Blue Jackets’ Defensive Depth Offers Deadline Options

It’s no secret that the Columbus Blue Jackets need scoring help. It’s also no secret the strength of their team is on defense given their depth.

Thanks to some recent performances on the blue line, the Blue Jackets have options. The question is will the right deal come up by the trade deadline to get much needed forward help? And will they tap into their defensive depth to get that help?

As is always the case with GM Jarmo Kekalainen, he will make a deal if it makes the team better now and in the future. He will not make a deal just to put a bandage on a hole. It has to make sense short-term and long-term.

Jarmo Kekäläinen
Jarmo Kekalainen has options thanks to his defensive depth. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

One look at the defensive depth throughout the organization suggests the possibility of a deal is certainly a realistic outcome. At current, there are nine defensemen in Columbus (seven on the roster and two on IR) that are playing or have seen significant playing time. The seven on the roster as of this writing are:

  • Seth Jones
  • Dean Kukan
  • Ryan Murray
  • David Savard
  • Valdislav Gavrikov
  • Andrew Peeke
  • Scott Harrington.

Now consider Zach Werenski and Markus Nutivaara are on injured reserve. While Werenski is still weeks away, Nutivaara is day-to-day and could be back soon. Assuming no other moves before, with the roster at 22, Nutivaara can come off IR without needing to make a corresponding move yet. That would leave 13 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.

When Werenski is ready, you would expect Peeke to go back to Cleveland. That still leaves eight defensemen that could all play. That means two would have to sit.

Who’s Sitting?

Harrington has been the seventh defenseman and hasn’t done enough to keep a spot in the lineup despite recently appearing in a game. From the other seven, one more has to sit. How would you go about that?

Perhaps Nutivaara will have to wait his turn. Or perhaps he jumps right in and someone else sits. See? There’s options.

Injuries can and will always change a situation so it is fluid. But let’s imagine a scenario where they stay healthy and the above scenario plays out. Recall Peeke was the last cut by the Blue Jackets before the season. He’s close to making it and is getting a taste of the big show now. Coach John Tortorella likes the fact that Peeke is right-handed. What if he’s ready soon?

Now consider Kukan has played in recent games with Jones and has held his own. Kukan is making a case that he deserves to stay in the top-six even when everyone is healthy.

And finally consider Gavrikov has been steady and looks very comfortable out there. His three shot blocks in Florida made an impression on Tortorella and his teammates. He plays with no fear.

Vladislav Gavrikov Columbus Blue Jackets
Vladislav Gavrikov seems like he fits in a permanent top-six role. (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

With all these options, the Blue Jackets have to eventually make a decision. Even though they scored five times in Washington Monday night, the team is still 29th in goals scored with just 76 in 30 games. If they are serious about still trying to make the playoffs, they need scoring but they will not give up their first-round pick in the event the season spirals down.

The logical choice then to add a forward is to dive into that defensive depth. Who are the best candidates for that?

Who Has Best Odds of Being Traded?

Jones isn’t going anywhere. Werenski isn’t going anywhere. Those are your bedrock defensemen. To get something significant back, there are two players they would need to consider. Those are Murray and Savard.

Why those two? One, they are each the closest to UFA status. They each have this season and next under contract at a very reasonable cap hit. Murray is $4.6 million and Savard is $4.25 million. But two, each can help a contender now while also being able to help out next season. That could mean a more significant return in any potential deal for the Blue Jackets. And third, are these two a huge part of the future of the team? Would you be willing to pay Murray at a higher rate on his next deal? Then would you consider a new deal for Savard going into his 30’s?

I am not saying a trade is definitely happening. But I am saying it is a real possibility given the landscape. The only way the Blue Jackets would be willing to part with Murray or Savard is if the return makes them better and the rest of the defense can make up for their loss.

Another possibility by the deadline is acquiring draft picks. Recall the Blue Jackets do not have a second or third rounder in the 2020 draft due to previous trades. Given they didn’t pick until round four in 2019, they would love to get picks back. If they have to sell, perhaps they can move a defenseman for a higher pick or two.

This story is only just beginning to write itself. It’s a fluid situation worth monitoring depending how the rest of the season goes. If the Blue Jackets turn things around and continue to play everyone like they played Washington, they could go get forward help. Otherwise they could sell and recoup some draft picks.

We’ll have a much better idea of the story by Feb 1. Until then, just know the Blue Jackets have options. They are not constrained like many other teams. Thanks to their defensive depth, they can pick and choose which deals they want to pursue. That makes them a story to watch as we start the countdown to the trade deadline.