Despite His Injury, The Columbus Blue Jackets Could Still Trade Gus Nyquist

By Dan Dukart on February 2, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Gustav Nyquist skates with the puck against the San Jose Sharks
Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced on Wednesday that 33-year-old pending UFA forward Gus Nyquist will miss the remainder of the regular season due to a shoulder injury sustained on Jan. 28.

NHL insiders like TSN's Chris Johnston confirmed the season-ending news, before deleting his tweet and sending a new one that added some clarity that, in fact, he will play before the season's end. TSN's Darren Dreger also added that, despite previous accounts, Nyquist would still be in play as a trade piece. 

That seemed to square with what Nyquist, straight from the horse's mouth, told The Athletic's Aaron Portzline:

“It’s weeks, not months, and it doesn’t require surgery. My hope, honestly, is to be ready before the end of the regular season. My goal is to be back before the regular season is over. I’m hoping this heals fairly quickly.”

The whiplash involved with the story may seem like semantics, but not to Blue Jackets management. If Nyquist's injury was genuinely season-ending, it would be just another notch on the belt of terrible injury news the Blue Jackets have sustained in this hellish season. A trade piece on an expiring gets hurt and is out for the season? Yeah, that checks out. But if he's still in play, the Blue Jackets may still be able to salvage the situation.

Alright, here's where it gets weird. If Nyquist were truly to be out for the season (and playoffs), his trade value is null. Why would a team trade for a very injured player? But paradoxically, if he seems to be trending towards returning with just a few weeks left in the season, that would also hurt his trade value, as a team would have to figure out a way to fit his salary cap figure under the cap before the playoffs when the salary cap disappears. That is to say, the sweet spot would be if Nyquist is truly out for "weeks, not months" (and there's no reason to doubt him, other than that there seems to be conflicting information coming from him and his own team), it may be more palatable for a team. At least there's cost certainty. 

The most likely trade scenario would involve conditional terms. Per CapFriendly's filter tool, there were five trades at last year's trade deadline that involved conditional draft picks. While none of them are perfect allegories, it's not hard to imagine a trade involving the Blue Jackets back in 2021 when Riley Nash was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs for a 2022 seventh-round pick that would upgrade to a sixth-round pick if Nash appeared in 25% of the Maple Leafs 2020-21 playoff games. Coincidentally, Hilariously, the Leafs played seven games that postseason, and Nash played in two games, meaning the Blue Jackets were given that sixth-round pick (which became Josh Davies, though Columbus traded that pick to Florida, who selected Davies).

There are a number of teams in salary cap jail, and the Blue Jackets would be smart to help accommodate a trade by retaining salary. That would give them leverage to ask for higher draft compensation. 

Finally, it's worth acknowledging that there's a non-zero chance that, trade or no trade, Nyquist returns to the Blue Jackets next year. He's the type of veteran presence a young and rebuilding team could use, and it's been said that he would be amenable to staying in Central Ohio long-term. So while the next month could see Nyquist leave, the Blue Jackets could get the best of both worlds by recouping assets and making Nyquist a member of the team again this offseason.