Brand new coach, same old result.
Thursday night the Columbus Blue Jackets dropped their eighth straight game in what was John Tortorella’s first game back behind an NHL bench. The hope was that Tortorella, who took over from the fired Todd Richards, would be the spark the Blue Jackets needed to immediately be jumpstarted to their first victory — or point, at the very least — of the season. Instead, a late redirect by Minnesota Wild winger Tomas Vanek ripped a potential overtime point from Columbus’ hands, and now the questions begin about what changes could be coming next.
Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen has made no secret of the fact that he has been exploring the trade market in search of a top-pairing defenseman and finding a deal isn’t going to be easy this early in the season. It’s clear, too, that Kekalainen doesn’t want to make any deals that mortgage his club’s future.
That said, here are five players Kekalainen could part with who could fetch his Blue Jackets a good return:
The most obvious choice to be moved out of Columbus is the 21-year-old Rychel. Drafted by the Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2013 draft, Rychel has spent much of the past two seasons in the AHL. In 51 games with the Springfield Falcons in 2014-15, he scored 12 goals and 33 points, and got a five-game audition with the Blue Jackets last season.
Throughout the off-season and into the beginning of this season, Rychel’s name has been the center of trade speculation out of Columbus. At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, he has the perfect frame to be a young power forward, a position that the Blue Jackets filled when they acquired Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks this off-season.
With Rychel’s upside, he could fetch a significant return should Columbus be willing to pull the trigger on dealing him away.
Jenner is entering his third full season with the Blue Jackets and coming off of a season in which he missed more than 50 games due to injury. In 31 games, though, Jenner managed nine goals and 17 points. He has the ability to be a very effective depth winger and his game is only looking like it will get better.
Like Rychel, Jenner’s size is maybe his best asset. He stands 6-foot-2, 208 pounds and he’s got decent wheels for his frame. He was an extremely prolific scorer in the OHL, notching 45 goals and 82 points in 58 games in his final campaign with the Oshawa Generals.
Jenner wouldn’t likely get Kekalainen a massive return — it’d be shocking to see Jenner be dealt one-for-one for an impact player — but if he is packaged with the right mix of picks and low-level prospects, he could be an interesting depth piece for whichever team lands him. Jenner is in the final year of his entry-level deal, so if a team were to deal for him, they wouldn’t have to worry about him going anywhere anytime soon.
From a pure points-per-game perspective, Dubinsky is coming off of the best season of his career. He missed nearly half the 2014-15 campaign due to injury but Dubinsky scored 13 goals and 36 points in 47 outings for Columbus. In eight games, he’s also the third-highest scorer on the Blue Jackets with two goals and four points.
Dubinsky is a consistent threat for 40 points per season and he’s scored 20 goals twice in his career. That said, he hasn’t reached that mark since the 2010-11 season with the New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets are getting younger and they need help on defense. Dubinsky, 29, is one of the more elder statesmen in Columbus and teams looking for a veteran pivot to play in a second-line role could do much worse than Dubinsky.
The biggest difficulty in moving Dubinsky is his contract, which kicked in this season, has a no-movement clause and modified no-trade clause and sees him earn $5.85 million for each of the next six seasons. That’s going to make it tough for Kekalainen to trade Dubinsky, but he could get a solid second-pairing blueliner in a one-for-one deal. If it’s a package deal, maybe the Blue Jackets can get even more.
Calvert’s name doesn’t jump off the page, but the 26-year-old signed a three-year, $2.2-million deal this off-season which is good value for the winger. He’s not going to wow with his offensive ability, but Calvert is a solid two-way forward. He can play on both a second power play unit and is more than capable of manning a top penalty kill.
It’s the versatility of Calvert that makes him intriguing. If he could stay healthy, he could be a 20-goal scorer. In his WHL days, Calvert showed the type of offensive punch that would interest some GMs around the league, as he notched 47 goals and 99 points in his final season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He’s entering his prime now, too, so the prospect of a couple career years might help Kekalainen move Calvert.
Trading Calvert would almost certainly mean packaging him with something, though, because the winger isn’t the kind of difference-maker that would garner a top-two or three defenseman coming back in any one-for-one trade. More than likely, Calvert could be an addition to sweeten the pot for the team Kekalainen is dealing with.
This is a stretch and would be the boldest move of all for Kekalainen, but this team is in desperate need of a top-pairing blueliner and Johansen would absolutely be able to fetch that. Johansen’s coming off of a career year with 26 goals and 71 points, can be an all-situations player if need be and is the top-line center on the Blue Jackets.
That said, with Columbus needing a goal to tie Thursday’s game against the Wild, Johansen was stapled to the bench. He didn’t budge from his spot for the final six minutes of the contest and skated a season low 13:57 even though he wasn’t on for a single goal against.
From a financial perspective, it also might be worth it to move Johansen. He’s making $4 million per season for the next two years and will be up for a new deal in July 2017. Contract talks with the Blue Jackets have already been contentious once and there’s no reason to believe they wouldn’t be again, because with the way Johansen performed in the first year of his new deal, he’s going to be needing a significant raise.
It’s doubtful — extremely doubtful, really — that Kekalainen has grown desperate enough for a solution in Columbus that he would entertain offers for Johansen quite yet. But if the Blue Jackets lose a ninth, tenth or even eleventh in a row, anything could happen.