Much unlike most trade deadline periods, when the Columbus Blue Jackets were trying to either shed bad contracts, unload a disgruntled player’s desire to leave the Blue Jackets, obtain draft picks for another lost season or to provide a player bolster an occasional Stanley Cup playoff push, the Blue Jackets’ goal for the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) trade deadline, scheduled for 4 P.M. on February 28th, is to add veteran depth, preferably with Stanley Cup playoff experience.
This historic season, both with their historic, 16-game winning streak as well as lofty place in the current standings – barring the unforeseen, this season should set a record for most points and victories in Blue Jackets’ history and thus create a different dynamic, both for their trade deadline objectives as well as for shaping the future of the organization, both in the short-term (playoffs) and for future seasons.
As the NHL’s youngest team and one of its most successful teams, the Blue Jackets management brass, General Manager (GM) Jarmo Kekalainen and President of Hockey Operations John Davidson, will not mortgage the organization’s future as other organizations have done in the past for a post-season, playoff run. An example is when the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) traded away draft picks and rising prospects for veterans for a playoff push, only to be eliminated in the first round and leaving a gaping hole for the future of the organization. First, they traded away emerging young defenseman Braydon Coburn to the Philadelphia Flyers for veteran defenseman Alexi Zhitnik. Zhitnik left the Thrashers the next season for the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL). Then they traded away Glen Metropolit and a 1st and 3rd round pick in 2007 and a conditional 1st round and a 2nd round pick in 2008 for veteran forward Keith Tkachuk, the conditional pick occurring as Tkachuk didn’t resign with the Thrashers.
The Blue Jackets, under the watchful eye of one of the greatest miners of young talent in Kekalainen, will not be that reckless although as Kekalainen has demonstrated the type of guile that, when the right kind of situation presents itself, he won’t hesitate to “pull the trigger” if it can help the organization, much like he did in 2013 to acquire Marian Gaborik for a late-season playoff push, a move that opened many eyes who were curious to see how bold the newly appointed Kekalainen would be as he had been appointed GM less than two months earlier.
There is another factor for the Blue Jackets, as well as the rest of the 29 NHL teams, which plays into this season’s trade deadline prospects and that is the impending NHL expansion to Las Vegas in the fall of 2017. Making the wrong trade can not only impact the trading team in both the short and long-term, it creates a whole new dynamic of possibly exposing coveted players to be lost to expansion. So Kekalainen and the more savvy GMs will use caution to avoid any negative impact to their respective organizations.
Another factor is chemistry which, in the case of the Blue Jackets is a vital component of this season’s success with their cohesive locker room and their ‘all in’, feisty style of play. Trading away a key component can negatively impact ‘the room’ and what’s gotten them near the top of the NHL standings, not to mention possibly affecting any momentum down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Matt Duchene of the struggling Colorado Avalanche has been rumored to be on the Blue Jackets’ radar as a possible trade target. However, the explosive, high-scoring center won’t come cheap as it’s believed that the Avalanche will want, in return, a veteran, a top prospect and a high round – probably a 1st round – draft pick. But, if the risk isn’t too burdensome, Duchene, a top-tier center who is only 26 years old is, when healthy, presents a dynamic that could vault the Blue Jackets into one of the elite scoring teams in the NHL. The return is believed to be a veteran player, a top prospect and a high round draft pick and the Avalanche, who have struggled defensively for the past several seasons, would prefer a top-notch defenseman like former 2nd overall pick, defenseman Ryan Murray. As for the top prospect, it would be believed to be someone like Sonny Milano, a dazzling center and YouTube sensation who is currently with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Cleveland Monsters.
Another position that the Blue Jackets would appear to pursue would be obtaining a veteran backup goaltender to spell the previously oft-injured Bobrovsky who’s never played more than 58 regular season games in his NHL career. This possible need depends upon how confident the Blue Jackets brass are in their two young goalies who are often jettisoned back and forth from their Cleveland AHL affiliate, Jonas Korpisalo and Anton Forsberg after the Blue Jackets put former backup goalie Curtis McElhinney on waivers in January by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
However, this is all speculation, given the potential impact of the Expansion draft which is why I believe that this year’s NHL trade deadline will be underwhelming.
It will be interesting to see if Kekalainen stands pat or makes an impact trade which kick starts the Blue Jackets towards Stanley Cup playoff momentum and hopeful glory. Either way, the Blue Jackets are set for a historical season and hopefully more both in the playoffs and for years to come.