Alexander Wennberg is on thin ice.
This past season was arguably the worst of Wennberg's career, especially considering how many games he played. In 75 contests, he had the lowest amount of goals, points, minutes per game he's ever had in the NHL. His assists and +/- were also the lowest since his rookie year.
To top it off, Wennberg score zero even-strength goals. On the bright side, it means he had a couple special teams goals, right?
Literally...just a couple.
Wennberg is one of the bigger head-scratching embodiments on the Blue Jackets' current roster. Three years ago, he was a near 60-point player and on the rise as a No. 1 center, a season that earned him a lucrative contract extension. Last year, he was dropped from a second-line center to a third-line center to a fourth-line center, all the way to being a healthy scratch for the end of the regular season and into most of the playoffs.
Patience with Wennberg is clearly growing thin in the organization. The team is still embracing a competitive attitude even after their free agency losses, meaning they can't keep experimenting with him.
Solutions are needed – from Wennberg, not the coaching staff or front office. They've tried jumbling the lines, switching him to a winger, putting him on the power play to jump-start him. Nothing, to this point, has worked.
"He has to bounce back. He had two goals. He had a shitty year. Now it’s time for him to bounce back," said Jarmo Kekkalainen in June after Columbus' season had officially concluded. "He played great at the Worlds, and I know it’s not the same, but it’s playing against NHL players. I saw him play against Russia, which was loaded with great NHL players. He was great. Now do it here."
Kekkalainen isn't blowing smoke that Wennberg could replicate his Worlds performance (and ultimately, his play from a few years ago) in 2019-20. We've seen Wennberg at his peak (2016-2017) picking apart defenses with his passing, stretching the ice with his speed and just being an elite playmaker on the whole.
"He played hard (at Worlds). He played good. I have no issues with the way he played over there. Now he’s got to do it over here...I don’t know what the issue is," continued Kekkalainen. "But he doesn’t lack skill. He doesn’t lack hockey sense. He doesn’t lack speed. He should have all the ingredients to play better than he did last year. That’s what we expect from him next season."
Kekkalainen's "he has to bounce back" line rings loudly. He's not saying it'd be nice if Wennberg came back into his old potential. He's saying it needs to happen.
Trading Wennberg means, for the most part, trading his contract. And it won't be easy. He's entering the third year of a six-year, $29.4M contract ($4.9M AAV) that he signed following his breakout season.
Any team wanting to take on a player with a hefty contract – and who had two goals in 75 games – is probably a bit crazy. Unless he's packaged with another player or an asset, Kekalainen might be out of luck when it comes to making a trade.
"He has to bounce back. He had two goals. He had a shitty year. Now it’s time for him to bounce back,"– Jarmo Kekkalainen on Alexander Wennberg
Outside of trade scenarios, the Blue Jackets could put Wennberg on waivers (the requirement involving a player on a one-way deal) in order to send him to AHL Cleveland for a bit and spark some motivation. There's a bit of risk involved, but it's highly unlikely a team would claim Wennberg's contract for a mid-season rehabilitation project.
Wennberg balled out for his contract. Now, it's time to ball out to keep his job.
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