Summertime at The Hockey Writers means that we get the chance to have some fun that we might not be able to during the season. We get to look into some hypotheticals, some things that we all dream about in sports.
Most of those revolve around the star-crossed players, who may not have worked out because of timing or other factors, who could have been traded where, or some sort of intergenerational crossovers – ie. Gretzky vs. Howe. The “What ifs…” that we’ll never get any answers to because they could never happen.
In this article, we’re going to dive into one such scenario and take a look at what players from the Columbus Blue Jackets’ past that they could use on their roster heading into 2021-22.
A Few Ground Rules
While it would be great to pick Artemi Panarin to see him feeding rubber to Patrik Laine on a nightly basis, he’s still wreaking havoc on the league, which makes him more of a ghost of Columbus present. So to head more into the past, rule number one is we’ll be looking at players who have been out of the league for at least five seasons or are retired from NHL action.
Rule number two is pretty simple. The player that we’ll be adding is the player that they were in their tenure in Columbus. So if we added Marian Gaborik, you wouldn’t be getting the dominant offensive force he was with the Wild or the Rangers. You’d be getting the Gaborik who put up nine goals and 22 points in his 34 games in Ohio.
Finally, we’re going to count Rick Nash out of this one. He’s the obvious pick. He would be outstanding on the roster, but let’s dig a little deeper on this one.
That’s enough rules. Let’s get down to business.
Now, we can’t assume what type of style Brad Larsen will be coaching. But based on a number of factors — bringing in Adam Boqvist and Jake Bean, bringing Jakub Voracek back, Patrik Laine sticking around after comments of being stifled offensively, among others — you could reasonably believe that Columbus will allow a little more offensive flair this year. (from Blue Jackets’ star Patrik Laine criticizes John Tortorella’s coaching style,’ Columbus Dispatch, 07/14/2021)
Enter Nikolai Zherdev.
Zherdev is a curious case that has a lot of hockey historians baffled. He fits in the same category as Nikita Filatov, for Blue Jackets draft picks that had an abundance of talent but couldn’t stick long-term in the world’s premier league for one reason or another.
While Filatov flamed out before finding any real success, Zherdev found a footing in Columbus, with a few strong seasons in Ohio before being traded and subsequently falling out of the league after gaining a reputation for a lack of engagement. He was an Alexei Kovalev-lite. Uber-talented, but a little lackadaisical at times.
One could, and I would argue, that Zherdev was just a few years ahead of his time. Had he brought his offensive prowess to the offensive game we know today, he could be a real star. Put Zherdev with the likes of Laine, Voracek, and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and it could wake him up enough to make for one of the most offensively gifted top-six winger combos the franchise has ever seen.
Federov spent three seasons in The Buckeye State at the tail end of a long and successful Hall of Fame career. In his aged 36 through 38 seasons, he was a decent pickup for a team that still hasn’t had a franchise number one centreman. In his time with the Jackets, he played an average of 19:39 minutes per night and topped 40 points twice.
The Blue Jackets are in need of centre depth, especially one who could bring the experience that comes with being a multiple Stanley Cup winner and having had multiple 100-point seasons. Fedorov could slot in on the top-line with Laine and Voracek, a la Steve Rucchin with Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, letting the two younger, faster players be a little more creative while he wins faceoffs and chips in offensively where he can.
Ideally, this Blue Jackets squad is looking for a short-term player who can play a top-six centre role as a stopgap while Alexandre Texier, Kent Johnson and Cole Sillinger continue their development. Fedorov fits that bill.
The player the Blue Jackets traded Zherdev for would be a nice fit on today’s blue line. Tyutin was a mainstay on the Blue Jackets’ point for the better part of a decade. He was a rock defensively and wasn’t a slouch offensively; he’s third all-time in Jackets defender scoring.
Looking to today, Tyutin would bring some experience and stability to a defense corps looking for a new identity. He would slot in well on the second pair as a reliable glue guy — as he did throughout his tenure in blue. He could play a mentorship role, helping cover some defensive lapses and help develop the more offensive-minded and younger defensemen on the roster like Bean and Boqvist. He could also slot in well to create a strong shutdown pairing with fellow comrade Vladislav Gavrikov.
He makes the mentions because he recently retired at age 31. An excellent bottom-six piece, strong on the penalty kill, and a fan favourite.
He finished second and first in team scoring in his age 36 and 37 seasons, an exquisite offensive producer, who was a playmaking specialist and would bring leadership similar to Fedorov.
He was a very good defenseman in his day, Foote would bring some heavy-hitting to a blueline in desperate need of some physicality.
In the End
This was a fun exercise in futility, as we will never see any of these oldtimers join this year’s squad. However, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Blue Jackets add players to fill similar roles to that which these players would bring to the table in the coming months leading up to the season.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.