The largest source of criticism over the signing of James Wisniewski is the amount of money the team has committed to him in his spanking-new contract, and the ensuing argument has been whether or not he was deserving of that type of money. So, why not find out for ourselves? The table below lists the top ten scoring defensemen in the 2010-11 season (Wisniewski ranked fifth):

G A P +/- PPG GW HITS BkS GvA S% 2011-12 CAP HIT
Lubomir Visnovsky 18 50 68 18 5 4 52 116 45 11.8 5.6 M
Nicklas Lidstrom 16 46 62 -2 7 1 49 92 33 9.1 6.2 M
Keith Yandle 11 48 59 12 3 0 30 103 61 5.5 5.25 M *
Dustin Byfuglien 20 33 53 -2 8 6 140 72 59 5.8 5.2 M
James Wisniewski 10 41 51 -14 7 2 108 119 67 6.3 5.5 M +
Tobias Enstrom 10 41 51 -10 6 0 30 137 29 8.8 3.75 M
Christian Ehrhoff 14 36 50 19 6 3 54 108 47 6.7 4.0 M #
Dan Boyle 9 41 50 2 4 2 55 139 51 4.5 6.7 M
Kris Letang 8 42 50 15 4 2 167 109 52 3.4 3.5 M
Shea Weber 16 32 48 7 6 3 211 113 51 6.3 UNSIGNED ^
AVERAGE 13 41 54 5 6 2 90 111 50 7 5.08

* first year of a new contract, increased from 1.2 M in 2010-11
+ first year of a new contract, increased from 3.25 M in 2010-11
# first year of a new contract, increased from 3.1 M in 2010-11; heavily back-loaded contract, actual salary is $10M + $8M bonus, cap hit is seriously misleading
^ unsigned; previous cap hit was 4.5 in 2010-11

The green highlighted boxes on Wisniewski’s stat line are where he is above the average of the ten. He is above average in assists, power play goals, hits, blocked shots, and giveaways. Sixty seven giveaways is certainly nothing to write home about and has him quite a bit ahead of the average, but he also ranks above his high-scoring comrades in other defensive stats (the good ones – blocked shots & hits). Wisniewski’s -14 is also misleading: he was an uncomfortable -18 on the Islanders before being traded to a stable, playoff-bound Montreal team where he was a +4.

Provided that Wisniewski continues his gradual yearly progress (he only had 30 points the year before – still nothing to shake a stick at, though), he appears (at least on paper) to have a good balance of offense and defense. That balance is something the Jackets have long been lacking: what offense they’ve seemed to extract has sometimes seemingly come at the cost of a solid defense (guys like Stralman & Russell, for example).

At a cap hit of 5.5 million, that shakes down to $107,843.13 per point. Compare that to Fedor Tyutin, whom the Jackets are paying approximately $105,324.07. Hardly more than they are paying Tyutin on a per-point basis, with a lot more production. And if you compare Wisniewski to a guy like Shea Weber, whose contract has yet to be market-inflated, they’re paying him only a million more than Weber made last year, and less than he will likely make next year. Compare that also to Christian Ehrhoff who has made out like a bandit from the Sabres’ wallet; his one-point-less has garnered him a Swiss bank account to envy.

In the scheme of things, Wisniewski seems like an overpay, but among his top-10 scoring defensemen, he is absolutely middle of the road. Unless he suffers a steady decline, the Jackets should get exactly what they paid up for.

The verdict: DEAL.

As announced earlier today, Marc Methot has re-upped with the Jackets for four years, and according to the Dispatch, the deal breaks down as follows: “$2.25 million this season, $2.75 million in 2012-13, $3.25 million in 2013-14 and $3.75 million in 2014-15″ (source). Methot, aged 26 and a veteran of 229 NHL games, averaged just under twenty minutes of ice a night, including a regular helping of shorthanded time (second to only the departed Rostislav Klesla). In just his third full season, he has elevated himself to the second pairing and can be depended upon to bring a heavy physical presence to the lineup. But did the Jackets make a good deal signing him to a deal with an average cap hit of $3M? Here is how Methot compares to a handful of his defensive cohorts across the league:

Hits BkS GvA TkA Pts Cap Hit
Marc Methot 176 98 27 21 15 $3M
Braydon Coburn 177 133 51 32 16 $3.2M
Cory Sarich 175 109 51 15 17 $3.6M
Greg Zanon 169 212 28 21 7 $1.9M
Jan Hejda 152 158 30 21 20 $3.25M
Mike Weber 158 99 34 14 17 $950K

