The Blue Jackets have vexed the hockey world with their improbable turnaround in the last month. Going into the Nashville game on Saturday night, the Jackets were sporting a record of 13-12-6 instead of the anticipated record of 5-24-2 or somewhere in that neighborhood. With the trade deadline looming, it was previously a foregone conclusion that the former basement dwellers of the league would most certainly sell en masse. Is this still a certainty? Will the Blue Jackets buy or sell? We will briefly explore this matter that seems to have engulfed the Blue Jackets faithful.
What happened to “the plan”?
You can bet your bottom dollar that GM Kekalainen is doing mental gymnastics and could you blame him? How could “the plan” of simply winning the draft lottery and snaring away Jonathan Drouin, Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones have become a conundrum of sorts? Kekalainen has been banking on not one, not two but three first round draft picks. While the draft is deep, you cannot discount the three prospects that are firmly entrenched at the top of the draft ladder. They could make a difference almost immediately to any team that is lucky enough to draft them.
Blue Jackets flirting with making playoffs
With the Jackets flirting at making the playoffs, could it cost them in the long run? Columbus also holds the first round draft picks from New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings. Both these teams are most likely headed to the playoffs. What does all this mean? First, it dilutes the Jackets first round positioning to the lower half of it albeit there is depth in prospects this year. Second, the valuation of the Rick Nash trade and Jeff Carter trade would be brought into question again. Did the Jackets give up too much? Did they get enough in return? Columbus is better for it with Jack Johnson on board instead of Jeff Carter. And, while Nash was the face of the franchise, Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Tim Erixon have made significant tangible and intangible contributions.
Well, so what are John Davidson, President of hockey operations and GM Kekalainen thinking? Are they going to buy or sell as the trade deadline approaches? Here are three potential scenarios for consideration:
Scenario 1 – Fire sale!
If you asked anyone in the hockey universe what the Jackets would be doing before the trade deadline, they would have hollered back, “Fire sale!” This is because the Columbus Blue Jackets were expected to finish last in the league and vie for the top draft picks. But, not so quickly, Freddy! The Jackets have thrown a monkey wrench into things with their strong showing as of late. To rip apart a winning team would at best be highly questionable. So, Kekalainen and company can no longer consider this to be a viable option unless things take a bounce for the worse in the ensuing week.
Scenario 2 – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
Why mess with a winning team? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The premise is clear here in that this group of players have found a way to win games even when they don’t match up on paper. Call it heart! Call it guts! Call it courage! The current group has bonded remarkably. And, what is really remarkable is that this group doesn’t have a captain! But do they not have a glaring weakness or two that needs addressing? Can heart, guts and courage alone win you games on an extended basis? Is there some luck involved? What about the lack of high-end skilled players that are consistent goal scorers? That takes us to our third and final scenario.
Scenario 3 – Star search!
The Jackets cannot rest on their laurels. Yes, it has been an astounding turn of events in Columbus as the Jackets have rose up the conference standings. Discounting the recent goal explosion in their victories over the last few of days against Calgary and Nashville, haven’t the Jackets struggled to score? How many of their games have gone to overtime or shootouts? How many 1-goal losses do they have? In their first 30 games of the season, the Jackets have gone past regulation in 12 games along with another 6 games in which they lost by just 1-goal.
So, it would behoove the Jackets to conduct a star search and bring in a proven high-scoring machine. This move should be designed to help push the Jackets over the hump and into the playoffs. And, it will not only help provide immediate reinforcement but it will also help address longer term needs of the club.
While pulling off a trade may be difficult, in terms of finding interested buyers for Derrick Brassard, RJ Umberger and the like, the Jackets should not give up. They have plenty of cap space to the tune of $16,385,406 according to CapGeek.com. If the Jackets continue playing well, there will probably be performance bonuses awarded to some players that will reduce the cap space number by a small amount. Therefore, the Jackets should eye the new basement dwellers and bring in a true all-star. Specifically, which players should they look at? Matt Duchene? PA Parenteau? According to NHL.com, Duchene has 31 points and Parenteau has 28 points thus far. How about Tomas Kopecky of the Florida Panthers? Should we add Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan to the mix? While all of this is mere speculation, do not be surprised if the Jackets make a move for one of these players if they continue their current trend of winning.
Next week is critical for Blue Jackets
The next 7 days have become the most important of the season for the Jackets in regards to trades. If they continue to win, then consider Kekalainen making a bit of a splash by bringing in at least a rental. If the Jackets slip and fall in the standings then the roster will be subject to a blow up. The upcoming schedule includes road games in Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary followed by a home game against Anaheim at Nationwide Arena. With yesterday’s loss to Nashville, Jackets will need to pick up at least 6 to 7 points during this strech to remain in the hunt for the post-season bonanza. Should Columbus lose all these games then expect them to sink to their original spot at the bottom of the conference. A fire sale would likely follow resulting in the potential departure of veterans.