Atlanta Thrashers trade Jason Williams

Puck-Rakers, hands down the best source of information on the Columbus Blue Jackets, has reported that Columbus has acquired Jason Williams from the Atlanta Thrashers in exchange for prospect Clay Wilson and a sixth round draft pick.

First, let’s look at the contracts involved.

Williams –- $2.2 million for 2008-09, pending UFA

Wilson –- $650K for 2008-09, pending RFA

Williams has struggled in Atlanta this season, recording only 18 points in 41 games after scoring at a nearly point-per-game pace last season. According to Behind the Net he’s played the toughs this season, ranking fourth among Thrashers forwards in Quality of Competition, and he’s done it with the worst linemates of any Thrashers forward. He has a -7 rating and a lousy Corsi number, but he’s been a decent player over his career and I’d suggest that most of his even-strength struggles can be chalked up to playing tough minutes on a lousy team. He isn’t putting up power-play numbers either; he’s fallen off the first unit (he’s traditionally played the point on the power-play) and the results haven’t been there on the second unit.

Williams is a pretty good pickup for the Blue Jackets; the team has been in need of a right-shooting point man on their power-play, and with their forward corps decimated by injuries (including Rick Nash and Derrick Brassard), one would imagine that Williams fits in nicely and has a bit of a rebound over the second half of the season. He may even get a chance at centering the team’s first line. Here’s how Ken Hitchcock described Williams:

“We know quite a bit about Jason, he’s a very serviceable player who can really help us. He brings an element to our team will help us at 5-on-5 and on the power play. He’s got an excellent shot and he looks to shoot.”

This acquisition is a pretty good sign that the Blue Jackets haven’t given up the chase for their first-ever playoff spot.

Clay Wilson is an extremely vanilla prospect; he’s an undrafted defenceman, but over the past few seasons he’s generated considerable offense in the AHL, more than he generated in college hockey. He turns 26 this season, and has played for three different AHL teams in three years, suggesting that he isn’t especially in demand by NHL clubs. A sixth round pick isn’t much of a return either; I’m a fan of teams stockpiling draft choices, because you never know, but in reality it’s far more likely that a sixth round pick turns into nothing than an actual NHL player.

It isn’t surprising to see Atlanta (14th in the East and 14 points out of a playoff spot) throw in the towel; it’s just unfortunate that the team’s general manager since day one, Don Waddell, still has a job. I’d call this trade a hands-down win for the Blue Jackets; they get a useful NHL player who fits a team need in exchange for virtually nothing,

Aside from the obvious playoff race implications, this suggests that the Thrashers might be willing to ship away their checking line centre, a proven veteran with experience winning face-offs, killing penalties, and a sterling plus/minus facing the opposition’s best players on a bottom-feeding team.