Blue Jackets Need Plan B Following Nyquist Surgery

Columbus Blue Jackets winger Gustav Nyquist has undergone surgery on his left shoulder and is expected to need five to six months to recover. In addition to repairing a torn labrum, a cyst was surgically removed. 

Gustav Nyquist of the Columbus Blue Jackets underwent shoulder surgery and will be out 5-6 months.
Gustav Nyquist, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Interestingly, the surgery occurred just hours after your faithful Blue Jackets writers here at The Hockey Writers unanimously projected Nyquist as the second-line left wing to open the 2020-21 season. Since no start date has been announced for the coming season, we don’t know how many games he might miss. If the NHL resumes play in early February, he could be more than halfway through his recovery period. If the start is delayed further, he could even be just weeks away from rejoining the team.

What To Do Until Nyquist Returns?

Regardless of whether it’s two to three months or just a couple of weeks, someone will need to play in Nyquist’s slot to open the season. Columbus has options: 

  • Use a talented young player as a placeholder until Nyquist returns.
  • Move a player up to the second line from lower on the depth chart, then fill that third- or fourth-line spot with a youngster.
  • Sign a free agent or make a trade to bring in an experienced player to fill the gap.

 The Hockey Writers Weigh In

On “The Hockey Writers Live” Wednesday evening, shortly after the Nyquist news broke, our Mark Scheig spoke with hockey writer Brian Hedger of The Columbus Dispatch. They seemed to agree that the best course of action for the Blue Jackets may be to look outside the club, perhaps to an available free agent, to fill that spot on the left wing.

Scheig and Hedger also noted that Columbus’ management right now has its hands tied a bit because restricted free agents Pierre-Luc Dubois and Vladislav Gavrikov are not yet signed. Until those contracts are finalized, management doesn’t know how much space is available under the salary cap.

They also pointed out that if Nyquist is almost ready to return when next season begins, it perhaps makes the most sense to simply give ice time to one or more of the hungry young wingers already in the system. Liam Foudy, Emil Bemstrom, and Eric Robinson were mentioned, as was the possibility of either Cam Atkinson or Oliver Bjorkstrand moving from the right wing to the left. (Both are right-handed players.)

Cam Atkinson Columbus Blue Jackets
Cam Atkinson, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

THW writer Brian Ginise told me that he expects Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno to move to the second-line left wing, with a young player – likely Foudy – to fill in on the third line. He says that it “would be a good place for a young player to start, with a hound on the boards in Boone (Jenner) and an elite defensive, very smart center in (Mikko) Koivu.”

Blue Jackets columnist Cameron Thompson concurs: “I think you promote within with Foligno slotting in at left wing, then interchange Bemstrom and Foudy at RW on the 3rd and 4th lines.” He also likes the idea of perhaps looking outside the club for a replacement.

Nick Foligno Columbus Blue Jackets
Nick Foligno, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Cameron continues: “I would plan to do that unless you can benefit from getting a top-six player from a team that is cap strapped. I think of interesting options like Jordan Eberle from the New York Islanders or Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights.”

My own opinion is that, with the late start date for the coming season and Nyquist’s projected recovery period, it makes most sense to work with players already in house – unless, of course, general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen is already planning on signing or trading for a top-six scoring winger.

I like the idea of keeping intact a first line of Dubois centering Alexandre Texier and Oliver Bjorkstand and a third line of Koivu centering Jenner and Foligno. A temporary replacement on the left side of the second line (pending the return of Nyquist) would definitely be in a “show me” spot with coach John Tortorella. If he gives the ice time to, say, Mikhail Grigorenko or Foudy, and he plays well, it’s “problem solved.” Until Nyquist returns and suddenly there’s not enough ice time for everyone. Again. 

John Tortorella Blue Jackets bench (2)
John Tortorella, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Juggling Grigorenko, Foudy, Robinson, Bemstrom, and even perhaps Nathan Gerbe in that slot, giving each a few games to prove himself, might both help player development and give the club a good look at what they have in the stable.

How Will It Play Out?

Much of how the Blue Jackets handle the loss of Nyquist will depend on how much recovery time he still needs once the season eventually begins. If he’s just weeks away from rejoining the lineup, does it make sense to trade for (or sign a free agent as) a short-term fix? And, of course, there’s the question of the salary cap. Until Dubois is signed, sealed, and delivered, management won’t know how much salary cap space will be available long-term in 2020-21.

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