(photo via bluejackets.nhl.com)
As another disappointing campaign in Ohio comes to an end, the Columbus Blue Jackets once again switch their focus to the offseason rather than the postseason.
Taking a look at their group of forwards, they don’t have too many holes. But the ones they do have are rather large ones. Injuries are a huge reason why this team has struggled to find consistent success the past few years. But for this team to really be a contender they’ll need to make a few moves this summer.
They have a really good looking group of forwards. With lots of youth and skill next year should only get better, but they need to add another top 6 center. It would be nice to see Jarmo Kekalainen do it without having to deal away Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson or Nick Foligno and I believe they have the assets to do that.
ADDING WITH NO SUBTRACTION
One option would be to go through free agency, but the market for a top 6 centerman is very thin. Steven Stamkos isn’t going anywhere near Columbus, although the argument can be made that it’s a really good fit.
David Backes is the other free agent option as it’s looking more and more like he will be leaving St. Louis. But there will be so many other teams going for him, and given his age, he may want to go to more of a contender.
So really the best way to go would be to make a trade. But the trade market for top 6 centermen, as you could have guessed, is incredibly thin.
But the Blue Jackets have some assets that could interest rebuilding teams. Kerby Rychel, their 2016 first and second round picks could all be of interest. Here are some teams that the Blue Jackets could be talking to:
SWING A DEAL
Toronto Maple Leafs
Two options on the Leafs in my opinion. The first is Nazem Kadri. The Leafs may be reluctant to trade him, but if Columbus throws an offer of 2016 first round pick, Kerby Rychel and another pick for Kadri and Pittsburgh’s first round pick, then you’d have to think that trading Kadri becomes a little more appealing to the Leafs management.
The Jackets would get a good, young top 6 center and could still use Pittsburgh’s selection to take a young defenceman. Toronto gets a younger forward to fit their core and a chance to move up in the draft. A win-win for each team.
But if Toronto is dead set on keeping Kadri, then maybe someone like Tyler Bozak could be appealing. Say the Blue Jackets second round selection straight up for Bozak? Although that might even be an overpayment.
Bozak wouldn’t be my first choice, by a long shot, but he wouldn’t be a terrible option to play behind Brandon Dubinsky.
Same situation as the Leafs here. The Jackets could try grab Tomas Plekanec who, although overpaid, would be a good veteran presence in the top 6. He might struggle to keep up at times but he would be relatively cheap in terms of assets needed to give up. A middle round pick and a prospect would be my guess, which would allow them to use Kerby Rychel in another deal.
Lars Eller is the player I’d be trying to get if I was the Jackets. The asking price should be fairly similar to Plekanec and Eller is younger and goes with the core better of the Jackets. He also has more experience on the wing if the team decides to run with Boone Jenner at center.
David Desharnais is another name being floated around, but I don’t like his game or his contract enough to pursue him.
This one may be a little more far fetched than the others, but if the Ducks find themselves in cap trouble, with Vatanen, Lindholm, Gibson and Rakell all needing new deals, maybe they consider dealing Ryan Kesler.
It’s not that the Ducks don’t like Kesler, but with the cap staying the same and some RFA’s needing deals, it may be necessary.
Rakell has been great this year and probably could handle the 2C duties full time next year. So if they want to free up the $5 million cap hit then dealing Kesler to Columbus may make sense.
The Jackets would deal away Rychel and a first round pick and in return would get a veteran top 6 center. The one piece they so desperately need.
THE THIRD OPTION
The final option for the Blue Jackets to solve their top 6 predicament would be for them to win a spot in the top 3 via the draft lottery and select one of Auston Matthews, Patrick Laine or Jesse Puljujarvi.
Getting one of the Finns would mean moving Jenner to center, while getting Matthews changes the dynamic of this entire franchise.