Columbus beat writer Aaron Portzline tantalized Edmonton fans on Saturday by dropping a blurb about Souray in his training camp notes:
"...they have enough salary-cap space to take a bad contract or two. It seems the perfect fit, and if the Blue Jackets struggle defensively in camp, don't be surprised if it happens."
There was a bit of discussion in our comments section around what sort of return the Oilers could expect and which arguably bad contracts Scott Howson might be looking to unload on Steve Tambellini. The candidates were Samuel Pahlsson, Chris Clark, Kristian Huselius, and Mike Commodore and / or some combination of those four.
Sunday, Portzline pushed the idea even further with a column today entitled "Blue Jackets Considering Souray" in which he says:
"The Dispatch has learned that there have been internal conversations within the Blue Jackets about trading for Souray, a three-time All-Star with record-setting power play ability and one of the most feared slap shots in the NHL. The likely candidate to be traded by Columbus would be Mike Commodore, the club's highest-paid defenseman."
Portzline goes on to justify the trade from Scott Howson's viewpoint by looking at salary owed to the player over the next two years, rather than the actual cap hit of Souray's contract. The difference is large enough to allow Columbus significant savings compared to Commodore's salary owed over the next three years. Columbus is in financial trouble as season-ticket sales have plunged this year and long-term financial commitments probably aren't a plus for Howson's bosses. Portzline says:
But there's another way to look at it: the Blue Jackets owe Commodore $10.65 million through the term of his contract (three years), while Souray is due $9 million (two years).
Columbus taking on Souray is a curious move. Tyler Dellow asked a good question: "Why is Scott Howson trying to reassemble the leadership corps of the 2009-10 Oilers?" making reference to the fact that the Blue Jackets claimed Ethan Moreau from the Oilers in the off-season via the waiver wire and now seem to be interested in Sheldon Souray. While Mike Commodore makes sense from an Oilers' perspective, saving only $1,650,000 (less actually, since there would be at least $500,000 in replacement salary in the third year) over three years to take on a tainted player doesn't make much sense from the Blue Jackets' perspective.
It might make more sense for Columbus to include a couple of other things in the trade; adding Clark and Andrew Cogliano saves the team $2,750,000 over three years. Make that Pahlsson and Cogliano and the Jackets save somewhere in the neighborhood of $4,000,000 over the next three years. Adding a second player to each side of the deal seems like the best bet for both sides - the Oilers can add a veteran forward to the mix, something they sorely lack, and the Jackets can save two-and-a-half to four times more money over the next three years.
However, if the Jackets really want to save money, Howson should stand firm with the OIlers and ask Tambellini to bring Souray through re-entry waivers, halving his salary for each of the next two years to $2,750,000, with the Oilers picking up the other half. Howson could then send Commodore to Edmonton for a seventh-round draft choice, effectively saving $5,150,000 over the next three seasons. Edmonton, with loads of cap space, and untold millions of retail pharmaceutical dollars to spend, gets rid of a problem child and acquires a reliable second pairing defenseman to boot. Commodore's effectiveness during his time in Columbus has been largely dependent on partner Jan Hejda's health, as they are an excellent shutdown pairing when the Czech is at 100%. Even if Commodore's effectiveness is limited, he's a better second-pairing option than anyone else currently on the roster or in the system.
I don't know the validity of Portzline's sources, but the move makes sense for both sides. Edmonton needs an effective defender, and Columbus needs to save some dollars. Adding in a player to each side increases those savings, and re-entry waivers seems to make the most sense of all. Either way, it would be an effective move for the Oilers, and a way out of the contract that few could have predicted. On the other hand, Tyler is right: "Why is Scott Howson trying to reassemble the leadership corps of the 2009-10 Oilers?"