The NHL All-Star Break is over. With that, it’s time to get down to business.
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We begin our look at the Columbus Blue Jackets and the 2022 Trade Deadline. In this series that will run now through the Mar 21 deadline, we will look at different teams the Blue Jackets could strike a deal with and do a deeper dive into the individual situations to see if there’s a potential match.
Today, we begin with the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers and Blue Jackets have been linked to each other for some time thanks in large part to all of the goaltending talk surrounding Joonas Korpisalo. Before we dive into that and other potential fits, we have to understand where each team is at and what kinds of things they’re looking for.
Setting the Oilers’ Scene
For the Oilers, it’s simple. Their goal is to win the Stanley Cup. With two all-world players on their roster in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it makes perfect sense for them to think big. That seems like an easy decision. But recently, GM Ken Holland said that’s he’s not interested in a rental if it means giving up a premium asset.
Here’s what Holland said. “But if the question is to just trade some Grade-A-prospect to give a little boost or a little bump, and that guy goes on and flourishes somewhere else for five or six years, and we’re back at the market next year because the person we got leaves, I’m not doing that.”
Earlier in that conversation, Holland said it’s a different story if a player comes in and stays beyond this season. If a hockey trade comes about, perhaps their first rounder or a top prospect could become available.
It’s clear the Oilers have holes. But they won’t be willing to use a premium asset for a rental. They’ll still explore rentals, but at a lower cost.
In the end, the Oilers have to do something to maximize their chances of playoff success. Another playoff failure will only bring more questions to the team.
Setting the Blue Jackets’ Scene
The Blue Jackets are in the Eastern Conference. Because of that, they find themselves in a precarious spot in the playoff race. They are 18 points back of the fourth place Washington Capitals in the Metropolitan Division and 14 points back of the Boston Bruins for the last wildcard spot.
While we still have half the season to play out, this race is more or less over.
With that, it’s reasonable to believe the Blue Jackets will look to sell at the deadline. That was the expectation coming into the season. While the season has been entertaining for them and the future is bright, this season has been frustrating. They now face some important decisions.
Blue Jackets Have Assets Oilers Need
We have a clear case of one team looking to buy and the other looking to sell. The question is does the seller have things the buyer needs? The answer is yes, but maybe not in the way you originally thought.
Let’s revisit the Korpisalo talk. The Oilers reportedly have explored every possible goaltending option and didn’t act on it at least for now. That seems to indicate the prices are high on the market.
Korpisalo is a pending UFA who has a cap hit of $2.8 million. Although his season hasn’t gone as hoped, the Blue Jackets still see him as a potential starter in the league who has made an All-Star Game. When he had a good defense in front of him, he was outstanding. Remember he shut the Toronto Maple Leafs out in an elimination game on the Leafs’ home ice.
Therefore the Blue Jackets have set the price higher than what many think Korpisalo is worth now. This could go down to the deadline before a decision is made. But don’t expect the Oilers in this conversation if the price is a first rounder. If the Blue Jackets do come down on the price, then perhaps the teams revisit.
The Oilers do have to decide about their goaltending future soon as our Jim Parsons recently wrote. Do they stick with their current situation involving Mike Smith, Mikko Koskinen and Stuart Skinner? Or do they go out and get an upgrade?
Related: Oilers Big Goaltending Decision Should Come in Next Two Weeks
My take: I do not see a match here despite the earlier chatter. I think teams are concerned about Korpisalo enough to meet the perceived asking price.
3 Viable Options
Although Korpisalo doesn’t seem to make sense, the Blue Jackets are primed to help meet the Oilers needs in other ways. In particular, there are three things that could work out for both sides.
The first option is Kevin Stenlund. This was first mentioned as a possibility by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. It makes sense from both perspectives.
Stenlund is currently with AHL Cleveland but has fallen down the Blue Jackets’ depth chart to the point where even despite recent injuries, he hasn’t gotten back yet. With Alex Texier and Eric Robinson’s injuries though, Stenlund could be next up in the coming days. But it hasn’t worked out as the sides have hoped.
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Stenlund is 6-foot-4, can play center and has some creativity with his offense. The issue for him has been consistency. When given the chance to play, he hasn’t done enough to earn a more permanent role. It’s the classic case of a player who could benefit from a change of scenery.
Stenlund can play in the bottom-six and can also chip in on both the power play and penalty kill. His size has always made him intriguing. It would be a minimal cost to acquire him from the Blue Jackets. This wouldn’t be seen as a major move but it would improve them given what he brings. This could be accomplished for a mid-late round pick or with the swap of a mid-range prospect.
The next option is defenseman Dean Kukan. Most Oilers fans haven’t likely not heard of him. But he fits the profile of a depth add at a cheap cost.
Kukan has appeared in 112 games and an additional 19 playoff games for the Blue Jackets. At different points in time, he has played on every defensive pair. He’d play higher in the lineup when there was an injury. But he mostly plays in the 5-6 role with an occasional appearance in the 3-4 role.
Kukan is a pending UFA who has a cap hit of $1.65 million. Given the state of the blue line in Columbus and the emergence of Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist and Andrew Peeke, Kukan would be a fill-in player. With Jake Christiansen, Gavin Bayreuther and Gabriel Carlsson pushing for playing time, I do not see a scenario where the Blue Jackets re-sign Kukan especially if he gets a raise.
The Oilers should pounce on this. If there’s one thing you can never have enough of, it’s defensive depth. Kukan can move the puck. He can chip in some offense when asked to. Overall, he’s a steady defender. He just hasn’t found consistency to stay in the Blue Jackets’ lineup. He and Carlsson have split playing time of late.
This deal could be accomplished for a late-round pick and would give the Oilers another option especially in case of injury.
The Blue Jackets will be a popular team at the deadline for one big reason. They are among the leaders in the NHL in most available cap space. In fact, only the Buffalo Sabres and Anaheim Ducks have more available space than the $11.296 million the Blue Jackets have.
Cap-strapped teams and teams utilizing LTIR will call teams with space to see if they’d be willing to take on a bad contract or to help facilitate a trade. The Oilers find themselves currently utilizing LTIR. If not the Blue Jackets, the Oilers have other options available if they need cap relief.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen appeared on our podcast Union Junction this past week. He openly admitted that his team is willing to take on cap space if the right deal presents itself.
An example of a potential deal from an Oiler’s perspective is Tyson Barrie. He has two more seasons after this one at $4.5 million. Moving him could bring a nice return as teams would covet a right-shot defenseman. But this move would also open up other options due to the money coming off the books.
All of the talk surrounding the Oilers and Blue Jackets has been around Korpisalo. Although that seems all but over, it’s clear that other, more viable options are available for them. For the Oilers, they could acquire cheaper depth or cap space. For the Blue Jackets, they could get something for pending UFAs or for their abundance in cap space.
Both teams would benefit from trading with each other. That’s all teams would ask for in these kind of situations.