With the hiring of new head coach Brad Larsen, the Columbus Blue Jackets have checked the first item off of their offseason to-do list. Apparently, it was always going to be Larsen. Now that the easy work is over, the real challenges are now at the forefront.
It’d be an understatement to say this is a HUGE offseason for the team. This summer is truly going to be franchise altering in one way or another. John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen have been their typical tight-lipped selves, keeping their cards very close to the chest. Fans have been receiving mixed signals: Is this team in a full on, tear it down, draft and develop rebuild? Or is the team truly looking to “reload” and bring in some established NHL talent to try to keep competing for a playoff spot?
While only time will tell which direction the team will go, I wanted to put together a collection of some of the breadcrumbs that have been scattered around the NHL landscape. While much of the following can be dismissed as pure speculation, it is worth taking a look, considering the potential ramifications.
We’ll begin with the most obvious move this team will make this summer. That is the impending trade of the cornerstone defenseman, which is expected to happen at or prior to the draft next month.
In his latest article, Pierre LeBrun made his thoughts known about the situation.
“The level of interest is off the charts,’’ one league source said this week.
He goes on to mention the Philadelphia Flyers as a team who is very interested and has the ammunition to pull off a trade. Broad Street Hockey had a piece discussing acquiring Jones, and names mentioned were Travis Konecny and Morgan Frost. Nolan Patrick is looking to get out of town as well, and could be a sweetener in a deal. It’s a bit tough to imagine Jarmo being thrilled about sending Jones to a division rival outside of an overpay. Is Philadelphia willing to pay up? And is Seth Jones willing to extend there?
Another potential rumor involves the Chicago Blackhawks’ interest in acquiring Jones. In some of their latest work for the Athletic, Mark Lazerus and Scott Powers claimed that the Hawks plan to explore adding Seth Jones (or Dougie Hamilton) this offseason and that they may be willing to offer up a pretty promising young player, who just so happens to play the position of greatest need for the Jackets.
“Another league source said Kirby Dach likely would have to be part of any deal for Jones. The source believed Jones would be worth it, too.”
If that is something that Stan Bowman is willing to consider, it is definitely worth keeping an eye on. Adam Boqvist is another name to keep in mind when dealing with the Blackhawks. The Jackets will need to consider their future on the backend without Jones and the young Swede is a very promising defenseman.
Seth Jones is as good as gone. It needs to happen soon. In the LeBrun article mentioned earlier, one GM believed the Jackets could keep Jones until the trade deadline if they can’t find a deal to their satisfaction. I truly hope that Jarmo and JD will not put the fans or the locker room through that again. Like any breakup, it hurt initially, but now that I’ve had the time to digest it, I am excited about the future.
Jack Eichel/Sam Reinhart
The only reason I lumped these two together is that they play for the same team, and their names are both linked to the Blue Jackets. Elliotte Friedman has confirmed the Jackets’ interest in both Eichel and Reinhart, even going as far as saying that he believes the Jackets have had “in depth” conversations regarding Jack Eichel.
Obviously, Jack Eichel is the “sexier” acquisition for this team and would throw any thoughts of a full rebuild out the window. With three first-round draft picks this year, in addition to a goalie and other young players, the Blue Jackets absolutely have the pieces to pull off a deal like this, unless Buffalo is dead set on getting a young center with 1C potential.
However, this doesn’t come without a fairly significant amount of risk. The injury that sidelined Eichel for most of this year is still lingering, and Eichel prefers to go under the knife for a procedure that has never been performed on an NHL player before. Buffalo management is not comfortable with this route to recovery, thus, the rift between player and team. According to Friedman, the Sabres have not allowed any discussions to occur between potential suitors and Eichel to discuss this matter. I can’t help get the feeling of “buyer beware” with the disgruntled superstar.
The team that acquires Jack Eichel will want to start the relationship out on the right foot and most likely allow the operation (assuming team doctors agree). If and when that happens, it’s safe to assume Eichel will miss the majority of the upcoming season, with no real guarantees about his long term recovery. Is that a risk the Blue Jackets can afford to take, considering the sky high cost of acquiring the player?
