clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Will the Jackets be buyers at the trade deadline?

Strange thought, I know.

Arizona Coyotes v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Is it too early to be talking about the trade deadline? Yeah, probably. The thing is though, fans of the CBJ aren’t used to the kind of success we’ve been seeing so far this season, and with the team currently sitting third in the Metro our minds can’t help but think of a return to the playoffs for just the third time in franchise history.

Right now the team does just fine in the scoring department, putting up 3.18 goals per game on average, second only to the Rangers. What wins in the playoffs outside of elite goaltending though, is depth. Attacking the opposition in waves.

The Jackets can roll four lines right now- four lines that can score, check, whatever is needed. Imagine then, adding one piece to put the team over the top. One forward, who can score, play on the powerplay and who’s contract annual average value (AAV) is relatively insignificant.

How about Radim Vrbata?

On paper this guy is the perfect rental. He’s on a one-year, $1.0 million contract with the last-place Coyotes, and prior to last night’s game his line was 7-9-16 in 22 games played. He’s a proven scorer and has had a few trips to the postseason. I reached out to Brendan Porter at Five for Howling and he agrees that Vrbata is a prime rental candidate:

In any usual case, Vrbata would be the quintessential rental. He is on a one-year, $1 million deal, is a winger on a team with a ton of young forwards waiting to step up, and of course, he has 16 points in 22 games on a team averaging 2.36 goals per game.

Look what his addition does to the lineup:

BEFORE

Saad - Wennberg - Foligno
Jenner - Dubinsky - Atkinson
Hartnell - Karlsson - Anderson
Calvert - Sedlak - Gagner
Hannikainen

AFTER

Saad - Wennberg - Foligno
Jenner - Dubinsky - Atkinson
Hartnell - Karlsson - Vrbata
Calvert - Gagner - Anderson
Sedlak

Actual potential lines aside, Vrbata’s addition would inject another scoring threat outside of the top two lines. The bottom six would then have tremendous balance: a rugged winger who can do damage near the crease on each line (Hartnell, Anderson), an energy player who forechecks well and is on the primary PK unit (Karlsson, Calvert) and pure offensive weapons to round out each line (Gagner, Vrbata). Like Karlsson and Calvert on the PK, Gagner and Vrbata can play additional minutes on the powerplay.

Brendan then makes a good point about Vrbata’s history:

But Vrbata is not exactly a "usual" case. This is his third go-around in Arizona, and with the exception of the year he played with the Sedin twins in Vancouver his time with other NHL teams has not been that productive. If Columbus is going to acquire him, they need to put him with talented linemates to maximize his value.

Right. Vrbata is definitely one of those guys who does better when he’s with skilled linemates. Would playing with Hartnell and Karlsson on a line be the best situation then? Playing with Gagner and Calvert makes sense. Gagner has put up very good numbers this season, while playing with linemates who are less talented offensively. I counter that pairing Vrbata with Gagner could be terrific for both players, and it would create a matchup nightmare for the opposing coaches, who would already have their hands full with the Wennberg and Dubinsky lines.

So far, so good, right? Cheap, experienced sniper on an expiring contract, the ideal rental! OK, so what’s it going to cost, Brendan?

The last two forwards Arizona traded were Mikkel Boedker in 2016 and Antoine Vermette in 2015. They got a roster player and two prospects (one of whom eventually became Jakob Chychrun) for Boedker and a first rounder and a prospect for Antoine Vermette. Vrbata is on pace to have more points at the deadline than either Boedker or Vermette did.

If I'm John Chayka, I think my opening ask is a first and a prospect like Oliver Bjorkstrand. Chayka should have a significant amount of leverage given Vrbata's extremely low cap hit and strong production so far this season and Vrbata's consistent willingness to come back to Arizona. He should ask for a lot, because in all likelihood someone is going to be willing to pay for it.

Yikes.

I can’t argue with history in this case, as Arizona received huge returns for Boedker and Vermette. At the time of his (late) signing, it seemed like Chayka paid a million bucks for five months of Vrbata and whatever draft choices or prospects he could be traded for.

You know there’s a GM out there who’d give up a first for Vrbata at the deadline. If that’s what it’s going to cost the Jackets, it may be best to stay the course and see what this team can do as currently constructed. Adding Oliver Bjorkstrand to the offer for a rental just makes the whole thing sound silly.

In a perfect world (ie. not an expansion year) the Jackets could dangle one of their top goaltending prospects in Anton Forsberg or Joonas Korpisalo in a potential Vrbata deal. However, the very real threat of the Jackets losing one of these goalies to Vegas makes it impossible to trade one at the deadline.

While the idea is sound, the price may not be. Vrbata is almost certainly going to be dealt at the deadline, but if the price is Bjorkstrand and a first rounder, I’d hope the Jackets stand pat.

Let us know, should the Jackets be buyers at the deadline if they continue their current pace?