Blue Jackets’ Nyquist Is a Stealth Trade Chip

Welcome back to our running series on the Columbus Blue Jackets and the 2022 NHL Trade Deadline. In case you missed Part 2, we checked in with the Toronto Maple Leafs and why it might take them years to recover from the 2021 Trade Deadline.

Related: Maple Leafs Need Years to Recover From 2021 Trade Deadline

Today, we turn our attention to a current Blue Jacket that might not be getting the attention in the trade market that I think could develop.

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Nyquist a Stealth Option

Gustav Nyquist has been nothing but a true professional ever since he signed with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s no wonder that he wears an ‘A’ this season.

Nyquist’s play and leadership has helped the Blue Jackets stay afloat in 2021-22. There’s no question he’s an integral part of this team.

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When discussing possible moves the Blue Jackets could make leading up to the Mar 21 deadline, you don’t see Nyquist’s name come up often. On the surface that makes sense.

Players like Max Domi, Dean Kukan and Joonas Korpisalo will dominate the headlines simply because they’re all pending UFA’s. The Blue Jackets don’t want to lose any of them for nothing when each could bring something back the team could use. We don’t think of a player like Nyquist immediately because he does have one season left after this one on his contract.

But a closer look at the overall situation suggests we might need to pay closer attention to this one. When we consider all of the elements potentially in play, it suggests Nyquist could be a stealth trade chip should the Blue Jackets go down that road.

Let’s set the scene. In order to do that, we need to understand the road Nyquist traveled to get to this position today. Then we need to understand how his performance has helped the Blue Jackets and could help a contender. Then we need to consider his contract and discuss why teams would call the Blue Jackets about his potential availability.

A Good Start

Nyquist joined the Blue Jackets after signing a four-year deal with a cap hit of $5.5 million. Recall he came to Columbus after Artemi Panarin decided not to sign with the Blue Jackets.

The team needed a steady, veteran presence who could play in all situations and be an important contributor. Nyquist fit the bill. Early on, he did nothing to disappoint.

Nyquist put up 15-27-42 in 70 games in his first season with the Blue Jackets. He was as advertised, steady and reliable. Coach John Tortorella depended on him to play big minutes. Especially later in the season before the COVID shutdown, Nyquist was averaging around 20 minutes a night.

Gustav Nyquist Columbus Blue Jackets
Gustav Nyquist is truly a stealth trade chip should the Blue Jackets go down that road. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Blue Jackets got into the Toronto Bubble and knocked the Maple Leafs out in five games. Although Nyquist wasn’t on the scoresheet much, he played big minutes defensively in helping shut down one of the most offensively gifted teams in the league. He was one of the better free agent signings as a result of his overall play.

Shoulder Surgery

But then a situation that was an issue over several seasons for Nyquist had to be dealt with head on. He had a labral tear of his left shoulder and surgery was required. The estimated recovery was five to six months. It was the same surgery that Josh Anderson had.

Nyquist played through the issue until a cyst developed in the area. They had no choice but to go with surgery. Given that the surgery was performed in November 2020, there was a chance Nyquist could return to help the Blue Jackets with their stretch run during the shortened season. However given their struggles, the playoffs were not in the cards. Therefore they elected to shut Nyquist down so he could be fully healthy to start the 2021-22 season.

Back Healthy and Producing

The new season started slow for Nyquist as one might expect given the long layoff from playing action. He was rusty and looking to get his timing back. He scored in their season opener against Arizona but then didn’t score again for nine games. It was clear he was looking for his game.

But as time went on and more games were played, Nyquist started to find his stride. In 47 games this season, Nyquist has a line of 12-16-28. He’s on pace to finish with 48 points in a full 82-game season. He hasn’t missed a game yet in 2021-22 and hasn’t experience any setbacks from the surgery.

Where Nyquist is really sticking out is on the penalty kill. This is something he hadn’t done much of in previous seasons. But now this is an area where he’s making a dramatic impact. He’s among the league leaders in shorthanded goals with four while leading the charge on the kill of late. Since the calendar turned to 2022, the Blue Jackets have had one of the best penalty kill units in the league. Nyquist is a big reason for that.

Even on a young roster, Nyquist is making a noticeable impact. Contending playoff teams could certainly use an all-around player to help their depth. But why would teams acquire someone who’s 32 coming off major surgery?

Nyquist Is Not a Rental

This is key to the situation. Some teams tend to shy away from rentals because there’s no guarantee they’d be back. Those teams would prefer to acquire someone with term. As stated above, Nyquist has one more season after this one at a cap hit of $5.5 million. Imagine having a middle-six forward who can score and kill penalties join a contending team. Veteran players like Nyquist make for great additions to teams pushing for the Stanley Cup.

Now why would Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets entertain this idea? Take a look at the return the Montreal Canadiens got for Tyler Toffoli. It’s a slightly different situation but will give you an idea of a potential return.

Tyler Toffoli Montreal Canadiens
The Tyler Toffoli trade from Montreal could provide some insight into a possible return for Gustav Nyquist. (Photo by Curtis Comeau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The Canadiens received a 2022 first-round pick that is top-10 protected, a 2024 fifth-round pick, Tyler Pitlick and prospect Emil Heineman. If the Blue Jackets were to deal Nyquist, I wouldn’t expect this kind of return but something similar. Toffoli has two years left after this one and is three years younger.

If a contender calls the Blue Jackets and offers a first-round pick+, why wouldn’t you listen to that offer? The Blue Jackets are resetting and could use those kind of assets. The Blue Jackets aren’t expected to make noise in the playoffs this season or even next. While Nyquist is a huge part of the team and is helping the young players, he is not untouchable. Plus the Blue Jackets have cap room and can eat salary if necessary. That would only sweeten a potential return.

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The Blue Jackets don’t seem to be actively shopping Nyquist at this point. But they would listen if they got a call. From a Blue Jackets’ perspective, you have to think about it. The next wave of young talent is on the way and roster spots need to be created somehow. If the right deal comes knocking at the door for Nyquist, I’m not sure how they can say no.

While all of the attention will go to the UFA’s, keep your eyes on Nyquist. He’s a huge part of what the Blue Jackets are doing now. But one phone call can change everything in an instant.

Nyquist is a stealth trade chip should the Blue Jackets elect to use it.