Highlighted are both Methot and his most comparable from the above list, Mike Weber of the Buffalo Sabres, who comes in with a surprisingly low $950K cap hit. Methot’s hits – all 176 of them – put him in good company with Braydon Coburn and Cory Sarich, though he is much less likely to cough up a turnover (hey, we like that out of our defensemen, right?), but also much less likely to block a shot. His 98 was only good for third among Jackets defenders, behind departed Hejda (listed for comparison) and Kris Russell (fewer hits, fewer giveaways, $1.3M hit). Methot’s giveways/takeaways are similar to Greg Zanon’s, but Zanon held a considerable edge in blocked shots. These comparisons aren’t worth the imaginary electronic paper they are typed on, but if we pretend that they are, Methot’s deal value can really go either way. It could be argued that Coburn and Sarich’s deals are overpays – thus causing an overpay of Methot – when compared to Zanon & Weber, but we’re going to go on a whim and call this a deal for one reason: the graduated structure of Methot’s contract. His salary for this coming season is only $2.25M, climbing yearly up to $3.75M. If he continues to progress the way he has over the last three seasons, by the conclusion of his contract he should be a mainstay on the top pairing along James Wisniewski and almost a steal at that value, and by the time his salary touches three million, the bottom portion of the defense should be filled out by names like John Moore and David Savard, who will likely still be entry level or on sub-million contracts.

The only question left to be asked is, with the commitment to Methot, what and who can they afford to round out the second defense pairing with?

The Newbs:
  1. James Wisniewski: Pretty much an essential, maybe not deserving of the 5.5 per, but worth it. As in, he just gets the PP, and if the Jackets didn’t pony it up, he was going to get it elsewhere and their problems would still be unsolved. Plus he seems pretty stoked about coming to Columbus which is, like, Chicken Soup for the Blue Jackets Fan’s Soul (ya hear, JCarter?). And he is proof that not all things from the State of Michigan have to be nasty. Okay?!
  2. Curtis Sanford: This is one of those times when Scott Howson reads my Twitter feed and listened to me, except that he signed him as a #3. (That’s okay – I can dig it.) Sandman is a little old (relatively speaking, so stop making that face and taking it personally), and has been a pro since 1999 (Steve Mason was, like, 11). He’s played backup in Vancouver to Roberto Luongo, and split duties for a few years in St. Louis. The last two, however, he was a mainstay in the Hamilton Bulldogs crease until an injury ended his year. He won 23 and 22 games the last two years with Hamilton, respectively and led the team to consecutive regular-season division Championships and onto Conference Finals, while mentoring a young Cedrick Desjardins and Robert Mayer.
  3. Mark Dekanich: 25, signed on to be Stevie Mason’s backup goalie. 1 game of NHL experience – OH MY GAWD THE WORLD IS ENDING –  but he has over 100 pretty solid ones in the AHL and from personal experience having seen one of his games in the ECHL – he has quick reflexes. Comes from the Nashville Predators Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Play Goal Good Too and was a back up back up to Pekka Rinne. Obviously this guy’s not going to carry the load, but he should be in prime form to step up to the challenge. Oh, and he’s on Twitter. @dexshow
  4. Some minor league guys: Mostly the rest is depth, nothing even worth making fun of except Aaron Johnson, who had his Best Year Ever in the AHL last year, but had some mediocre years in the NHL. But he’s BFFs with Rick Nash, so he’ll probably be starting on D every night. Just kidding. I hope.
The Departed:
  1. Jan Hejda: $3.25M x 4 years, Colorado Avalanche. Really? asdksjfdsjgdfg… HAHA, WHAT? Rumored he was wanting the big bucks to stay in Columbus, but those big bucks needed to be used for an upgrade. His $2M payday last year seemed fair. If he wanted long-term in Columbus, sticking at $2M would have been cool. But a raise AND lengthy deal? For a guy who is getting progressively worse? Maybe the altitude will be good for him…?
  2. Scottie Upshall: $3.5M x 4 years, Florida Panthers. Hated to see him go, but… he was a little redundant in the Top 6 and too expensive for the Bottom 6. Would have loved to keep him for his old salary of $2.25M, but… yeah. Have fun on the beach.
  3. Mathieu Garon: $1.3M x 2 years, Tampa Bay Lightning. :(
  4. Mike Commodore: $1M x 1 years, Detroit Red Wings. We’re paying him more than they are! Hello, indigestion. Positive this will be a bite-in-the-ass someday when he’s motivated to try playing aggressively and smartly… oh, wait, HAHA. Carry on.