On trade deadline morning, we all thought a certain situation was headed for a different outcome.
When the Blue Jackets broke the seal and traded for Ian Cole – the first confirmed deal of the day – most folks (this guy included) assumed it meant the end of Jack Johnson's tenure in Columbus. A left-shot veteran defenseman added as a rental? Yeah, the stars seemed to align, but they didn't.
Credit to Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, who always keeps the big picture in focus even when he's making short-term moves to give his team a boost headed down the final stretch of the regular season. If the value for Johnson wasn't what he wanted, he could still add a defenseman and give his club a deep pool of defensemen (always a good idea) with two young guys nursing injuries.
It's turned out well, especially when added to what they already have.
Kekalainen arrived in 2013 and knew the Blue Jackets needed to completely turn over their defense. It wasn't good enough, fast enough, or skilled enough...and having a mobile defense is no longer a luxury, it's a mandate. Piece by piece, he's built one of the NHL's more dynamic blue lines and adding Cole – who has played quite well – only makes them deeper and more dangerous on the back end.
Yeah, having Artemi Panarin playing on an elite level is a huge plus. Sergei Bobrovsky being on top of his game is even better. But the Blue Jackets are truly driven from their back end, boasting nearly 30 goals between Jones and Werenski alone and having three pairs that can drive play at 5-on-5, which is where they've had to do their damage for most of the season.
We're going to see, in the games ahead, whether now-healthy Markus Nutivaara can work his way into the lineup (it's going to be difficult). Dean Kukan is a bit further off, but when he returns, that's another solid option for John Tortorella to have at his disposal. And let's not forget about Scott Harrington, who has played well in limited action and hasn't let the uncertain nature of his position affect his play when he draws in.
It's been a transformative few years for the Blue Jackets, particularly on the blue line, where they've gone from big and bulky to strong, smart and skilled. They're the envy of several NHL teams who are looking to upgrade their defense.
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- Love this look at Pierre-Luc Dubois from our Paul Berthelot, who tries to project the future for the 19-year-old who's become a key part of the Blue Jackets.
- In this week's What We Learned, Kyle Morrison talks about Seth Jones becoming a star and the Blue Jackets (finally) hitting their stride.