Welcome to our Columbus Blue Jackets monthly mailbag. Once a month (or more, if warranted), Blue Jackets writers Kristyn Repke and Mark Scheig will answer both fan questions and questions from each other about the team or anything else. This month, they analyze the trade deadline, discuss upcoming roster decisions and provide playoff predictions.
Question: Any chance the Blue Jackets shop goaltender Joonas Korpisalo to a team like the Ottawa Senators or Edmonton Oilers this offseason? If so, what could the team expect to get in return? -Hockey Guy Keith (@NotFakeKTABRO)
Kristyn: Maybe the Blue Jackets listen to offers in the offseason, just as they do with nearly every other player, but I honestly do not think the team will actively shop him. Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella always talks about the mental aspect of Korpisalo’s game, and how his calmness and ability to not let mistakes get to him are skills that cannot be taught. Can his technique and reaction times improve? Sure. But those are skills Korpisalo can work on during practice and in the offseason.
The life of a backup goaltender is tough. Mentally, you can expect to play less than 35 percent of games, especially when you are behind a Vezina-winning goaltender like Sergei Bobrovsky. Making the trip along the highway between Columbus and Cleveland when the NHL team has multiple days off in order for Korpisalo to see in-game action with the Cleveland Monsters can also be mentally and physically draining. Plus, there is an enormous amount of pressure if Bobrovsky goes down. It’s not an easy bench-warming gig.
The Blue Jackets have so much money tied up in forwards like Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson that they cannot afford much of an upgrade (which requires big bucks) anyway. But, with Bobrovsky and Korpisalo entering contract years next season, and with the luxury of a strong goaltending prospect pipeline, expect changes in the crease to come after next year.
Mark: Keith, I do not think Joonas Korpisalo is going anywhere this offseason. He’s the number-two goaltender in Columbus and has been since the Anton Forsberg trade. Considering the depth behind Korpisalo in the organization at this time, it does not make sense to deal him.
That said, I think I know why you are asking this question. Has Korpisalo’s play been good enough to remain the backup in future seasons? When given the chance, he’s been up and down. Overall, he is 7-7-0 with a 3.19 and a .902. He’s allowed four goals or more in four of his last five starts. The one start he allowed less was the game against Vegas where he was outstanding.
Herein lies the issue. In 14 starts, Korpisalo has allowed four or more goals seven times. The Blue Jackets are 1-6 in those games. The Blue Jackets are 6-1 when he allows three goals or less. Which version will the Blue Jackets get? He has been both really good and really bad at different points.
Next year is huge for Korpisalo. It is his contract year. He needs to earn the consistent trust of Tortorella so he can play more and give Bobrovsky more rest during the season. So although I do not expect Korpisalo to go anywhere this offseason, the one after that is very interesting depending on how the 2018-19 campaign goes.
Question: Predictions for breakout scorer for the remainder of the season (someone outside of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois or Josh Anderson)? -Jay Alexanders (@Midwesthkymind)
Mark: Jay, that is a great question given the depth issues that have hounded this team for most of the season. If I had to name a forward for this, although it’s not a popular opinion with fans, I am going to say Boone Jenner.
It’s a gut feel for me. He has been better and more noticeable of late. He has four points in his last four games and is plus-5 in that stretch. He seems to play better when the games mean more and are tighter-checking. That suits his game perfectly. If he can find his game down the stretch, what a boost that would be. Plus, with it being a contract year, he has all the incentive in the world to finish this season strong. He has something to prove given the way the season has gone.
Kristyn: Personally, I think the Sonny Milano and Oliver Bjorkstrand chemistry will pay off more here down the stretch. The two have history, as they played together for the Monsters and won a Calder Cup together. They’re also known for stepping up in big moments, and they have less pressure placed upon them playing on the team’s third line. Although Milano is riding a crazy-high shooting percentage (21.2 percent heading into Monday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens), the puck is going in for him. Bjorkstrand is picking up assists and is due for a goal of his own here soon (he hasn’t scored since Feb. 13 against the New York Islanders). He’s one who tends to score in bunches, too, so once the floodgates open, look out.
I also think that defensemen Zach Werenski and Seth Jones will continue to battle it out for the franchise record for goals by a defenseman just because of how competitive those two are and how much time they each spend on the power play.
Brandon Dubinsky: Trade Bait?
Question: I heard about a tweet by Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic about a Brandon Dubinsky to the St. Louis Blues rumor at the trade deadline. Were there legs to it? -CP (@CPFro3)
Mark: I’m not sure if it has legs, but it is the second time I have heard Dubinsky and trade in the same sentence.
Rutherford tweeted that he thought the Blues were interested in Brandon Dubinsky. This was in response to a tweet linking Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund to the Blue Jackets. Of course, nothing happened between the two teams.
They did and it’s believed Dubinsky’s name was brought up in this. https://t.co/wVHr4m1awn
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) February 26, 2018
If there is anything I am taking away from this, it is that I’m keeping this in the back of my mind for the offseason. Rutherford is well connected in St. Louis and I don’t think he randomly puts stuff out there. The question now becomes: where is Dubinsky’s place in the future of the Blue Jackets?
I do not think the Blue Jackets are actively shopping Dubinsky, but I do think they are open to trading him in the right situation. With Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexander Wennberg as your top-two centers, you could see why the team could look to move him. Remember, though, that Dubinsky has some form of no-move protection in his contract. Will anything come from this? Who knows? But it is something to monitor in the offseason for sure.
Kristyn: Like Mark mentioned, this one is tricky because of Dubinsky’s no-move clause. And, with the season Dubinsky is having right now, I don’t think too many teams have much interest in a guy who is making $5.85 million per year and only has five goals and 15 points to show for his efforts this season.
