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MIXOLOGY: Getting Help Up Front

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog – and I suspect you have (wink) – you will have seen my examination of the Blue Jackets defense corps last week. The prevailing thought is the current group of defensemen is the best in the history of the franchise, and you’ll be in tough to find someone around the club who disagrees.

Heading into next season, the defense is one of the bright spots for the Blue Jackets -- a true building block of the team as it progresses through a roster reshaping. But it’s only part of the challenge that lies ahead, as GM Scott Howson and his staff pursue any and all avenues to improve a roster that finished 30th in the NHL a year ago.

Now, fast forward to mid-July. Here we are, roughly two months from the opening of training camp, and the Blue Jackets’ biggest need remains goal-scoring and bodies up front. The offense needs a boost; Howson knows it, the fans know it, and it’s going to take some creativity to get something done.

Frankly, the free-agent market for scorers was about as deep as a bathtub from the outset. There wasn’t a whole lot to write home about, and many teams figured their search for offense would lead them to the trade market anyway. Obviously, the big fish was Zach Parise, who went to the Minnesota Wild along with premier defenseman Ryan Suter. Aside from Parise, who was the top forward on the market? I had to look it up. I’ll go with Ray Whitney and/or Jaromir Jagr.

Of course, Shane Doan is still out there and his future is uncertain, but you get the point. Clubs seeking scoring are finding themselves at dead ends, and are pulling the ol’ three-point turn to get back where they started.

Nick Foligno tries to screen Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas.

Wisely so, the Blue Jackets got some of their work done early in free agency. As their blueline strengthened, the opportunity arose to turn a surplus of defensemen into a much-needed forward. In trading Marc Methot to Ottawa for Nick Foligno, Howson picked up a 24-year-old multi-tool forward that is coming off a 47-point season – and a player that many feel has more scoring in his arsenal.

Where does Foligno fit? If you ask me, I think he slots easily on the second line – either at center or either wing. See what I did there? You get the point: the guy’s pretty versatile and has played all three forward positions during his NHL career. He’s also competed in the Stanley Cup playoffs on three different occasions and scored a huge goal for the Senators late in Game 2 of their first round series vs. the Rangers.

At first glance, a line of Prospal-Johansen-Foligno doesn’t look too bad. Provided Johansen has a solid training camp and can lock down a top-six spot, he’d be a nice fit between two veterans that have shown the ability to put up points. The 37-year-old Prospal was the Blue Jackets’ leading scorer for the majority of the first three months of the season, and he said last year that he thinks he could play for two or three more years.

Let’s play armchair coach for a minute: how would your forward lines set up?

Rick NashDerick BrassardCam Atkinson

Vinny Prospal Ryan JohansenNick Foligno

Derek Dorsett R.J. UmbergerMark Letestu

Colton GilliesDerek MacKenzieJared Boll

For the time being, that’s how I could see it shaking out. Comment on the blog or send me a tweet letting me know what you think.

So, what’s the next step?

The issue at the forefront of everyone’s mind right now is what will happen with Rick Nash. During an appearance on “That’s Hockey” with TSN reporter Gino Reda last week, Howson said the Blue Jackets expect to get 2-3 NHL forwards in any deal involving their captain. Like he said at the trading deadline and has reiterated multiple times: the price is high to acquire Nash, and he’s not going to apologize for it.

At this point in the proceedings, this is not a guessing game for rival GMs. They know exactly what it’s going to take to trade for Nash, a seven-time 30-goal scorer, a Rocket Richard trophy winner, NHL All-Star and Olympic gold medalist.

Where that path leads, no one knows. But competing clubs have a standard to work with, and the Blue Jackets are only going to consummate a Rick Nash trade if it’s in the best interest of the organization.

And that’s the way it should be.

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