A lot went down at this year’s trade deadline, but nobody did more and made more of a splash than the Columbus Blue Jackets.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen roared in an era when most general managers take a more vigilant approach. He made moves, amplifying trades with the Ottawa Senators, keeping key players in the fold irrespective of risk and fleshing out the goaltending and defensive tables.
With the dust settled, it’s time to take a look at exactly what Kekalainen accomplished over the last few days.
The fun started Friday with the procurement of Matt Duchene.
The former Senator was snagged for prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, a first-round pick for the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, and a conditional first-rounder in 2020 if Duchene re-signs with the Jackets. And the trade was symptomatic of franchises trending in opposite directions, with the Senators coasting toward a discouraging fire sale and Columbus making moves toward giving a fanbase something to hope for.
Duchene was the first stake in the ground, a sign of the Blue Jackets’ interest in fortifying things down the middle. With the 28-year-old at the top of the depth chart, it didn’t take long to score his first goal with his new team and it sure didn’t take long for him to feel the energy in the locker room. And that’s the kind of thing that can happen when an ownership group and a front office shows actual faith in a hockey club.
Next came Dzingel, also from the Senators. He added more goal-scoring to the Blue Jackets, instantaneously, with 22 to his name this season. Add that to Duchene’s 27 and you’ve got tangible results. That’s an uptick in offence of 49 goals.
Kekalainen gave up two second-round draft picks and Anthony Duclair for Dzingel and a late Ottawa pick. Fine, no problem.
And you know who stayed in Columbus? Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, two players who want out of the equation but aren’t selling Ohio down the road just yet.
Could this all go belly up for Kekalainen? Of course.
He pawned an awful lot on acquiring four players and keeping two in the fold for the time being. Nothing’s essentially changed on the contract front for Panarin and Bobrovsky and their frustration is still an issue, but you can change the tone entirely by lifting that silver Cup.
Yes, Kekalainen has himself six unrestricted free agents on his roster. They can stroll away for nothing. They can leave Columbus with a disconcertingly low number of picks for the draft in Vancouver.
But, so what?
Right now, this is about the Blue Jackets showing how much they want to win. This is about showing a fanbase that has suffered for 20 long years that they can table something resembling a run at the Cup. And maybe this is even about showing the likes of Panarin and Bobrovsky what they’re missing when they walk out the door.
The Blue Jackets have prospects and a future pipeline that looks good, with Pierre-Luc Dubois, Seth Jones and Zachary Werenski fleshing out this potent roster.
Even if all six UFAs walk, the pain will only be brief. And, better still, Kekalainen’s daring moves could pay off with some much-desired playoff success and the generation of some intense energy at the Nationwide Arena.
(Photo credit: NHL)