First, a quick look at his career stats. "Juice" was drafted in the second round in 1997 by the Florida Panthers, but spent arguably his best years with Calgary, having been dealt for Steve Montador and Dustin Johner. After his contract expired, he signed with the Blue Jackets in 2008 as an unrestricted free agent, for an annual cap hit of 4.75 million. His career stats are as follows:
As noted earlier, his best numbers came in Calgary, but he also managed to provide Columbus with impressive offensive totals for the first two years of his contract. In fact, with a career average shooting percentage of almost 12.5%, Juice is the ideal candidate for a team in direct need of additional scoring. His time on ice has never topped twenty minutes per game on average which is realistic, and I went ahead and removed the short handed career statistics considering the unlikelihood of him spending too much time there for the rest of his career. With that said, his injury plagued seasons with Columbus generate what should be an obvious red flag, and for a team like Columbus who shocked the fan base with spending almost exactly to the cap this year, 4.75 million on the cap for a big bandaid can cause some major dissatisfaction.
I have had two real issues with Juice over the last few seasons. First, his inability to remain healthy throughout the year. While it can be a legitimate issue for anyone watching over twenty million dollars of salary sitting on the IR (yes, I am referring to our injured squad), it really isn't enough to ignore his production. Even with his injuries last year, he managed to tie for seventh on the team in points and fifth on the team in goals having only played thirty-nine games. That isn't a small feat, especially considering the amount of time it takes some players to 'get their game back' after missing significant time.
Secondary to the injury trouble, I had a major complaint with his style of play on the ice. During his return to the team last year, he spent limited time with Nash, and seemed to spend more time with Umberger on the second line. While there, he seemed to be glued to the center of the ice, and essentially waited for his teammates to collect the puck in the harder areas of the ice. This resulted in a number of goals for him, but made him appear to be just another lazy, European style hockey player without heart.
Now, I am ready to call my own 'BS' here. As much as I wanted to fault him for that style of play, it's not the style that he has made a career out of. In fact, it wasn't until last year that his numbers were higher in the goal column than they were in the assist column, leaving me to believe that my criticisms of him last year were on account of two things. First, he was probably playing a designed role with the team. Each player has different assets around the ice, and it is up to the coach to create a system for players to function within. I believe that in Huselius' case, at least last year, he was noted as a guy who could find the back of the net, and rolled with it. Second, he was playing with guys who are less inclined to put the puck in the net, unlike playing with the likes of Nash or Iginla in previous seasons. Suddenly, last year becomes an anomaly and his stock rises.
The final major benefit to his name right now, is his contract that expires this year. Obviously he will have the ability to find a new home if he doesn't re-sign before the year ends, or Howson deals him for picks before the deadline to a team desperate to find scoring in their top six for the playoffs. But his injury troubles and his separation form competitive hockey over the last two seasons may have a number of teams questioning his value, leaving the door wide open for Columbus to provide him with a couple more years with the organization.
I have heard the discussion of the old handshake and a 'see you in July' comment in reference to selling teams providing their expiring contracts at the deadline, and while this has been more designed for Prospal (at least in the fan base I pull from), I feel like Juice is an even better candidate. While he does not have the statistics to back it up this year, he is a proven goal scorer with the notable ability to fit in anywhere in the top six. If it were a situation where Columbus were to deal him for a mid round pick or better, only to offer him in the 2-3 million dollar range this summer, I would be entirely behind it. Yes, the top six is getting a bit overwhelmed right now (Nash, Carter, Prospal, Johansen, Brassard, Umberger, Vermette) there is always flexibility in lineup production. Umberger and Vermette can both play a third line role, and frankly, I would be shocked to see less than one if not two of the names mentioned dealt before the deadline this year anyways.
In short, if Juice were to stick around for another couple years at a more realistic contract, I am finally in a situation where I think it would do more good for the team than it would bad. Just keep it under three million Howson!
Carry the Flag!