Jarmo Swinging For Fences: Blue Jackets Have Positioned Themselves Well So Far In Early Off-Season

By Will Chase on June 13, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets' Elvis Merzlikins makes a save on New Jersey Devils' Damon Severson during the shoot out at Prudential Center.
Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets are among the early off-season surprises, making three bold moves in under a week.

From the reported rumblings breaking about Mike Babcock being hired as head coach, to the trade that was completed when Ivan Provorov was acquired in a three-team deal to help solidify the Jackets' defense just a couple of days later.

Another three days later, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen struck again, completing a sign-and-trade to acquire the then UFA-to-be in Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils that sent a third-round draft pick the other way, thus helping turn a sore spot on the Jackets depth chart into arguably its biggest strength.

Time will tell on that.

For now, the blue line can look any number of ways, starting off with Zach Werenski on the first pairing with Severson, presumably, right there with him.

You can slot in Provorov, likely on the second pairing, and you have Andrew Peeke, Adam Boqvist, Tim Berni, and Erik Gudbranson.

Surplus aside, the Jackets are sure to make more moves. Anything could happen in the days leading up to NHL Draft weekend.

Injuries have a way of testing depth, as the Blue Jackets have been forced to contend with far too often. But injuries should not be the crutch anymore. While it certainly helps to have a healthy roster, and the reason behind the numerous amount of injuries over the past few seasons should certainly be addressed, there are plenty of teams who have been tested just as often in that area and still found a way to contend.

Regardless of the early moves so far, it's far too early to assume the Jackets are going to be contending for much of anything yet. If healthy, and if the goaltending takes considerable strides under a new coaching staff, perhaps they are sniffing playoff conversation.

But make no mistake about it, Kekalainen's swing-for-the-fence mentality so far underscores the pressure and willingness the front office finds itself in after finishing second-to-last in the entire league. And with the moves so far, Kekalainen has doubled down on his message from Apr. 15, the day the Jackets fired Brad Larsen as head coach.

"Once we get everybody healthy, even the guys that are here, we're going to look like a completely different team," Kekalainen said. "But there's going to be some changes, too. We're going to look at every position and we're going to make the necessary changes.

"We want to get back into the playoffs. We've had enough of being on the outside looking in and watching the playoffs on TV."

The Babcock hire, once that is official, might be the ultimate off-season wild card for the team, no matter the additions and improvements made to the roster. And for good reason, considering Babcock hasn't coached in the league since 2019 and he has to prove he has learned from prior transgressions.

But so far, the Jackets look to have positioned the early portion of their off-season well, despite some curious comments from some in NHL circles.

For one thing, the Blue Jackets have given up a total of three draft picks: the 22nd and 80th pick in the 2023 draft and either a 2024 or 2025 second-round pick in the separate trades for Provorov and Severson.

Over the next four years that shouldn’t be a problem and he should come close to living up to his value. He has a projected value in the ballpark of $5.5 million in each of those years. It’s after that the problems will arise as Severson enters his 30s. This deal isn’t a disaster by any means, it’s just that with eight years of term, Severson probably should have landed closer to $5 million.

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