With less than a month until April 12’s trade deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves stuck in fifth place in the Central, four points behind Chicago with one more game played. By points percentage, they are in sixth place, 0.17 points behind Dallas. There is still time for the team to get back into contention, but with each loss we get closer to the reality of the team being sellers at the deadline.
Now, just because they’re sellers doesn’t mean this is a total overhaul of the roster. It’s not an “everything must go” fire sale.
Instead, there are players on expiring contracts who can be dealt for draft picks or prospects, which will help restore a pipeline which has been depleted in recent years by trades and promotions. Those players include established veterans like David Savard and Riley Nash and more recent pick-ups like Michael Del Zotto and Mikhail Grigorenko. Captain Nick Foligno is also on an expiring contract, and it’s possible he could be traded to a contender for a playoff run, then re-sign in Columbus over the summer with the aim of finishing his career here.
There’s one additional player who I feel should be on the market: Boone Jenner.
His value will never be higher. After scoring just 24 points in 70 games last year, he has already tallied 15 points through 30 games this season. With eight goals already, he has not scored at this pace since his 30 goal season in 2015-16. By spending more time at wing, he’s been able to get back to scoring the greasy goals around the net which are his calling card. Meanwhile, he does still help out in the faceoff circle, with a team-leading 56.3% faceoff record. Any playoff team would love to have a bottom six forward who can win faceoffs, throw checks, and score goals. He’s also the rare clean power forward, with just one penalty so far.
The contract status helps. Jenner’s cap hit is $3.75M, which is fair value for his current production. More important, he’s signed for next season as well, which makes him more than just a rental. Teams will pay more for a player they can control for an additional year. Tampa Bay traded first round picks last year for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Each was around Jenner’s age, though both made under $2M. Jenner has a better faceoff percentage and points per game rate than Goodrow, and is scoring only slightly less than Coleman. Those two players were considered a key factor in making the Lightning a tougher team to beat in the postseason. The NHL is a copycat league, so other teams looking for sandpaper will want to make a similar trade.
Save Torts from himself. Jenner has the fourth highest average ice time of Jackets forwards (trailing only Atkinson, Laine, and Foligno). Torts trusts him in all situations, no matter which line he is on. The problem is there are younger, more skilled players who need to grow into the roles currently held by Jenner. Players like Domi, Texier, Roslovic, and Stenlund were acquired to play center, but have been jerked in and out of that position and up and down the lineup. A Boone-sized hole forces one of them to step up, and forces Torts to give them that chance.
A note about sentimentality. I have to wrap this up by noting what we lose if Jenner is traded. Not only do we lose his production from this season, but we lose someone who has been a fan favorite and a team leader for a long time. He is seventh all-time in games played in a Jackets sweater, and could pass David Vyborny if he finishes the season here. He ranks fourth in goals and sixth in points. He will be missed whenever he moves on.
On the other hand, what he represents may be an identity which the team needs to move past. The players drafted and acquired in recent years are built for a fast-paced style of hockey. Is there room for lumbering, physical players on a roster like that?
Bhí an seachtain
A four point week is a slight improvement but .500 hockey is not enough going forward.
Our latest Reacts results asked about which position groups fans have confidence in. The results are not good if you’re a Columbus skater.
In a Friday news dump, the Jackets traded goaltender Veini Vehvilainen to Toronto for defenseman Mikko Lehtonen. VV had recently made his NHL debut, in a relief appearance. Lehtonen was one of the top defensemen in the KHL last season, but hadn’t done much for the Leaves this year. He will be assigned to the taxi squad once he clears visa and COVID protocols. He’s a UFA after the season, so one hopes the Jackets have a plan for him beyond this season if they gave up a prospect for him.
Speaking of goalies, Will pulled some stats about the season so far for Korpisalo and Merzlikins.
Listen to this week’s Cannon Cast to hear me go on a rant about the constant shuffling at the center position.
Hey, we solved that center problem!
Clarkson junior Josh Dunne is the first undrafted free agent to sign an NHL deal this season, inking a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets https://t.co/OIwCfezgbp— SBN College Hockey (@SBNCollegePuck) March 14, 2021
Finally, there are still a few more days to apply to become a writer here at The Cannon.
Ar an mbord
Thursday and Saturday: at Carolina
Starting today is the first three day break of the season, one of just two that the Jackets will have. They can use that time to practice. Their next four games are all against Carolina, and I think it will help to think of this like a playoff series and prepare accordingly. The first two are on the road, then they return to Columbus for two — just like a playoff series. Steal one on the road and defend home ice and that could get this team back in the playoff conversation.
Timpeall na sraithe
The NHL and ESPN announced a new television deal which goes into effect next season. Full details here. ESPN/ABC will air four of the next seven Stanley Cup Finals, and will broadcast half of the series in each round of the playoffs each year. In addition, ESPN+ will have exclusive streaming rights for out-of-market games, replacing NHL.tv. As someone who already subscribes to the Disney+/Hulu/ESPN+ bundle, I’m excited to have the opportunity to watch more games around the league next year. I’m not as happy about the price of the bundle going up, but at least they keep putting up content that makes it worth it (related, WandaVision was an incredible way to launch Phase 4 of the MCU).
Meanwhile, the other portion of TV rights are still being negotiated. NBC seems likely to retain that part, but Fox could be in the mix, too. Sean Shapiro at The Athletic has more details about both packages. Whoever gets it, it’s great news for the league going forward. More money will come in from the TV contracts, which will help make up for the revenue lost over the last year. It’s also better to have coverage on multiple channels to increase exposure for the league and its teams/players. They’re not limited by NBC’s broadcasting decisions. ESPN remains the unquestioned leader in sports talk, and this contract means there will be more hockey topics.
That’s a double-edged sword, of course:
Aaawwwwwww Sugar Crackers! Your Boy’s about to get into Hockey. Yes! HOCKEY!!! Check me out! pic.twitter.com/8Sr4ERzTjS— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) March 11, 2021
Presented without comment:
Ceol na hÉireann
Wednesday is St. Patrick’s Day (remember, the shortened form is Paddy, never Patty) and I’m already getting pumped up for the annual celebration of Irish heritage. To be fair, I celebrate that heritage all year round. Last year I started learning the Irish language as well, hence the headings in today’s article. For this last section, I couldn’t decide which piece of Irish music or music by an Irish act I wanted to include, so here’s a bunch of my favorites. Crack open some uisce beatha (“water of life” i.e. whiskey — I recommend Jameson Black Barrel, my recent go-to) and enjoy. Feel free to share any Irish favorites of yours in the comments. Sláinte!