Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov is slated to hit unrestricted free agency after this season.
The basic premise in the case is simple enough to understand. The Blue Jackets aren't even in the ballpark of contending this season and can - under no circumstances whatsoever - allow Gavrikov to remain on the roster after the trade deadline AND watch him walk in free agency. On the other hand, the Blue Jackets' defense corps is among the worst in the NHL, and that's with Gavrikov playing. Trying to imagine the unit without him is almost laughable.
Here is the case for - and against - trading him.
The Case For
There's precedent for teams trading a top-four, blue-collar defenseman at the trade deadline, and the Blue Jackets are well aware of it. They recouped a first-round pick and third-round pick as compensation in the David Savard trade back in 2021. Last year, Ben Chiarot garnered a first-round and fourth-round pick. Per Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman, teams like the Edmonton Oilers are thought to have interest at a similar price for Gavrikov.
For a team in the midst of an obvious rebuild, adding high-end draft capital, particularly for a 27-year-old pending UFA, is sound asset management.
From a roster-building perspective, it may make some sense, too. The Blue Jackets have already used 12 (!) defensemen this season, an astounding number. While some of it is clearly due to injuries, the reality is that the franchise is interested in seeing what's coming. And what's coming is impressive. The average age of the 12 defensemen is 24 years of age, and that doesn't take into consideration that three of the organization's top prospects - Denton Mateychuk, Corson Ceulemans, and Stanislav Svozil - are playing in the NCAA or CHL.
It's not difficult to imagine next year's blueline comprising something resembling Zach Werenski-David Jiricek, Nick Blankenburg-Andrew Peeke, Adam Boqvist/Jake Bean-Erik Gudbranson. And if someone like Bean doesn't do it for you, there are players, like Tim Berni, Marcus Bjork, and Jake Christiansen, who still have 40+ games this season to insert their names into the lineup.
That thought exercise isn't to project next year's blue line as much as it is to show that it's a crowded blueline with or without Gavrikov. What if Mateychuk, Ceulemans, or Svozil makes a jump?
Put simply, the Blue Jackets are not a competitive team. Recouping quality assets in a trade is the responsible thing to do.
The Case Against
The Blue Jackets' defense stinks with Gavrikov, and the solution is to trade him?
The 6'3" Russian leads the team in minutes at both 5v5 and on the penalty kill. He's a minutes-eater. Sure, he's almost certainly punching above his ideal role, but who is left to take on such a role? He's an unsung player on a lousy team.
With a young and rebuilding club, having a steady and reliable defenseman that can eat heavy minutes is crucial. He's also one of the leaders on the club. While a youth movement is clearly underway, there needs to be some semblance of leadership within the club, and Gavrikov provides that, particularly (in theory) to young Russians on the team like Yegor Chinakhov and Kirill Marchenko.
Signing Gavrikov would help bridge the gap in time. In a few years' time, it's not hard to imagine some of the aforementioned kids, like Jiricek, Mateychuk, Ceulemans, and co. anchoring the blueline. By that point, Gavrikov would be slotted in an appropriate role, playing on the penalty kill and in shutdown opportunities.
The Final Word
The reality is this decision rests solely in Gavrikov's (and his agent's) hands. He has all the leverage in the world, knowing the state of the club and holding plenty of bargaining power with the clock ticking as he nears the free agent market. If his representation and the Blue Jackets are unable or unwilling to come to a contract extension with the club before the March 3 trade deadline, Gavrikov should unequivocally be traded. Full stop.
The real question is do the Blue Jackets feel that the capital outlay that is required - $5M AAV? $6M? - worth the cost? We'll know soon enough.