It sounds silly to say it but this is one of the most critical offseasons in Blue Jackets history. They have talent and they have a lot of different options in front of them. Most of those decisions are unenviable and will determine the shape of the club.
But in reality, what should be the priorities for Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen?
Should they be aggressive on the trade front, aggressive in free agency or should they overall show some patience that lends credence to the rebuild rumblings that have come out?
Here is a list of priorities for Jarmo as he goes into a critical part of the offseason:
1. Trade Seth Jones
This is really going to be the decision that is going to send everything else in motion. If he pulls the trigger before the draft and he gets a haul prior to that, he can play around and make a bigger deal happen.
Recently we have heard that Kekalainen will be patient with a decision but in reality, getting the most out of this trade is going to set the table for everything else. The dichotomy around draft picks could change after the draft and thus may be more available then. Regardless, Jones should be the first domino to fall.
2. What to do with Patrik Laine
Everyone knows the capabilities around Laine and his offensive game. His first season in Columbus was not great by any stretch. He is a restricted free agent and figuring out what he should be paid is very difficult. Thus, trade rumors have been floating around and Laine's name has come up in the rumor mill.
Rather than another long and drawn-out saga with a young player, the Blue Jackets need to prioritize their decision on Laine and ensure that they have this player in the fold before the beginning of the season.
3. Who is back-filling the Jones role?
The Blue Jackets prospect pipeline on the defensive side does not have anybody that can fill in the Seth Jones role in the coming years. Zach Werenski is his own player and doesn't necessarily fill the same niche as Jones. He is definitively more offensive and a wholly different player.
Andrew Peeke is the only close to the ready player and he is not projected to be on that level. So similarly they need to look to free-agency or via the trade market for a defenseman that can pair with Vladislav Gavrikov or Zach Werenski. Frankly, the right-handed defenseman situation wasn't great prior to the Jones news.
The priority for a right-handed defenseman is high but in general, a defenseman that can keep up in the top-four is going to be a big deal.
4. Figuring out the middle of the ice
The Max Domi experiment is still not fully concluded and given the volatility on the roster it might be slightly unfair to say whether or not he can fill the role. Jack Roslovic was great in his time with the team and seems like a lock as a top-six center. As they continue to figure out the position, similar to the defenseman priority, they need to determine who the core is here and dive headfirst into it.
Leaving it as a question mark only adds to the confusion around the makeup of this team. If they want to rebuild, they need to prioritize this position more than anywhere else.
These four priorities are the top areas that need to be answered and as the waiting game continues, Kekalainen's patience will be the biggest storyline to monitor. What exactly will the triggering event be?
If left unaddressed, that in itself is letting us know that the rebuild train is coming down the tracks. Get ready.
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