They have said it once, twice, a hundred times: Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen will not make a move unless it is in the best interest of the team, long term.
Davidson: “We have the same mindset we had two months ago, and it’s the same we’ll have this summer. We’re trying to get stronger long-term.”
Kekalainen: “We don’t want to subtract, we want to add — but not just for the short term.”
They reiterated their primary talking point last night, between periods of the Blue Jackets-Anaheim Ducks game in Nationwide Arena. They were speaking about the NHL trade deadline, which is 3 p.m. Wednesday. They find themselves in an interesting position.
Whatever happens, they will deal from strength. How odd. These are the Blue Jackets.
They beat the Ducks 2-1 in overtime and thus dispatched one of the strongest teams in the league last night. They are 10-2-5 in their past 17 games. They have willed their way into eighth place — playoff position — and they have done it with character, grit and goaltending. Who are these guys?
One can argue that management’s smartest move would be to “break up the Blue Jackets,” as the old joke goes. Their best long-term bet is in improving their lottery position for a draft that is deep and strong up top. Davidson and Kekalainen will have none of that. Their team has played well for two months and has been winning for a month. Its effort, and its results, should not be denigrated for the sake of ping-pong balls.
They have plenty of trade fodder, beginning with the usual suspects: veterans such as winger Vinny Prospal, 38, who has a no-movement clause, and defenseman Adrian Aucoin, 39. They are classic rentals. Also, there is goaltender Steve Mason, 24, who may yet thrive in another environment. Somebody is going to take a shot with him. Somebody should.
Will anyone take the contract of defenseman James Wisniewski, who carries a $5.5 million cap hit through 2016-17, or that of winger R.J. Umberger ($4.6 million through 2016-17)? On the off chance the Blue Jackets can rid themselves of such contracts, do they not try?
The Jackets also have youth to offer. They have 19 players on their roster who are under 30, and 15 who are 25 or younger. It behooves management to listen to pitches for any of these young men, with two notable exceptions: Ryan Johansen, 20, who has the potential to be a No. 1 center, and Sergei Bobrovsky, 24, who could be a No. 1 goaltender. The Blue Jackets have been waiting forever to fill these critical positions.
Beyond issuing their standard phrases, Davidson and Kekalainen did drop hints about the way they are thinking.
Davidson pointed out that the salary cap is about to drop from $70 million to $64.3 million, and there will be teams that need to cut salaries this summer. That will make for a more robust trade market later rather than sooner.
“And don’t forget,” Kekalainen said, “we have three first-round picks. If one of them helps us now, and long-term, we would think about (trading a pick).”
They could do it before the deadline. They could wait to see what the market is like, and what packages they may be able to assemble, before the draft arrives in late June.
“There will be a lot of phone calls between now and Wednesday,” Davidson said. “It’s a very interesting time of year. The players, they just want to play. Us, we just want to make the proper decisions.”
They are clear on their long-range plan and they can remain relentless in the pursuit, whether they are whirlwind traders or completely dormant at the deadline. Either way, their position is one of strength.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.