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Cannon Conversations: Should the Blue Jackets trade Zach Werenski?

As the staff at the Cannon does from time to time, a spirited debate arose surrounding a potential trade of star defender Zach Werenski.

Below is our conversation, as well as further cases made on each side.

Note: this transcript has been lightly edited to make it more readable, as well as for profanity

MrSwift: Erik Karlsson has 0-8-8 and a -9. Seth Jones is 2-7-9 with a +2. Zach Werenski is 3-8-11 with a -4.

Pale Dragon: Hot take: trade Werenski. He’s been demoted to third pair, Murray will be cheaper to sign, Gavrikov is coming over, and Werenski’s value is still sky high. Could get an elite forward for him (Nylander?). It would be like Nashville trading Jones for Joey.

MrSwift: The problem with that comparison is Nashville had five great defensemen. We had two and a half (half being a healthy Murray). And Nutivaara isn’t the offensive force Werenski is, he doesn’t even have as many career points as Werenski did his rookie season. Columbus has the best young pair in the NHL right now and can lock that down for the better part of a decade. You don’t break that up. If you’re gonna trade one, you trade Murray.

Pale Dragon: Murray and Jones is the top pair now.

MrSwift: For now.

Pale Dragon: What if Z gets no better defensively? What if he’s average without Jones?

MrSwift: He’s 21 years old, you don’t know that he won’t. Jones didn’t blossom till he came here and played his first and second full seasons when he was 22-23. Trading Z is the sign of blowing it up. You don’t just give away a 21 year old defenseman when he’s one of two you have been able to reliably count on for the last few years. You can’t count on Murray to stay healthy, you paid David Savard stupid money to be a bottom six pairing guy. What, are we going to ice a bottom pair of Harrington and Kukan just to get rid of Z and get a Nylander who you don’t know if he’ll perform without Matthews? That’s defensive suicide. Then, god forbid Murray gets hurt, and you’re calling up Gabriel “I’m still lost in the AHL” Carlsson.

Pale Dragon: Elaine said Carlsson has been much better this year

MrSwift: He’s never shown it at the NHL level

Pale Dragon: Very few teams have great bottom pairs. I’m fine with serviceable

MrSwift: Scott Harrington and Dean Kukan is not a serviceable pairing. Neither is mixing Gabriel Carlsson into that mix.

Pale Dragon: And you wouldn’t give away Z. You’d get a great forward for him. If not Nylander, then someone else

MrSwift: That’s a terrible idea. The defense isn’t good enough like Nashville’s was to trade from a position of strength. If you want to trade someone from a position the franchise appears to be strong in (in Columbus and prospects), you trade goaltenders. He’s one of two elite defensemen this team has and he’s been demoted by a [redacted] coach whose entire defense has regressed this season. You do not, under any circumstances, trade them (unless you’re Nashville and have five of those guys). We emphatically do not. [Redacted], I don’t even know if we have six NHL capable defensemen on the roster.

Pale Dragon: I don’t think the gap is as large between us and that Nashville team. Especially with a healthy, resurgent Murray. Remember, that was still with Weber, not Subban.

MrSwift: Murray has played exactly one full season in his career. And that Nashville team had Weber, Ellis, Josi, Jones, Ekholm, and Barrett Jackman was still playing well. We don’t have [anything] like that.

The Case for Trading Werenski

Pale Dragon: Do I think there’s any chance Werenski gets moved? Of course not. Then again, it seemed crazy to me that they would have traded Ryan Johansen. Or Brandon Saad. But Jarmo has shown that he’s not afraid to move one “brick” for another. With the looming departure of Artemi Panarin, the Blue Jackets will be in desperate need for a playmaking forward.  There’s no one else like him in the system. Nylander was an obvious name to throw out, but there are so many other options. Werenski’s value is so high that most teams would give up a young forward for him (and perhaps a draft pick, too?). It would be trading from a position of strength to improve an area of weakness.

It will be a blow to our defensive corps, but we’ve seen over the last couple weeks that the Blue Jackets can be successful with Werenski playing fewer minutes (under 20 minutes of ice time in 5 of his last 6 games). It creates a short term opening for someone like Dean Kukan or Gabriel Carlsson, and a long term opening for Russian prospect Vladislav Gavrikov.  Oh, and we’ll still have a Norris Trophy caliber defenseman in Seth Jones.

The Case Against Trading Werenski

MrSwift: Zach Werenski is one of two elite-talent defensemen on the roster. While he may have been moved to the third pairing right now, he is unlikely to stay there for long. Via the Athletic:

Tortorella had warned Werenski before the season started that he was going to hold him to a new standard from the red line back, that his offensive skill would no longer be enough to excuse his defensive woes. “I just think it’s one of those things where he’s overthinking. When a young kid, who has had the success that he’s had, and is used to playing with Jonesy from day one, it’s a little bit of an adjustment that way.”

Werenski, coming off of a major surgery, is still just 21 years old. He has been working with the coaching staff before practice to develop the defensive side of his game, and is still working his way back into mental shape following his injury. There are no defensemen on the roster or in the pipeline who can fill his offensive role while holding the promise and ability to develop into a solid NHL defenseman. Players across the NHL struggle – Shayne Gostisbehere struggled for parts of last season, but was able to rebound nicely down the stretch as the Flyers finished third in the Metro. Giving up on a cornerstone piece that is under team control is not the way to build a hockey team going forward.

We’ve presented our cases – we’d like to hear yours!

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Should the Blue Jackets trade Zach Werenski?

Depends on the return, but I’d consider it 101