Although the writing was on the wall, this one stings. Getting the deal done just ahead of Monday’s deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets traded defenseman and fan-favorite James Wisniewski, along with a third-round pick in the upcoming draft, to the Anaheim Ducks for centerman William Karlsson, left winger Rene Bourque, and a second-round pick in June.
The injuries that had been plaguing the Jackets’ blue line are, for the most part, a thing of the past, leaving the team with a higher-than-desired population of defensemen. Still, it was Wisniewski’s influence on the power play that made him such a commodity. Ranked eighth-best in the league at 20.4%, the Jackets’ power play benefited not only from Wiz’s supersonic slapshot, but by the mere threat that his presence on the ice implied. Anaheim, however, finds themselves ranked 21st-T at 17.4% and behind potential playoff threats Chicago, St. Louis, and Vancouver. The view from the Ducks’ perspective is crystal clear.
Taking off the rose-colored glasses for just a bit, looking at Wisniewski’s overall performance this season one can see that the Wiz wasn’t quite a blue-line powerhouse. For instance, he has scored just one even-strength goal this season. He’s eighth on the team with 99 hits (behind four forwards) and fourteenth with 11 takeaways. He does rank fourth with 69 blocked shots (which led to some injury trouble), but he has also had a fair number of defensive zone miscues.
More from Columbus Blue Jackets
- Will Rene Bourque Find A Home with the Columbus Blue Jackets?
- Columbus Blue Jackets Split Weekend Home-and-Away Pair
- Justin Falk Impresses In His Columbus Blue Jackets Debut
- Jordan Leopold to Minnesota: A Trade with Heart
- Grading David Clarkson’s First Weekend as a Columbus Blue Jacket
Kevin Connauton, on the other hand, has posted similar numbers to Wisniewski’s but has done so in 17 fewer games. Yes, he’s currently on the shelf – indefinitely – but the point is that the Jackets can get similar production from their up-and-coming blueliners without dishing out a Wisniewski-level salary. GM Jarmo Kekalainen said as much in his trade explanation while also name-dropping David Savard, Ryan Murray, and Cody Goloubef. Add intriguing prospects like Austin Madaisky without forgetting the veteran presence of Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin – not to mention the potential of the upcoming draft – and Wisniewski’s expendability starts to reluctantly creep into focus.
Losing Wisniewski certainly negatively affects the Blue Jackets in the near term (e.g., the power play), but the long-term impact isn’t quite as controversial as it seems on the surface. To further strengthen the last half of that statement, let’s look at what the Jackets get from Anaheim in return.
I’m not even going to try to spin the Rene Bourque acquisition. The winger out of Alberta has had a less-than-stellar professional career spanning eleven years, with his highest goal production coming during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons in which he scored 27 goals (each). Just this season alone he’s been bounced around between Montreal, Hamilton, the Ducks and now Columbus. Actually, he’ll head directly to Springfield so time will tell if he manages to reach the big club.
Karlsson, on the other hand, comes to Columbus (again, actually Springfield) with a significant upside. A second-round pick for Anaheim in 2011, the Swede is in his second year of North American hockey after earning the Swedish Elite League’s Rookie of the Year honors for 2012-13 and helping Sweden take the silver medal in the 2013 World Junior Championships. Although his production in 18 games with the Ducks wasn’t overwhelming (just 2-1-3), he did manage a 48.8% faceoff percentage and his AHL numbers (8-16-24 in 37 games) are remarkably similar to those of Marko Dano. That’s good enough for a third or fourth line spot should the need arise. Finishing out the year at Springfield will only give the Jackets more options at center next season, or even provide talent to sweeten future deals.
Yes, losing Wiz pulls at the fan/heart strings. He’s been great for the team, for the town, and (for me) he’s an almost-hometown guy, but by replacing emotion with an analytical frame of mind it becomes clear that the Jackets will ultimately be better off in the long run.