Columbus Blue Jackets Load Up – And They Still Ain’t Done Yet


They weren’t the real Columbus Blue Jackets. Certainly not the version that Johnny Gaudreau signed to play with.

From the moment the 2022-23 season began, Columbus was falling off a cliff. Top marksman Patrik Laine suffered his first of multiple injuries in the season opener. The Blue Jackets limped home after their Global Series trip to Finland with a 3-9-0 record. A game later, No. 1 defenseman Zach Werenski suffered a season-ending shoulder injury.

Although official counts vary, the Blue Jackets have lost more than 550 games to injury this season, the second most games in the NHL. A year after they were just one game under the .500 mark, they dug deep into the NHL basement and ended up getting the third overall pick in a loaded draft. the NHL in 2023 later this month.

From the way GM Jarmo Kekalainen saw it, however, that would be next to impossible. not to improve after such a cursed season. And with the Metropolitan Division in a state of flux as the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins playoffs wrapped up, there was an opportunity to get aggressive. Especially when, unlike those of many divisional rivals, the Jackets’ farming system was quite loaded.

So it made sense that the Jackets won 22 this yearn/a overall pick, which they acquired from the Los Angeles Kings at the trade deadline, in a three-team trade that brought Ivan Provorov to town earlier this week.

« He’s a real top-four defender, » Kekalainen told Daily Faceoff. « He hasn’t had his best years in the last two years, but before that he was always a blue-line stallion. A top-10 choice in this major draft (2015). It has just entered its peak. He’s a young defender. Defenders usually take a long time before they can really mature and become a stable force on the blue line. And our left side now, with Zach Werenski and him, we have two stallions to swallow up the minutes and all the particular situations. And guys who are big and strong and hard to go against, because of their strength and mobility. (Provorov) fits perfectly with what we need to do.

Kekalainen uttered the words Thursday afternoon during a chat in which he also said his team was « under no obligation » to make any changes. He’s a man of his word: Less than 24 hours later, boom, another bombshell, this time adding to the right side of his blue line, landing Damon Severson of the New Jersey Devils as part of a sign and trade after the Devils locking him in for eight years at an AAV of $6.25 million. They suddenly have a long-term top four to build around Werenski, Severson, Provorov and one of Adam Boqvist or world-class prospect David Jiricek, who is expected to push for full-time NHL service next week. next season after getting a brief taste of 2022-23.

And that always might not be the end of Kekalainen’s cowboy tactics this offseason. When assessing what his team still needs, he singled out another part of the formation.

« Center ice is obviously (a need), but it’s still the hardest position to fill, » he said. “I think we will have a very good one at No. 3. And we may have to wait for him to be part of the team and have an impact on our team. But we are patient and know that our window to really compete here is only opening up in the next couple of years. We want to patiently build towards that and not rush for immediate help and rush when our window really opens so we can get back to where we can not only make the playoffs, but compete for the Stanley Cup.

So, for anyone wondering if Matvei Michkov could become a Columbus blue jacket: it certainly doesn’t seem to be based on Kekalainen openly expressing a desire to land a proper center. That means it’s likely to be Leo Carlsson’s name or Will Smith called up at No 3 – unless Adam Fantilli slips that far. That said: even though Kekalainen preaches patience, he went out and got Gaudreau and now Provorov and Severson in back-to-back offseasons. Are we sure Kekalainen isn’t ready to make another aggressive move? He managed to bring in Gaudreau, Provorov and Severson without tapping into his pool of prospects; the likes of Jiricek, Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson and Denton Mateychuk all remain in the system. So would Kekalainen be willing to trade the No. 3 overall pick later this month?

“We are pretty much locked down. Someone should really blow us away with an offer we can’t refuse before moving that pick,” he said. “It would have to be a young player who we know will be with us for at least eight years and out our window when we get to that place where we can compete for the Stanley Cup. We’re not trading him for a player who can help us for the next three or four years or something, who’s getting older and past his prime by the time we’re ready to compete. I don’t see that happening. I guess you never say never.

“But we’re not desperate to compete next year or be a Stanley Cup contender next year. We know we have work to do, and we’re going to do it in the right order and make sure we’re building in the right way, so that when our window opens, we can load when needed if we get we are getting closer to the deadline like we did in 2019.”

Even if the Jackets stick with their pick, they could bring in a player who can make an immediate impact or, at worst, be a major contributor by 2024-25, as long as it’s not Michkov, who is signed until now. in 2025-26. in the KHL.

Questions will be sure to ask how much the Blue Jackets have improved from a team culture standpoint; Provorov brings some baggage from the league-wide chain reaction that has occurred this season after refusing to wear a Pride jersey in warm-ups as a Flyer. When I asked how he factored that into the decision to acquire it, Kekalainen wouldn’t add anything he didn’t. already said earlier this week when he defended freedom of choice. The rumor that the impending hiring of Mike Babcock as a coach is not something Kekalainen can discuss yet given that Babcock remains under contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs until June 30, but it will raise more of questions due to allegations that he psychologically abused players in the past.

So it remains to be seen how well all the new pieces and personalities will come to fruition in Columbus. But at least on paper, this team is undeniably improved. It’s time we stopped sleeping on the Blue Jackets.



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