A week ago, our venerable Sam Blazer gave an argument as to why the Columbus Blue Jackets should be active in an attempt to improve the roster as the NHL trade deadline nears, particularly by adding a scoring punch.
And while I'll admit that - if I were general manager Jarmo Kekalainen - it would be tempting to give your over-achieving team a boost heading for a final playoff push, the more prudent play would be to reward your players by allowing them to see this season through as-is.
Of course, it's a bit more nuanced than that.
First, even if Kekalainen sees himself as a buyer, the organization lacks the prospect pool, and equally importantly, the draft capital, to pry a top candidate.
Secondly, the club is (in a sense) acquiring its own players as trade deadline pieces, as Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray, Joonas Korpisalo, Alexandre Texier, and Dean Kukan are all expected to eventually return to the lineup.
Then there's the less scientific argument: how can you disrupt the chemistry of a team that has gone on a 16-2-4 behind the likes (formerly) unheralded players like Elvis Merzlikins, Vladislav Gavrikov, Nathan Gerbe, and Eric Robinson?
On the other hand, it is a GM's duty to improve the organization. Should the Blue Jackets keep pace in the playoff hunt, Kekalainen will do what he can to give his club the best chance of making the playoffs for what would be a franchise-record fourth consecutive season (consider that Zach Werenski has never not made the playoffs in his NHL career...).
The Athletic's Aaron Portzline's trade deadline primer listed ten forwards he thought could make sense for the Blue Jackets to target: Blake Coleman, Mikael Granlund, Kasperi Kapanen, Chris Kreider, Trevor Lewis, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Kyle Palmieri, Tomas Tatar, Tyler Toffoli and Jason Zucker.
While many of these players would make the Blue Jackets better tomorrow, the assets that would need to go the other way in a deal would hurt the future of the franchise.
As Portzline writes:
The 2020 first-round pick will likely be treated as gold, and it should be. The Blue Jackets haven’t had a first-round pick in two of the past three years. Liam Foudy (No. 18 overall, 2018) is the only pick they’ve had in the top 44 of the past three drafts.
The Blue Jackets don’t have second-round picks in the next two drafts, a result of the Anthony Duclair-for-Ryan Dzingel trade with Ottawa last season. They also don’t have a third-round pick this summer. It, too, was shipped to Ottawa in the Ian Cole deal at the 2018 deadline.
Trading for any player of significant caliber would mean parting with picks that the team either doesn't have or desperately needs to keep. Consider Scott Wheeler's (also of The Athletic) ongoing prospect pool rankings, which has the Blue Jackets sitting dead last in the NHL at 31st. Teams 27-30 are the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, and Boston Bruins, four teams who have all competed for or won a Stanley Cup in the past three years. The Blue Jackets cannot continue to deplete their prospect pool for a chance to maybe make the playoffs - the calculus just isn't there.
Last year, I defended the organization's decision to go all-in. It made complete sense to me, given the unfortunate reality that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky would be leaving town, to give the most talented team ever assembled in Columbus as much aid as possible, even if it was a gamble.
And while some people are upset that we point out that the 2019-20 Blue Jackets team is among the youngest in the NHL, the truth is, it is incredibly damaging to part with futures every year, particularly when you're not among the consistently strongest teams in the NHL (refer to above list #27-30).
So while I understand the urge to make a trade, Kekalainen and co. certainly realize that even being in the playoff picture is a success for this roster. Allowing this (young) team to continue to develop will improve the players' trade value for a time in the not-so-distant-future (the NHL Draft), where they can and should move pieces. This includes any or all of Joonas Korpisalo, Ryan Murray, Sonny Milano, David Savard, Alexander Wennberg, or even prized goaltending prospect Daniil Tarasov.
It simply is not good business to continue to trade highly-valued assets for players at the trade deadline, where prices are inflated and teams can be desperate. For now, the wise and calculated play is to let your overachieving roster continue to play and enjoy the ride.
If the team can stay in the playoff hunt, the growth of many of these players will allow the Blue Jackets the chance to significantly improve their roster over the summer.
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