With just 16 games left in the 2020-21 regular season, the Columbus Blue Jackets are looking at the playoffs from the outside. Likely too far outside to become part of this season’s playoffs. With that in mind, management is likely to make some deals to try to improve the team’s future. Rumors abound about which Blue Jackets may be wearing a new sweater sometime before the trade deadline next Monday.
As I’m sure you know, only the top four teams in each division will participate in the playoffs. In the Discover™ Central Division, the Blue Jackets currently sit in seventh position, five points below the fourth-place Nashville Predators. To pass the Predators, the Blue Jackets would also need to leapfrog the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars. Considering the team’s recent performance (including a pair of embarrassing losses to the Detroit Red Wings, the only team lower in the division standings), most wagering sites give Columbus better odds of winning the draft lottery than making the playoffs.
Separating Speculation and Possibilities
Over the past month, I have heard speculation involving just about every player on the Columbus roster. Some of the rumors and reports are ridiculously outrageous, some are rather fantastic, some are wishful thinking, and some sound reasonable. As my colleague Cody Chalfan points out, some Blue Jackets can be considered “untouchable” in terms of trade talk, including defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, as well as recently acquired forward Patrik Laine. (Although, as he notes, “no player is truly ‘untouchable,’ especially on this Blue Jackets team.”)
It’s no secret that the Blue Jackets’ biggest need is a true number one center since trading away Pierre-Luc Dubois early this season. That’s not a trade that’s likely to happen in the next week (although Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of the Edmonton Oilers for a goalie is one recurring rumor). After all, Columbus’ likely trade partners are teams that are trying to add one or more players to improve their chances in the playoffs, and sending away a top center is unlikely to help come playoff time. Such an acquisition is more likely to happen over the summer.
That having been said, the club will likely attempt to collect draft picks and prospects from playoff-bound teams. Most of those teams have salary cap issues that restrict the type of moves they can make prior to the trade deadline. But general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen may be willing to retain salary or accept players whose salaries offset those going the other way.
2 Blue Jackets Most Likely to Be Traded
While it’s certainly possible that a goalie, either Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo – toss a coin at this point – could be traded in the next week, a better return may come after the Stanley Cup is awarded, when teams are facing the flat salary cap for the 2021-22 season. That’s not saying, however, that a great offer wouldn’t pry one of the goaltenders away before the trade deadline.
The majority of the rumors from reputable sources have the Blue Jackets trading Nick Foligno and/or David Savard in the coming days. Both are experienced, hard-nosed players, the sort of guys that make a team harder to play against. And both are “rentals” – their contracts expire at the end of this season, so there’s no long-term commitment salary-wise for the teams acquiring the players.
Foligno is a much-loved captain in Columbus who is deeply committed to the community and charity work. As such, there’s some hope that even if he is traded, he’ll re-sign with Columbus during the summer. Savard is a defensive defenseman who blocks shots and throws hits. While he recently scored his first goal in almost two years, he’s only a couple of years (and a couple of young offensive studs) from being a power-play regular in Columbus.
What They’re Saying About Foligno
Here are just some of the rumors regarding Foligno:
Nick Foligno and Dustin Brown have both been linked to the Islanders in the rumor mill. Both the Blue Jackets and Kings may not be selling.–“NHL Rumors: A Quiet Rumor Mill, and the New York Islanders,” Andy Marlin, USA Today Sports, April 4, 2021
That report must have been written before the Blue Jackets effectively played themselves out of the playoff race. The “may not be selling” currently does not pertain to the Kings either.
Writing for Bleacher Report on April 2, Lyle Fitzsimmons proposed “5 Win-Win Trades That Should Happen at the NHL Trade Deadline.” Among them is “Nick Foligno to Toronto for Alexander Kerfoot.” He describes Foligno as a “skilled physical presence that will matter come late spring” who “won’t come cheap.” The package? Kerfoot and “21-year-old defenseman Timothy Liljegren and 19-year-old winger Nicholas Robertson. The former was a second-round pick in 2019 who scored 55 goals with Peterborough of the OHL, while Liljegren was a first-rounder in 2017 and played 11 NHL games last season.”
