Blue Jackets Offseason Review & Analysis

Welcome back to Blue Jackets Pressure Points.

Last summer, we tackled hard questions facing the team in the offseason and tried offering answers. For our second season, we have nine questions we will attempt to answer. Before we jump into those questions which will come out once per week, we thought it would be a good time to give you all the crash course on the Blue Jackets offseason to date with everything that’s happened since the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminated them from the playoffs.

From league recognition to hard business decisions, there were no shortage of storylines for the Blue Jackets. There’s likely more coming with RFA’s Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson still needing contracts. Oh, and there’s that whole Matt Duchene saga that could unfold in the coming weeks or months.

Did you miss anything? Consider this your cheat sheet to the Blue Jackets’ offseason. We will outline all the news and offer my analysis on what it means. In the event news breaks over the summer, we’ll be around to keep you updated. But for now, let’s begin with our offseason recap.

Marc-Andre Fleury got the best of the Blue Jackets in the playoffs.
(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Recapping the Blue Jackets Offseason

April 20: Penguins Defeat Blue Jackets 5-2 in Game 5 of First Round

Unfortunately for Blue Jackets fans, Sergei Bobrovsky couldn’t find his game and it ultimately cost the team the series against the eventual Stanley Cup champions. As good of a regular season as the Blue Jackets had, this loss showed that the team has ways to go.

With the expansion draft looming, we knew someone played their last game as a Blue Jacket. Given the state of the Blue Jackets, the team knew they’d be losing a good player. Our attention turned to what moves would come knowing that the team needed to make improvements to challenge for the division. How would the team approach the offseason knowing they had challenges in front of them?

April 20: Zach Werenski Named a Calder Finalist

Werenski’s incredible rookie season earned him an invitation to Las Vegas for the NHL Awards as the league named him a finalist for the Calder Award given to the league’s most outstanding rookie. Werenski owned almost every defensive rookie record in Blue Jackets history. His impact helped the team to an incredible turnaround in 2016-17.

April 22: Sergei Bobrovsky Named a Vezina Finalist

As expected, the NHL named Bobrovsky a finalist for the Vezina trophy, awarded to the most outstanding goaltender in the NHL. His 2.06 goals-against average and .931 save percentage both led the league. It was for this reason that many considered Bobrovsky the odds-on favorite to win his second Vezina. He won the award in 2013 after leading the Blue Jackets to the verge of the playoffs.

Sergei Bobrovsky was a Vezina finalist yet again. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

April 26: John Tortorella Named a Jack Adams Finalist

Recognition continued to pour in for the Blue Jackets as the league named Tortorella a finalist for the Jack Adams trophy, awarded to the league’s most outstanding coach. This was the fourth time that the league named Tortorella a finalist for the award. He won it in 2003-04 with the Tampa Bay Lightning after their Stanley Cup victory. This was also the third different team that Tortorella coached while being recognized as a Jack Adams finalist (Lightning, Rangers, Blue Jackets.)

April 27: Nick Foligno Named a Mark Messier Award Finalist

Foligno became the fourth Blue Jackets’ player to earn a trip to Las Vegas as a finalist for a major award. This time, the league named Foligno a finalist for the prestigious Mark Messier Leadership Award. This award is presented “to the player who exemplifies great leadership qualities to his team, on and off the ice during the regular season” as selected by Messier himself. What more can you say about Foligno?

He captained the Blue Jackets to a dramatic, 32-point turn around in the standings. He also won the Blue Jackets Foundation Community MVP Award for the second time. Along with his wife Janelle, they donated $1 million split between Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital. The money supported heart care in both facilities in honor of their daughter Milana. This is on top of the incredible work he already does with the Janis Foligno Foundation among other things. Ryan Getzlaf and Mark Giordano were also named finalists.

May 1: Bobrovsky Named Hart Trophy Finalist

Bobrovsky’s season was so good that the league named him a finalist for the Hart Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding player. Connor McDavid and Sidney Crosby were the other finalists. Could Bobrovsky pull off the Carey Price and sweep the Vezina and Hart?

