Well, the day that hockey fans look forward to all season has come and gone. Trade deadline day is the key litmus test in setting the tone for the last quarter of the season, and this one was no different. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, it seems a “stay the course” mentality is in place.
Staying the course in the Jackets’ case means the continuation of an enigmatic season, to say the least. While those who actually paid attention to the squad in training camp knew they wouldn’t be the worst team in the NHL, like many pundits and fans from other markets thought, it still had to be a surprise when they got off to their franchise-best 12-6-0 start. Then the enigma continued, with a couple more winning droughts and winning streaks, and now here they are sitting just over a .500 points percentage.
They’ve got a new look, with a new core that they hope to keep together for a long time. With 17 games left on the year, they sit as the first team out of the playoff race in the East, at a likely insurmountable disparity. Despite the disparity, they refused to be a true buyer or seller at the trade deadline, not giving up or getting any key cogs. Regardless of a slow deadline day in Ohio, the decisions made still have their impacts moving forward.
Now it’s time that we look at some of those decisions. This one is a collaboration between myself and another of The Hockey Writer’s Blue Jackets staff in William Espy. We’re mostly in agreement, grading them from F- to A+ with C as an average rating.
The Max Domi Trade – C
We had a feeling Max Domi was going to be on his way out of Columbus. A pending unrestricted free agent (UFA) who has a name brand, but consistency issues have plagued the second generation NHLer since his career kicked off with a bang in Arizona in 2015. All factors that made him a decent trade deadline rental. He was indeed shipped off in a buzzer-beater, last-minute deal to the Carolina Hurricanes.
Let’s have a look at the trade itself. Columbus gave up Domi to the Hurricanes, and a sixth-round draft pick to the Florida Panthers to help make the salary cap numbers work. In return, the Blue Jackets got defenseman Aiden Hreschuk.
Hreschuk, whose name has never been Googled more than this week, is a freshman at Boston College who was drafted by the Hurricanes in the third round of last year’s draft. Hreschuk is a graduate of the US National Team Development Program where he was the top-scoring defender and lauded for his two-way play. Those credentials aside, when you break it down, it’s essentially Domi and a sixth-rounder for a third-rounder. This may seem underwhelming, but something that changed my perspective on the trade is a little knowledge nugget that Blue Jackets radio play-by-play announcer Bob McElligott dropped on Mark Scheig and me on the last Union Junction podcast.
“I had said all along that the best you’re going to get is a second-round [draft pick] at the tops, but a third-round was probably going to be where it was and the people that I talked to agreed with that, probably looking at a third-round pick for Max,” says McElligott about the deal.
McElligott pointed out that the trade may look a little worse to some people from the angle that Domi was the return from the Montreal Canadiens for fan-favourite Josh Anderson, effectively making the return from Carolina the true return for Anderson. McElligott says the winner of that trade was determined far before the deadline.
“When the Blue Jackets got Max Domi from the Montreal Canadiens, everybody thought that a centreman was coming the other way […] From the moment he came in and John Tortorella figured out that he couldn’t play the centre position well enough defensively and put him on the wing, you kinda lose that trade right there.”Blue Jackets Play-by-play announcer Bob McElligott on the Max Domi return from Union Juntion Podcast.
I would have ranked this a little lower before our chat with Bob, but his plain explanation of the situation made it seem like that was what was expected from folks inside the organization. Outside the organization, fans may skew Domi’s value based on his personality and what he brings to the community. At the end of the day, it was an average return for the player, not great and not terrible. It’s a C rating from me.
Espy’s Take – C
Overall, the return is lower than many fans may have liked. With that being said, it’s about what would’ve been expected for a player like Domi based on market value. I’d give it a C since it’s not below what many experts predicted, which was a third-round pick but he certainly didn’t get a steal either.
Not Trading Joonas Korpisalo – D
The rental goalie market for this deadline wasn’t favourable heading into this deadline, particularly for backup goalies as Joonas Korpisalo has evolved into. If you have a look at what they were going for, it was pretty well bupkis. Carter Hutton, Alex Stalock, Michael McNiven, even Jon Gillies and Malcolm Subban earlier in the season, all were traded for the always underwhelming “future considerations.”
