I count ten names that should be in serious contention for those remaining four spots. And, you could make the case for almost all of them, that they cannot be cut.
Let’s start with the easy one again: defense. Missing from our list of “locks” is one of the top defense prospects in the world, David Jiricek. If he comes to camp and proves he’s ready to be a difference maker, you can’t block him. This alone forces the team’s hand and makes them keep 8 defensemen – because there are already 7 guys who cannot be sent down without the risk of losing them.
And what about Nick Blankenburg? He’s on a two-way deal, and it’s hard to pencil him into that group of 7 as things stand, so it’s easy to say we can send him to Cleveland. But, he was one of the most assertive, hard working players the team had last year. Can you really cut him if he shows out better than two or three of the guys on NHL only deals? He’s done it before.
The only name that seems to be an “easy” cut here is Tim Berni. He’s still an RFA, yet to be extended by the team – but, he played in 59 games here last season, and did not look out of place. We have to mention him as making a push, especially when you look at the depth on the left side.
What makes things more tricky when you start looking at forwards is: keeping an eighth defenseman around means that you can only keep three of the seven players we have on the bubble. And there are plenty of guys with strong resumes here.
First, let’s talk about team toughness and Mathieu Olivier. I thought he had a strong season with the Jackets last year, all things considered, and I like the way he rounded out that fourth line. Clearly the club’s brass thought highly of him as well – enough to extend him with a two year, one-way contract. This is a player that had some rumblings around his name at the trade deadline, and with a cheap contract, he’s an NHL player that certainly wouldn’t clear waivers. Do you really risk losing him for nothing?
Emil Bemstrom has long been the subject of slander amongst CBJ faithful, and I would argue that most of it is tied to unfair expectations that he arrived in North America with. In reality, he’s been a quietly productive two-way winger, who isn’t out of place in this team’s bottom six. He’ll never be the top-two line scoring winger (like Oliver Bjorkstrand) that we thought we were getting, but perhaps one of the best coaches in NHL history can unlock more from him?
Still, Bemmer is probably one of the easier cuts to make from this list … which really says a lot about the situation this team finds itself in. He cleared waivers once last season, and I could see the team risking that again. If he doesn’t clear, he’s easily written off by some of the younger prospects in the system.
Justin Danforth will return from major shoulder surgery, with one year remaining on his contract. He’s a 30 year old journeyman who has been written off plenty of times in his career – but knowing Mike Babcock the way that I do, this is exactly the kind of player that will catch his eye in camp. Danforth works tirelessly, is reliable on both sides of the puck, with just enough speed and finish to fit perfectly into Babcock’s system. Don’t overlook this guy until the team makes the final decisions in its bottom-six.