May 8: Prospect Elvis Merzlikins Shines at the IIHF Worlds

To this point in the tournament, Merzlikins stopped 56 of 57 shots to help Latvia to a 2-0-0 start. He shined throughout the tournament helping make a name for himself. With Bobrovsky’s contract up in two seasons, is Merzlikins the Blue Jackets’ goalie of the future? Never say never, especially if Bobrovsky gets a hefty contract starting in 2019-20. That’s also the season both Panarin and Werenski need new contracts. Yeah, that’s gonna be an interesting summer.

May 23: Blue Jackets Sign Kevin Stenlund to ELC

Stenlund is someone worth watching in the coming years. By all accounts, he impressed at Development Camp. He helped his team HV71 win the Swedish Elite League Championship. With the Blue Jackets looking in all corners of the world for a top-6 center, Stenlund has the tools for this role. He plans to play one more season in Sweden. Then he could compete for a permanent spot here. Keep his name in the back of your mind. This isn’t the last we’ve heard from Stenlund.

May 25: Blue Jackets Sign Matiss Kivlenieks to ELC

The Blue Jackets went to the USHL to sign Kivlenieks. He was both the player and goaltender of the year in the USHL. With Joonas Korpisalo penciled in as Bobrovsky’s backup and Anton Forsberg off to Chicago, the Blue Jackets desperately needed goaltending depth. Enter Kivlenieks. He’s expected to play for the Cleveland Monsters this season. Talk about fast tracking your pro career early on. He knows the big stage, playing for Team Latvia at the World Juniors. We could definitely see him in Columbus in a few years.

May 30: Brandon Dubinsky Has Wrist Surgery

Not sure how long the wrist was bothering Dubinsky, but the team decided that surgery was the best course of action. With a recovery time of three months according to the team, the expectation is that Dubinsky will be ready for training camp. Barring any summer trades, Dubinsky will resume his role as a top-six center who is one of the emotional leaders of the team.

Brandon Dubinsky is expected to be ready for training camp after having wrist surgery. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

May 31: Blue Jackets Transfer Second-Round Pick to Canucks

This was the correct move for the Blue Jackets. By hiring Tortorella, the Blue Jackets had to give a second rounder to the Canucks in either 2017 or 2018. Given the perceived value of next season’s draft, most thought that the 2017 pick would go to Vancouver. Might as well get it done. And as we come to find out later, the Blue Jackets did get a second-round pick this season earlier than what this pick would have been.

June 9: Blue Jackets Sign Korpisalo, Dalpe and Kukan

These were all expected. Korpisalo got a 2-year deal. This means that the expected tandem in the Blue Jackets’ net will be Bobrovsky and Korpisalo for the next two seasons. Then both are free agents. This is an under-reported story that deserves our attention. We know what the Blue Jackets net will look like this season and next. But what about after that?

Are the Blue Jackets going to pay big bucks (no whammies) for Bobrovsky? Price just got $10.5 million from Montreal. Not sure Columbus would pay that much for a goalie, especially with other players needing contracts. Korpisalo now has two years to make a case for himself. Can he become a long-term solution in net? What about Merzlikins? He’s eventually looking to come over. Enjoy the next two seasons of Bobrovsky. After that is anyone’s guess at this point.

Zac Dalpe was one of the Blue Jackets’ better moves of last season. The Wild tried resetting Dalpe’s clock by putting him on waivers, only to have the Blue Jackets grab him. He went to Cleveland and gave the Monsters an offensive jolt that put them to the verge of the playoffs, only to lose out on the last day. His contract is a two-year, two-way deal, allowing him to help the Monsters while providing depth for the Blue Jackets in case of injury.