This is a very, very specific piece of speculation. Remember, too, that if Foligno is traded to a team in the North Division, the cross-border week-long COVID quarantine period would delay his integration into his new team. Players coming south from Canada have much less demanding pandemic protocols.
Nick Foligno to the New York Rangers? And other musings.“NHL Rumors: Seattle Kraken, Patrick Marleau, and Nick Foligno,” Russell LaBounty, USA Today Sports, March 31, 2021.
Larry Brooks of the New York Post: New York needs a little edge come the postseason and IF the Rangers were to acquire some talent for a push. Would Nick Foligno be a good fit in Gotham? Now, a trade deadline deal is probably not likely but maybe something in the offseason.
Foligno feels more like a deal the New York Islanders would make. Then, there is Zach Hyman but Hyman is going to want way more in the terms of dollars. Jeff Gorton has his work cut out for him to negotiate the flat salary cap this summer and beyond.
The Rangers are not currently in the playoff picture but are only four points behind the Boston Bruins. Adding Foligno for a playoff push could make sense.
Soothsaying About Savard
There’s been so much speculation about Savard moving at or before the trade deadline that I wonder if he’s mentally packing bags and boxes. Here are some of the rumors and reports:
Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen won’t admit it, but his team should absolutely sell. Savard is the Blue Jackets’ best trade chip, and while his value is debatable, Columbus would do cartwheels if the club could get a first-round pick in return.–“NHL Power Rankings: Granting teach team 1 trade deadline wish,” The Score, April 5, 2021, The Score Staff
The same article has Savard on the wish list for the Philadelphia Flyers as a “solid defenseman.” (Right now, the Flyers still own their first-round picks for both the 2021 and 2022 entry drafts).
There’s also a report that Savard could be traded to a team with which he could earn his first Stanley Cup ring:
The 30-year-old right shot defenseman (David Savard) would be a perfect fit for the (Tampa Bay) Lightning. He’s got size (6-foot-2, 229 pounds) and he’s got snarl, the kind of defenseman many teams in the league covet. He’s also got skill (remember the move he made on Victor Hedman in the playoffs a couple years back?).–“Why Blue Jackets’ defenseman David Savard could be perfect fit for Lightning at deadline,” Joe Smith and Aaron Portzline, The Athletic, March 30, 2021
The Lightning are (and have been for weeks) among the favorites for the Stanley Cup on most wagering sites. Adding a tough defenseman, even if just for injury insurance, would not hurt the team’s odds.
(Savard) has a real chance to be one of the top options come trade deadline time.–“Let’s Make a Deal: Three Destinations that Make Sense for David Savard at the Trade Deadline,” Sam Blazer, 1st Ohio Battery, April 2, 2021
Blazer lists the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, and Montreal Canadiens as the most likely Columbus trade partners for Savard.
If (Winnipeg Jets general manager) Kevin Cheveldayoff was to make an upgrade, it would not need to be for a franchise-changing defenseman. . . . David Savard may do just fine from Columbus. Another body that is reasonably efficient in his own end.”–“NHL Rumors: Chuck Fletcher and Kevin Cheveldayoff Both Need Defense,” Aaron Doster, USA Today Sports, April 1, 2021.
Keep in mind that Savard would need to sit in COVID quarantine for a week before joining the team. And he would then need to acclimate to his new situation. But he’d likely be in fine shape come playoff time.
What Can We Expect From the Blue Jackets in the Coming Week?
Columbus general manager Kekäläinen’s propensity to make splashy deals makes it almost impossible to forecast accurately what will happen in the next week. The rumor mill could be hitting on all cylinders, and Foligno and Savard could be gone soon. Or something totally unexpected could happen, and one of the “untouchables” might be on the move. And, of course, the GM may not receive a phone call offering what he considers fair value.
But with Savard’s expiring contract, the number of defensemen in the Blue Jackets’ system, and the need for payroll management, expect him to be traded, even if just for a couple of middling draft picks in what is a very uncertain draft.
Pete Bauer is both a hockey fan and player. As a columnist for The Hockey Writers, he covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, NCAA hockey, and NHL trends, statistics, and history. He is also the author of over a dozen books on photography, digital imaging, and graphics, including “Photoshop CC for Dummies.”