With ten defensemen fighting for six or seven jobs, the Jackets have set themselves up to have a far more competitive team this season. But first, they’ll have to send some guys back out. Can they use these pieces to improve other areas of the lineup?
There are three players off of that list of defensemen that I think this team could shop around the league. Each have different skillsets and values, so moving one, or even two of them, could lead this team in vastly different directions. They could bring back picks/prospects, or toss them into a deal with picks/prospects of their own, along with some depth pieces from the forward group, and make a bigger splash.
Right off the bat: Andrew Peeke just became a redundant piece for the Blue Jackets. His three year extension kicks in this summer, paying him $2.75m per season; which is a term and rate that is easily picked up by a team looking for a third pairing defenseman. The Jackets acquiring Gudbranson and Severson down the right side in each of the last two summers, tells us all we need to know about Peeke’s future with the team.
As far as a return here, it’s probably pretty minimal, considering the fact that Peeke is a defensive defenseman who just posted a league-worst -41 rating. Still, he’s an NHL player, and maybe a change of scenery (with fewer minutes) can help him find his way in the league again. He’s the most obvious trade candidate for this team at this point.
Jake Bean missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, and time seems to be running short for him. He’s struggled to carve out a niche for himself in the NHL to this point, but he’s a talented two-way presence who could still become a solid middle pairing guy in this league. He was showing signs of that before he went down with injury last season.
But, the Jackets have younger, more talented players coming along – and Bean still hasn’t done anything to really establish himself on this roster. He’s now buried solidly on the third pairing, behind two very good defensemen in Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov. He’s got one year remaining at $2.33m – so if he plays on the third pair, it’s not the end of the world. But, if a team likes him enough to take him in part of a deal to upgrade another position, the Jackets would be wise to strike here. They can always throw Nick Blankenburg into this role – or sign a replacement-level player to help buy time for Stanislav Svozil.
Adam Boqvist is the most unique defenseman the Blue Jackets have, in my opinion. He’s also far and away the most valuable trade chip they have on the back end at this time (assuming they aren’t trading any of Werenski, Provorov, or Severson). If they were to put Boqvist’s name out as a potentila trade chip, I feel like they could really go big game hunting and acquire a major difference maker up front.
A lot of this hinges on how they feel about the rest of the defensemen. Boqvist is a terrific puck mover, who will certainly lock down one of the power-play units when he’s in the lineup. He was really productive this season, even though he struggled to stay healthy. Really, he looks like he’s ready to be a big time contributor in the NHL. So, we come to a crossroads here: do the Jackets feel confident enough in the rest of their defense corps to move on?
In my opinion, if they believe David Jiricek is ready, Boqvist will be shopped this summer. They could get a really nice return on a guy who was the 8th overall pick in his draft, is still only 22 years old, and who has shown a penchant for putting up good scoring numbers already. They have fall-back options for their power-play units as well. Werenski will lock down the job on the top unit, and they could run with one of Provorov, Severson, Jiricek, Bean, or Blankenburg for the second unit job. All of those guys are capable puck movers.
Suddenly, the Jacket blue line looks more than formidable. They have a ton of options now, and with the draft still 18 days away, plenty of time to make adjustments to this roster. They’re just a couple of centers away from icing a playoff contender next season, assuming the goaltending gets back on course. Buckle up, the offseason is just getting started.