We’re getting to that time of year: The point when general managers across the league start to look at their team’s rosters and really evaluate what they consider to be long-term pieces of their organizational mosaic. Make no mistake, while the Columbus Blue Jackets started the year strong — Starting 12-6 is nothing to sneeze at — they are a team building for the future. With any build, some pieces need to go out for others to come in and other pieces that may fall through the cracks just because of roster turnover. In general, we’ll be having a look at which players probably won’t be back in Ohio next year.
The Blue Jackets organization has a lot to thank Joonas Korpisalo for. This is his seventh season in Ohio, and he’s seen it all. He was an excellent backup for two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. He waited in the wings playing a part in the brightest years of this young franchise’s history.
Then after the storied exodus of talent, he was looked to as the heir, but challenged by the spunky Latvian Elvis Merzlikins. Korpisalo overtook an inconsistent Merzlikins early, and then the season played out more of a 50-50 split. Where it seemed Korpisalo might pull ahead in the long-term race was come the 2020 playoffs.
Korpisalo helped the Blue Jackets smack the cursed Toronto Maple Leafs in the qualifying round, and he was their most valuable player. He led the team, posting two shutouts and a .956 save percentage. He also stood on his head, stopping 85 of 88 shots from the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the first round, which was a five-overtime marathon match.
However, much like many goalies who had hot streaks, looking at you Andrew Hammond, Korpisalo returned from cloud nine and has found a normalcy hovering at just under .900 save percentage, which is where he was sitting in the two seasons before Bobrovsky’s departure.
This one is a tough pill for some Blue Jackets fans, but expected by most. The long-term extension of Merzlikins put the writing on the wall for Korpisalo. Heading into this year, the hope for many was to see a bounceback performance by the Finn with an expiring contract. The hope being to maximize his trade value and he be sent to a contender at the deadline for a win-win. That has not been the case, and Korpisalo has seemed to struggle through the first half of the year.
The strong first North American campaign for Daniil Tarasov, who is someone thought to have a higher ceiling than even Merzlikins has opened the door for Korpisalo to walk through. The only question here is, will he be traded to give Columbus some return or will he simply walk at the end of the season as an unrestricted free agent (UFA)?
This one is a bit of a deeper cut, but still a name that has been in the Blue Jackets organization for a while. Scott Harrington had a well-travelled career earlier on, the 2011 second-round pick started his career on the blue line for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After a season there, he was shipped off as a piece in their acquisition of star Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Harrington spent a season in the Leafs system before being shipped to Columbus for former Blue Jackets swing-and-miss first rounder Kerby Rychel.
Between the two, Harrington was the win of the trade, with Rychel failing to make the Leaf roster and eventually flaming out of pro-hockey. Harrington, however, has been a perennial number six or seven defenseman for the Jackets – dressing for 184 regular season and 14 playoff games over six seasons.
Don’t get me wrong, to be able to stick around the NHL for now eight seasons, one has to be an elite athlete. However following a demotion to the AHL, there’s a few factors working against Harrington’s return to head coach Brad Larsen’s roster. First and most notable, the NHL is becoming a young man’s game. Management across the league is generally more likely to give ice-time to a fresh face with potential who may perform slightly worse in the present, than an older player who is on the fringe of the roster but not as much future upside.
Next is a problem from too much organizational depth. The Blue Jackets logjam is difficult because they have a plethora of lower tier, fringe NHL talent which has allowed a lot of players in the organization to get lost in the shuffle. The Blue Jackets have five legitimate options of players competing for bottom-pair minutes. Harrington, who turns 29 in March, finds himself the oldest, and with nothing particularly groundbreaking about his game will likely see his way out of Columbus.
You hate to see it, but this is the real hot take of this piece. Max Domi has come alive this season, bringing all of the gusto that was expected when he was brought to Ohio in exchange for the much-loved Josh Anderson. The path of Domi’s career has looked much like a sine curve, with more ups and downs than a Ryan Reynolds movie, and his time in Columbus has been no different. He is a bit of a mystery, one that would have Eminem asking for the real Max Domi to please stand up.
His first campaign with the squad was on the weaker side, as he was struggling with injuries. He came to camp this year ahead of schedule, and so far this season has been more up than down. He lit up the lamp with four points through his first two games, and has been a force for the Jackets. However, on the other side of the curve, he’s been bitten by the injury bug once and sidelined in COVID protocol for a total of ten games missed.
Regardless, Domi has bounced around the flanking the middle-six of the lineup, bringing an energy to a lineup that at times could use more. He’s now showing that he can be a strong player in now his third organization.
As Domi approaches UFA status, there are so many questions that arise. It’s no secret that Domi, who is famously social media friends with the likes of big stars, thinks of himself as a big time player. Does he feel like he needs to be in a big market to match his big personality? He certainly enjoyed the spotlight in Montreal.
Other questions relate to his contract status, including: Why hasn’t he been extended yet? One doesn’t have to think too far back to remember the scenario of a high profile player not having been re-signed before the deadline and leaving Columbus snakebitten. Will Blue Jackets brass risk losing Domi for nothing when he could get some assets at the deadline?
Perusing this list, I’d say the writing is on the wall for both Korpisalo and Harrington. They are both locks to be out of Columbus next year, but the wild card here is Domi. The next couple of months leading up to the trade deadline will tell the tale. If no progress is made on an extension and it doesn’t seem like there is interest, the talented forward who brings a punch of energy to the roster could see himself out of Ohio sooner rather than later – even if he is still one of the top performers in the forward corps.
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Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.