With the March 8th trade deadline looming just about a month away, the question of who, or if, the Columbus Blue Jackets will be trading anyone remains. Trade talk has been ramping up, and rumors involving Jackets players have been circulating. At the 50-game mark this season, the Jackets are currently 16-24-10; while not great, it is a better record than last season’s 15-32-3 after 50 games. There are 32 games yet to be played this season. The improvement may not be as drastic as some fans want, but it is still an improvement. This leaves the question if that could affect the Blue Jackets’ possible trades and what it means for the team moving forward.
Rumors In The Media
A few weeks ago, TSN’s Darren Dreger gave his opinion on who the Blue Jackets may be moving or at least listening to offers on. He listed some pretty big names.
“Jarmo Kekalainen, the general manager of the Blue Jackets, is willing to listen on a couple of big-name guys like Patrik Laine and Ivan Provorov and there are others. Now, obviously, Adam Fantilli is untouchable, and there are other young players the Blue Jackets won’t want to move. A number of teams, though, are also very interested in veteran Boone Jenner, but he’s a heart and soul guy with a terrific contract, so it’s highly unlikely that the Blue Jackets consider moving him.”
To break this down, I’ll start with Jarmo Kekalainen himself. While not the sole reason for Mike Babcock’s hiring and firing before the season, he is part of the group that had made the decision. The situation with Babcock may have gotten the Blue Jackets season started on the wrong foot. Some fans on social media have been wondering if there may be a change of General Manager or other “front office” positions. If a major change like that is coming, such a big move may be made in the off-season, leaving Kekalainen and company to continue to make decisions and trades for the rest of the current season. While some may worry that their favorite player might get traded, it’s possible those moves would be made in the off-season as well.
Dreger had mentioned Patrik Laine and Ivan Provorov as candidates for whom the Blue Jackets are listening to offers. Starting with Laine, as mentioned previously, if a move is made, it would most likely be made in the off-season. This may be in part due to Laine having recently entered the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program citing mental health reasons, but also in part due to his $8.7 million cap hit. Some teams may have to move around other players and contracts to be able to acquire someone with that large of a contract.
Ivan Provorov is an interesting name thrown out there, as the Blue Jackets acquired him in the 2023 off-season last June. Although a recent hire, his value is evident, and certain teams may be very interested in a defenceman of his caliber. Provorov is under contract for another season with a $4.725 million cap hit. While there is a spot on the team for him, the Jackets are also starting to get a logjam of players at the defensive position. A trade of Provorov might help make room for other players, such as David Jiricek, to get more playing time.
Lastly, Dreger mentions that there are teams who are interested in Boone Jenner. He calls him a “heart and soul guy with a terrific contract.” Jenner’s leadership qualities, grit, and talent are easy to see on the ice. Dreger also mentions that Jenner has a great contract, and he’s unlikely to move. Before Jenner broke his jaw earlier this season, he was leading the Blue Jackets in goals and points and was also named the team’s 2024 All-Star. When healthy, Jenner is one of the top players on the Blue Jackets, all while only having a cap hit of $3.75 million. The production for the price is an incredible value for Columbus, and if a trade were to happen, there may be a very high asking price.
Other Trade Possibilities
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a young team. Their average age is 26.1 years old, which barely puts them above the youngest team, the Buffalo Sabres, who have an average age of 26.0 years. One of the main reasons for this is that, throughout the past few seasons, the Blue Jackets have primarily been focused on high-quality draft picks and obtaining other top young prospects. General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen has said that the Jackets are going through a rebuild or “retool.” For that reason, it may be more likely that an older and more experienced player would be a trade candidate rather than the Jackets losing a core young player that they are attempting to build around.
Some other potential candidates could include players such as Andrew Peeke, Sean Kuraly, Justin Danforth, and Jack Roslovic.
Recently, Martin Biron from TSN’s Sportscentre said that Andrew Peeke is a player that the Toronto Maple Leafs should target as he has two more years on his contract after this season at a $3 million cap hit. A potential trade that could fit well and help bolster the Maple Leafs’ defense but may not offer the Blue Jackets much of a return.
Kuraly, Danforth, or Roslovic could help add some experienced forward depth to teams that may be getting close to a playoff berth.
Roslovic is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Currently, he has a $4 million cap hit and could be a good rental choice or provide a good deal on a new contract. Kuraly and Danforth both have one year left under contract after this season. Kuraly has a $2.5 million cap hit, and Danforth has a $1.1 million starting next season. Both could provide valued depth for a good deal. As with Peeke, these three players, while talented and valued, may not receive offers for as significant of a return as Patrik Laine or Ivan Provorov.
Disgruntled Players and Possible Trade Requests
Recently, I wrote an article detailing recent talks from Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins and a potential trade request. In my article, I talk about how Merzlikins had publicly stated there was an agreement to find a “new scenario” and then that he requested a trade, but shortly after, there was a revelation from General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen that there has been no trade request from the goaltender.
Recently, General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen had this to say in a radio interview on the Justin Gregor Show,
“Well, it’s funny Because it first came out that we need a different scenario because he wasn’t playing and he wasn’t happy, and we wouldn’t want him to be happy not playing. Then it came out that he wanted a trade, and then he retracted that and said that he didn’t say that he wanted to–or misspoke–and doesn’t want to get traded, loves Columbus, and now he’s got the net for the last couple of games.”
While all of that may be a little confusing, the facts are that right now, there appears to be no word of a potential Merzlikins trade from the Blue Jackets front office. The situation appears to be a misunderstanding between Merzlikins, his agent, and the Blue Jackets organization, compounded by Merzlikins’ unhappiness about being a “third goaltender.”
Another player recently in the spotlight as being unhappy in their current situation is David Jiricek. I also wrote an article detailing his situation where he states, “I should be in the NHL, right?” and “I see guys from the same draft, like Nemec and Korchinski … they get a chance on the power play … I can compare with them. I just want a chance to play like that.” Jiricek said this after recently being sent down to the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate team, the Cleveland Monsters.
Blue Jackets President John Davidson had gone onto Columbus radio station 97.1, and when asked about David Jiricek, he had this to say:
“This is the most overblown pile of B.S. that I’ve heard since I got into management. And here’s my feeling, David is a good kid. He’s a strong-willed, at times, stubborn kid. He’s got a wonderful future and it’s going to be with the Blue Jackets. He’s a player that came to camp after an outstanding season last year in the American League, outstanding! And he made our team, the top 6. He was told to get a place, would you want him sitting in a hotel for 3 or 4 months? NO! He was told to get a place. Then he’s been asked to go down a couple of times. The key here is which, I don’t see written or talked about very often, is that, when he was told to get a place, he was also told by Jarmo, our general manager that, if you’re not playing games, you’re going to go to Cleveland to play games.”
Jiricek, who was drafted 6th overall in the 2022 NHL Draft, is a young player the Jackets may also like to build around. Even though he may not be extremely happy with playing in Cleveland, a Jiricek trade seems unlikely at this point.
Buyers or Sellers?
As stated previously, larger moves may be more likely to happen in the off-season, but if other teams are in dire need and are willing to pay the price, a large move is not out of the question. The Blue Jackets may be more likely to be sellers with some smaller trade pieces or ones less vital to their young core and development.
Being in a rebuild, drafting high-quality picks, and having a highly-ranked prospect pool may be reasons that the Blue Jackets are unlikely to be buyers by the March 8th trade deadline. If there is a large move some higher-quality players may be part of the return but it’s doubtful the Blue Jackets would be willing to “overpay” to gain any new players right now.