Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
It's been a busy couple of days for President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and General Manager Jarmo Kekaleinen of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Wednesday afternoon they were working the phones in Columbus and then flew to New York that evening to pick up their newly acquired scoring star from the Rangers. Late Wednesday night or very early Thursday morning it was off to Nashville to try and make the morning skate and introduce Marian Gaborik to his new teammates in preparation for the game last night against the Predators. After the game, they were on their way to St. Louis to renew acquaintances and prepare for tonight's contest between divisional rivals. Whew!
Yes, the new-look Columbus Blue Jackets are here to fight for the number eight seed with the new-look St. Louis Blues. In two previous meetings, the Blues were victorious both in Ohio (4-1) and at home (2-1). However, both teams have changed personnel since then and improved with additions on offense (Columbus) and defense (St. Louis). The Jackets have been on a bit of a roll for well over a month now, winning ten, losing only two in regulation and losing four in bonus time. They have picked up 24 points to escape the conference cellar and challenge for the last playoff slot with the Blues. In comparison, the Blues earned 14 points in March, evenly splitting fourteen games. For the math-impaired, that's a gain of ten points during the month for the up and coming Blue Jackets.
The addition of Marian Gaborik from New York gives the Columbus' offense the star player they lost when Rick Nash was traded to the Rangers last summer, before Davidson and Kekaleinen joined the Jackets. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Nick Foligno were also added during the summer. Since then, Davidson and Kekaleinen had been relatively quiet, only obtaining minor leaguers Tomas Kubalik from Winnipeg and Matthew Ford from Philadelphia in mid-March. That all changed Wednesday when they traded for Gaborik and scrappy forward Blake Comeau (from Calgary for a fifth round pick). They also sent former rookie of the year goaltender Steve Mason to Philadelphia for net-minder Michael Leighton and a third round draft choice.
Sam Pollock (HHOF 1978), former General Manager, Vice-President and member of the Board of Directors of the Montreal Canadiens (with his name on 11 Stanley Cups), is attributed with saying that the winner of a trade is the one who gets the single best player.
("Trader Sam" is considered the best GM in NHL history, believing drafting excellent, young players was the key to long-term success. To that end, he was always planning, sometimes years in advance, to be in a position to choose the best amateurs. In a series of exchanges, Pollock traded for the first over-all pick in the 1971 Entry Draft, the year in which Guy Lafleur would be eligible. He traded his first round pick and veteran Ernie Hicke to the lowly California Golden Seals, who looked good to finish last. But as the Los Angeles Kings faltered and fell drastically in the standings, Pollock cleverly traded veteran center Ralph Backstrom to the Kings, who improved so much after the trade that California finished dead last and Pollock was able to select Lafleur. In another shrewd move, Pollock sent two highly-regarded college prospects to the Boston Bruins in 1964 for an unheralded goaltender from Cornell University named Ken Dryden.)
In that sense, Davidson and Kekaleinen easily won the trade with GM Glen Sather of the Rangers as Gaborik has the statistical credentials of an elite scorer (333 goals and 333 assists in 757 regular season NHL games; 18 goals and 17 assists in 54 playoff games). In 35 games this season with the Rangers, Gaborik scored nine goals and ten assists.
Sather did not get fleeced, however, and may well end up in the long-term with the best player in center Derick Brassard, the Jackets' number one pick in the 2006 Entry Draft (sixth overall). An excellent skater, Brassard is five and a half years younger than Gaborik and has a much greater up-side and potential than Gaborik. In 309 NHL games (all with a poor Columbus club), Brassard scored 58 goals and garnered 111 assists. This shortened season, he now has three more points (22) than Gaborik in the same number of games (35). The Rangers also obtained tough winger Derek Dorsett and defenseman John Moore. Both Brassard and Moore made an immediate impact in their first game for New York, a 6-1 win over the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins. Brassard scored a goal (8) and added three assists (14) while Moore scored a goal, his first. Sather also picked up enigmatic winger Ryane Clowe from the Sharks for a couple of draft picks. Scoreless in 28 games with San Jose (registering 11 assists), Clowe scored two goals and added an assist in his first game at Madison Square Garden.
Going into tonight's game with the Jackets, the Blues have three games on hand on Nashville, two on Detroit, Columbus, Edmonton and Phoenix, as well as one on Dallas. With only six points separating seventh place from thirteenth in the Western Conference, it behooves the Blues to win those games at hand, especially against teams right behind them in the standings. If defense trumps offense tonight, Bouwmeester and Leopold will hold Gaborik off the score sheet and the Blues can continue the drive to qualify for the playoffs.