Dean Kukan was the most consistent defenseman for the Monsters last season. He led the team in assists and points. Before the logjam of defensemen in Columbus, I thought Kukan could make a case for permanent stay with the Blue Jackets. Kukan will look to continue his success in Cleveland while being one of the first on-call if the Blue Jackets need him.

Joonas Korpisalo signed a two-year deal this offseason. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

June 18: League Releases Expansion Protection Lists

This was the moment we were all waiting for. Who got exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights? There was speculation that Ryan Murray would appear on the unprotected list. However it was Jack Johnson who was left unprotected. That suggested a trade was in place between the Blue Jackets and Golden Knights. With lots of good players available, the Blue Jackets needed extra protection. A trade was the way to go. But someone still had to go. We find out in just three days what all went down.

June 19: Blue Jackets Announce Preseason Schedule

The Blue Jackets announced their eight-game preseason schedule with games against the Blackhawks, Blues, Penguins and Predators. There are no split-squad games this time around. The schedule opens on September 19 against the Blackhawks and concludes September 30 in Pittsburgh. If a Blue Jacket wants to stand out and make this roster, they’ll have to do it against the Stanley Cup champs and runners-up, as well as against the Blues and Blackhawks, who each made the playoffs last season.

June 20: Foligno Wins Both King Clancy and Mark Messier Leadership Awards

Foligno became the first player to ever win both awards in the same season. This was the 10th season of the Messier Leadership Award. Even in a small market like Columbus, Foligno’s contributions have had wide-reaching impact. Winning both awards is a testament to the kind of player and person Foligno is.

June 21: Tortorella, Bobrovsky Win at NHL Awards

The Blue Jackets took home two awards, with Tortorella winning his second Jack Adams award while Bobrovsky won his second Vezina trophy. Tortorella helped change the culture in Columbus. The team is finally starting to earn some respect in the league, but there’s ways to go. Bobrovsky’s play helped the Blue Jackets become one of the top teams in the league. Although he didn’t win the Hart, Bobrovsky had arguably one of the best seasons that any Blue Jacket ever had in their short history.

June 21: Vegas Selects William Karlsson, Completes Trade With Blue Jackets

Turns out there was a trade after all. The Blue Jackets sent a 2017 first rounder, a 2019 second rounder and David Clarkson’s contract to the Golden Knights in exchange for expansion protection on Josh Anderson, Joonas Korpisalo and others. The Golden Knights selected William Karlsson as a result. I have mixed feelings about this.

It’s always hard to give up a first rounder, but to rid themselves of Clarkson’s contract, they have extra flexibility they wouldn’t otherwise have. The part that hurts that is somewhat under-reported is losing Karlsson. He was their third-line center who did a nice job of playing his role. As it stands, the Blue Jackets have Schroeder and Sedlak as their third and fourth line centers. That is a downgrade from Karlsson. If the Blue Jackets acquire Duchene, that changes the entire conversation. But as is, that third-line center is a soft spot. I’m curious to see how it plays out. Karlsson is a bigger loss than many are suggesting it is.

William Karlsson
William Karlsson is a big loss for the Blue Jackets. Now we wait to see how their bottom-six will look. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

June 22: NHL Announces Regular Season Schedule

The Blue Jackets schedule is out for 2017-18. They do not have any stretches of five or more games at home or on the road consecutively. They have three road trips of three games and two home stands of four games. They go to California and Western Canada in March. They have their off-week in January.

All-in-all, the early schedule is tame while March could decide their playoff fate. The Blue Jackets play 16 games in March while doing their most traveling of the season. Here are some games of note:

  • Home Opener: Oct 6 vs. Islanders
  • First Road Game: Oct 7 at Blackhawks
  • Rick Nash at Nationwide: Oct 13 and Nov 17 vs. Rangers
  • Wednesday Night Rivalry: Oct 25 vs. Sabres
  • Ryan Johansen at Nationwide: Nov 7 vs. Predators
  • First Game at Little Caesars Arena: Nov 11 at Red Wings
  • Connor McDavid at Nationwide: Dec 12 vs. Oilers
  • Auston Matthews at Nationwide: Dec 20 vs. Maple Leafs
  • First Games vs. Penguins: Dec 21 and 27 both in Pittsburgh
  • First Game at Vegas: Jan 23 at Golden Knights
  • Brandon Saad at Nationwide Feb 24 vs. Blackhawks
  • Golden Knights at Nationwide: Mar 6 vs. Vegas
  • Hockey Night in Canada at Nationwide: Mar 17 vs. Senators
  • Pens at Nationwide: Feb 18 and Apr 5 vs. Pittsburgh

June 23: Blue Jackets Acquire Artemi Panarin From Blackhawks

I was conveniently (UGH) on the Kennedy Expressway in Chicago when this trade came down. I mean, woah?! Never did I think Brandon Saad would get traded again. He’s back in Chicago. Artemi Panarin is in Columbus along with Tyler Motte and a sixth rounder this season. Where to begin with this?

GM Jarmo Kekalainen wanted a sniper. He got one in Panarin. He has the same cap hit as Saad, but with two less seasons remaining. The Blue Jackets get a game changer who can dominate games on his own. He will also enhance the power play. I can’t wait to see the impact that Panarin and Wennberg will have on each other. Can Panarin help Wennberg become a permanent top-line center?

One of the more exciting storylines is seeing Wennberg and Panarin play together. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Tyler Motte was also part of the trade. I asked Kekalainen at the draft about Motte. “He’s an NHL prospect who is just getting his feet wet but made a really good team in Chicago and then struggled a bit towards the end with injury and being sent down. (Motte) just completed his first year. We liked what we saw from him at Michigan, especially on that line with (Kyle) Connor. We feel that we got a good prospect and player that can add something to our depth chart.”

Kekalainen also went out of his way to bring up Oliver Bjorkstrand when talking about Motte. Bjorkstrand was expected to make the Blue Jackets in his second season but didn’t. He had to overcome injury in his first season. Then he played mostly in the AHL in his second season until he got the call late in the season. With Motte going into year two, he could take a similar path to the Blue Jackets as Bjorkstrand. The team is high on Motte. We’ll see if it translates for him.

The Blue Jackets had to give up something to make this trade happen. Saad was the piece. Although there was some inconsistent moments, Saad enjoyed the two best offensive seasons of his career in Columbus. Where the Blue Jackets will miss Saad is at even strength. He was a monster at 5-on-5. It’ll be interesting to see if the Blue Jackets can find ways to improve at 5-on-5 without him now, not to mention Hartnell and Karlsson departing as well. As for Anton Forsberg, with Korpisalo in the fold, he deserved a chance to prove himself on an NHL team. Forsberg will backup Corey Crawford in Chicago.

June 23: Blue Jackets Acquire Jordan Schroeder From Wild

In another draft day trade, the Blue Jackets acquired Jordan Schroeder from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for prospect Dante Salituro. Schroeder had 13 points in 37 games with the Wild. He’s in the conversation to start as a bottom-six center once the season starts.

Salituro was never really able to get it going in Cleveland. The team ultimately assigned him back to the OHL where his rights went to the London Knights. That didn’t work out so well either. The Erie Otters elimnated the Knights in the second round of the OHL playoffs. He has offensive upside. It just never materialized for the Blue Jackets.

Jordan Schroeder
Jordan Schroeder comes to the Blue Jackets likely filling a need on the bottom-six.
(Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

June 24: Blue Jackets Acquire 45th Pick in Exchange for Keegan Kolesar

Remember how the Blue Jackets started day two of the draft with no second rounders? The team wasted no time in acquiring the 45th pick from the Golden Knights in exchange for Kolesar, the WHL’s leading playoff scorer this past season. With the 45th pick, the Blue Jackets selected Alexandre Texier from France.

You have to give up something to get something. For the Blue Jackets, Texier ranked as a first rounder according to Kekalainen. He’s also a center. In their mind, they felt Texier would improve their club especially at that position.

