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Blue Jackets’ Inconsistencies Prelude Big Decisions

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The Blue Jackets, barely a fringe playoff team, could make trades for the likes of Derick Brassard — under contract through next season. But the current, murky state of the club could also impact future, franchise-defining decisions, for guys like Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.

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Columbus Blue Jackets v Anaheim Ducks Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

We've talked about it at The Cannon. The plight of the Columbus Blue Jackets can be summed up in one succinct word: Inconsistent. Consistently inconsistent is even better.

This is barely a fringe playoff team that, as of today, has a 30.9% chance of making the playoffs according to HockeyReference.com. But after Jarmo Kekäläinen gave Cam Atkinson a seven-year, $41.125 million contract in November, I don't see the full-blown firesale that some may be hoping for.

As mentioned in a previous piece last week, I'm all for trading any and all expiring contracts now. Get draft picks. Get a player that you foresee being an impact the rest of the way, but more so with next season in mind.

The possibility of Derick Brassard and Artem Anisimov, both former Blue Jackets, has been floated out there.

The Jackets have essentially one shot at this potential trade-deadline buyers thing, before the ultra-mega decisions of what to do with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Zach Werenski loom.

You can make the case for the roster being built around all three.

Sergei Bobrovsky

Columbus Blue Jackets v Washington Capitals Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Bobrovsky is the reason Columbus sniffs the playoffs, and the two-time Vezina winner is going to command a hefty raise.

Depending on where the team finds itself at around this time next year, how deep is the commitment? Especially if Columbus, again, is a fringe playoff team or worse. What if Bobrovsky decides he wants to test the market and try to win elsewhere? He's earned the right.

Sergei Bobrovsky’s Career Postseason Statistics
NHL.com

Artemi Panarin

Minnesota Wild v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Panarin is a game breaker. The decision to acquire him is easily among Kekäläinen’s best moves. They caught the Chicago Blackhawks in an all-out-attempt at trying to recreate their winning ways, while simultaneously attempting to reboot Jonathan Toews by reuniting him with his former partner. But also, Saad is under contract through the 2020-21 season, and still just 25-years-old.

It may not seem like it but Panarin is among the teams' veterans. He's only 26-years-old but again, what's the commitment-price going to look like?

When Panarin was acquired by Columbus, it spoke to the prospect that they considered this as a window and opportunity to win now. With the contract decisions looming for key figures, but also, especially coming off last season. Panarin is viewed as an offensive, and game-changing piece, that Columbus lacked against the Pittsburgh Penguins last April.

And I considered, based on the teams’ play those two seasons following the trade, if things don’t work out right now, or the team does not show an area of advancement, like advancing past the first round of the playoffs, his time in Columbus could be over sooner than later. In the event, the club decides to sell or reboot themselves. Or if they miss the playoffs altogether.

By ridding themselves of Saad’s contract, they weren’t locked in.

Zach Werenski

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Werenski is a cornerstone defenseman. There is no way the Jackets can let him get away, and at only 20-years-old, has a whole career ahead of him. But he is sure to require a nice raise (currently $2.75 million) and that might affect the allocation of money for other resources.

I'm not saying to get rid of either one of these players, but I'm also wondering how things could pan out by next season’s NHL trade deadline day. Bobrovsky’s postseason numbers are not great, but he’s never had historically great playoff rosters to contend with.

Joonas Korpisalo

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Recently, I said Joonas Korpisalo was the future for Columbus in net. But that could be down the road all the same.

For one thing, he needs to get more starts in goal, especially if Bobrovsky wasn't extended going forward. But despite the few good starts he has had in his limited opportunities so far this season, Tortorella was blunt and to the point about Korpisalo’s latest performance versus the Toronto Maple Leafs when he appeared on Carpenter and Rothman’s Hockey & Hounds.

"I don't think Korpi's that good on the first two goals.”

"Korpi's gonna have to play some here. If we don't get on a run, I may have to make adjustments as far as how much Bob plays.”

"He's gotta be ready. He's not ready. You need to be square on your post. If you don’t see the puck, that cannot go in on short side. Korpi’s good at that. I’m not upset with him. He’s played really good hockey for us.”

“He made some really good saves in the third period. Korpi’s a good goalie. He has such a bright future. But we can not be down 2-0 in the flow of that game. You get judged by the saves you don’t make. He has a track record of when he has an off night, he comes back and he plays really well.”

The thing is, it was his first NHL start in 11 days, third in the new year, and he was going up against one of the hottest teams in Toronto (3.26 goals for per game) featuring some of the hottest scorers.

No excuses. I won’t deny he could have been much sharper. But, again, that’s a tall assignment for a guy who hadn’t played much, minus AHL stints.

There’s obviously a process in place, but the team needs to really give him a chance as Bobrovsky’s backup, for a backup’s sake, but also in the event that they are going to audition him, or someone, for Bobrovsky’s replacement.

Which Torts alluded to for the rest of this season if the team does not get going.


Not Good Enough

When I watch the current team, I see missed playoffs. At the very best, a first-round exit. But even last year’s 50-win team may not have been better than a first-round team, regardless of opponent. They’re not good enough. Period. Tortorella echoes a lot of the good things, but then is blunt and to the point following bad efforts, such as versus the Philadelphia Flyers.

The players speak the same rhetoric.

Just listen to players after periods, or postgame, relaying the reiterated message and saying what needs to happen in order to be successful. Then when it doesn’t work, they don’t really know why things went the way it did.

That’s the common theme.

Cam Atkinson

“I don’t know if we were a little tired or what in the first couple periods. It looked like we didn’t have any energy.

Not a lot of guys were talking on the bench. I don’t know why that is.” Cam Atkinson following Blue Jackets 2-1 overtime loss to Philadelphia

Nick Foligno

“It’s been a while since I’ve been this disappointed in a game.” — Nick Foligno following 7-2 loss to Boston Bruins

Remember, that was six days after their 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.

I thought these were funny.

Yeah. Sounds like the Penguins. And it probably would take a superhero or three for Columbus.

And then the tired rhetoric. I mean, of course, players are going to say what you expect. I get that it’s the Penguins, but who cares? They obviously need to be better. You lose 5-2, you need to do a little more than just finish a few more opportunities.

Sunday’s game felt like a typical playoff game against Pittsburgh. And not in a good way. Get a little juice and energy in quick spurts — right after the first Columbus goal.

Then Pittsburgh marches down the ice and it’s 3-1, not two minutes later before you know what hit you.

Then there’s this.

So again, I don’t know that the club can rid themselves of expiring contracts, but at this point, if they can, I would take any draft pick. I would only bring on players that could make an impact for next season, too.

Derick Brassard

Ottawa Senators v Calgary Flames Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images

The team needs scoring. Are they a second-line center away? It might help. But what’s the price? They are most definitely more than just a second-line center away but that might be a good start.

After a prolonged eight-game scoring slump, Brassard has seven points (five goals, two assists) over his last seven games.

Artem Anisimov

NHL: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

It's tricker with Anisimov because of his NMC clause, which transitions into a modified no-trade clause this summer. He's a free agent following the 2020-21 season. But he’s owed $4.55 million each season going forward.

Anisimov is top 10 in the NHL with nine power-play goals.

Brassard makes more sense because he would fit under the win-now window, whereas Anisimov is locked up through 2020-21. I don’t see Jarmo bringing in either this season and likely, not at the projected price tag. But then again, something is going to fall. One way or another.