Buy or Sell?
What moves should Jarmo Kekalainen make at the deadline?
During last night’s game, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen was a guest on Fox Sports Ohio to discuss the upcoming trade deadline. Analyst Bill Davidge got right to the point and asked Jarmo if he would be a buyer or seller if the deadline was today. Jarmo didn’t take the bait:
.@BlueJacketsNHL GM Jarmo Kekäläinen sits down with the guys to discuss the February 26th trade deadline. We know his phone has been ringing more as of late. pic.twitter.com/97Bl3HdBcb— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) February 17, 2018
After the game, MrSwift13 and myself had a little chat about this issue:
MrSwift: We should sell at the deadline.
paledragon: We’ll trade Johnson but that’s it
We are not a playoff team
paledragon: Not when we play like tonight
That’s the tricky thing, this team is so inconsistent
But, could a guy like Grabner be the spark we need?
MrSwift: I have officially had it. Blow it up.
Torts is so fired
This team needs offense.
paledragon: Is it his fault, if the players aren’t doing what he wants?
I think Jarmo will add offense
MrSwift: Yeah. It is. If they won’t listen to the coach, shit can the coach.
paledragon: Flip JJ for a pick, flip pick for a top 6 winger
MrSwift: SOMETHING has to change. The entire goddamn core has been here since 2012 (save Jones) and they’ve never won a f***ing playoff series. Blow this shit up.
paledragon: Seems to be that’s a player issue not a coaching issue, because these were issues under both coaches
MrSwift: So shit can the player. Foligno. Dubinsky. Bob. Trade them. Buy them out. I don’t fucking care. No one over 24 Save Panarin is safe.
paledragon: Did you feel this way last Saturday night?
MrSwift: I wasn’t fooled by one win and puck luck
The sample size since thanksgiving outweighs Saturday
paledragon: Saturday, and Tuesday, and the whole season that shows we’re a good possession team at 5v5. I think we’re a lot closer to a contender than to, say, Arizona
MrSwift: 60 games played. Results f***ing matter at this point.
paledragon: That is, we’re a piece or two away, whereas blowing it up requires moving a LOT of pieces
We had a month without all of Cam, Wenns, Dubi, Murray. And tread water at .500!
MrSwift: No. We are not a piece or two away. Unless that piece is a #1 center and Matt Barzal
paledragon: Not a center, but Grabner?
There are scorers to be had
MrSwift: A center is literally non negotiable.
They have to upgrade at center. Centers and blue lines win cups. Not goaltenders since 2006
Quick that one season is literally it
paledragon: I think Jarmo is set at center, honestly. PLD is there, obviously. Wenns and Dubi are back. Sedsy is a 4C. Juicy and Fligs and Boone to fill in
MrSwift: 18-10-17-45 is a joke ass Blue line
Match that agains the Pens
paledragon: Why compare against the 2 time defending champs? I never said we were contenders this year
MrSwift: BECAUSE WE ARE SUPPOSED TO HAVE AN OPEN WINDOW
we aren’t competing against that
The center lineup gets slaughtered every single time by any team contending
F***, Vegas kills us. Vegas!
paledragon: When we didn’t have Dubi or Cam back
MrSwift: We have them back now. And they looked like shit tonight.
paledragon: Tonight was frustrating but the overall trend in February is positive despite only 2 wins and 5 points
MrSwift: R E S U L T S M A T T E R
paledragon: The lack of finishing is concerning but I think it is fixable with an acquisition
MrSwift: There’s twenty f***ing games to go
And we are behind
paledragon: We’ve dug a hole, but there are signs that they can climb out. They may not, because they’re Jekyll and Hyde, but they are capable if they play like the last week
MrSwift: Tonight was a must win and the f***ing forwards no showed.
paledragon: The Wennberg line was good, specifically BJORKSTRAND
The fourth line had some great shifts early when no other line did
Each line played, like, half of a good game. Which isn’t enough against Philly
Where Do We Stand?