In Kolesar, the Golden Knights get a power forward who can score and will protect his teammates. He will become an instant fan favorite assuming he makes the Golden Knights at some point. This trade will be interesting to follow to see who got the better of it.

June 24: Blue Jackets Welcome Six Prospects to Columbus

Besides Texier, the Blue Jackets welcomed five prospects into the fold. Here is a list of the newest prospects.

  • 86th pick: G Danill Tarasov. His father Vadim played in Russia and was idolized by current goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
  • 117th pick: F Emil Benstrom. Had 33 points in 28 games in the Swedish Junior League.
  • 148th pick: F Kale Howarth. Had 58 points in 51 games in the BCHL. He’s committed to UConn for the 2018-19 season.
  • 170th pick (acquired in Panarin trade): F Jonathan Davidsson. Had 12 points in 44 games in the SHL.
  • 179th pick: F Carson Meyer. Had 26 points in 32 games at Miami (OH).
  • 210th pick: D Robbie Stucker. Had 40 points in 25 games at St. Thomas Academy. He’s committed to Colorado College in 2018-19.

This is a decent haul for the Blue Jackets. Tarasov could end up as one of the steals of this draft. Before his brutal leg injury, he was one of the top goaltending prospects in the world. The others are all years away, but have some interesting tools that could develop over time.

Josh Anderson is still waiting on his new contract as of this writing. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

June 26: Blue Jackets Extend Qualifying Offers to Four Players

The Blue Jackets decided to extend qualifying offers to Wennberg, Anderson, Schroeder and Daniel Zaar, while not extending offers to Oleg Yevenko and Oscar Dansk.

Schroeder has since signed a two-year deal with the Blue Jackets. Zaar decided to play hockey next season in Sweden for the Malmö Redhawks. We still wait for Wennberg and Anderson to sign their new contracts.

I expected Wennberg’s contract would be tricky. Is it a bridge or long-term deal coming? I didn’t expect we’d still be waiting for Anderson to sign. That seems more cut and dry on the surface. Maybe the sides differ on money or term. They have the summer to figure it out and it will get done. But I do have a slight eyebrow raised on Anderson. I thought that one would be done by now. They wasted no time on Schroeder.

June 27: Blue Jackets Sign Schroeder to 2-Year Contract

Speaking of Schroeder, the Blue Jackets signed the center to a two-year deal one day after extending a qualifying offer. Schroeder’s deal is two-way this season and one-way next season. He’s in the conversation for a roster spot this fall at center. The team thinks enough of him to give him a one-way deal next season. He’ll be one to watch closely when training camp opens.

June 29: Blue Jackets Buy Out Scott Hartnell

I mean, this had to happen if no trade was there. It’s hard to pay a bottom-six guy over $4 million per season. Hartnell was still productive, but the Blue Jackets wanted to get younger while realizing cap savings this season and next. This could open the door for certain guys like Sonny Milano to make this roster. Issue is, will the replacement make up for what Hartnell brought? I’m not so sure about that yet. The bottom-six is an immediate storyline to open the season.

Scott Hartnell, Columbus Blue Jackets, NHL
The Blue Jackets bought out Scott Hartnell. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

July 2: Blue Jackets Sign Gaunce, Benoit to Two-Way Deals

You can never have enough depth. The Blue Jackets signed defensemen Cameron Gaunce and André Benoit to two-way contracts. Gaunce is for two years and Benoit is for one year. Expect to see each in Cleveland playing for the Monsters.

So has the team improved this offseason? In acquiring Panarin, they did see improvement, especially on the power play. But the team has taken a step back in who they’ve lost so far. There’s plenty of time left in the offseason, but the team has clear questions facing them come September. We’ll spend the summer trying to decipher what the Blue Jackets did and what could happen in 2017-18. Coming next week, can the Blue Jackets depend on Alexander Wennberg as their number-one center?