If the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t all in before, they certainly are now.
Little more than 24 hours after Jarmo Kekalainen fired the first salvo of the 2018-19 trade deadline, pulling the trigger on the first major deal of deadline season with the acquisition of center Matt Duchene from Ottawa, the Blue Jackets GM has gone back to the well and worked out another swap with the Senators that brings another major trade chip, Ryan Dzingel, to Columbus for the stretch run.
The Blue Jackets bring aboard Dzingel at what has thus far been the zenith of his career, as the 26-year-old is in the midst of the best of his four NHL campaigns. Posting totals of 14 goals and 32 points and 23 goals and 41 points over his past two seasons, Dzingel has exploded this season with a 22-goal, 44-point output through 57 games with the Senators this season while skating a top-six role. And in landing Dzingel — for whom the Blue Jackets had to ship out winger Anthony Duclair and second-round selections in the 2020 and 2021 drafts, while recouping a 2019 seventh-round pick — the Blue Jackets bolster their offense once more, adding another weapon to their arsenal as Monday’s arms race looms.
If it wasn’t evident before, too, the move to add Dzingel all but assures that the Blue Jackets are pushing their chips to the middle and going all-in on this season. In the past two days, Columbus has made maybe the single-most aggressive deadline play of any team in recent history, particularly as far as future assets are concerned. They have now shipped out not only their first-round picks for each of the next two campaigns, but also moved along the only two second-round choices they had in their coffers across the next three drafts. That is the work of an organization that believes, fully and completely, that they have the ability to win the big prize this season.
In saying that, it means that Dzingel is now added to a group of top-six forwards — or top-nine, if you wish to stretch it — that includes himself, Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and, of course, Artemi Panarin. And when it comes to the latter, while there are no guarantees in this world beyond death and taxes, the Blue Jackets’ two moves over the past two days would seem to indicate that Panarin is in Columbus to stay beyond the deadline. That should give the Blue Jackets not only a corps of wingers that can compete with anyone in the Metropolitan Division, but a group that is comparable to the best in the Eastern Conference.
Don’t believe it? Well, here’s some food for thought. With the acquisition of Dzingel, and with the not-so-bold assumption that he’ll play in their top-nine, Columbus’ top-nine wingers will now have scored a combined 127 goals and 249 points this season. By comparison, the Tampa Bay Lightning’s top-nine wingers — who belong to the East’s top team and the most lethal offense in the NHL — have registered a combined 98 goals and 266 points. That’s an indication that Columbus has managed to narrow the margin or gap or chasm, whichever you prefer, between their offense and the best of the best.
As for the Senators, this is yet another deal with an eye towards a rebuild, and it’s no doubt true that the three- or four- or five-year outlook got that much better with Saturday’s move. While it may have been preferable to retain a proven commodity, Ottawa can use the picks it has acquired to build a deeper prospect base, from which they can draw as they attempt to take strides towards a future far brighter than the awfully bleak present.
The one present-day asset included in the deal for Ottawa, Duclair, has had modest success this season and does little for the Senators at this time. Truth be told, his inclusion is of little consequence. It had become apparent that he had fallen out of favor with Blue Jackets bench boss John Tortorella, and now with his fifth franchise and fourth in two seasons, the hope has to be that the constant movement won’t entirely hinder Duclair's ability to find his footing at some point. The raw talent exists, but one wonders if he’ll get the chance to harness it in Ottawa or if he’ll hit the open market once again and have to attempt find it elsewhere, NHL or otherwise.
What becomes of the Senators’ haul in the swap, though, won’t be known for some time. Right now, in the present, this is a move by the Blue Jackets with the next few months in mind. It’s said that fortune favors the bold. And Kekalainen is sure hoping there’s truth to that, because few team builders in memory have been as bold as the Columbus GM ahead of this season’s deadline.