The Columbus Blue Jackets have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NHL this season. At the time of writing, they’re currently 31st in the league in goals against with only the Anaheim Ducks giving up more goals to date. It’s easy to blame this on the defensemen and goaltending, however, the forwards also need to be held accountable. Their job isn’t simply to put the puck in the back of the net. Forwards, specifically centers, also need to help keep the puck out of their own net which has been an issue for the team this season.
Selke Votes = Stanley Cups?
Of course, not every player who receives a vote for the Frank J. Selke Trophy, or wins it for that matter, is going to lead their team to the Stanley Cup. With that being said, if you look over the past decade and a half there is a correlation between the eventual winner of the Cup and having some votes for the Selke on the roster. The Colorado Avalanche had Nazem Kadri, Nathan MacKinnon, and Valeri Nichushkin who have all received Selke votes in their career. Kadri and Nichushkin actually both received votes as recently as last season. The Tampa Bay Lightning had Anthony Cirelli and Brayden Point. The Blues had Ryan O’Reilly, the Capitals had Nicklas Backstrom, and the trend continues down the line. Of course, those aren’t the only players who had votes for the Selke on each of their respective teams, however, it’s enough to notice a trend. Bottom line is, a team’s forward group can’t strictly rely on offensive talent to succeed.
The only forward on the Blue Jackets roster to receive a Selke vote in their career is offseason addition Johnny Gaudreau who got a single vote for the first time in his career last season. While players like Boone Jenner and Sean Kuraly are above-average defensive forwards, neither one is close to the caliber of play it takes to be in contention for the Selke. Even when the Blue Jackets were in their heyday so to say, they had Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno getting some notice in that regard.
Who Are the Blue Jackets’ Dream Options?
It goes without saying, the players at the top of the Selke race annually are basically off the board when it comes to realistic options for the Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, Patrice Bergeron isn’t going to be donning the union blue for the organization. Other players who would be great fits but are locked down to team-friendly contracts long-term like Joel Eriksson-Ek and Nick Paul are essentially off the board as well. Quick side note, Tampa Bay’s acquisition of Paul shows how valuable a high-end defensive forward can be even to a powerhouse team. Another player I’d be interested in as a potential fit would be San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture, however, he does have a very restrictive no-trade clause as well as a very large contract. It doesn’t seem impossible to convince San Jose to trade him, but it would be very difficult and very risky in the long run to do so.
There are quite a few players who are possible for the Blue Jackets to acquire, but it’s not very likely. In this category, you’ll see the pending free agents who fit the bill such as Jonathan Toews, Ryan O’Reilly, and lastly a player who has been tied to Columbus in recent weeks, Bo Horvat. He has been discussed as a potential trade option for the Blue Jackets, however, it’s almost guaranteed that one won’t happen without an extension. However, they could wait and attempt to sign the center in free agency which allows them to avoid giving up any assets.
Toews is a much more off-the-wall option, as I would genuinely be shocked to see him leave Chicago despite the trade rumors surrounding him. O’Reilly has been struggling this season, to say the least, and the St. Louis Blues are certainly suffering as a result. He’s taking the blame for the team’s difficulties, but he has become the face of St. Louis hockey over the last few years and it’s hard to see him leaving his current organization either. If either O’Reilly or Toews does hit the open market, however, it would make a lot of sense for the Blue Jackets to target one of them.
More Realistic Additions
Now that we’ve discussed players who seem to be somewhat long-shots to end up in Columbus, there are some realistic options out there as well. It’s worth noting though, these players aren’t all going to be household names but they’re players who bring a very impressive defensive side of the game with their skill set. The first two are players who have been tied to the Blue Jackets a number of times in recent memory. Marcus Foligno is a player who is in the Selke conversation regularly these days. His name was historically linked to Columbus when his brother, Nick Foligno, was the captain of the Blue Jackets; however, it never came to fruition. Marcus Foligno is currently in the second-to-last season of his contract and although it may take quite a bit of convincing I think the Minnesota Wild would be open to moving him for the right price at some point.
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The second player who had been linked to Columbus in the past is Edmonton Oilers winger Jesse Puljujarvi. It has been reported in the past that the Oilers had been looking to move the former fourth-overall pick but the winger does have some history of angering Blue Jackets fans. After Columbus passed on him with the third overall pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, he made some comments that seemed directed toward the city. Since then, he has shown glimpses of what he was expected to become, however, he’s mostly underperformed.
Looking at Puljujarvi as a winger who can have a defensive presence in the middle-six rather than expecting an offensive powerhouse gives him some value. He’s not going to put up crazy point totals or even contribute regularly offensively, for the most part, however, he does have a defensive edge to his game that he showed last season. If he can be acquired for a low cost and fans hedge their bets on what to expect, he could be a solid addition to the organization.
Lastly, the Blue Jackets should take a look at Connor Brown of the Washington Capitals. He’s on an expiring deal, and giving assets to a divisional rival would be a fairly bad idea if it’s not necessary, so he’d be another option to consider in free agency. The former Ottawa Senator and Toronto Maple Leaf has an offensive side to his game as well, which will generate quite a bit of attention when his contract expires. One concern that will put Blue Jackets fans on edge considering the team’s current health crisis is his current injury which has landed him on the long-term injured reserve.
Overall the Blue Jackets should look to add a forward who can help address the team’s defensive woes. It’s impossible to understate how important defensive play can be in the NHL and it shouldn’t be just expected from the defensemen. Whether it’s a dream player that Jarmo Kekalainen shocks the world with once again or a more under-the-radar addition; it’ll help the team drastically.
William Espy is a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus. He has been writing about hockey since 2016 on various platforms. He currently covers the Columbus Blue Jackets but had a previous stint covering the Calgary Flames.