With the trade deadline now less than a week away, we continue our look at the situation for each team over the coming weeks. Where do they stand, what do they need to do, and what assets do they have to fill those needs? As we continue with the Metropolitan Division, here is a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Next to the Ottawa Senators, no team is under more pressure at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline than the Columbus Blue Jackets. The team has decisions to make on two priority free agents, both of whom appear primed to test the off-season market, in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Despite two major players who they may opt to sell, the Blue Jackets also plan to be net buyers at the deadline, giving them a massive presence on both sides of the trade market.
Believe it or not, Columbus is still in search of their first playoff round win in franchise history. The 2000 expansion team has had bad luck in the postseason, so their moves at the deadline will be made with some consideration for the future, but mostly in taking advantage of the present. While the Blue Jackets are within striking distance of the Washington Capitals for second-place in the Metropolitan Division and home ice advantage in the first round, they also are not a lock for a playoff spot. Columbus is currently tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens in the divisional and wild card races with just one game in hand and are at risk of falling behind the surging Carolina Hurricanes, who are two points back. The team cannot afford to come out of the trade deadline with the same or worse caliber of roster, even if they do trade Panarin or Bobrovsky. Expect some fireworks from the Blue Jackets this week.
33-22-3, third in the Metropolitan Division
Deadline Cap Space
$28.77MM in full-season cap hit, 0/3 used salary cap retention slots, 47/50 contracts per CapFriendly
Upcoming Draft Picks
2019: CLB 1st, CLB 3rd, CLB 4th, CLB 7th
2020: CLB 1st, CLB 2nd, CLB 4th, CLB 5th, CLB 6th, CLB 7th
There is no trade chip on the block right now that is more valuable than superstar winger Artemi Panarin. Panarin, 27, leads the Blue Jackets in scoring by a wide margin with 67 points through 56 games, which is also good enough for a top-20 mark in the NHL. He is currently on pace for a career-high 96 points, which would be his second straight season of scoring at better than a point-per-game pace and would mark four straight years with 70+ points. Panarin is simply one of the most dangerous offensive players in hockey and his addition would be a complete game-changer for any contender. The question is whether or not Columbus chooses to use him as their “own rental” rather than trade him. It has been reported that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen will not trade Panarin if the cost to replace him by adding another forward or two will leave the team with little to show for the initial trade. If Columbus can get through the deadline with replacement forward production and significant future building blocks, Panarin will be traded. If not, he stays put.
The odds of Sergei Bobrovsky moving are less likely than the near 50/50 status of Panarin. Although the all-word goaltender seems more likely to depart Columbus as a free agent than Panarin, he is also near impossible to replace at the deadline. Bobrovsky is one three top rentals in net and the other two – Jimmy Howard and Semyon Varlamov – are not guaranteed to be available. The Blue Jackets are not prepared to move an established starter right before the stretch run and postseason without bringing in a suitable replacement. As such, unless a more long-term target emerges, Bobrovsky is unlikely to be traded despite the hype.
Beyond potentially Panarin and Bobrovsky – ironically the only notable UFA’s in the Blue Jackets organization – Columbus is a buyer, not a seller. However, that doesn’t mean that their current roster is untouchable. If Panarin is moved and the Blue Jackets are pursuing top forwards to replace him, talented but ice-cold forward Alexander Wennberg will surely be dangled. Wennberg, 24, is in the second season of a six-year, $29.4MM contract that he has failed to live up to so far. This season has been worse than last, as he has yet to score an even strength goal all season. Even at a cap hit that has not been reflective of his production, some sellers will certainly be intrigued by the 2013 first-rounder’s ceiling. Another young Blue Jackets forward who could be offered up is Sonny Milano, who continues to see limited NHL action despite good AHL production. Young defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, another under-utilized first-round pick, is also a candidate to be traded.
Among their prospect pool, the Blue Jackets may have a tough time avoiding seller demands for first-year pro forward Vitaly Abramov, who has played well in the AHL this season. Arguably the top prospect in the organization, the slick winger has NHL potential and sellers have surely taken notice. Deeper in the pipeline, Columbus will likely hear calls on Swedes Emil Bemstrom and Jonathan Davidsson as well.
1) Top-Six Forwards: The only difference a potential Panarin trade makes is the caliber and number of the forwards that the Blue Jackets will target. There is a clear need for offensive depth beyond the Blue Jackets’ top line of Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Cam Atkinson, as no other forward has surpassed 30 points on the year. The power play also needs serious help. If Panarin leaves, the team will need to do their best to replace his production on the top line, likely targeting the top wingers on the market like Mark Stone, Gustav Nyquist, or Mike Hoffman. They will probably look for more affordable top-six options after that. If Panarin stays, the team will still look at top forward options like Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Mats Zuccarello, and Kevin Hayes. Columbus will be in on nearly every big forward name in the coming days and should add one or two before all is said and done.
2) Defensive Depth: Behind a strong top-four in Columbus are several questions. Can the likes of Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, and Adam Clendening really hold up down the stretch in a tight playoff race? Or go up against elite competition in the playoffs? The shot side doesn’t really matter so much as the ability, as the Blue Jackets simply need to add a capable veteran defender before the deadline.
3) Draft Picks: When Kekalainen says that he won’t trade Panarin unless the cost of acquiring a replacement would still leave him with a major future piece, that isn’t for nothing. A quick look at the team’s cupboard of draft picks shows how desperate they are in quantity alone. The Blue Jackets currently have just four picks in 2019, likely just one of which will be in the top-75, and are already missing a third-rounder next year. A closer look at the team’s pipeline shows that they lack some game-breaking talent in the system as is, particularly on the blue line. In order to be a buyer, Columbus will further deplete this trade capital. If they do trade Panarin – or Bobrovsky – Kekalainen and company need to make sure that they are going to net some valuable draft picks or prospects in the process.