In a whirlwind 72 hours, the Blue Jackets defense corps went from having multiple gaping holes, to having a surprising amount of strength and depth. And GM Jarmo Kekalainen was able to overhaul the back end, without giving up any of his own draft picks or prospects.
Jarmo has been outspoken about the team’s defensive needs after setting franchise records for goals against in each the last two seasons (300 in 2021-22, 330 in 2022-23). This summer, he’s gone out and changed the entire construction of his roster to try and improve upon this team’s goals against average.
First, on Tuesday, he went out and got Ivan Provorov from the Philadelphia Flyers. The former #7 overall pick (2015 – one slot ahead of Zach Werenski) had struggled in his last two seasons with the Flyers, leading to a mutual divorce from the team that drafted him. He was rumored to be seeking a change, and he gets that in being dealt to Columbus.
At one point considered a legitimate #1 defenseman in the NHL, Provorov will look to regain his confidence with the Jackets – a team who was desperately thin on the blue line last season. He’s been a durable, reliable player for the Flyers, a two-way presence who has missed only 16 games in his 7-year NHL career. He not only fits the stylistic mold for what the Jackets were hoping to add to their second pairing – his contract is a very palatable two years, $4.725m AAV with the retention by LA.
Honestly, it felt like picking up Provorov might just be enough to settle the Blue Jacket defense corps into respectability. But things were so awful for them this year (surrendering more than 4 goals against per game), that Jarmo went out and added another key piece, acquiring the negotiating rights to Damon Severson from the New Jersey Devils.
The Jackets and Devils execute a rare sign and trade here. Jarmo sends the Devils a high draft pick, in exchange for exclusive negotiating rights to Severson, who he quickly locks up with a full-term 8-year contract.
This is huge for the Jackets; had they waited until free agency to try and pitch Severson on Columbus, they would have had to bid against any other team in the league looking for help on the back end. Instead, they give up one of the draft picks they acquired in the Oliver Bjorkstrand trade – which also allows them to give Severson an eighth year on his deal.
Unlike Provorov, Severson is coming off of a really strong year with a high flying Devils team. He’s never been a big point producer, but he’s a steady, experienced two-way player who will immediately make it harder to play against the Jackets. He’s a good skater with an all-around presence, that should mesh really well with Provorov on the second defense pairing for the Jackets.