The trade deadline has come and gone. If you’re interested in my thoughts on what happened, I did write a winners and losers column that you can read here. Of course, when you’re making an article like that you’re limited to assessing in the context of today. Every trade comes with varying degrees of risk and they’ll ultimately be viewed in the prism of how well or poorly those risks paid off.
I look at the Columbus Blue Jackets as the ultimate example of that. The Blue Jackets have Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky on expiring contracts and as the season has progressed, it’s become increasingly less likely that either will remain with the organization beyond 2018-19. Rather than hedge their bets towards the future by trading one or both of them before they walk away for nothing, they doubled down on this season by acquiring even more high-profile players set to be UFAs in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel along with defenseman Adam McQuaid.
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I listed Columbus as a trade deadline winner and I still stand by that. I think ultimately, this season represents their best chance to go on a Stanley Cup run in a while and with that in mind, they may as well go big or go home. Even still, there is that lingering doubt that was only intensified after the Penguins earned a 5-2 win against Columbus on Tuesday. With that, the Blue Jackets aren’t even currently in a playoff spot, though they could jump right back into a playoff position with a point against Philadelphia tonight.
Still, it raises the question: What exactly is a success for Columbus? Unfortunately there isn’t a simple answer there. I think most would agree that them missing the playoffs or suffering a first round exit would be a disaster. But would winning a single playoff series really be enough to justify the immense cost they’ve poured into this season? Keep in mind, they are down to just a third round pick and seventh round selection in the 2019 draft and they don’t control their second-round pick in any of the next three drafts. Along with prospects sacrificed, they’re going to have a tough time getting their rebuild off the ground if there is a mass exodus this summer.
So to me, them simply winning a single playoff series wouldn’t be good enough to justify the cost and yet it might be enough for others to declare victory. After all, getting to the second round would represent a franchise best for Columbus, though I’d argue that only really means something if they were positioned to go even further in 2019-20, which as things stand they probably won’t be.
Or will they be? That’s the other side of this equation. Bobrovsky’s days with Columbus are probably numbered and it would also be pretty surprising if Columbus ended up re-signing Panarin after all this. What about Duchene and/or Dzingel though? They’re more unknowns at this stage as far as their future with the team goes. Focusing on how far the Blue Jackets get this season is tied to the idea that Duchene and Dzingel are just rentals, but if they come to enjoy the city, then perhaps they’ll re-sign and that will make the cost of acquiring them look far more appealing. It is worth noting that the Blue Jackets would need to surrender their 2020 first-round pick to Ottawa if they re-sign Duchene, but if he agrees to an eight-year contract then they’ll gladly make that sacrifice.
With all those variables in mind, it seems fair to predict that Columbus will be one of the most popular topics of discussion over the next few months. From a fantasy perspective specifically, one other variable to keep in mind in all this is Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The 20-year-old sophomore has routine centered the top line with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson and has benefited greatly from that role. Dubois has 23 goals and 53 points in 62 contests this season. However, since Duchene came, Dubois’ role has been somewhat in a state of flux. In the Blue Jackets’ three games with Duchene, Dubois has logged 14:16 minutes, 9:16 minutes, and 14:44 minutes, compared to his season average of 18:19 minutes. He’s also averaged 2:42 power-play minutes per game in 2018-19, but has averaged just 1:21 minutes over his last three contests. Contrast that with Duchene’s average of 2:57 power-play minutes in the same time frame.
Whenever a player adds star talent, there will be players that have to sacrifice to make room and so far it seems Dubois is the prime example of that in Columbus. Despite all this, he does have a goal and an assist in his last three games, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he was somewhat quiet offensively in the final weeks of the campaign.
When it comes to the Eastern Conference wild card race in general, the main teams still vying for a playoff spot seem to be the Carolina Hurricanes, Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Columbus Blue Jackets with the positions in dispute being the third Metropolitan seed and the two Wild Card spots. Every other team in the East seems to either be essentially in or out of the playoffs. That being said, you can completely discount the possibility of the Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, or Florida Panthers making the playoffs if they get red hot down the stretch.
As things stand, the Flyers are seven points out with 19 games left, Buffalo is eight points out with 19 contests left, and Florida is nine points out with 20 games left. That doesn’t sound like a huge hole when you put it like that, but it’s incredibly difficult to make up even minor ground this deep into the season. A good resource to check to gain some context is Sports Club Stats and they’re giving Philadelphia just a 2.1% chance of making the playoffs at this point. Odds can be defied though and if the Flyers are to do just that, then this upcoming three-game road trip is huge. They’ll be up against Columbus tonight with the opportunity to make up ground against one of the teams they’re chasing. Then on Friday, Philadelphia will face New Jersey and they’re projected to start Cam Talbot for the first time. In doing so, they’ll break an NHL record for the most goaltenders started at eight. Given how many goalie problems they’ve had to endure in order to break that record, it’s in some impressive that they even still have an outside chance of making the playoffs.