The Columbus Blue Jackets have a defensemen overload.
They have, arguably, nine or ten defensemen who would be in the top-six of a majority of teams in the NHL. A great problem to have, no?
The defense is currently the engine of the club. Columbus' top two goaltenders that have never been consistent starters in the NHL, and an offense who just took a massive dent. The addition of Gustav Nyquist is solid, but may not be enough to help drive the team to postseason play for a fourth-consecutive season.
Rather than burying their defensemen riches, though, the Blue Jackets should capitalize on this opportunity. They just lost three 25-plus goal scorers in one offseason, and therefore have a lot of tallies to replace. They need more firepower.
Which defensemen could (or should) be on the trade block for the Blue Jackets, and who could (or should) they look to acquire?
The best Blue Jacket in team history (and possibly the new face of the franchise) is undoubtedly untouchable. He's on an incredibly team-friendly contract, hasn't even hit his prime yet, and has been a Norris-trophy candidate for the past two seasons. Done deal. Let's move on.
Even as an unsigned restricted free agent, Werenski is of high value. He's a top-20 defenseman in the league, is just 22-years-old, and has had 128 points in three seasons. The risk of trading Werenski would be him growing into what many thought he could be on his draft day, a Norris-trophy candidate, and the Blue Jackets would be left kicking themselves. The reward could be getting a borderline first-line forward though if accompanied with a draft pick or lower-tier defenseman. If Columbus is serious about returning to Stanley Cup contending right away, shopping Werenski might be a needed step.
The Safe Bets
Note: This group consists of players who you'd know exactly what you're giving up in the trade. They've played long enough to give you a taste of their upside, so the Blue Jackets wouldn't need to worry about shipping one of them off and underestimating what they could grow into.
If only, if only. Ryan Murray, at his best, is a first-pair defenseman on nearly every team in the NHL. However, his injury-proneness cannot be ignored by any team. This cuts his value a bit, even though he put up 29 points through 56 games last season. Murray, like almost all Blue Jacket defensemen, still has his youth on his side at the end of the day (25-years-old), but the question is whether a team is willing to take him on and trust his health longterm. Ryan Murray is a safe bet that, based on his history, will not be a tremendous loss if traded, but would provide a solid return.
This one would hurt. David Savard is a jack-of-all-trades second pairing defensemen, who will get you exactly what you need him to get every night. To top it off, he's a fan favorite and a staple on the blue line ever since the Blue Jackets began their relevancy. He'll play stay-at-home defense and surprise you with a toe drag every now and then. Consistent, stable, healthy defensemen like Savard are never not needed by a team, so Savard would be a great trade piece who you know won't score 50 assists on a new team. You know what you'd be losing, so you'd know how to replace him.
Though last season was a slight drop-off in play for Nutivaara, he has decent upside and could turn into a Savard-type staple on a second or third pairing for most teams. Nutivaara had 23 points in 61 games two seasons ago and just 21 points in 80 games this past campaign. This will make a dent in his value and allow other general managers to question his potential, but if a team bites, Nutivaara, paired with a prospect or another third-pair defenseman, just might draw in a second-line forward.
Note: None of the players below will draw in a third-line-or-above forward on their own power. This group of defenseman, if traded, would likely be thrown into a package with the groups above to sweeten a deal. Incredibly high potential for some, but not enough product has been shown at the moment to bring in a haul.
Kukan has shown well in limited NHL action, particularly in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He's got speed, a bit of skill, and isn't afraid to carry the puck out of trouble. The Blue Jackets would probably prefer to keep him around if at all possible, as Kukan is still young and possesses plenty of upside that gives them legitimate depth at the position.
Imagine your first NHL game being in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This was the case for Vladislav Gavrikov, brought over from Russia when Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid were out for extended periods of time and Nutivaara's upper-body injury lingered. Gavrikov held his own and proved worthy of the sixth spot on the Columbus blue line. Gavrikov could be a stud in this league one day, but for now, he's a sweetener.
The classic fill-in defenseman when the Blue Jackets have had someone fall to injury has been Scott Harrington for the past few seasons. Keeping in mind his present talent and future potential, Harrington would be near the bottom of the totem pole for the Blue Jackets in regards to trade value, but he has evidence to be counted upon as a sixth defenseman should a club be in need.
Getting shipped up and down between the NHL and AHL and not knowing when that will happen is harder than it looks, but Clendening has handled it like a champ as a member of the Blue Jackets organization as he saw big minutes in the first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning in April. He, like Harrington, could be a sixth or seventh defenseman on a middle-of-the-pack team who is looking for more depth.
The only member of the defensemen listed to not have played a game in a Blue Jackets uniform is Andrew Peeke. Drafted in the second round of the 2016 draft by Columbus, Peeke just finished his final campaign at Note Dame this spring and is the current captain of the Blue Jackets' prospect team. Peeke's high upside and big body (6-foot-2, 200 lbs.), could help his stock if packaged in a trade with another defender.
The Blue Jackets shouldn't just consider trading one of the defensemen above, they absolutely need to. There's no use sitting on all this talent to only store it for a rainy day, especially if the club has denied any intention of a rebuild. Should the swing for the fences and trade Werenski for a star? Should they play it safe and send Nutivaara and Harrington for a bottom-six forward?
With forwards potentially on the trade block like Chris Kreider, Michael Frolik or Kyle Turris, the Blue Jackets need at least start to take a look around (if they haven't already). Step back up to the plate, Mr. Kekalainen.
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