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2010 NHL Free Agency: Anton Stralman's salary arbitration could cause a mess in Columbus

Jul 20, 2010, 9:00 PM EDT

antonstralman.jpgWhile the Chicago Blackhawks (salary cap purging), Detroit Red Wings (simply re-gaining Jiri Hudler) and St. Louis Blues (adding Halak) made waves in the Central division this summer, it’s been disappointing to see GM Scott Howson and the Columbus Blue Jackets stand pat. It’s often the sign of a cash-strapped club to do just that, so reports of the team’s hopes of bandaging its financial wounds with casino money might explain why the team isn’t making many moves.

Still, you have to spent money to make money (and wins) in the NHL and the Blue Jackets might find themselves in a perilous position when it comes to their already anemic powerplay. If the team finds Anton Stralman’s salary arbitration finding too rich for their tastes, they might be in a bit of a puck pickle according to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch.

Imagine if Kaberle and Bieksa are traded in the next few days, and then Stralman is awarded $2.5 million (or more) in arbitration. Enjoy Rostislav Klesla on the power play, Blue Jackets’ fans. At that point, the Blue Jackets may be forced to go in a direction they’d rather avoid — perhaps a play for Edmonton’s Sheldon Souray or a free agent a crack at, say, Marc-Andre Bergeron.

What would the Blue Jackets part with to acquire Bieksa or Kaberle? Compelling question. Both Vancouver and Toronto have too many defensemen — hence the trade — and neither team needs a goaltender.

It was surmised in this space a week or so ago that left winger Nikita Filatov could be dangled as bait. We still believe — from talking to numerous sources — that it’s a possibility. However, the Blue Jackets have strengthened their confidence in Filatov ever since development coach Tyler Wright traveled to Russia.

If I’m a Blue Jackets fan, I’m pulling for Kevin Bieksa rather than Sheldon Souray. Both players are injury-prone and have their faults, but Bieksa is about five years younger, a bit cheaper and has a bit less baggage. Don’t forget that Souray is already sulking in a losing environment in Edmonton. Why would he want to be a part of another struggling franchise?

Either way, I’m not sure if it’s time to pull the plug on Nikita Filatov. While it’s just as likely that Filatov could be Nikolai Zherdev 2.0, the team is still pretty short on high-end scoring wingers. If he could get his head on straight, Filatov would bring a unique blend of flashy skills to the table.

Salary arbitration should bring intriguing – and sometimes quite intense – stories to the table. Watching these situations play out is a lot like rubbernecking to witness the fallout of a highway accident; you feel a little dirty for doing it but it’s tough to look away from the wreckage. Could a bit player such as Stralman make a big impact on the Blue Jackets’ off-season plans? We’ll just have to wait and see.

  1. Matt W. - Jul 21, 2010 at 12:44 AM

    This really is less about Columbus being a team with a money crunch, and more about trying to manage their money as best as they can – Stralman’s a VERY one dimensional player. Sure, he had a bunch of powerplay points this year – but he was a minus 37! Even with the woes Columbus had this past year, that’s wretched. If he’s awarded a big arbitration salary based simply on his offense, and nothing taking his lack of defensive skills into account, Howson’s far better off letting him walk and swinging a deal for a well rounded player like Bieksa.

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