The Columbus Blue Jackets have just completed the best season in franchise history, and beat writer Aaron Portzline is reporting that there is reason to believe the team plans to be “very active” on the trade front as their offseason commences.
That could be good news for Edmonton, since few teams are better fits for the Oilers as a trading partner. Further, with former Jackets GM Scott Howson now Craig MacTavish’s top lieutenant, Edmonton is in a unique situation to evaluate the opposition club.
Porztline, in part:
[W]hen people ask if defenseman James Wisniewski … [is] going to be subject to compliance buyout this summer, I don’t see it… The chances of Wisniewski getting traded are much higher than him getting bought out. Of his original deal — six years, $33 million — three years and $20 million have already been paid, meaning he’s owed $13 million over the next three seasons. His AAV is $5.5 million.
Howson’s the guy who signed Wisniewski to his current contract, and in hindsight the criticism of it seems overblown.
Wisniewski isn’t a perfect player, but he’s a very good offensive defenceman and at age 30 he still has plenty of tread left on the tires. He logs heavy minutes in Columbus, and for most of his time with the team he’s logged those minutes without a lot of support. He’s not huge, but he does possess a considerable mean streak, and his underlying numbers are quite good.
The contract number is a little hefty for a guy who, ideally, slots into a No.2/No.3 role on an NHL depth chart, but this is a highly useful player. If the Blue Jackets are interested in moving him, there should be a spot for him in Edmonton.
Portzline mentions R.J. Umberger in the same breath as James Wisniewski and compliance buyout, and while he makes it clear that he doesn’t believe a buyout is the way to go it is plain that Columbus would probably like it if someone came and took Umberger off their hands.
The 31-year-old still has some offensive game, has been playing tough minutes, and at 6’2”, 214 pounds adds some size to a lineup. In a perfect world, he’d be an above-average third-line winger who can also cover centre in a pinch, but his $4.6 million cap hit makes that difficult.
He gets a mention here because the Oilers need to be creative if they are to improve and Umberger, while overpriced, is a useful NHL player who would fill a very real need in Edmonton. For a team like the Blue Jackets, taking the financial commitment that goes with Umberger might be a way to sweeten a deal that otherwise wouldn’t get done.
Phone calls will not be returned to any NHL GM who mentions either of the Ryans [Johansen, Murray], Boone Jenner or Sergei Bobrovsky. Defenseman Jack Johnson and center Brandon Dubinsky are seen as core players, too. But Kekalainen wants desperately to boost this club’s pure skill level.
There are lots of interesting pieces outside that list of core players.
Nikita Nikitin, a pending unrestricted free agent, would be an awfully nice fit on the Oilers’ third pairing. He brings size (6’4”, 223 pounds), puck-moving ability (32 points in 61 games in 2011-12) and fell out of favour this year after playing top-four minutes the last two seasons.
Artem Anisimov, the 6’4” centre who came over with Dubinsky in the Rick Nash trade, doesn’t get a mention as a core player. At 25, he’s in the prime of his career and has played reasonably tough mintues with solid results the last few years.
Blake Comeau’s another interesting name. The 6’1”, 202 pound winger had 46 points as recently as 2010-11 and managed 16 this year despite being buried on the depth chart and recording a shooting percentage less than half his career average. The Oilers need better bottom-six forwards and the pending UFA could well fit the bill – and almost certainly wouldn’t break the bank.