The Columbus fire sale begins; Vermette to Phoenix

The fire sale has begun for the Columbus Blue Jackets. It was reported today that the General Manager, Scott Howson, traded forward Antoine Vermette to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for goaltender Curtis McElhinney, a 2012 second round pick, and a 2013 fifth round pick. The fifth round pick will become a fourth round pick if the Coyotes can win a playoff round this season.

While it is no surprise that Columbus has started to ship players out, it may have been a surprise to learn that Vermette was the first to go. The center has a contract that pays him $3.75M for the next three years once the 2011-2012 campaign is over. Through 60 games played this year, he has tallied 8 goals and 19 assists. The cap hit on the contract was probably something that Howson didn’t think was worth keeping and thusly shipped him out to greener pastures. With the subtraction of Vermette, look for the Blue Jackets to move Samuel Pahlsson ($2.6M) and possibly Vaclav Prospal ($2.5M) next.

The interesting spin in all of this Columbus trade talk is that what if Howson has a change of heart? What if he wants to keep both Carter and Nash for the long-term future? Could the Blue Jackets re-tool in the offseason and post a respectable record next year? If Howson can shed another $2M+ from his roster for next season (Prospal or Mason), they would be working with a projected cap space of $19M and the rights to the first overall pick in the 2012 NHL draft. A pick of Yakupov or Murray and a few smart signings could turn this club around faster than anticipated. Granted, the number one priority they need to fix is goaltending, but there is still a slim chance that the Blue Jackets could walk into the future with both Jeff Carter and Rick Nash.