A deal for Korpisalo really wasn’t feasible on deadline day for a few reasons. One, Elvis Merzlikins had recently gone down with an injury, so the Blue Jackets needed someone to tend the crease. Two, we’ve now learned (after the deadline) that Korpisalo has been dealing with a hip injury all season and is now getting surgery, which will put him out for the year. Three, even if Korpisalo was still playing, he has not been a goalie who has played at a level where NHL teams would feel the need to go out and trade for him.
Related: Blue Jackets Missed Their Chance To Maximize Return for Korpisalo
Korpisalo has struggled throughout the season, big time. He was like a sieve. The 27-year-old holds the worst goalie stats on the roster by far, from his record (7-11-0), through to his goals-against average (4.15) and save percentage (.877). He trails the other three goalies to wear the Union Blue this season significantly.
The poor grade on this decision really isn’t from the deadline, but more so a disappointing conclusion to a once-promising trade candidate. Korpisalo’s name had been on trade boards since his standout playoff performance in the 2020 NHL Playoffs when his trade value was arguably at its highest. Had they moved him the moment they realized Merzlikins was their guy, which seemed to be shortly after that, they would have likely found a match and gotten something for a player who hasn’t added a lot to the on-ice situation since. The missed opportunity is what drags this one down for me, but not quite to an F because there was nothing he could do about it on deadline day. It’s a D from me on this one.
Espy’s Take – F
I’m fairly certain Kekalainen chased this opportunity as much as possible. Unfortunately, there were quite a few goalies being traded for future considerations as well as those with a lot more value than Korpisalo flooding the market, making a decent return almost impossible. Considering the retention of a UFA will result in no assets gained, this has to be an F based on results, but likely an A for effort.
Making No Depth Trades – C
Trimming the fat of the organization at the trade deadline was something I suggested in a post leading up to the day. It didn’t happen, but that’s not really a bad thing.
When it comes down to it, comparing the slim amount of picks or prospects that could have been acquired through making more deals, the decision to keep a hold of their depth players through the end of the season may prove to be more valuable.
Although they’re in a retool, having some character veterans in and around the roster can be helpful to establishing a winning culture. While the Blue Jackets have a lot of character veterans, one thing that they don’t have is anyone with a championship pedigree to pave the way. Think of when the Chicago Blackhawks went out and added Marian Hossa in free agency, just after Hossa had been to two consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. That could be an area where they look to improve in the offseason.
Espy’s Take – C
The only other player I could legitimately see being moved would’ve likely been Dean Kukan, but at the same time, it’s not a major issue to hang onto him since he would have brought in a late draft pick at most. Similar to the Domi return, I’d say this is a solid C just because not much would have changed either way.
Overall Deadline – C
Overall, when you look at the hopes for a grand return and compare it with the pieces that the Blue Jackets realistically had available, the decision to keep the lineup relatively intact probably won’t have a huge impact on the franchise in either direction.
Shipping out some depth players would have given some of the youth in the organization a chance to play some quality NHL games. That would open the door for players deeper on the depth chart like Trey Fix-Wolansky, Kevin Stenlund, Jake Christiansen, and Tyler Angle to make an impact. However, injuries have hit deep in their system as well. Meaning that players like Liam Foudy and Josh Dunne, who have spent some time with the Blue Jackets before, likely wouldn’t get a shot to sneak into the lineup and get comfortable before the end of the season. So, essentially, they’d be clearing space for no one to fill.
An average deadline from a team that has a history of saving big trades for the NHL Entry Draft. It’s a C rating from me on this deadline.
Espy’s Take – C-
Kekalainen made the most out of a bad situation. Despite none of his assets having much value, he was able to at least get something that can be a part of the future. While Hreschuk certainly isn’t a lock to make it to the NHL, he’s certainly better than what the team would’ve gotten if they held onto Domi. I’d give the deadline as a whole a C- simply because nothing tremendous happened, but nothing disappointing really happened either.
That’s a Wrap
Now, we wait to see how the rest of the season unfolds. With a little under a quarter left in the season, the team’s performance is already a massive step forward after the underperformance that was last season. The retool in Columbus is a little ahead of schedule, and while a playoff spot this season may be out of reach, the steps forward this year should give anyone with a vested interest hope for the future of the franchise.