Trading for Matt Duchene feels like a game-changer for the Columbus Blue Jackets, yet rather than making everything clear, it only seems to open up more questions about the future.
Just consider this tweet from Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, and you’ll realize that the Blue Jackets aren’t just facing a fork in the road. It’s more like Dr. Strange computing millions of potential outcomes.
Keep in mind that GM Jarmo Kekalainen seems secretive even by normal, paranoid GM standards. According to this fascinating article by The Athletic’s Craig Custance (sub required), Kekalainen sometimes goes as far as to buy a ticket to a game and disguise himself as a fan to do some scouting, rather than showing up at the press box, which would let people know he’s taking a look.
That’s a longer way of saying that it’s difficult to predict what, exactly, Kekalainen will do next.
At least it’s fun to try, though, so let’s have at it.
Scenario 1: Blue Jackets load up
Columbus fans are probably nauseated to hear this talking point again, but it’s unavoidable: this franchise somehow hasn’t won a playoff series yet. I say somehow because, frankly, Kekalainen’s accomplished quite a bit during his time as GM.
Combine that thought with the Metropolitan Division presenting what could be the weakest bracket in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s easy to see why Columbus would take a carpe diem attitude here.
Portzline notes that the Blue Jackets haven’t totally emptied their prospect cupboard (just a lot of their draft capital), so they could actually add more after landing Duchene and possibly keeping both Bobrovsky and Panarin. Cap Friendly projects the Blue Jackets’ trade deadline cap space at more than $22 million, and while things can get funky when you consider prorated money, the bottom line is that Columbus has some room to work with.
Scenario 1b: Doom
If Kekalainen is assembling “The Avengers,” then perhaps the Pittsburgh Penguins play the role of Thanos, trying to snap the Blue Jackets’ dreams out of existence.
As of this writing, the Blue Jackets aren’t located in a playoff spot, but games in hand hint at a brighter future.
But, really, the road goes through Pittsburgh.
The two teams have only played one time this season (Penguins won 4-2 on Nov. 24), so the division rivals square off on three more occasions. The remaining games take place in Columbus on Tuesday – the day after the deadline – and then the two teams square off in a home-and-home set on March 7 and 9.
Over the last three years, some promising Blue Jackets teams fell in the first round to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, and the Penguins authored two of those defeats. While not a guarantee, it’s quite possible that those head-to-head games might swing the playoff races (though Carolina could also bow out, maybe if the Hurricanes’ goalies flop).
Scenario 2: Lateral move
What if Duchene is essentially a replacement for Panarin, as discussed recently?
By just about any measure, Panarin is more of an impact player than Duchene, but it’s been heavily indicated that Panarin will leave Columbus in free agency. Portzline points out that, by landing Duchene, it may only increase demand for Panarin on the trade market.
The Blue Jackets could conceivably still be quite competitive with Duchene in and Panarin out, land some really great assets for Panarin, and extend Duchene, mitigating the painful damage of Panarin walking.
Naturally, there are a number of ways that could backfire. Generally, it would be an approach that would account more for the future without totally burning the present, while the loading up scenario would be all about now.
Scenario 3: Move Bob, Keep Bread
This doesn’t feel particularly likely.
Simply put, it’s difficult to trade prominent goalies, and it doesn’t help that Bobrovsky a) hasn’t been having a great season and b) could make things tricky regarding no-trade clauses.
There’s at least some logic to this remote possibility, though. Columbus could see some value in getting something for Bob before he’s gone, and goalies aren’t as reliable difference-makers as Panarin, who’s as close to a sure thing as you can find on the wing.
Don’t bet on that happening, though.
Scenario 4: Unload
It’s tough to imagine this happening after landing Duchene, too, but Kekalainen could even trade Bobrovsky and Panarin. That is, after all, a possibility that didn’t seem that outrageous earlier this season.
If that were to happen, would the Blue Jackets be comfortable rolling the dice with Joonas Korpisalo, or would they make things even more complicated by moving Bobrovsky out and bringing someone like Jimmy Howard in?
Scenario 4 would basically leave us all with impossible charts like Charlie Kelly from “It’s Always Sunny.”
The most likely scenarios come down to Columbus either loading up by keeping Panarin and Bobrovsky after landing Duchene, or moving Panarin and extending Duchene. But these are all just guesses right now.
For all we know, even Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets might not be totally sure how this will end up.
That makes the final days leading up to the trade deadline almost as exciting as it could be to watch Duchene and Panarin rushing down the ice. It’s up to Kekalainen to make sure Columbus doesn’t whiff on this chance.