It really didn’t matter what the Blue Jackets got in return, there was no way that they were going to win a trade involving Ryan Johansen.
The top-line center.
The face of the franchise.
The beloved “Joey”.
The newest Nashville Predator.
The same fan base that said goodbye to Rick Nash all too recently, now has to emotionally separate themselves from Johansen.
— Ryan Johansen (@RyanJohansen19) August 3, 2015
Please do not assume since I described this as a “bad trade” that I blame General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. He did what he could considering the circumstances. Johansen lowered his value with his lackluster play, and poor performance. Coach John Tortorella possibly was Kekalainen’s worst enemy in this situation. The benchings, public criticism, and “leaked” conversations about conditioning made Johansen’s stock plummet. Combined with the team’s terrible start to the season, Columbus never operated from a position of strength. Kekalainen peers certainly did what they could to take advantage of this.
Seth Jones is Going to be a Star
There are reasons to be optimistic about this deal if you are a Blue Jackets fan. Seth Jones is going to be a star in the NHL, and will go a long way towards fixing the obvious weakness on the Columbus roster. First there is a bit of short-term salary cap relief. Per Cap Friendly, Jones is making $925k versus the $4 million that Johansen is making. I did say short-term, because Jones will be a restricted free agent after this season, where Johansen will have another season before reaching RFA status. Still, the short-term flexibility will be nice, in addition to the fact that Johansen will likely be the more costly player in the long-term.
Jones also has the superior possession numbers when you compare them to the Blue Jackets defenders in David Savard and Jack Johnson. Jones 5-on-5 relative Corsi was a 5.36, with Savard at -3.34, and Johnson at -0.21. I will concede that Savard and Johnson had greater responsibilities than Jones, and therefore faced the other teams top forwards, so the competition factor skews the numbers a bit, but you get the idea.
Seth Jones will be competing with Ryan Murray for number one defender status for years, and may end up being considered to be the better player. Fear not Blue Jackets fans, you are getting an exciting, talented young player.
What Could Have Been
As I Tweeted shortly after the trade news broke, it doesn’t matter if the Blue Jackets traded for Raymond Bourque in his prime. To have the Ryan Johansen project in Columbus end so badly is simply a public relations disaster. To a degree I would compare this situation to a young Alexei Kovalev not panning out in New York, but thriving in a new uniform, as Johansen is likely to do. Both being enigmatic, franchise talents that needed a change of scenery to motivate them. The difference being that the Rangers did not depend on Kovalev even a fraction as much Columbus did Johansen. The Blue Jackets desperately needed him to be the man. Maybe it was the pressure of this, or unrealistic expectations that brought us to this point, but regardless of the return, the departure of the now former franchise player is an unmitigated disaster.
What’s done is done, and Columbus now has addressed one of its biggest needs with a new, stud defender. They have much-needed cap space, and have gotten rid of a situation that had become a distraction. Kekalainen deserves points for this, but the true test is what he will do going forward.
More defensive and forward depth, along with bringing along some of the young forwards sooner than later is still needed. A defense that includes Jones, Ryan Murray, and Zach Werenski is fun to think about, but Blue Jackets fans deserve success now.
The acquisition of Brandon Saad just went from an unnecessary luxury, as I recently wrote, to an absolute necessity. Columbus will need him to step up and show what he learned while playing with Jonathan Toews. The Blue Jackets will need to find a new center, but under the best circumstances that will not be easy. They wouldn’t dare part with their first-round pick this year with the potential of getting Auston Matthews looming out there.
Do not despair Blue Jackets fans, when you take everything into consideration, your team is in a better place today than it was yesterday. Columbus has a bright future. A future that will be here sooner than you think.
Until next time.