Blue Jackets: To Trade or Not To Trade?

The Columbus Blue Jackets have been ravaged by injuries, particularly to their key players. The list is long and has severely impacted their prospects of making the playoffs, particularly after a recent, horrid 0-7-1 slide, dropping their record to a NHL Draft Lottery-worthy 4-9-1 overall record.

The following players are currently on Injured Reserve (IR): Nathan Horton (degenerative back – possibly career-ending); Brandon Dubinsky (abdominal surgery – 4 to 6 weeks, slated to return sometime in November); Ryan Murray (knee – day-to-day, although pain to the knee persists); Mark Letestu (groin – 2 to 4 weeks); Artem Anisimov (concussion – to timetable for return); Sergei Bobrovsky (broken finger – 1 to 2 weeks); Cody Goloubef (knee – 6 weeks); Matt Calvert (high ankle –  day-to-day).

To grasp the impact of the injuries in numerical/team salary cap terms, assuming that a team’s best players are compensated the most, over 1/3rd of the Blue Jackets roster is inactive due to injuries and that doesn’t include some of the current players who have recently been activated.  Otherwise, the impact was to over 60% of their overall salary cap totals.

Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen summed it up, best, “I’ve never seen anything like this but what are you going to do?

Be it ill fate, it lends to a dilemma for Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets: to trade or not to trade.

If the Blue Jackets opt for the trade route, the execution of that option is not so clear cut: like sharks circling around, the other National Hockey League (NHL) teams and executives know the Blue Jackets are in a tough spot so they’re not going to cut them a break out of sympathy.

It’s been reported that Kekalainen has been in discussions with other teams regarding a trade but it’s also been reported that the offers are quite ridiculous, offers that, if made, would severely impinge the Blue Jackets, particularly down the road. By that, the Blue Jackets players proposed in a trade offer from other NHL teams would involve their cadre of great, young prospects: Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano, Kerby Rychel and possibly Oliver Bjorkstrand.  And, no matter the parent squad’s current state, parting with these potential star players isn’t worth the risk.

With such a widespread slew of injuries, there are no particular positions where a trade would provide the greatest relief or immediate impact

Starting with the Blue Jackets blueline, assuming Murray’s knee issues don’t continue to linger, particularly after two arthroscopic knee surgeries and after defenseman Jack Johnson returns from a 3-game suspension for an illegal head shot to Carolina Hurricanes forward Jiri Tlusty, last week, their defensive corps should be in decent shape, Goloubef’s injury, aside but he is a 3rd pairing or 7th defenseman, when needed against particular opponents.

As for the goaltending position, if there is any injury which has been the most damaging, it’s the injury sustained to Bobrovsky. The 2013 Vezina Trophy recipient is arguably the Blue Jackets most valuable player to any success that they have and given backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney has struggled mightily in his absence – Goals Against Average (GAA) of 3.70 and a Save Percentage (Save%) of .889 – Bobrovsky can’t return, soon enough.  And although Kekalainen has been thrilled with how McElhinney performed last season when Bobrovsky sustained a groin injury, McElhinney’s struggles have exacerbated the ire of some fans who believed that Kekalainen should have addressed the backup position during the past two seasons with a more competent netminder.

While this might be a position that will be addressed by the Blue Jackets GM, the rash of both defensemen and defensive-oriented, two-way forwards like Dubinsky, the hope is that Bobrovsky’s current broken finger is an isolated event and he’ll be able to carry the load for the remainder of the season.

Which leaves the forward position to be addressed: one possible solution could be, if Horton’s injury is indeed career-ending, to place the forward on the NHL’s long-term injured reserve (LTIR) status which would allow the Blue Jackets some salary cap flexibility of Horton’s $5.3 million per season salary to address the position, much like the Philadelphia Flyers have done with Chris Pronger the past several seasons due to concussive issues Pronger has sustained over his landmark career. Placing Horton in this status would free up approximately $12.5 million in salary cap space.  Although the hope is that Horton can play and contribute again, the clock is ticking as to making a decision, given the team’s recent struggles.

If the Blue Jackets would make a move for a forward, it would need to find a player who would either assist their lack of goal-scoring proclivity or find a player who would mesh with their lunch pail, blue collar, ‘all in’ group of forwards like Scott Hartnell, Nick Foligno, Dubinsky and Boone Jenner.

So, although it would seem that making an impact move could possibly assist the Blue Jackets fortunes, the risk should continued injuries plaguing the squad continue, might not be worth it in the long run so the solution is not so transparent. And for a fan base that was finally rewarded with its second taste of the playoffs, any hope for a return this season might have to wait until the following seasons when hopeful good fortune returns to Ohio’s capital city.