The Columbus Blue Jackets are not close to contending for a Stanley Cup.
Let’s just state the obvious and get it out of the way. We’re not winning the Stanley Cup anytime soon, unless some sort of miracle happens, Bob gives up one goal a game, and Brandon Saad scores 50 goals.
The Blue Jackets were dreadful for a number of reasons last year, but at the end of the day, they landed the third pick in the draft (a draft that has a total of three standout players).
So let’s discuss the two options that have presented themselves lately. Stay at #3 and pick whichever of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine, or Jesse Puljujarvi remains (likely Puljujarvi), or trade down.
Let’s discuss the latter option first. A trade down would make sense if Columbus had struggled simply due to injuries, if they had a solid team with maybe one hole, and could use that piece to immediately vault into conference title contenders.
Unless the Blue Jackets add Sidney Crosby in a trade, that’s not going to happen. Columbus has holes all over the roster- defense, questions in goal, a lack of a number one center, a need for another goal scoring or playmaking wing, the world’s most expensive and bad fourth line- the list goes on and on.
Trading the third overall pick for another asset (a draft pick later in the first round, a center prospect, as part of bait to get rid of one of the multitude of horrific contracts the club has on its books) makes sense if the Front Office believes they are only one piece, maybe two away from contending.
Look at that list of holes again. Columbus cannot be considered close to contending. For a spot playoffs, maybe. Sure, I’ll accept that. But honestly, when you really look at this team, as constructed- compared to the teams who made the playoffs this season, watching teams like the Penguins, Blues, Stars, and Sharks- we’re not on that level. Not even close. Those teams have players who can skate, create, play solid defense, and generally look like a fast, creative, well-oiled machine. The only well-oiled machines in Columbus are the hinges from fans streaming out of Nationwide Arena after another uncompetitive loss at home where the team was outshot by 15.
Columbus, short on talent and long on terrible contracts, is in dire need of some youthful goal scoring and defense to shore up the roster. With Oliver Bjorkstrand, Zach Werenski, and perhaps Josh Anderson on the way, they have a good start. They could, with the third pick in this draft, add a cornerstone player that is in Columbus for the next 15 years. Puljujarvi is projected by every scouting service to be a standout NHL player sooner rather than later. Why risk passing that up for someone with questions? And to what gain? To possibly dump Fedor Tyutin’s contract? It’s just not worth it in the long run. This team is not going to seriously contend for years, as those contracts are expiring. Columbus cannot afford to whiff on this pick and see the dreadful season that was 2015-16 go for naught.
With all of that said, there is another option to trading the pick: STAND. PAT. The Jackets may not have won Auston Matthews when the draft lottery results were announced, but they moved up into the top three picks and find themselves in prime position to add a playmaker who can contribute immediately. This isn’t rocket science: draft Puljujarvi, and call yourselves winners. You will be.
As an aside, Matthew Tkachuk should absolutely not be getting consideration here. His meteoric rise of late can be attributed to a hot streak in the playoffs and an apparent ability to interview well. Columbus doesn’t need that, they need a player who is a force at both ends of the ice and fits in well with the culture of the team and the city. That is not Tkachuk, that’s Puljujarvi.
My major concern is that Jarmo and John Davidson buy what they’re trying to sell to the fans- that the team is closer to contending than what last year says. Emphatically, every trend with this hockey team says the opposite. They’ve relied on hot streaks from Sergei Bobrovsky to be in playoff contention 2 of the last 4 years (the lockout season and 2 years ago), and Bobrovsky has 2 major criticisms right now: (1) he cannot stay healthy, and (2) his numbers across the board have slipped every single year since his Vezina season. The team is not close to a Cup, which is the ultimate goal.
Trading away a prospect that can be a cornerstone for the next 15 years would be a mistake, regardless of the return.
No contract is so bad (not even Clarkson’s) as to justify using the pick as a salary dump.
Picking Puljujarvi is the only course for the franchise going forward.