The offseason shuffle begins with the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ first offseason acquisition. One target for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen heading into this offseason was decreasing his team’s goals against.
It was laid out as a top priority, as the team had set a franchise-worst mark for that metric this year with 297 goals against. That works out to 3.62 goals against per game, which for context is over a goal more per game than the league-best Carolina Hurricanes, and a half a goal per game worse than the median number of 3.04.
One of the thoughts towards getting that number down was an upgrade in goal. The Jackets’ re-signing of backups Joonas Korpisalo and Daniil Tarasov has dispelled any chance of bringing in another roster goalie, so that option is out.
The next thought is making the forward and defense corps bigger and harder to play against. While no movement has happened to further that idea on the backend, Thursday saw the addition of a piece to the Blue Jackets front end that will add some grit to their forward corps. Mathieu Olivier was brought in for a 4th round pick from the Nashville Predators.
Who is Mathieu Olivier?
So before we get into what this trade means for the Blue Jackets, let’s have a look at who it is that they acquired from Nashville in this deal, and what it is to be expected.
Fun fact about Olivier, he’s the first player in NHL history to have been born in the state of Mississippi. He left home as a kid going to play in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, where he shuffled between three teams. After junior, he signed on with the Milwaukee Admirals, the Predators’ AHL affiliate, and then earned himself an NHL deal after that first pro season in 2018-19. He has one-year remaining on his contract at a league minimum $750,000 cap hit.
Let’s be clear, Olivier is not going to come in and lead the team in scoring this year. The guy is a physical presence. His hits per 60 minutes of play would rank second on the team, only second to Carson Meyer. His 2.94 blocked shots per 60 minutes would rank first among Blue Jackets forwards who played more than 5 games. You’ll see in this video that he is a body that is not easy to move around.
Olivier goes up against bigger players, and finds a way to win board battles and scrums in front of the net. He will not be easy to push around, which is exactly what the Blue Jackets are looking for. He is of the enforcer mold, having put up 88 penalty minutes through 48 career games – which projects to 150 over a full season.
Also clear in the video is that he’s got some personality and sense of humour, which is big. It helps to have those glue guys who are lower in the lineup that add something to the locker room even when they’re not dressing every single night. Management thinks Olivier fills a hole in their lineup.
“If you look at the probabilities of getting an NHL player in the fourth round, it’s real high and [Olivier’s] already played in the NHL and has some experience under his belt. So, we had two fourth-round picks, ours and Toronto’s, and we figured that was the price of doing business. It was a need for us, so that’s what we spent.”Jarmo Kekalainen on the Olivier trade (from ‘Blue Jackets add gritty forward Mathieu Olivier in trade with Nashville Predators,’ Columbus Dispatch, June 30, 2022)
The Jackets wanted to get harder to play against, they clearly believe that acquiring Olivier takes a step in that direction.
Deja Vu for the Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets have done this before. By this I mean brought in an enforcer to this roster with the hopes that they will keep opponents looking over their shoulder throughout the course of a game.
Just last season — something you may have forgotten — Kekalainen and Co. brought in longtime enforcer Zac Rinaldo to the organization in hopes he would fill a similar role. However, Rinaldo’s decision not to be vaccinated violated the team’s policy which cast him out into the void of being under contract, but not playing for a team. So Olivier is ‘take two’ in an attempt to add some heft to the bottom half of their lineup.
The acquisition of Olivier is an interesting one and does open the door for some questions around the return of Meyer to the Blue Jackets in a long-term capacity next season. At this point in his career, Meyer would be best suited for a fourth line role. One of the main factors that kept Meyer in the NHL for his 13 game stint was that he brought a level of physicality that no one else did. Olivier now looks to be that fourth line physical presence.
It could create some competition or make Meyer a redundant piece. Watching to see if Meyer is re-signed or tendered a qualifying offer in the next few days will be key to an insight of how the Jackets view their bottom-line forwards moving on. Of the two, I would bet on the Jackets leaning more towards an opportunity for Olivier, since they did give up a fourth round pick to acquire him.
The Blue Jackets are also getting a little heavier by re-signing their center prospect Josh Dunne, who is a big, heavy, center at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. Dunne certainly would have seen some action with the Blue Jackets late this year had he not been sidelined with an injury that limited him to only 29 games with the Cleveland Monsters this year.
Blue Jackets Not Afraid to Make Moves
At the end of the day, the OIivier trade at the very least adds some sandpaper to a Blue Jackets’ forward corps that was a little too easy to push around. The trade shows that Kekalainen is not afraid to make some moves in response to the needs of his roster. Kekalainen jumping the gun and solidifying some contract moves, and addressing some needs in early-July bodes well for a busy offseason and more moves in the lead up to the NHL Entry Draft on July 7-8 and the opening of free agency on July 13.
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.