The Columbus Blue Jackets’ acquisition of Matt Duchene shows a middleweight can sometimes land a stronger punch than a heavyweight.
While the hockey world was waiting to see which NHL powerhouse team landed the first premium player available in the trade market, the Blue Jackets, who are outside of the playoffs, connected on what could be the biggest trade leading up to the Monday 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.
The expectation was Duchene, on his way to a 30-goal season, would go to a top contender, such as the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets or Calgary Flames.
Instead, the Blue Jackets (33-23-3) gave up quality forward prospect Vitaly Abramov, B-level forward prospect Jonathan Davidsson, a first-round pick and another first-round pick if Duchene, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, re-signs with Columbus. The Blue Jackets also got defenseman prospect Julius Bergman.
This is a bold, risky move for the Blue Jackets, considering that there is no guarantee that they will even make the playoffs. They are one point out with 23 games remaining.
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But it’s a move that makes more sense when you consider their circumstances. The Blue Jackets have been in the NHL 17 seasons and have made the playoffs only four times. The franchise has never won a playoff series.
When the Blue Jackets launched as an expansion team in 2000, they were a hot ticket. Enthusiasm about the team isn’t the same as it once was.
Making the situation more complicated, the Blue Jackets have been unable to re-sign goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and the team’s most dynamic offensive player, Artemi Panarin. Both plan to sign elsewhere next summer. But now this seems to signal the Blue Jackets will hold onto them for the duration of the season.
The Blue Jackets may not even be done dealing, but they won’t move Panarin unless they can get back assets that help this season.
Trading Panarin or Bobrovsky for future assets wasn’t an attractive option. This isn’t a fan base eager to embrace a rebuild. The have been an NHL city all these years and don’t know what it feels like to make a deep playoff run.
Duchene could slot in at center between Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson, giving the Blue Jackets two quality scoring lines. It makes Columbus a better team than the Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens — both of whom are currently are ahead in the Eastern Conference wild-card race.
If the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, they could be a dark-horse candidate to make an extended run. Irascible, hard-edged coach John Tortorella, who has a Stanley Cup ring, knows how to push his players to a higher level in the playoffs. Tortorella teams are hard to play against in the postseason.