Defining the Core Players
Who should we really consider the core players of this team building into the future?
"Jenner. Dubinsky. Foligno. Bobrovsky. Saad."
Aaron Portzline, on Wednesday afternoon in his chat, listed this as the current core of the Blue Jackets, the players the team should be focused on building around.
As you may suspect, I have some issues with this list.
First and foremost- where in the hell is Seth Jones? The blue liner, added halfway through last season in a trade for Ryan Johansen, was recently re-signed to a six season deal worth $32.4 million. To me, Seth Jones is the definition of core player. He walked in the door and immediately became the best player (certainly the most consistent) on the blue line, clearly defined the pairings (such as making Jack Johnson play his more natural role on the second pair), and became one of the point men on the power play. Oh, and he put up 2-18-20 in 41 games while adjusting to a new (and worse) team (better numbers than he put up in Nashville through the first 40 games of the season). Add all of that together, and you might have the number one guy the team should be focused on building around. A steady, point producing defenseman who is only 21 years old? Yes please.
Boone Jenner. Porty listed him in his core, as well he should. For what it’s worth, I see Boone Jenner as the future captain of this club. Boone is a hard-working, in your face, brings it every single shift on every single night type of player. Remember the night last season he took a puck to the face, lost 3 teeth, and only missed 20 minutes of game time? Yeah. I want that kind of guy here. Especially since Jenner also put up 30-19-49 last season at age 23, with room to improve. Jenner is already an alternate captain, a respected voice in the room, and someone the team counts on. He’s here to stay.
Brandon Saad. Kneel before Saad. I love this guy. I was thrilled to pick him up from Chicago, even more thrilled that his production didn’t drop off at all after leaving the Stanley Cup champions. He is one of the better pure goalscorers the franchise has ever had, is only 23 years old entering this season, and is still under contract for 5 more years. He is a talent that can be built around. In a couple seasons, Alexander Wennberg or Pierre-Luc Dubois dishing him passes on the wing will look beautiful as we rampage through the playoffs.
Speaking of Alexander Wennberg. He’s never going to be the first line center many hoped he could be when drafted. I see his ceiling as more of a high end second line center, where is more of a playmaker and distributor rather than a goal scoring leader. And there’s nothing wrong with that! He’s here to stay for the long term, which can only benefit the playmaking and depth at the center position.
I think there is additional room to add guys such as Pierre-Luc Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Zach Werenski to the above list. I am not comfortable adding them right this second, as they have little (in Bjorkstrand’s case) to zero (the other two) NHL experience between them. Their future looks bright however, particularly should their development continue as expected. I am just personally hesitant to name guys to the core of the team who haven’t shown anything at the NHL level for a consistent period of time.
Ryan Murray is the tough cut here, and I’m only making it because of his injury plagued career to this point. Last season was the first year he was healthy for the whole season. I’d like to see him do that at least once more, but his outlook for the future here is certainly solid.
Now, as for the guys Porty did list that I did not:
Sergei Bobrovsky. I might catch flak for this, but it’s my opinion. He’s not a core member of the team. His contract (yes, I’m complaining about money, deal with it- he’s the second highest paid goalie in the league and vastly overpaid for performance and playing time), his complete inability to stay healthy (he hasn’t played more than 58 games ever in his NHL career) and his declining stats (his GAA and his SV% have both been in decline since his Vezina season) coupled with the rise of Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo make Sergei Bobrovsky expendable to me. It is possible that he regains form as well as health, but I’m skeptical by nature. I think that, if the right offer came along, the team would be open to trading Bobrovsky. This to me means he is not a member of the core.
Brandon Dubinsky. This hurts. I love Dubinsky as a player, the edge he plays with, his "never back down" attitude. There’s not a player or a challenge in the NHL that Brandon Dubinsky will shy away from. I remove him from the core players, however, simply because of his age. When the Blue Jackets are (hopefully, god willing, fingers crossed, sacrifices a chicken to Jobu) ready to contend for the Stanley Cup Finals in 3-4 years, Brandon Dubinsky will be 34 and on the downside of his career. That’s not to say he cannot still be a valuable contributor to the team; in fact, I hope it’s quite the opposite and Boone Jenner passes Dubinsky the Cup first on the ice. But being on the tail end of one’s career when it is time to contend means that player is not a core member of a team.
Nick Foligno. I love Foligno. He wants to be here, he’s the captain, and he bore the weight of last year’s dismal season squarely on his shoulders, stating multiple times that he had to be better. I want guys like that here. He might never get back to being a 70 point All Star, but he can still produce and lead the team. So why is he not a part of my core group of players? Much like Dubinsky, I do not think he will be the focus of the team when they’re ready to contend. He may be bottom six player by then, and may no longer be the captain. By definition, that to me means he is not a core member of the team.
I want to be clear here. The three guys that I just talked about- Dubi, Bob, Fligs- I love them here. I love them as Blue Jackets, as men, as players. They’re part of some of the best hockey memories I have in this town, and I have nothing against each of them personally. I’m not asking for any of them to be traded, for any of them to be shipped to Siberia, none of that. I hope each of them are here when we finally march down High Street with the Stanley Cup in tow.
That being said, I don’t think any of the above will be the driving force to lead us to the Cup. Not to say that they cannot be contributors (indeed, I think they can), but they will not be the main reason the team contends for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
What about you? Who do you define as the core of the team moving forward, and why? Sound off in the comments!