In tonight’s game the Jackets absolutely dominated the Phoenix Coyotes for the majority of the game. This has been the standard over nearly the last two months. What is even more notable about tonight’s game was the play of Rick Nash. He was invisible. When he was visible he was turning the puck over or making poor decisions. This may have been Nash’s worst game of 2011. For much of the Jackets history, Nash had to play great or the team had to grind out a win over a better team. Lately, the Jackets have simply been better than their opponents. The Jackets team that we have been watching over the last twenty games or so has been the best Jackets team in franchise history.
Those are weighty words that sound hyperbolic. Yet they are not. While part of this is related to Doug MacLean’s reign of terror, the other part has to do with the well balanced team currently being iced by the Blue Jackets and the maturation of their younger players. It would be really tempting for the Jackets to make a major move at the trade deadline. This would be a mistake. A hockey team is a fickle experiment in chemistry. Right now, this Jackets team is clicking in a way that makes them very dangerous. A major addition to their top nine forwards or top four defensemen could very well do more harm than good.
On the other hand, the Jackets have a number of upcoming unrestricted free agents. Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark and Jan Hejda are the exact type of player that could be dealt to a contender for picks or prospects at the deadline. Instead, the Columbus front office should be looking at these players as the Jackets deadline moves. The only type of addition that makes sense for the Jackets are the exact type of players they already have. Simply keep those players.
There has been a lot of discussion lately on adding a top six forward or a top defenseman. That would be a mistake. As great as the Jackets have been lately, this is not a championship team. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not make the playoffs. This team should make the playoffs. Any deal to bring in a player to significantly upgrade the top six forwards or top defense pairing would cost the team in players that will be needed in the future. The core of this Jackets team is locked in for a significant amount of time (Jake Voracek excepted).This team should be competing for the Cup in two or three years, with John Moore, Ryan Johansen, David Savard and their other top prospects as part of that team. To give up those pieces now to make it to the second round is asinine. It’s short sighted.
On the other hand, they need to make the playoffs this season. Young teams rarely win right away in the playoffs. They need to make the playoffs a couple of times and lose. They need to get those playoff reps. Once the talent and experience mesh, the team will truly be a contender. Nash, Brassard, Voracek, Russell, Calvert and company need to get that playoff experience now. Clark, Moreau, Hejda and Sammy Pahlsson are important parts of this team and necessary to make the playoffs. While those players likely won’t be in Columbus when the Jackets are Cup contenders, they will play a big part in getting them there.