Blue Jackets Should Target Ilya Lyubushkin in Free Agency

The Columbus Blue Jackets have built a defense that looks solid on paper. However, when it took the ice last season, it was one of their key weaknesses. The main reason is simple, there’s a lack of defensive play from the current set of defensemen on the roster. A majority of the current blue line will join the rush regularly and as a result, the goaltender will be faced with an odd-man rush fairly often which leads to quite a few goals against and occasionally a big loss.

Blue Jackets’ 2021-22’s Defensive Struggles

Zach Werenski, Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean and Vladislav Gavrikov were on the wrong end of an avoidable, but costly turnover many times over the course of the season. A team can get away with a couple of players making these mistakes now and then, but if a majority of the defensive core is making the same errors consistently, then it’ll be difficult to walk out with wins.

Related: Blue Jackets 2021-22 Post-Season Awards as Picked By THW

The Blue Jackets finished the 2021-22 season with the fifth most goals against in the NHL, that’s the type of issue that will take quite a bit of work to fix. Talent certainly isn’t an issue when it comes to the team’s defense, however, many of them are too similar when it comes to what they bring to the table. Offensive contributions from defenseman can undoubtedly help a team, but as the position’s name implies, it shouldn’t be their only job. There’s a player hitting unrestricted free agency this summer who can certainly help this predicament, not only from his play but also by allowing the other defensemen to have quite a bit more freedom with less risk.

Enter Lyubushkin

Ilya Lyubushkin isn’t a player that’s going to bring a lot of excitement, nor much hype from the media when compared to the other names on the market. His move from the Arizona Coyotes to the Toronto Maple Leafs received quite a bit of coverage, however had he been traded to almost any other team it would’ve been a move that would’ve been quickly forgotten. He’s a steady stay-at-home defenseman who won’t make highlight reels, but he’ll keep the opposition off of them as well.

It was obvious that there was a David Savard-sized hole on the right side of the defense this past season, Andrew Peeke changed his game substantially to attempt to fill it and undoubtedly had a solid season. Adding Lyubushkin will certainly up the number of typos from the media and fans alike, but more importantly he’ll help patch that hole as he’ll bring an almost exclusively defensive game allowing Peeke to move to a different pairing where he can focus on playing his game rather than attempt to fill someone else’s shoes. As a prospect, Peeke was always touted as a player who could contribute on both ends of the ice, but had more of a knack for the offensive side of the game. There have been glimpses of offense from him, but it hasn’t been anywhere near the level we saw before he turned professional.

Ilya Lyubushkin Arizona Coyotes
Ilya Lyubushkin, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There’s also a log-jam of talent on the Blue Jackets defensive core, and unfortunately the organization won’t be able to use all of it. Adding Lyubushkin won’t make that easier, however it will allow them to move another asset to strengthen another area of the team. The aforementioned Bean, Gabriel Carlsson and even Boqvist, if general manager Jarmo Kekalainen decided to go that route, could all be moved and Boqvist would certainly help bring in a major piece.

Lyubushkin could also give Werenski a bit more freedom with less risk of an odd-man rush the other way. Although Werenski played with an elite level defenseman in Seth Jones for years, he’s never had a legitimate stay-at-home defenseman along side him which would only help his game. He’ll be able to trust his partner to not get caught up in trying to get on the score-sheet and then do so himself without completely hanging the goaltender out to dry if things go awry.

Lyubushkin won’t only help solve a major issue the Blue Jackets faced during the 2021-22 season, but he’ll also give management the ability to move some assets they’d otherwise hang onto which can strengthen the organization as a hole by filling other gaps rather than maintaining the current log-jam. The team has the cap space, he fits an exact need and he’d certainly improve the team. If the Maple Leafs let him enter the open market, the Blue Jackets need to make him an offer immediately.

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