The Columbus Blue Jackets had a tough choice to make at the NHL trade deadline. It appears they made that decision Friday with a big-time trade for forward Matt Duchene.
Columbus acquired Duchene and prospect Julius Bergman from the Ottawa Senators in exchange for prospects Vitaly Abramov and Jonathan Davidsson, a lotter-protected first round pick in 2019 and a conditional first-round pick in 2020. If Columbus does not get a top-three draft pick and if Duchene re-signs with the Blue Jackets, this deal will end up netting Ottawa two first round picks.
To add to the drama, Duchene is expected to be in the lineup for the Blue Jackets on Friday when they play…the Senators.
With Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky both on the last year of their contracts and unlikely to re-sign, the Blue Jackets faced a decision over whether they should keep their top two players and go all-in for a Stanley Cup run, or if they should trade them to collect what they can and not risk losing them for nothing in the offseason.
Clearly, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has chosen to do the former.
Duchene has 27 goals and 58 points this season and looks well on his way to a career year. He is a top forward and his addition gives Columbus a formidable offense. This most likely shuts the door on any possible Panarin/Bobrovsky trade. They simply paid too steep a price to get Duchene just to turn around and trade away two of its top players.
But does it make sense for a team that has never won a playoff series in franchise history to risk losing two superstar players for nothing just for one more run? Run at what? Can a team really go from zero playoff success to a Cup contender with one trade?
That seems doubtful, but the Blue Jackets did themselves no favors by sitting on their hands in the offseason after it became clear both Panarin and Bobrovsky were likely on their way out. Now in the thick of the playoff race, Columbus was unwilling to throw in the towel, but also unlikely to go very far in the postseason without doing something.
The Blue Jackets currently sit one point out of a wild card spot with 69 points. The Metropolitan Division standings, however, are very crowded and Columbus has two games in hand over the Carolina Hurricanes (70 Points), Pittsburgh Penguins (71 points) and the Capitals (75 points).
At the very least, the Blue Jackets are going to make some noise in the division standings and look poised to make a real push at a top-three spot. That could very well mean a Caps-Blue Jackets rematch in the postseason.
But at what cost? The worst-case scenario is that they could miss the playoffs or lose in the first round yet again and then lose Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and be left without a first round pick in the draft. The best-case scenario obviously is going all the way to win the Cup, but even with the acquisition of Duchene, how likely a scenario is that really with a team that has never won a series, a goalie under chronically underperforms in the playoffs and a team that could quite possibly end up playing a juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning team in the first round?
Realistically, the acquisition of Duchene will be enough to get Columbus into the playoffs and it may be enough to even get them their first series win. Looking back on the trade, however, will one series win be enough to justify the huge step back this team is now poised to make in the offseason? That seems unlikely.
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