Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen is a progressive thinker with a bit of old school in him.
He trusts his eyes and he trusts his gut, but he also trusts the wide array of information that his staff collects to help better understand players, team trends, and more. One thing we'll never see change under his watch in Columbus is that players make the decisions in terms of who gets to play; this season, the Blue Jackets got answers to a couple of big, looming questions about their long-term outlook.
After Friday's signing of Joonas Korpisalo to a two-year contract extension (which carries a $2.8M AAV), it appears the Blue Jackets will give it another go with two young goaltenders battling for ice time. Elvis Merzlikins' emergence as a promising player in 2019-20 means John Tortorella has two de facto No. 1 goaltenders, and the encouraging signs grow from the net out, as well.
The Blue Jackets' defense is deep, and it's more than likely where they'll trade from in order to bolster the offense. Dean Kukan has shown he can play as a NHL regular, Scott Harrington is a solid player who has the respect of his coach and teammates, Vladislav Gavrikov has assumed a top-four role and then there's Adam Clendening, who played in the playoffs last spring but can't get a sniff right now. There are a lot of guys on the blue line who have serious trade value, but the decision lies in whether the aforementioned up-and-comers are ready for more.
All of this is to say that the Blue Jackets' wish list should be obvious by now.
This is where we might see a trade, even though no one truly knows how the offseason is going to play out. The NHL and NHLPA still have no idea when (or if) the season will restart as COVID-19 continues to spread around the country, and that will obviously have an impact on a truncated offseason schedule which includes the NHL Draft and free agency.
Kekalainen needs to add an offensively-gifted center, but as we know, those players don't grow on trees. The Blue Jackets paid a steep price to acquire Matt Duchene for a couple of months last spring, so you can imagine what it would take to get a player with a contract beyond the coming season. Pierre-Luc Dubois has shown he can thrive no matter where you put him, and if he's the No. 1 center, they'll want an established player who can fill the No. 2 role until Alexandre Texier is ready.
Why get one offensive player when you could (potentially) get two? The free-agent class is not the strongest it's been in recent years, so this may be another opportunity for the Blue Jackets to get creative.
When you look back at how talented the 2018-19 Blue Jackets were, and how they had to battle their way in (when they should've easily been in), you get a better idea of how skill can be a difference-maker for teams in the mix. The Blue Jackets have done a tremendous job this season of hanging in the race despite their inability to score goals, and a litany of injuries to the players they count on to score goals.
Sort It Out
Who's part of the future, and who isn't? We haven't seen Brandon Dubinsky in months. Riley Nash has another year on his contract. Eric Robinson has shown flashes of being a serviceable NHLer. The Blue Jackets will undoubtedly be sitting down this offseason to outline their vision of what the roster looks like going forward–and you can safely bet that an infusion of skill is incoming.