Are the Blue Jackets rebuilding or retooling?
That is for you, the reader, to determine. It's my job to lay out the evidence of what a rebuild and a retool look like.
The 2021-22 Blue Jackets finished fourth in the Eastern Conference Wild Card, 19 points behind Washington for the final playoff spot. In the 2021 off-season, trading franchise cornerstone Seth Jones may have signaled the beginning of a long and painful rebuild, but the return Columbus received in that trade, coupled with the team's performance this season, may have proven otherwise.
What does a true rebuild look like?
If you would like to find a team that is in a full-fledged rebuild, look no further than the Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes won the qualifying round against Nashville in the 2020 bubble and finished just nine points outside a playoff spot in 2021, but GM Bill Armstrong decided to hit the reset button. Through many trades, the Coyotes took on several unwanted contracts along with draft picks. The most notable of the trades included sending their captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson along with Conor Garland to Vancouver for a 2021 first-round pick, a 2022 second-round pick, a 2023 seventh-round pick, Antoine Roussel, Jay Beagle, and Loui Eriksson, who's contracts carried a combined cap hit of $12MM through the 2021-22 season.
TRADE ALERT #Canucks acquire defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and forward Conor Garland from the Arizona Coyotes.— Vancouver #Canucks (@Canucks) July 23, 2021
DETAILS https://t.co/VwgUTFVRAO#CanucksDraft | @ToyotaPacific pic.twitter.com/58I41nbENo
This season, Arizona finished 31st in the league and owns the third overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft. The Coyotes have also been rumored to be interested in trading Jakob Chychrun, arguably their best player, who is under contract through the 2024-25 season at a cap hit of just $4.6MM.
Yes, in 2021, the Blue Jackets traded their captain Nick Foligno to Toronto in exchange for a first-round pick, but have yet to make a trade strictly to take on salary along with a draft pick. Also, if the Jackets were going into a full rebuild, would they have given Zach Werenski the largest contract in franchise history, a six-year extension at a $9,583,333 cap hit?
Additionally, the NHL Draft could define what stage the team is in. The Blue Jackets have the sixth and 12th overall picks in this year's draft. Will they stand pat or pair those picks together to move up higher in the draft?
What does a retool look like?
A retool is vaguer than a full rebuild or reset, but since it appears the Jackets may be closer to that, I'd like to examine the potential next steps of what the future holds for the team.
Patrik Laine, Adam Boqvist, Jack Roslovic, and Nick Blankenburg are notable pending restricted free agents (RFA). The logical next step in a retool would be to extend those players, specifically Laine, Rolsovic, and Boqvist since they were acquired in the Pierre-Luc Dubois and Seth Jones trades, respectively. The rest of the "core group", whatever you make of that phrase, is under contract for next season.
Rebuilding is all about accumulating as many assets as possible. As I wrote earlier, the draft could be a reflection of the team's retooling, especially if they can package their two first-round picks and move up into the top five of the draft.
Following the draft, whether or not the Blue Jackets are aggressive in free agency could signal what direction the team is going and how close management thinks they are to competing.
Is the future now?
Will the Blue Jackets' off-season moves put them closer or farther away from playoff contention? Only time will tell. But it will certainly be interesting to watch the moves management does or does not decide to make.