Blue Jackets Primed to Steal Good Player at Trade Deadline

We are down to the last couple of days before the NHL’s Trade Deadline. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, things might seem quiet on the outside. But don’t let that fool you into thinking they aren’t trying to use this deadline to get better.

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The Blue Jackets are working to explore all options available to them in an effort to improve their team. While their pending UFA players Max Domi, Joonas Korpisalo and Dean Kukan are getting the most attention, the team is sitting in a good position to possibly take advantage of some unique opportunities should they arise.

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In particular, the Blue Jackets could steal a good player at this trade deadline. How would they be able to do that if their pending UFAs won’t bring a significant return? They have two things working in their favor that could ultimately surprise the hockey world. Let’s dig in.

Cap Space

We’ve talked many times in this space about the power of having cap flexibility. It is one of the greatest weapons available to a team in the flat-cap world. While half the league is hindered in the moves they can make, teams like the Blue Jackets with cap space can utilize it to facilitate trades and gain valuable assets.

According to CapFriendly, the Blue Jackets can take on an astounding $54 million in cap hits at the deadline. That’s because they have over $10.8 million available in regular cap space. Then factor in how much of the season is left and you get the prorated amount of cap hit available to acquire.

That’s a lot of cap space to work with. There are teams looking to make moves to shed a contract and a potential cap hit. GM Jarmo Kekalainen could take advantage of this. Let’s start with an example.

Columbus Blue Jackets Jarmo Kekalainen
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has cap space on his side. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gary Wiepert)

The Vancouver Canucks have been all over the rumor mill with players potentially available in a trade. Brock Boeser comes to mind. JT Miller is in there. So is Conor Garland. They’re also in LTIR.

If the Blue Jackets see an opportunity to land a player with term that can help them now and in the future, they will look into it. Kekalainen has a track record of not being afraid to pull the trigger on a big move. With the cap space at his disposal, they could look to the Canucks to see if there’s a deal to be made.

Boeser is an RFA and would be under team control. Garland has four seasons left after this one at a cap hit under $5 million. Both would be appealing to the Blue Jackets simply because they wouldn’t be rentals. With Gus Nyquist up next season, either player would be a nice replacement should Nyquist not return.

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The Canucks are not the only team the Blue Jackets could look at. They’ve been linked to the Arizona Coyotes and Jakob Chychrun although the thought of meeting that asking price could scare them. The point here is that the Blue Jackets can look at all options and have the flexibility to pounce if they like what they see.

This alone makes them a very interesting team to watch at the deadline. We all assume they’ll offload the UFA’s and that’s it. But we cannot rule them out of a bigger move.

This does go beyond the cap space. There’s a second reason why the Blue Jackets could steal a good player at this deadline.

Assets Aplenty

Thanks to the Seth Jones’ deal last year, the Blue Jackets gained a second first-round pick. If a player becomes available that could help in the future, the team will consider using any assets available to make a deal happen.

We quickly discussed Chychrun above. The asking price goes beyond just a first rounder. That wouldn’t appeal to the Blue Jackets as much. But if a higher-end player becomes available and it would take a first to get it done, they will consider it.

As of this writing, the Blue Jackets hold two top-15 picks in the 2022 NHL Draft. So what would make sense in here? Think of teams without a first rounder that want to acquire one. Then think of teams who have good prospects in a holding pattern because of their lack of opportunity. For example, could the Blue Jackets somehow land a player like Vitaly Kravtsov from the Rangers? Or what about Jake DeBrusk from the Bruins? How about Shane Bowers in Colorado?

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The Blue Jackets generally do a good job of keeping things under wraps in terms of who they are interested in. The key takeaway for you is that there are several paths available to the Blue Jackets that could see them steal a good player. It’s not guaranteed they will. But the opportunity is there without question.

And if not at the Trade Deadline, watch the Blue Jackets in the offseason. With the cap space and assets they own, they are primed to vastly improve from where they are today. The playoffs are not likely in the cards for them this season. But there is plenty of reason to watch them.

The Blue Jackets may elect to hold off on a big move at the deadline. But do not be shocked if they surprise the hockey world with an unexpected explosive acquisition. They have the cap space and assets to make it happen. They also have a GM who will not hesitate to make it happen if they believe it’s right.

Do not let the perceived quietness fool you. The Blue Jackets are hard at work and are ready to steal a good player at this deadline should the opportunity present itself.

Side Dishes

Let’s address the current state of the Blue Jackets and then I’ll offer what I think will happen.

  • Domi remains the biggest UFA trade chip the Blue Jackets have. While it’s unknown at this point who all is really interested, I cannot help but think this fits the Bruins like a glove. He can skate. He can score. He can create. And he can get under your skin. That’s the very definition of a Boston Bruin. Once the big names are gone, I expect Domi to be in that next tier. Also watch the Avalanche and Capitals in here. I believe he can get a 2nd-3rd pick/prospect back depending upon any retained salary.

Related: Max Domi Talks About His Future

  • How can you not feel for Korpisalo? He got one last chance to make his case and was pulled after trailing 3-0 early in the second period Thursday night to the Washington Capitals. He still can be a good goalie. But given his season, the return on a trade would be very minimal, so minimal in fact that I think he could actually stay past the deadline. I do not think he stays but unless the Blue Jackets are willing to accept a late-round pick, they could choose to keep him. I think this ultimately ends up being a late rounder with conditions attached. Think insurance for a contending team.
  • Kukan is the other pending UFA in play. He fits the 7-8 role perfectly and can play in a pinch. On the Blue Jackets, he’s played top minutes when there have been injuries. You aren’t acquiring him to be in your top-four. But as depth, he’s a logical target. This one gets done with a late-round pick.
  • As for others, I have not heard Nyquist’s name out there anywhere despite him having just one year left after this one. He’s one of their leaders and a huge part of the locker room. The Blue Jackets would have to be overwhelmed to consider him for trade now.
  • Alex Texier remains in France. The Blue Jackets love him. I don’t see anything happening here.
  • The only question with Patrik Laine is what do he and the team agree on for the next contract? Take him off your trade boards. He’s not going anywhere.
Patrik Laine Columbus Blue Jackets
Patrik Laine appears to be staying put in Columbus. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)
  • Could Jack Roslovic go? I suppose there’s a chance. But I don’t see it. While he has been inconsistent, he has shown flashes of late. Since being added to the penalty kill, he’s been much more noticeable. He’s committed to being a dependable two-way player. I expect him to stay past the deadline and beyond. Boone Jenner’s injury opens a spot for Roslovic as a top center the rest of this season. That’s a good chance to see him in that role.
  • Final thoughts: Does a team look at a JF Berube for cheap depth? Maybe. Does someone make a play at Emil Bemstrom? There’s always a chance especially if the Blue Jackets don’t see him as part of the plans in future seasons. There’s always room for surprises.

My advice. Keep an open mind and know that there is purpose no matter if a trade happens or not. And stay tuned. The Blue Jackets are primed and ready to surprise us all. Like last year’s draft, they could end the deadline as one of the stars of the show should they go down that road.

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