Who saw that trade coming? I sure didn’t.
The Columbus Blue Jackets made an enormous splash on Friday by acquiring Artemi Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks. He along with Tyler Motte and a sixth-round pick came to Columbus in exchange for Brandon Saad, Anton Forsberg and a fifth-round pick in 2018.
In a word, woah. Where did that come from? A closer look at the situation reveals an interesting developing storyline for these Blue Jackets. They made the playoffs this season after finishing fourth overall in the league. They drew the Pittsburgh Penguins and saw the season end in just five playoff games.
That result could not have sat well with management. A historic season for the Blue Jackets flamed out in disappointing fashion. When your goal is to win and you see that result, you do what it takes to make improvements. They’ve now made the playoffs. They need to win in the playoffs.
What Have We Learned Thus Far?
If the offseason has taught us anything, it’s that these Blue Jackets are in it to win it. By win it, I mean the Stanley Cup. For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets are all-in with a legitimate chance to chase a Stanley Cup. The Panarin trade is just the latest example of the Blue Jackets’ all-in mentality.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen recently said the team wanted a sniper for the key moments. They wasted no time in finding someone who fit that mold. Enter Panarin. The Blue Jackets now have a game-changing winger who can alter the course of games on his own. His dynamic skill and lethal shot give the Blue Jackets an added element to their game they previously didn’t have. They hope this translates to the playoffs when games are tight and momentum is big.
Before this trade came about, the Blue Jackets had to deal with the expansion draft. As it turned out, they had a deal in place with Vegas. An important part of that deal was the Golden Knights taking David Clarkson’s contract off the books. It cost the Blue Jackets two draft picks, including the 24th pick this year. When Kekalainen was asked how much parting with that pick hurt, he said the move “was well worth it.”
That quote is a sign of bigger things to come. The Blue Jackets now have extra cap room to work with this offseason to add. They would not have had this extra flexibility had it not been for the trade. Now they can turn their attention to even bigger things, including possibly adding another scorer.
If that doesn’t scream all-in, I’m not sure what will. The Blue Jackets have one thing in mind in 2017-18. They want a Stanley Cup. They’ll make calculated but aggressive moves to position themselves for this opportunity. They’re not done adding. Whether they get another top-six player is yet to be seen, but they are trying.
The Blue Jackets want to prove last season was no fluke. Adding Panarin certainly supports this notion. But that’s not all they did during draft weekend. The Blue Jackets didn’t pick until 86th in the draft. Would the Blue Jackets find a way to get extra picks? Not only did they get extra picks, they picked 41 spots higher than any of us expected. They landed a player in Alexandre Texier who they ranked as a first rounder. They were willing to part with the WHL’s leading playoff scorer Keegan Kolesar to land Texier. Again, what a statement this is. Kekalainen is not afraid of making the big trade if he believes it helps the team in the long run.
With this kind of mentality, one must wonder what’s next? They went big-game hunting with their first trade. Could they be looking at a Matt Duchene, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or someone else of the like who’s a top-six scorer? Armed with picks, prospects and trade chips, Kekalainen has options. It is reasonable to expect the Blue Jackets to think big. Even if they don’t land a center, other options such as Ilya Kovalchuk are available. The Blue Jackets are one of the most interesting teams to watch in the next week or two.
By the time this is all said and done, the Blue Jackets could become one of the most dynamic teams in the league. When you consider what the other teams in the Metropolitan Division have done, the Blue Jackets needed to a statement this offseason. Adding another scorer will put everyone on notice that Columbus is a true contender.
Play time is over in Columbus. It’s Cup or bust for these Blue Jackets. Let’s see what other moves they have in store for us.