With the Columbus Blue Jackets on the edge of the playoffs, GM Jarmo Kekalainen made four big deadline moves in an effort to get the team over the hump and into contention. Jarmo traded for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid.
The team did not take off as hoped, instead squeaking into the playoffs as the eighth seed. There, they met the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and swept the President’s Trophy winners in the first round for the first series win in franchise history. In the second round, the Blue Jackets fell in six games to the Boston Bruins as they were eliminated from the playoffs.
With the season over, it’s time to reflect on the deadline deals by Jarmo. Were those trades, in hindsight, worth it?
Columbus trades: Vitaly Abramov, Jonathan Davidsson, 2019 1st round pick, conditional 2020 1st round pick
Ottawa trades: Matt Duchene, Julius Bergman
This was the doozy. Remember back to late February - rumors were swirling that Jarmo Kekalainen may trade Artemi Panarin, might test the market for Sergei Bobrovsky. Instead, with the team in Ottawa, he decided to bring in center depth and go for it. Matt Duchene played 23 regular season games after the trade, posting 4-8-12 as he struggled to find his fit before the team took off.
In the playoffs, Duchene posted 5-5-10 to tie for the team lead in goals scored and average a point per game as he finally was able to make a postseason mark for the first time in his career. Duchene may have struggled to adapt, but in the playoffs he allowed the team to develop a second scoring line in the playoffs, and was the leading scorer in the first round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Matt Duchene slams home a rebound in front of the net on the power play...where have we seen that before? pic.twitter.com/PfS2dGNYOH— The Second Round Cannon (@cbjcannon) May 1, 2019
Duchene may have come at a high cost, but he helped solidify the team as they made the second round for the first time in franchise history. The team owes Ottawa a second first round pick if he re-signs here, and that remains to be seen. However, his playoff contributions can only mean this trade was a success for the team.
Columbus trades: Anthony Duclair, 2020 2nd round pick, 2021 2nd round pick
Ottawa trades: Ryan Dzingel, 2019 7th round pick (from Calgary)
Ryan Dzingel, former Ohio State product, was traded to Columbus just one day after Matt Duchene also came from Ottawa. Dzingel slotted into the second line left wing position where he posted 4-8-12 in 21 regular season games.
Dzingel, however, was a total disappointment in the playoffs. He posted just one goal (in game five of the second round) and was healthy scratched for one of the ten playoff games. Dzingel took just 11 shots, averaged just 11:21 of TOI, and had three giveaways to two takeaways. He was invisible for much of the playoffs.
Brought in to bolster the team’s secondary scoring in the playoffs, Dzingel failed to do exactly what he was traded here for. As a result, it is hard to grade the Dzingel trade (especially considering the cost) as anything other than a failure. Jarmo cannot be blamed for taking the chance on a player who had 22 goals to that point in the season, but it just did not work out for Dzingel in Columbus.
Columbus trades: 2019 4th round pick, 2019 7th round pick, Julius Bergman
New York trades: Adam McQuaid
This trade is hard. McQuaid was brought in on the day of the deadline and played 14 games Columbus, posting 1-1-2 as a stay at home defenseman. He averaged 11:25 minutes on ice, with 12 total blocked shots and 23 total hits.
However, unfortunately, this happened:
McQuaid did not return this season, and after the lockers were cleaned out, Jarmo Kekalainen would not offer an update.
Kekalainen declined providing detail on Adam McQuaid's injury. Said the player was not going to be able to return to play this season. #CBJ— Alison (@AlisonL) May 8, 2019
McQuaid had solidified the third pairing upon his arrival, and no injuries can be predicted. McQuaid may have been a positive player in the playoffs, especially in a physical series against the Boston Bruins where his presence could have been useful as Scott Harrington and Adam Clendening were pushed around.
Unfortunately, McQuaid was injured dude to a suspendable (but ultimately unpunished) hit. This is just sad.
Columbus trades: 2022 5th round pick
New Jersey trades: Keith Kinkaid
Pro: goaltender depth, his twitter account
Cons: uh, he only dressed for two games, played no minutes, and cost a pick
Keith Kinkaid was brought in to give goaltending depth to the organization and fill in as a capable backup if one of the two players ahead of him (Sergei Bobrovsky or Jonas Korpisalo) went down with an injury. Fortunately, neither did. Unfortunately, this mean Kinkaid did not see any ice time. He did dress for a few games, however, giving Sergei Bobrovsky true days off down the stretch so he was more fresh for the playoffs.
Kinkaid provided an insurance policy the team needed. Thankfully, he was not called upon. Perhaps he gave Elvis Merzlikins some advice in the press box as an NHL veteran. At the cost of a fifth round pick four drafts out, at least the cost was minimal.
Overall - were these trades worth it?
If Matt Duchene stays, that trade (and the high price paid to acquire him) will have been worth it. The center position will have been stabilized for the foreseeable future.
The playoff results, however, make the deals hard to justify.
Duchene performed in the playoffs. Dzingel did not. McQuaid (injury) and Kinkaid (DNP - Bobrovsky) were not given the chance to do so. But, with a sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning in their pocket and leading the Bruins 2-1 at one point, the path to the Stanley Cup Finals was wide open.
The team failed to get it done, losing three straight as they were eliminated in six games by Boston.
The team had a chance to make a run. The team had Boston down 2-1 in their second round series with a second home game, but could not find a way to show up as they took ghastly amounts of penalties, allowed Boston’s stars to get into the game, and the series was effectively over at that point.
The secondary scoring Dzingel promised never arrived. McQuaid never had a chance in the postseason. The team failed to take advantage of the opportunity it was given, despite the success of Matt Duchene.
In theory, GM Jarmo Kekalainen made the right moves. He went for it, brought in center depth, defensive help, and secondary scoring - all of that, along with goaltender depth should one of the two active roster players have gotten injured. If Blue Jackets fans had made a wish list at the deadline, Jarmo checked all of the boxes. That makes his deadline moves a success.
Unfortunately, Jarmo cannot control for injuries (in McQuaid’s case) or total disappearances (in Dzingel’s). It is hard to pin those playoff failures on him, even though he made the right moves to get the players and optimize his roster.
Ultimately, the team had the horses needed to get to the Stanley Cup Finals - thanks to Jarmo Kekalainen. Unfortunately, for factors out of his control, the team did not meet their larger goals.
GM Jarmo Kekalainen cannot be faulted for that.