The first big domino of this trade season fell Friday thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets. As a result, they’ve declared themselves all-in for this season’s playoffs.
The Blue Jackets acquired both Matt Duchene and Julius Bergman from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for prospects Vitali Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson and two conditional first-round picks. If Duchene re-signs in Columbus, the Senators get a second first rounder. If not, they get one first rounder depending on circumstances. The 2019 first rounder for Columbus is lottery protected, so the year of the pick could vary.
The Blue Jackets had been long after Duchene given the player and their need at center. He provides them with an offensive boost, a faceoff boost and helps balance the rest of the lineup. He fits like a glove. It’s a great pickup. It’s epic if he does sign long-term. At this time, the focus is the playoff chase.
For the Senators, they get two prospects that could make an impact. Abramov is the higher upside player thanks to his elite offense. He does need to get stronger and continue to round out his game in the AHL. He will help Belleville in their playoff push.
As for Davidsson, there was buzz around him as he had a shot of making the Blue Jackets this past season. He enjoyed a great year in Sweden last season. He’s taken a step back this season but could still eventually make an impact.
The key for the Senators was the first rounder. Because Colorado owns their first rounder, it was imperative they recouped it somehow. There was no way they would get a top-five pick back but at least this eases the pain some.
What are the grades? Columbus gets an A from me. They instantly improved their top-six while keeping their top prospects in tact. This becomes an A+ if they get Duchene to sign.
Ottawa gets a B+. They did what they could given the circumstances. I think they could have done better prospect wise but they could get up to two first rounders. I’m still a fan of Abramov but his success depends on his development in the next 2-3 seasons.
What’s Next for the Blue Jackets?
As good as this trade seems to be for the Blue Jackets, there are questions to answer both short and long-term. Let’s start with the obvious one leading up to the trade deadline.
Are the Blue Jackets done with trades?
If you’re all-in, you’re all-in. If they elect to keep Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin past the deadline, that is a clear indication they are going for it all. That tells me they’re not done.
What would they do in this case? If you saw the defensive pairs the Blue Jackets played in Ottawa Friday, you saw a third pairing of Scott Harrington and Dean Kukan. Although they played a good game, you need an upgrade here for the playoffs, especially with Ryan Murray out indefinitely.
So who’s out there? The list isn’t as glaring as it is at forward. Adam McQuaid? Michael Del Zotto? Patrik Nemeth? Roman Polak? They’re all UFA’s and could fit on the bottom pair to help solidify the defense. It wouldn’t cost much to acquire them either.
I just get the feeling the Blue Jackets aren’t done. Perhaps a contender makes an aggressive play for Panarin. Or perhaps the Blue Jackets make another major move. Both are realistic and something we must watch for leading to the deadline.
Could the Blue Jackets lose all three UFA’s?
GM Jarmo Kekalainen acknowledged that they understand the risk of having Duchene as a rental. This means they could lose Duchene, Bobrovsky and Panarin for nothing if they go for it all and all three walk. Add to that they might not have their 2019 first rounder or even their 2020 first rounder. Ouch!
If they lose both first rounders, that means Duchene is locked in long-term. That’s a win. Otherwise, it’s just one first rounder. If it’s 2019’s pick that’s gone, I’m ok with it. The early forecast of the 2019 draft is the talent drops off after around the 15th pick. If the Blue Jackets’ pick is after that, that’s not a tremendous loss. You want your first in 2020.
Although losing all three is less than ideal, a broader look indicates this is a risk worth taking. If there’s a franchise who needs playoff success and a jolt to the fan base, it’s the Blue Jackets. There’s a unique opportunity available and the Blue Jackets appear to be going for it. Good on them. You sometimes have to take risks to unlock massive rewards.
Are the Blue Jackets OK in a doomsday scenario?
The short answer to this is yes. Pierre-Luc Dubois is a star in the making. Cam Atkinson is locked into Columbus essentially for life. Josh Anderson is showing flashes of going to the next level. Seth Jones isn’t going anywhere. Zach Werenski is due a new deal after this season and seemingly isn’t going anywhere.
There’s still a core and a pool of interesting prospects for the Blue Jackets. If everyone walks, the team is still in good shape. That’s why taking this risk is worth it.
Here’s something else. Amongst those who know Columbus, the city and area get rave reviews. So when a free agent is deciding where to sign, Columbus is seen favorably. Look at the current and former players who make their home there. It’s wonderful for raising a family and there’s plenty to do. If someone wants a place to settle long-term, Columbus will meet those needs.
Why is this important? That’s because you need to be able to attract free agents when the opportunity presents itself. In a doomsday scenario, Columbus has its perks. That’s a huge benefit for the Blue Jackets. Coach John Tortorella is on record for how great Columbus is.
While this is risky, it’s absolutely the right move by the Blue Jackets. They must continue to show their desire to win and this trade proves that. They’re trying. Now it’s on the players here to make it happen.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.