Late last month, when the Blue Jackets were piling up losses and drifting further out of theplayoff race in the Western Conference, general manager Scott Howson pulled winger R.J. Umbergerout of a post-practice luncheon to get his opinion on one or more members of the PhiladelphiaFlyers, a source told The Dispatch.
It’s fairly common for a GM on the verge of a significant trade to seek the opinions of those hetrusts, and Umberger – who spent three seasons in Philadelphia before he was traded to Columbus atthe 2008 entry draft – is trusted implicitly by Howson.
Which players were the Blue Jackets and Flyers discussing? How close was a deal? That much isunclear, and Howson and Umberger have refused to discuss their conference.
At the time, Howson was desperate to make a trade and, perhaps, ready to trade players who havebeen considered part of the foundation. (The Flyers are stated to want winger Jake Voracek; the BlueJackets, according to an Eastern Conference executive, were shopping goaltender Steve Mason hardlast month.)
Much has changed since the luncheon.
Howson is no longer so desperate, not with the Blue Jackets playing better and seemingly back inthe playoff conversation. But there still is a belief within the Blue Jackets, sources say, thatthe club – as currently constructed – is not good enough to get into the postseason, much less winonce they reach it.
Last week, three significant trades were made around the league: Toronto traded defensemanFrancois Beauchemin to Anaheim for Joffrey Lupul, a prospect and a pick; Chicago traded Jack Skilleand a handful of minor-leaguers to Florida for Michael Frolik; and Ottawa traded center Mike Fisherto Nashville for a first-round pick this summer and a conditional pick in 2012.
Sources tell The Dispatch that Howson has been in frequent contact with Ottawa general manager BryanMurray in recent weeks, and one can surmise that Fisher’s name came up in the conversation. TheBlue Jackets have been underwhelmed at times this season by their top three centers, AntoineVermette, Derick Brassard and Sammy Pahlsson.
But the Senators, who are expected to blow up their current roster between now and the Feb.28trade deadline, are stated to prefer draft picks over prospects in return for veteran players.
With a dwindling fan base and frustration mounting in central Ohio, Howson appears ready to takethat plunge for the right player.
But Fisher, Frolik and Beauchemin were not deemed to be the right players. Edmonton wingersDustin Penner and Ales Hemsky are available for the right price, too, but they might not be a fit,either.
The Blue Jackets are looking – first and foremost – for a defenseman (or two) with offensiveskill, players who can make the Jackets far more mobile in their own end and get the puck up theice quicker.
There are 15 days before the trade deadline. Howson is working the phones, speaking to hisplayers, mulling his options and waiting to pull the trigger.
The province of Quebec this week signed off on a $400 million arena with the hope of luring anNHL franchise. With Phoenix now appearing safe in the desert, eyes are starting to turn towardAtlanta. The Sabres were left for dead after a horrible begin to the season, leading many to callfor the firing of the longtime tandem at the top, general manager Darcy Regier and coach LindyRuff. But a 12-4-1 run heading into today’s game against the Islanders has them on the verge of aplayoff spot in the East. Devils interim coach Jacques Lemaire appears to be hedging on hisdeclaration last month that he would not be back in 2011-12. New Jersey has won more games duringits current 12-1-2 streak than in its first 41 games (10-29-2).
It’s looking less likely the NHL will return to ESPN with its next TV contract. SI.com this weekreported the league is likely to re-sign with NBC and Versus, despite being in a better negotiationposition than in 2005, when it was emerging from a lockout. Lightning center Steven Stamkos had 114career goals when he turned 21 last week. Only Wayne Gretzky (167), Jimmy Carson (141) and DaleHawerchuk (122) had more when they hit 21. Phoenix’s Paul Bissonnette on why he clashed with hisfirst minor-league coach, Todd Richards, now coach of the Wild: “My first year, I drank a lot – youknow, first-year freedom, so I got after it hard with a few guys I lived with. Todd was not there ascoach that year, but I’m sure he heard from management and right off the bat did not like me.”
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