Friday, June 29, 2012

Playoffs or Bust

Much has happened in Jacketsland since F.A.N.S. turned in its petition to John P. McConnell.  The first thing was the re-signing of Todd Richards as head coach.  This was interpreted by some in the blogosphere of a direct rebuke of the demand of Jackets fans for a change in leadership at the top.

However, as is often the case with the Jackets, things may not have been what they seemed.  As the focus turned towards the NHL Draft, news leaked that John P. McConnel and current team president Mike Priest, had conversations with John Davidson, currently with the St. Louis Blues about the possibility of Davidson, who had an out clause in his deal with St. Louis, joining the Jackets as President of Hockey Operations, a move which would have seen Priest removed from decisions with regards to the team's hockey operations, focusing instead on the area he is actually qualified to handle--finances.  Despite some early excitement about the possibility, things have since cooled with Davidson still attempting to extricate himself from his contract, his out clause having officially expired.

The NHL Draft provided the Jackets with a potential franchise cornerstone defenseman in Ryan Murray.  It also exposed just how poor the franchise's depth in goal was with the Jackets trading for Sergei Bobrovsky and then picking 2 goalies within 24 hours...and still finding themselves needing another 1 or 2 pro goaltenders to start the season.

The Draft did not, however, provide the resolution to the Rick Nash situation that many hoped for.  If anything, the number of suitors for Nash seems to be dwindling, with teams like Philadelphia and Toronto already turning their attention elsewhere, San Jose seemingly disengaged after Howson's repeated demands for Logan Couture and the Rangers waiting for Howson's demands to decrease while focusing on acquiring Zach Parise in free agency.

Which brings us to today.  Here we are two days prior to free agency with no clearer picture of what the team's plan is going forward.  A plan which was allegedly hatched in January.  A plan which was provided first to Rick Nash...who thereafter demanded a trade.  While we are light on details, we are told the plan isn't a "rebuild" but a "reshape".  Come Sunday, we're going to have a much better idea what is meant by "reshape."

If what is meant by reshaping is rebuilding on the fly to compete not just years from now, but this very year, then we should see the Jackets very active in free agency in order to acquire a goalie which allows the team to send Steve Mason to the minors or the unemployment line and several forwards in order to rebuild the depth that has eroded over the last several years.  An additional depth defenseman that would allow us to ship off the contract of Marc Methot or to use another defenseman as trade bait for a forward wouldn't hurt either.  If reshaping means competing now, we should expect to see a Nash trade that is centered around players who can help this year or next rather than long-term prospects or picks.  A trade like the one rumored to have been offered by the San Jose Sharks included Joe Pavelski, and one or two roster players.

But, if reshaping is really just a euphamism for rebuilding cooked up by a Chicago PR firm, we can expect to see little done in free agency.  A small acquisition to fill out a roster spot or two.  A trade of Rick Nash largely based on picks and prospects.  Steve Mason still on the opening night roster as either the 1A or 1B goalie.

If reshaping is merely a rebuild by another name, then we can expect a similar result to last season in the upcoming season as a lineup of pluggers is sent out there to Join the get yet another lottery pick.  But if reshaping is really and truly meant to be something different than rebuilding, there should be one goal and one goal only--making the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

From where I stand, it would be incredibly misleading for ownership and management to make a big deal about this being a "reshape" and not a "rebuild" if there wasn't a distinction, particularly after this past season.  Beyond that, Scott Howson himself has crowed that we are only a couple players away.  If so, then he should feel confident that he can achieve the low bar of building a team capable of making the Playoffs--something accomplished by more than 50% of NHL teams each season.  With plenty of cap space, and even more after a Nash trade, with at least one additional pick in next year's draft and with some depth on defense, Howson should have some pretty big bullets to get the couple players he needs to complete the puzzle.  His job starting Sunday is to do just that.  Failure is not an option.  It is Playoffs or Bust.