The Columbus Blue Jackets are a fun, appealing watch right now.
Ever since losing 9-2 to the Florida Panthers on Jan. 15 in Miami, they've gone 8-5-0, ripping off five wins in their last six games, and seven of nine.
Since the All-Star Break, the Blue Jackets have been an offensive force, firing off 27 goals in those six games, including back-to-back seven-goal games in wins over the Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres, a franchise first.
Brad Larsen’s team has gone 6-1-0 on the road since that fateful Jan. 15 day, with that one loss coming to a Calgary Flames team that's outscored Columbus 12-2 in two games.
When the Blue Jackets lost to the Panthers in mid-January, they fell to 17-18-1 and they're currently 25-23-1. Jacob talked about the tough week ahead for the Jackets as they battle the Toronto Maple Leafs Tuesday night, and then another looming matchup with the vaunted Panthers before also facing the Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins.
As teams around the league skate past the midway point of the season and prepare for the final stretch before the playoffs, there will continue to be the usual discourse about trades, who goes, and who stays with their respective teams before the Mar. 21 trade deadline.
That's where it gets interesting in Columbus.
No doubt, the expectations for this team before the year were bleak. There was always the more-than-likely scenario of trading players off the current roster, whether that be RFA headlined by Patrik Laine, and players like Emil Bemstrom, Gabriel Carlsson, Jack Roslovic, and UFA like Max Domi, Joonas Korpisalo, and others.
As the team figures their way through the rest of this season on the ice, Jarmo Kekalainen and the front office must figure out the right path forward, both on and off the ice, for this season and beyond.
It starts with figuring out whether they believe they can agree to a long-term deal with Laine, who brings exactly what the team has lacked since losing Artemi Panarin: A bonafide scoring superstar.
In his seventh NHL season, Laine is still just 23-years-old and is on one of the best point-scoring streaks of his career.
Laine now has points in nine straight games. Six away from tying his career high point streak. #CBJ— CBJ Stats (@BlueJacketStats) February 20, 2022
Since Jan. 27, Laine leagues the league in points (18) and goals (10) and has had an astonishing seven multi-point games during that run. He's been a man on a mission since returning from his early-season injury and the passing of his father.
Also via the NHL.— Mark Scheig (@markscheig) February 21, 2022
Patrik Laine has multiple points in three straight home games. Only two players in #CBJ history have posted a longer stretch.
David Vyborny in 2005-06 (5 gms)
Artemi Panarin in 2018-19 (4 gms)#CBJ
It's fair to wonder the type of haul Laine fetches at the trade deadline, coupled with the current scoring binge he’s on, and the added bonus of an extra year of control on his contract.
After accepting his $7.5M Qualifying Offer, Laine will be an RFA next year and 1 year from UFA eligibility (2023).— PuckPedia (@PuckPedia) July 27, 2021
His qualifying offer next year will again be $7.5M. https://t.co/tpcqXGvr6G
For the Blue Jackets, they have to consider the long-term value he brings on the ice, but also the cost associated with a long-term contract as they look to get back into contention status. Elliotte Friedman discussed the Laine contract situation on The Jeff Marek Show (18:42).
Furthermore, do players like Laine, et al., like what they have with the Blue Jackets right now, and in looking forward, think this is the destination they desire to be long-term?
Indications from Laine right now are yes but as we've seen with other star-caliber players, we'll see.
If it gets to a point where a long-term deal is unlikely, then you move him and try to pull off another Seth Jones type haul to come back. At some point though, you'd like to keep stars in town. Especially given Laine's age.
If Laine and the Blue Jackets figure out a long-term pact, and the club is winning games at a quicker rate than previously thought, that could reverberate around the league. Other players might view Columbus as a contender that's close. A destination.
Free agency doesn't have to be the end all be all, and building through the draft is a huge priority and of increased importance in sports these days. And yet, most of the star players that have donned the Blue Jackets sweater found their way to Columbus more often via trade than free agency.
This isn’t necessarily a problem at all, but you can’t deny the effect star power can have, and there’s an added allure for the market when it means players choose to play for you.
Winning cures all, right?
Perhaps the victories on the ice now result in more victories off of it. Being able to retain stars like Laine would be a nice start.