Who are the “untouchable” players and prospects – those who should not be traded by a franchise to protect their future? The true answer is “nobody.” Any player on any team can be had for the right package by a general manager so determined. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, however, we can name at least one player who is functionally untouchable because the return in a trade would be so incredibly high. We’ll call him “Jones, Seth Jones” (even if he doesn’t wear sweater number 007).
Keep in mind that while an offer for Jones would be outrageously massive, it could hit the table. He’s a young, reasonable-priced (for now), potential winner of the James Norris Trophy (best defenseman). There are not a lot of players like him in the NHL. I can’t think of a team that wouldn’t improve by adding him to their roster. But at what price?
No Player is Truly “Untouchable”
One of the truisms in professional hockey goes something like this: “If Wayne Gretzky can be traded, anyone can be traded.” I don’t know who said it first, but it was probably shortly after the greatest scoring machine in the history of the NHL when the Edmonton Oilers traded him to the Los Angeles Kings in August 1988.
The day after the deal, in a letter to the editor of The Hockey News, I expressed my opinion that Gretzky wasn’t so much “traded” as “sold.” (I don’t recall whether or not the letter appeared in print, but that was my position then and remains so today.) Rumors at the time said that the original deal was Gretzky to the Kings for $15 million to bail out Oilers’ owner Peter Pocklington, but the Kings added other players to the deal to make it appear to be a “trade.” (One of the players sent to the Oilers was Jimmy Carson, then considered a future superstar.)
The First Blue Jackets “Untouchable”
On paper, former Columbus captain Rick Nash looked like an untouchable player at the time the Blue Jackets traded him to the New York Rangers. However, off-ice issues often play a part in the trade of a major player. Some say Nash had requested a trade. By other accounts, he approached team management and said that if it would help with the team’s rebuild, he would waive his no-trade clause.
Nash was the team captain, its leading scorer, and still holds several team records. His 547 points were 230 higher than the former record holder at the time (David Vyborny, 317). His 289 career goals far outpaced Vyborny’s 113. Prior to his trade, Nash had played 674 games for Columbus, also still a team record.
The “Untouchable” Who Wasn’t
In May 2015, former THW writer Andrew Bensch listed the “most untouchable player for each team.” For Columbus, he named Ryan Johansen. Here’s what he had to say at the time:
“While a contract dispute last offseason made many wonder about Johansen’s future, the Jackets would be crazy to trade their best player. Johansen is one of the brightest young stars in the game today. He can score goals all on his own from incredibly tough angles. He is a super duper star in the making. On a bad Columbus team this year Johansen finished with 71 points.”Andrew Bensch, “Most Untouchable Player for Each NHL Team,” May 22, 2015
Eight months later, in the middle of the 2015-16 season, Johansen was a former Blue Jacket. The team sent him to the Nashville Predators for Jones in a one-for-one trade. At the time of the deal, Johansen was, indeed, the Blue Jackets’ top center, with no obvious replacement in the system.
Columbus drafted Johansen in 2010 with the fourth overall pick; Jones was selected with the fourth overall pick three years later by Nashville. Each team traded the two #4 picks for each other with no other players, picks, or considerations – a true “hockey trade.” And in one of those strange coincidences that life throws at people now and then, they crossed paths at the Columbus airport as they made their ways to their new teams.
At the time of the trade, it was generally considered a success for both teams. Writing for THW shortly after the announcement, Dan Mount said that the deal ”just works” for both teams. Former THW Managing Editor Michael Straw saw benefits for both teams.
Hindsight, however, shows a split opinion on the Johansen-for-Jones trade. THW’s Koby Mitchell, a columnist covering the Predators, wrote this past July that it’s still a “win-win trade.” On the other side of the coin, six weeks later, our colleague Justin Haddad panned the trade, calling it one of the worst in Nashville’s history. He wrote that it’s “clear that the Blue Jackets have won this trade.”
Seth Jones: The Current Consensus “Most Untouchable”
First, let’s keep in mind that the Blue Jackets’ general manager, Jarmo Kekäläinen, isn’t shy about making big deals and surprising the hockey world. The Johansen-for-Jones deal was his doing. And don’t forget the seemingly-out-of-nowhere 1st-round pick in the 2020 Entry Draft. Selecting 21st overall, the Blue Jackets chose Russian forward Yegor Chinakhov, who went undrafted the previous year.
Mark Scheig is our senior Blue Jackets columnist, contributing to The Hockey Writers for over six years with more than 800 columns. (And don’t miss the podcast “Hockey Writers Live!” which he hosts every Wednesday.) Mark noted that “While Jones is the most untouchable, I believe no one is truly untouchable – especially with Jones’ contract up soon.”
Brian Ginise is a relative newcomer to The Hockey Writers. He’s fluent in the language of hockey analytics and advanced statistics. He agreed with Mark’s comments.
Recently Aaron Portzline of The Athletic hosted a Blue Jackets Q-&-A. I posted this question: Is there anyone on the roster who is “untouchable,” no matter how good the return?
Seth Jones. But if Edmonton calls and wants to talk about #97 [Connor McDavid], I mean …From “Blue Jackets reporter Aaron Portzline talked NHL free agency and 2021,” The Athletic, Dec. 4, 2020
McDavid, of course, is considered by many to be the best player in the NHL right now. NHL.com has named him the Top Center (with the Top Player announcement scheduled for Jan.1, 2021). “The Hockey News” annual yearbook, available here, has McDavid tops in the NHL.
Would Edmonton offer McDavid heads-up for Jones? Very unlikely. Would Edmonton offer McDavid for a package of players that included Jones? Probably not without sparking outrage among their fanbase.
Tradeable Players, and Either/Or, But Not Both
And that brings me to my final thoughts on the subject of untouchable Blue Jackets (at least for now).
- There is no player on the roster or in the system who the team would not trade under any circumstance.
- Some players would have to bring in a huge haul of players and picks before the club would consider a trade.
- Leading that list is Jones, but it might also include defensive partner Zach Werenski and goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins.
- While Columbus might trade Jones or Werenski, they would almost certainly not trade both. And while Korpisalo and Merzlikins might be available, the club would not trade both.
- A number of young players and prospects would also demand a high return. Among them, I include forwards Alexandre Texier, Oliver Bjorkstand, Emil Bemstrom, and Liam Foudy.
- I might also go out on a limb and include goalie prospect Matiss Kivlenieks, simply because of next year’s expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken. (But that’s a story for another time.)
The bottom line is this: A player isn’t off the table for the proper king’s ransom. But among the Blue Jackets’ current players and prospects, defensive star Jones is likely to be the closest to “untouchable.”