Jeff Skinner is a legit first-line winger who's in his prime at 26, one year removed from a 37-goal campaign, who got traded to a team flush with quality prospects and potentially high draft picks.
His old team fetched a solid prospect in Cliff Pu, two mid-round picks and a late pick. Not the most inspiring return.
The Blue Jackets have their own 26-year-old star winger in Artemi Panarin, and a motivation to move him just like the Hurricanes did with Jeff Skinner. And yet, low returns for Skinner and twice-traded Mike Hoffman may be a sign that Blue Jackets fans should temper their expectations.
Nobody's confusing Panarin – a true superstar and one of the most offensively gifted forwards on the planet – for Skinner or Hoffman, who are both very good in their own right but not the same caliber as Panarin. That said, both players were dealt from teams that were negotiating from positions without much leverage – an unenviable position that the Blue Jackets find themselves in today.
The ideal return for the Blue Jackets in an Panarin deal likely includes a young, quality roster player and a first-round pick. If Skinner and Hoffman set the market, that would seem to be unlikely.
Between the Skinner and Hoffman trades (note: Hoffman was actually traded twice on the same day) there were no first-round picks moved, no top-notch prospects and just one roster player – Sharks winger Mikkel Bodker – who was more meant to offset salaries than to represent a meaningful replacement for Hoffman. Both returns also seemed to lean more on quantity than quality – which isn't how to go about releasing a big fish in the hockey world.
Surely, the Blue Jackets can do better, right?
It does bear repeating that Panarin is a step above the two dealt players. It also bears mentioning that Skinner and Hoffman are now off the market, meaning that it's just Panarin and the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty (and perhaps Ottawa winger Mark Stone) left on the market. So, unless the Blue Jackets get an offer they're happy with – and soon – they may be best off waiting for the trade deadline, when more suitors may emerge and the market for top-line wings may be even thinner.
That said, Panarin's own preferences may still serve to reduce the Blue Jackets leverage – even with a potentially more robust list of suitors – as he doesn't seem to have any desire to sign an extension once the season starts. While Panarin will have earned the right to test free agency at the end of the season, he's still put the Blue Jackets in a tough situation by giving them an ultimatum – deal him now, while the market's cold, or later, when he won't sign an extension.
Jarmo Kekalainen is in a tough spot, but he's shown over his tenure in Columbus that underestimating his ability to make moves as a general manager is futile. Still, this may be his toughest test yet – and don't be surprised if the best move he can make still seems underwhelming given the market and Panarin's ultimatum.
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