Assessing Mathieu Olivier's Fit In The Blue Jackets Lineup

By Dan Dukart on June 22, 2023 at 1:45 pm
Mathieu Olivier skates with the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Blue Jackets made a relatively small but significant transaction on Wednesday, re-signing fourth-line winger Mathieu Olivier to a two-year contract with a $1.1M AAV

On the one hand, it's hardly notable when a 31st-place team re-signs a fourth-line grinder that tallied a pedestrian 5-10-15 in 66 games last season. On the other, having just watched the Stanley Cup Playoffs for two months, it's easy to see the appeal of a hard-nosed player that can contribute offensively and be an impediment to play against.

The elephant in the room is that, while finishing towards the bottom of the NHL standings, the Blue Jackets have an ironically oversaturated NHL lineup. The club has 16 forwards with an actual argument to be an NHL player, and that doesn't include the upcoming third pick in the draft (or, to a lesser extent, UFA Lane Pederson).  

While it's nice to have versatility up and down the lineup, it's also nice to know that a player is perfectly typecast for a given role. The Vegas Golden Knights fourth line of Keegan Kolesar, William Carrier, and Nicolas Roy was an asset in the run to the Stanley Cup, and it would surprise nobody to see teams around the league covet and try to replicate a fast, heavy, and decently gifted forward line at the bottom of the lineup. 

Expect Olivier to play a regular shift on the fourth line, even with a clogged forward group. He'll likely be joined by centerman Sean Kuraly and one of Justin Danforth or Eric Robinson. Players like Liam Foudy and Emil Bemstrom should be worried by this move, as it means more competition for bottom-six roles that are becoming more competitive by the minute. Players that are waivers exempt, like Cole Sillinger and Yegor Chinakhov, could also be spooked by a move like this, as the organization can send them to AHL Cleveland with no risk of losing the asset. 

Most NHL teams carry 14 forwards on the roster. While players like Johnny Gaudreau, Booner Jenner, Patrik Laine, Kent Johnson, and Kirill Marchenko are safe, the reality is that the organization will have at least two - maybe three - difficult decisions. One obvious remedy would be to find a consolidation-type of trade; moving two forwards for one, for example. But NHL GMs are unlikely to be in a rush to help the Blue Jackets, and players like Jack Roslovic, to be specific, aren't seen as an asset given his cap hit.

Re-signing the pending RFA was a no-brainer for the Blue Jackets, in the sense that it adds a proven and legitimate asset to the lineup. But for an organization that needs to weed through its crowded forward group, it means there are more questions than there were before yesterday. Perhaps the front office will begin to sort out some of these decisions at the upcoming NHL Draft. 

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