The NHL Draft is coming quickly. As of this writing, there are just over 48 hours to go until the New York Rangers are on the clock.
For the Columbus Blue Jackets, there seems to be a belief that they are looking to do something big. As multiple reporters have pointed out, they will be an interesting team to watch this week and beyond.
But is there anything to all this talk? Will there be huge fireworks or is it just rumors with no backing to them? In this piece, we will try to make sense of where everything is at and what you can expect.
We will look at different scenarios and give you my take on the situation. The one thing I will say right now is this: the Columbus Blue Jackets are trying. Whether they land a big fish or not is to be determined. But there is absolutely no question in my mind that they are trying to land an impact scorer.
Ultimately, the thing I wonder about is the fit on any potential big trade. It takes two to tango and both sides need to feel like they got better as a result. With that in mind, let’s review the landscape and see where we stand.
Setting the Scene
Let’s quickly recap what the Blue Jackets have on their roster that could potentially be available. Simply put, if your name is not Seth Jones, Zach Werenski or Pierre-Luc Dubois, you are eligible to be traded from a team standpoint. I do not see them considering anything with these three players involved.
The Blue Jackets have a glut of defensemen and have to make a move of some kind given the numbers situation. They also have some intriguing forwards to watch including Josh Anderson. Even Cam Atkinson could go in the right situation although I expect him to remain in Columbus.
While the Blue Jackets have the 21st overall pick, I would be surprised to see it moved. That would make three of out of four years not having a first-round pick. I can’t see that happening unless of course an impact player is involved. They do also have some interesting prospects that could go in a deal. Kirill Marchenko tops that list. Liam Foudy is another. But their preference would be to avoid moving these players if at all possible.
The Blue Jackets have plenty of ways to make something happen. Let’s dive into this now starting with someone they would love to have.
This would be the kind of player the Blue Jackets would love to have, but they won’t overpay. In other words, I expect the Jets to ask for Zach Werenski in this kind of deal. That in my mind is a non-starter for a few reasons. Among those reasons are that Werenski’s best days are ahead of him. The duo of Jones and Werenski are a mainstay on that blue line. I can’t see a scenario where splitting them up now improves the team enough.
Will the Jets consider a Laine trade where it doesn’t involve one of the Blue Jackets’ big three? Maybe, but I don’t see the fit here.
The Jets need defense. The Blue Jackets do have defensemen but I’m not sure of the caliber the Jets want for Laine. Can a package involving David Savard be enough to start a conversation? There would need to be several pieces involved. That 21st overall pick would need to be there. I think an impact forward would need to be in there too. Perhaps a prospect can be included.
This is a hard trade to come up with without a Werenski-type involved. The Blue Jackets will try everything they can to make this happen. It’s up to the Jets now. Do they keep Laine and hope things smooth out or do they cut bait and address their other needs given the forwards they do have? Laine would be due a huge raise and I cannot imagine the Jets making that commitment.
What does this mean for you? It means pay attention. There is a chance Laine is traded and the Blue Jackets are involved. Imagine Laine and Dubois on the same line. Then imagine the power-play impact of Laine given his shot and skill. Kekalainen knows this player and would love to have him. The price will dictate if this trade ever happens.
Elliotte Friedman brought this up on the latest edition of 31 Thoughts, the Podcast. He mentioned the possibility that Florida GM Bill Zito (remember him?) might be interesting in acquiring Ryan Murray.
There’s no questioning the familiarity Zito would have here. When healthy, Murray is a really good, puck-moving defenseman. The Panthers recently traded Mike Matheson to the Pittsburgh Penguins. So the need on the blue line is apparent. Given Murray’s health situation, the price might not be as high as it would be in other situations.
Murray is one year from UFA with a cap hit of $4.6 million. The Panthers have a lot of decisions to make in terms of their roster. They do currently have over $21.7 million in cap space but just 12 on the roster. I could see some of the kids getting a shot. But if anything, Zito wants to win now so moves will correspond with a win-now mentality. Murray would fit that mold.
The Blue Jackets will consider this in my mind. The question is what would they want back in a deal. In taking a look at the Panthers’ situation, this is where I could see draft picks coming back. The players the Blue Jackets would be interested in on the Panthers are UFA (Mike Hoffman for example.) Perhaps trading for rights is an option, but that doesn’t fit the Kekalainen style in my mind.
The Blue Jackets do have just five picks as of now. So trading Murray for picks would save money and replenish draft-pick capital. It would also loosen the defensemen logjam. I’m not sure a first could be had here, but a second would certainly be in play and perhaps a later pick too. The injury history and UFA status in one year limits the return but he’s still a valuable asset. If the Panthers are willing to include their second rounder this year, I can see something coming together especially if the Panthers take on the full cap hit.
Keep this in mind. It’s a different situation, but think of the Alec Martinez trade to the Vegas Golden Knights. The Kings got two seconds for Martinez near the trade deadline. Martinez is a UFA after this next season is completed and has a cap hit of $4 million. A similar deal could play out here involving a second and another pick.
Let’s end this on some quick hitters. Where do things stand with some other situations around the Blue Jackets?
- Let’s start with Josh Anderson. At last check, negotiations are still ongoing. Anderson wants to sign and the Blue Jackets want to keep him. The hang up is on term. Anderson wants longer term and the Blue Jackets don’t seem interested in that. Friedman on 31 Thoughts suggested they are discussing different ideas to get this done. So we’ll call this status quo. Both sides are talking but the chance still exists that no deal is reached. As Darren Dreger said on the most recent “Ray and Dregs” podcast, there would be a “frenzy” if Anderson went on the block. Until pen meets paper, this will be a story. Much more to come in the coming days and weeks. Pierre Lebrun in the clip below thinks a dozen teams would be interested in Anderson should it get that far. If it does, would the Blue Jackets consider taking draft picks back if they can’t get now help?
- The Blue Jackets and Dubois are talking contract also. The question here is if it’s a bridge deal (which I expect) or something longer term. This is a priority for the Blue Jackets because they want to get this done but also want to know how much cap they’ll have left. It’s tough to do other things if you don’t know the budget you’re working with. But in terms of how close they are, there’s no real update. The sides are talking with the hopes something is done sooner rather than later. But just know this is at the top of the to-do list as it will help dictate what else happens.
- Lastly for now, Kole Sherwood is back on a one-year deal. He was one of their RFA’s. This is a big season coming up for him whenever it starts. He needs to show that he’s ready for a bigger role. He’ll have the chance to compete for a spot at camp. But he’s got to prove it. There was some excitement around the local player getting a chance after the way his OHL career ended. But he has much more to give. He’s the kind of player John Tortorella would love to have out there, but now it’s up to him to win a spot.
We know Kekalainen will do anything to improve his team. Big moves are within his range. He told us on Friday he expects more post-draft trades this season than in normal years since the list of availability might be different after the draft. They are ready to go this week with the draft and beyond.
It’s not a matter of if moves will happen with the Blue Jackets, it’s a matter of when they will happen and how many. How different will this team look in the coming weeks? We’re about to find out in short order.