I think the time when this could have legs is if Dubinsky struggles again next season and the team asks him to waive his clause to expose him to the Seattle expansion team. The Vegas Golden Knights were interested in contracts like these in order to help get them to the salary cap floor (much like they did with the Blue Jackets when they took on the monstrous David Clarkson contract this season). Hypothetical situation, of course, but definitely something to keep an eye on.
Trade Deadline Analysis
Question: Do you think the Blue Jackets did enough at the deadline to push them upward in the Metropolitan Division and beyond? -Trevor Reynolds (@treyn81riddles)
Mark: Trevor, I love what they did at the deadline. They improved and it didn’t cost them a lot. Tyler Motte could still be a good player someday in this league. But, given where the Blue Jackets were at, they needed a scorer and got one in Thomas Vanek.
I’m sure they wanted to do more, but they weren’t going to mortgage the future to make that happen. They were one of the biggest deadline day winners and it’s playing out that way, at least for now.
Kristyn: Like Mark mentioned, the Blue Jackets gave up very little to get the pieces they did and improve their team’s depth. They brought back a fan-favorite in Mark Letestu, who has proven he can win key faceoffs when they matter most, improved special teams depth and rounded out the bottom-six forward lines nicely. Ian Cole, as Tortorella has said time and time again, has allowed Brad Shaw, the coach in charge of defensemen utilization, to roll out all six blueliners in any and all situations with full confidence. Vanek, as we saw last week, is a proven veteran who generates offense.
Did the Blue Jackets likely want a forward with more scoring power than Vanek, and were they willing to part ways with defenseman Jack Johnson to make it happen? Probably. But, there is no denying that the Blue Jackets’ blue line is one of the best in the league right now, and though they did not have the big-name trades other teams within the division and conference, they improved. That’s what matters.
Jack Johnson’s Future
Question: It was reported on Twitter a couple of weeks before the trade deadline that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen would be able to get a first-round NHL Draft pick for Jack Johnson. The trade deadline comes and Ian Cole drives from Pittsburgh to Columbus and plays, but Johnson is still here. Why is Johnson still in Columbus and could Cole be his replacement? – MacK Attack (@MacKCity100)
Mark: Johnson is still in Columbus because the team didn’t get an acceptable offer. In addition, Johnson can help this team now. You can never have enough depth on defense, especially down the stretch. You are always one injury from needing to tap into your depth. With Johnson still on the roster, they are better off if an injury happens.
Is Ian Cole his eventual replacement? It is too early to say, but it is certainly possible given the early returns. But let’s see what transpires the rest of the season before we try to project that. The Blue Jackets are open to bringing both guys back. If they make the playoffs, their performance could determine how the team handles this situation.
Kristyn: As I mentioned earlier, adding Cole gives the Blue Jackets one of the strongest and deepest blue lines in the entire NHL if everyone stays healthy. Cole and Johnson were both able to play because plain and simple, they are considered among the team’s top six defensemen.
However, things could get interesting now that the Blue Jackets have activated Markus Nutivaara from injured reserve after he missed 11 games with an upper-body injury. Decisions will be made on defense now. Another name in the blue line mix is Gabriel Carlsson, but he’s fighting an injury. It’s also important to remember that several defensemen’s contracts expire at the end of this season. That includes unrestricted free agents Cole, Johnson and Taylor Chorney, as well as unrestricted free agents Ryan Murray, Nutivaara and Dean Kukan. Zach Werenski is also up for a renewal (and will likely get a major payday) at the end of next season. It’s time to really start thinking about the future of the Blue Jackets’ back end—starting with this offseason.
Mark’s Question for Kristyn
Question: If the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, who would you want to face in Round 1 and why?
Kristyn: I think I hold the same opinion as most Blue Jackets fans, and I don’t have a stake in the game: anyone but Pittsburgh. The Penguins are built for postseason success and they have the Blue Jackets’ number. I don’t think even with the deadline upgrades that the Blue Jackets could win four games against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
That being said, I think the Blue Jackets could beat the Philadelphia Flyers if everything shakes out that way. The Blue Jackets have a pretty good track record against them as of late (14-4-1 dating back to December 2013). That being said, the stars pretty much have to align to make that happen. I also think they would have a better chance against the Washington Capitals than the Penguins or Tampa Bay Lightning, but regardless, with how inconsistent the Blue Jackets have been all season, I don’t have a ton of confidence in any kind of first-round victory.
Kristyn’s Question for Mark
Question: Do you think the Blue Jackets use every 2018 NHL draft pick as they stand right now, or do you foresee the Blue Jackets making some kind of move at the draft?
Mark: This is hard to say, as one phone call can change everything in a heartbeat. Call it a hunch, but I think there will be moves of some sort. If I had to venture a guess, they’ll acquire other draft picks. The reason is this: they traded their fourth and fifth-rounders. The Blue Jackets hold just five picks in this draft. Jarmo is willing to trade down if an opportunity presents itself. Maybe they get an extra pick by trading down.
Here’s my bold prediction though. I think they will pursue Ilya Kovalchuk. As long as Artemi Panarin and Bobrovsky are here and the Blue Jackets are good, there is a chance. That won’t cost them a draft pick, as he is a free agent. I just don’t see them parting with their first three picks unless it’s an earth-shattering deal. Jarmo said that would not be fair to their scouts. Expect action, just not with high picks.
If you have a question you’d like answered in our next mailbag, you can find our Twitter handles on our THW author pages and use the hashtag #MKQA.
After living in two NHL cities (Orange, CA and Raleigh, NC), Kristyn graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism and worked in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Digital Media department. She currently resides in Columbus and has been an NHL-credentialed reporter since the 2013-14 season.