As of this morning, according to Aaron Portzline, it appears that the Blue Jackets are NOT in hot pursuit of Eichel considering the high cost and injury uncertainty.
The trade that seems most likely (for better or worse) appears to be for Sam Reinhart.
Quote from the 31 Thoughts Podcast ⬇️— CBJ Coverage (@CBJcoverage) June 18, 2021
Jeff Marek: "Where's some of the main interest from what you've been able to glean for Sam Reinhart?"
Elliotte Friedman: "Columbus... I've heard Columbus and Reinhart a lot."https://t.co/gR4S1Subpc
Personally, I don’t know what to think of this move. It doesn’t fit a rebuild at all considering what it would take to acquire Reinhart. The proposal I have seen involves Elvis Merzlikins +, which is enough to scare me off. Trading Elvis feels like a rebuild move to me, and trading him for a player who doesn’t want to go through a rebuild with his current team just doesn’t make sense. He is also a restricted free agent with arbitration rights in need of a new contract, and is just one year away from unrestricted free agency. Again, this move is also not without its share of risk.
With all that being said, if the team is making a deal with Buffalo, I hope they go all out to try and acquire the bonafide #1 center with term*. Even if the injury/surgery keeps Eichel out for most of next season, he’d still be under contract for four more years. Not to mention, the Jackets could very likely end up in the draft lottery again with a legitimate shot in the Shane Wright sweepstakes. How’s that for a quick rebuild. We can dream, can’t we?
*assuming the team feels confident about the player’s future health
Aaron Portzline has been gone on record on multiple occasions, stating the Blue Jackets are willing to trade Laine after just one season with the team. He claimed “there are those in the organization that would support him being a one-and-done.” Even going as far as flat out predicting Laine wouldn’t be a part of the team next season during a Q&A for the Athletic.
Elliotte Friedman, in his 31 Thoughts podcast pondered, “I’m curious to see if Florida asks about Patrik Laine. He and Aleksander Barkov have a good relationship. The Panthers are expected to be aggressive in pursuit of improvement.”
Thankfully, this has largely been put to bed by the new bench boss, Brad Larsen. When asked about Patrik Laine, he had this to say:
If Patrik Laine is being truthful when he says he’d like to stay here long term, it is silly to trade him at this point. He’s still very young, an elite talent (it’s in there somewhere), and has a superstar personality that the team needs. Not to mention he is at the lowest value of his career thus far. Larsen’s comments also hint at some big plans for this team, and Laine appears to be a part of them...for now.
All signs are pointing to the Washington Capitals moving on from Evgeny Kuznetsov. He’d be a very strong option to play on a line with Patrik Laine, but do the Jackets want the potential baggage that comes with? The Capitals probably would not be motivated to trade him in division, nor would Kuznetsov be motivated to join the club. He partially controls his destiny with a 15-team no trade list. This rumor seemed the most speculative in my opinion.
David Pagnotta on NHL Network: “I would imagine Columbus being a team that would certainly inquire here asking [Evgeny Kuznetsov’s] availability and if he would be willing to go to the Blue Jackets…” #CBJ— CBJ Coverage (@CBJcoverage) June 4, 2021
If we’ve learned anything over Jarmo Kekalainen’s tenure as General Manager, it is to expect the unexpected. For a while now, he has hinted at the team being in a great position to take advantage of other teams’ cap struggles or expansion draft dilemmas. Perhaps this offseason is when he makes good on his word and lands a big name out of left field. We’ve seen it before.
Jarmo Kekalainen: "I've already talked to several general managers in the league that have protection problems in the expansion draft and they're eyeing [draft picks]- they're very hungry for our first-round picks, I'll tell you that. We could to a lot of things with them." #CBJ— CBJ Coverage (@CBJcoverage) June 11, 2021
What moves are you hoping to see the team make this summer?