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Interconnected pieces coming into focus during NHL draft week

By Tom

It’s one of those weeks that overwhelms a blogger, one where, as the saying goes, “Everything is happening!” for our Columbus Blue Jackets. And by “Everything,” I’m talking about the NHL Draft and the looming trade of CBJ captain Rick Nash…and it all revolves around one of the top needs facing the team this offseason, the goaltender position.

If memory serves correct, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is on record as saying that that the Blue Jackets will have one, if not two, new goaltenders in 2012-13. Last year’s backup goaltender to start the season, Curtis Sanford, arguably was the team’s Most Valuable Player for bailing the team out when Steve Mason faltered and Mark Dekanich got injured…but now Sanford went and signed a contract with a Kontinental Hockey League team. So, yeah, the Blue Jackets need netminders in the worst way.

Yet just as the Blue Jackets are on the prowl for someone to stand between the pipes, the rest of the National Hockey League isn’t sitting still. The Pittsburgh Penguins solidified their goalie situation by trading for and subsequently signing Tomas Vokoun. The Tampa Bay Lightning traded for last year’s backup in Nashville, Anders Lindback. Then, yesterday, the Minnesota Wild denied the NHL of one of the top potential free agent goalie targets, Josh Harding. Were the Blue Jackets making a push on any – or all – of these netminders? Who knows…but we do know that the team is openly saying that they need at least one goalie in what now is a contracting marketplace.

Which brings me to Rick Nash. Nearly every Nash trade rumor that I’ve heard focusses on the other overarching need facing the team, goal scoring. And for good reason: With the departures of scorers like Jakub Voracek, Antoine Vermette and Jeff Carter – and now looking the end of the Nash era in the eyes – the team has seen a long-time problem get even scarier.

But now, it’s looking increasingly like the Blue Jackets will need to use their Nash card to at least explore if not acquire a goalie. The only serious trade rumor involving a goaltender has the Sharks packaging Stanley Cup-winning netminder Antti Niemi with other picks and players. Does that put the Sharks at the top of the trade options? Perhaps.  (Or maybe the Jackets make a run at Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo?)

Lastly, we have the draft to consider. If the centerpiece of a Nash trade is a goalie, then the draft has to deliver a kid who can be a meaningful goal scorer right out of the gate – something that history suggests can happen when you have the second overall pick in the draft. Does that mean that the Blue Jackets have to trade up to get the jewel of the draft, Nail Yakupov? Or what about the likes of Filip Forsberg, Mikhail Grigorenko or Alex Galchenyuk? And do the Blue Jackets dare pass on top defensive draft prospect Ryan Murray (should a team ever pass on a top-level defenseman?) to address immediate needs?

So many variables in play, nothing decided. On the bright side, everything will be much clearer by the time the first round of the NHL Draft concludes on Friday night. Hang in there, everyone.

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