Columbus Dispatch. It’s unclear what position Davidson would fill with the Blue Jackets, but majority owner John P. McConnell told the newspaper he waa willing to “pursue any opportunity to improve our hockey club.”
–Former Blue Jackets forward Chris Clark has been hired as the club’s director of player development two seasons after he retired. Clark, who plans to live in Columbus, takes over for another former Jacket, Tyler Wright, in working with the franchise’s prospects throughout junior and college hockey and the minor leagues.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “We finished 30th in the league, but we don’t think we’re that far away.” — Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, speaking to TSN Radio about his club’s outlook heading into next season.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Rick Nash. It wasn’t Nash’s best season, but there’s not a lot of candidates here. Nash had his sixth 30-goal season and led the club in scoring for the fifth straight season. Hard to imagine how this club will score if Nash is traded this summer.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Steve Mason. Lots of candidates here, but Mason is the clear winner. For the third straight season, he was statistically one of the worst goaltenders in the NHL, finishing with a woeful .896 save percentage. It was only three years ago that Mason won the Calder Trophy and finished second in the Vezina Trophy, but that seems a long time ago.
BIGGEST NEEDS: The Blue Jackets simply must find a capable goaltender, a backstop who — unlike Mason — gives them a chance to win most nights. The club has many deficiencies, but the play in goal has been deflating for three seasons now. It’s the No. 1 priority for GM Scott Howson this summer.
FREE AGENT FOCUS: The Blue Jackets didn’t score enough goals WITH Rick Nash on the roster. Imagine if they trade the two-time 40-goal scorer and perennial 30-goal contributor. Nash requested a trade last winter when he was told by Howson that the club was planning to go through a rebuild. A trade could go down in late June or early July.
In that trade the Blue Jackets will certainly be seeking skilled forwards, but they’ll likely have to go searching for production via free agency, too.
Assuming Nash gets traded, the Blue Jackets’ top six candidates are Vinny Prospal, Derick Brassard, Cam Atkinson, R.J. Umberger and possibly Ryan Johansen.
–C Derek MacKenzie signed a two-year, $2 million contract with the Blue Jackets, avoiding unrestricted free agency this summer. MacKenzie missed the final 16 games of last season because of his first career concussion but said he’s been cleared since just after the regular season ended. The Blue Jackets made him pass a physical before the new deal was approved.
–G Curtis Sanford might have been the Blue Jackets’ best goaltender in 2011-12, but he won’t be back. Sanford signed a one-year contract with Yaroslavl Lokomotiv in the Russia’s Continental Hockey League. The Blue Jackets acknowledged they hadn’t talked to Sanford since the final week of the season.
–RW Maksim Mayorov is likely to be leaving the Blue Jackets. Mayorov has spent four years in the Blue Jackets’ minor league system — all with the American Hockey League affiliate — but barely has gotten a sniff at the NHL level, and he didn’t figure into their plans for 2012-13. The Jackets will likely extend him a qualifying offer to maintain his rights, but Mayorov is expected to jump to the KHL next season.
–D Nikita Nikitin won a gold medal with Russia in the IIHF World Championships, but he was scheduled to return to Columbus to get his injured thumb checked by team doctors. Nikitin wore a splint on his thumb in the final six weeks of the regular season. It’s possible he’ll need surgery.