The Eastern Conference is weird, with the Metro leading Washington trailing the top 3 teams in the Atlantic, but the Metro’s last place team, the Rangers, leading all 5 remaining teams in the Atlantic. What this means is 8 teams in the Metro are battling for 5 playoff spots (3 division spots and 2 wild cards).
Through Friday’s games, Columbus sits in 6th place with 63 points in 58 games. They are 10 points behind the Capitals for first and 4 points ahead of the Rangers for last place. They are 5 points behind the Flyers for the last divisional spot. They are just one point behind the Islanders for the final wild card spot, with two games in hand.
SportsClubStats, which runs simulations based on record to date (weighted for opponents’ record and home ice advantage), gives the Blue Jackets a 39% chance of making the playoffs, fifth best in the division. Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic has a computer model that gives the Jackets a 70% chance of making the playoffs, which is fourth best in the division. Micah Blake McCurdy at HockeyViz has a model that gives the Jackets a 53% chance, tied with New Jersey for fourth in the division. Those latter two models take into account the teams’ stats in addition to their results to project what will happen in the remaining games.
The Case for Selling
MrSwift is correct. Results DO matter. The current skid - nearly two months of struggles at this point - has put the Jackets in a precarious position. The margin for error is very thin. The recent wins over the Devils and Islanders were encouraging, as was the strong performance in a loss at Toronto. But the effort against the Flyers last night was clearly not enough. In January, this team entered the bye week losing back-to-back games against the Sabres and Canucks. A good team simply cannot lose games like that.
If the Jackets are unable to make the playoffs, that will make the franchise 0 for 3 in their attempts to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons. For the John Davidson/Jarmo Kekalainen regime, that will mark just 2 playoff appearances in 6 seasons, with 2 additional near misses. This in a league where more than half of the teams qualify for the postseason.
So, blow it up. New coaches, perhaps a new GM. Trade the expiring UFAs, obviously, in Jack Johnson and Matt Calvert. Trade the expiring RFAs who are either hurt (Ryan Murray) or underperforming (Boone Jenner). To really go nuts, trade Sergei Bobrovsky and rebuild around offense instead of defense. Trade team leaders Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky, with their on-ice production dropping and the team chemistry falling apart.
The Case for Buying
Despite the results, this is a good team whose results don’t match their performance. Their 5v5 CF% of 51.72 is eight best in the league. They lead the league in 5v5 expected goals with 130.22, per Corsica.Hockey. So, this is a team that can create offensive chances, but needs someone who can finish.
This is also a team with a window. The contracts of Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, and Zach Werenski all expire in the summer of 2019. They may not be able to re-sign all three players, so every effort should be made to contend while they are still under contract.
So what do they spend? All draft picks and prospects are on the table. Sonny Milano, Vitaly Abramov, Kevin Stenlund, etc. Whatever it takes to add one or two high level scorers. Any asset that won’t help the team in this season or the next is expendable.
The Case for a Middle Ground
Jarmo has a great poker face, so it’s always hard to tell what he’s thinking. But I think he may pursue a path somewhere in between. Those expiring contracts are available to be moved. Some of those RFAs could go as well. But rather than trading them for future pieces, I think he can acquire a rental, whether that is an expiring contract or one that lasts to next summer. Rick Nash, Michael Grabner, Derrick Brassard, Thomas Vanek, and Max Domi are some names that are available, and that I think could help Columbus, and would not be cost prohibitive.
I’m not suggesting that any of these moves would make Columbus Cup favorites, but they could secure a playoff berth. Just getting back to the postseason would be progress for this club. It gives the players more confidence and it keeps the fanbase engaged.
Buy or Sell?
|BUY BUY BUY||76|
|SELL SELL SELL||89|
|Do nothing; dance with the ones that brung ya||27|
Another possibility that fits this model is a proverbial “hockey trade” where one trades a valuable asset from a position of strength to help a position of weakness. What if you trade Markus Nutivaara for a young sniping winger? What if you trade Oliver BJORKSTRAND for a top 6 center?
What say you? Is this a team that should bottom out, a team that should go for it, or a team that just needs some tweaking?