Although we’re just two months into the season, the trade deadline is already a month away. Where does each team stand and what moves should they be looking to make? We continue our look around the league with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Columbus Blue Jackets franchise is nothing if not hopeful. After 17 years of remaining faithful, the team finally won a playoff series in 2019 and then won another in 2020. Even though their play this season has been disappointing at times, they are still in the running for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Central Division and have a non-zero chance of catching the upstart Chicago Blackhawks and holding off the Dallas Stars.
With that said, this Blue Jackets team is in the bottom third of the league in goals for per game, goals against per game, power play, and penalty kill. Even if they sneak into the playoffs, even if they again wondrously upset the Tampa Bay Lightning, this is not a team with title hopes this year. This is not a team buying at the deadline.
Besides, the Blue Jackets already made their big move this season: the acquisition of two new core pieces in Patrik Laine and Jack Roslovic. Columbus may not be playing up to their expectations this season, but it has been an odd year – and for this team in particular – and the Blue Jackets are probably best served to just take it easy at the trade deadline. Just as this is not a contending roster, it is equally not a roster in need of a rebuild. Columbus should stay the course. If they receive outstanding offers for their impending free agents or term depth players, they should consider. If they are faced with the opportunity to add a term depth player of their own, they should consider. By and large though, the Blue Jackets should focus on the group they currently have and see if they can sneak into the postseason. This is not a year for Columbus to do anything drastic.
11-12-6, .483, 5th in Central Division
Deadline Cap Space
$1.571MM in full-season space ($7.01MM at the trade deadline), 0/3 retention slots used, 43/50 contracts used per CapFriendly.
Upcoming Draft Picks
2021: CLB 1st, CLB 3rd, CLB 4th, CLB 5th, NJD 5th, CLB 6th, CLB 7th
2022: CLB 1st, CLB 2nd, CLB 4th, CLB 6th, ANA 7th
The Blue Jackets are sitting on a pair of prime time impending free agents, but unlike 2019, when Columbus couldn’t bear to let Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky go without loading up and going for a run, the team has a different reason this time around to think twice about parting ways with their most valuable pieces. Nick Foligno and David Savard bleed Jackets blue. The former is the captain and the latter is a career Blue Jacket and the longest tenured player on the team. There is certainly some discussion in the front office about whether it is really worth it to part with either player. Of course, much of that also revolves around extension talks. If this is the end of Foligno and/or Savard in Columbus anyway, then the team should trade them. However, if either one wants to remain with the club in the future, likely re-signing after expansion, it could be better for all parties if they held on to them. Foligno especially, as the locker room leader for a team that is still within reach of a playoff spot, has value on the team this season, perhaps more than he would to any other team in the league. Foligno is also having a down year offensively and may not command a great return. Savard, on the other hand, is extremely valuable to a great many teams as an experienced shutdown defender on the right side. Yet, he also fits perfectly as a complement to the Blue Jackets’ more offensive-minded, puck-moving top pair and the team surely hopes that he wishes to remain in that role moving forward.
Fortunately for Columbus, they aren’t without other valuable rentals if Foligno and Savard stay put, albeit to a lesser extent. First-time Blue Jackets Michael Del Zotto and Mikhail Grigorenko could be nice depth additions for contenders, as could bottom-six center Riley Nash. None of them have had especially noteworthy seasons, but are useful additions nonetheless. Del Zotto especially is affordable and experienced – a nice acquisition for a cap-strapped team in need of skill on the blue line.
Among term players, there are certainly already some calling for the trade of Max Domi. The off-season acquisition, who signed a two-year extension with the team, has been nothing short of underwhelming this season. However, is there any upside to trading him now? Domi, who already has a reputation for not lasting long with teams, may be at the lowest point in trade value in his career. Especially in a cap-strapped climate, the Blue Jackets would almost certainly not get back fair value. The optics would also be bad, as counterpart Josh Anderson has found immediate success with the Montreal Canadiens. Columbus would be much better off to hold on to Domi and see if he can improve next season before making a decision on his future. Unless, of course, someone blows them away with an offer. Domi was expected to fill a hole down the middle for Columbus, so any deal to move him out right now should aim to bring another talented center in.
Despite a recent extension in February, there is a more logical reason to potentially move defenseman Dean Kukan. Kukan has missed some time this season, but has played well when healthy. As one of the top candidates to be selected by the Seattle Kraken in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, the Blue Jackets may choose instead to get value back for the blue liner if there is interest. Of course, they may also just hold out hope that Seattle goes in a different direction.
Of course, the big move that Columbus could make is to break up their young goalie tandem. With both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins set to hit free agency after next season, there is some question as to the viability of retaining both beyond that point. Either one would certainly draw interest on the trade market, though a deal is more likely in the off-season. Specifically, when it comes to Korpisalo, there may be limited demand around the league for adding an eligible goalie prior to the expansion draft rather than after. His market would likely be improved in the summer. If the Blue Jackets decide to make a big change in net at the deadline rather than waiting for the summer, it is more likely to be Merzlikins on the move.
1) Draft Picks and Prospects – Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets are still feeling the effects of their all-out approach at the 2019 trade deadline, as well as some other moves they have made. They have not had many high-value picks over the past two years and are still without some key selections moving forward, including a second-rounder this year and a third-rounder in 2022. With many of their top prospects having graduated to the pros as well, Columbus has a young NHL roster, but a lacking pipeline. In fact, The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked it 27th overall in the league, which would be easier to swallow if the team was performing better. Whether by picks or by prospects, the Blue Jackets need to try to replenish the system.
2) A Term Forward – The shrewd GM that he is, don’t be surprised to see Jarmo Kekalainen try to address the Expansion Draft ahead of the deadline. Assuming their most likely protection scheme and choices, the Blue Jackets are currently short one forward to meet the exposure quota that the draft demands, unless they re-sign Nash or Grigorenko, UFA’s they could instead trade, or Kevin Stenlund, who would also need to play regularly down the stretch to meet the games played criteria. Those options aren’t ideal and the Blue Jackets could just as easily find a player to trade for at a low price who covers them for expansion, but could also play a role next season if not selected. Although Columbus shouldn’t be a typical buyer at the deadline, an additional forward could also help in their continued pursuit of a playoff spot, especially if they move one or more of their impending free agents up front. Again, center is the team’s biggest positional need, but not necessarily the priority here in adding a player they plan to expose in expansion.