Trades start likely overhaul for disappointing Blue Jackets

COLUMBUS, Ohio — General manager Jarmo Kekalainen sees the overhaul of the Columbus Blue Jackets as “an opportunity to reload” rather than a rebuilding job.

Whatever he wants to call it, the Blue Jackets already look different after the trade deadline. The offseason could bring even more big changes.

When a March swoon made it likely that the string of four straight playoff appearances under coach John Tortorella would end, the Blue Jackets traded a core of popular veterans with expiring contracts for future draft picks.

The biggest name was 33-year-old Nick Foligno, the beloved Blue Jackets captain and a cornerstone of a team that was turned around under Tortorella. He was dealt to Toronto the day after 30-year-old defenseman David Savard, another of the team’s longest-tenured players, was moved to Tampa Bay.

Injured center Riley Nash, in his third season with the Blue Jackets, was traded to Toronto on Friday.

In all, the Blue Jackets ended up with two first-round draft picks in the 2021 draft, and second-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in 2022. That means they’ll have three first-round picks — and nine overall — in the draft this July, a rare situation made possible partly by a flat salary cap that hampered blockbuster trades and forced teams to get creative at the deadline to load up for the playoffs.

Columbus was in the unfamiliar position of being a seller. But Kekalainen, who called the losing season “an anomaly of some kind,” insisted the team can return as a contender in 2021-22.

“I think the return was good,” Kekalianen said. “We’re happy with it. I think it gives us an opportunity to reload, is what we call it, and it gives us plenty of different opportunities to do it. There are going to be some interesting decisions this offseason with the expansion draft coming and the flat salary cap.”

Earlier in the season, star center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who clashed with Tortorella and grew unhappy playing in Columbus in his first four seasons in the league, was traded to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine, who had two goals in Monday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to Chicago. Jack Roslovic, who also came as part of that trade, has played well and may also end up being part of the team’s new, younger foundation.

“Not to get nostalgic — I’m not going to do that — but it is kind of a little bit like the breaking up of the band because we went through a lot together as we tried to build this,” Tortorella said.

“It’s part of what our world is here in Columbus now,” he said. “We’ve got to start looking towards what we’re going to be again.”

Tortorella’s future is another question. After replacing the fired Todd Richards seven games into the 2015 season, Tortorella steered Columbus to four straight playoffs and won his second Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s top coach in 2016-17. He was a finalist for the honor last season.

With his two-year contract expiring at the end of this season, he and the team have said little about his future.

“We’ll make all those decisions in due time,” Kekalainen said.

One of Columbus’ excellent goaltenders also could be somewhere else by next fall. Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins could bring some badly needed offensive help if the team decided to deal one of them.

With Foligno gone, Columbus won’t name a captain for now. Cam Atkinson, now the longest-tenured member of the team, and Seth Jones will continue as alternate captains.

“We built this culture, it took a long time to get us where we are, and I’m sure as hell not going to let this thing slide,” said the 31-year-old Atkinson, who is signed through 2024-25. “We have an obligation to ourselves, and to this organization especially, to steer this in the right direction.”

Foligno’s family is staying in Columbus, and he has let the team know he would be open to signing with the Blue Jackets as a free agent after trying to win a Stanley Cup with the playoff-bound Maple Leafs.

“We’ve gone through a lot here in Columbus,” said Foligno. who came via a 2012 trade with Ottawa. “We’ve grown this thing to a point where we had a great little run.”

Winners and losers of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline

The 2021 NHL Trade Deadline is in the books so let’s take a quick look around the league at some winners and losers from the day.

Winner: Steve Yzerman and Brian MacLellan

For doing something not enough general managers are willing to do in the NHL: Make a bold hockey trade that is not related to a trade demand or salary cap structuring.

As the trade deadline approached it seemed like the day itself was going to be a major dud on the trade front. All of the major deals had already been made and the weeks and days leading up to the deadline, and outside of a few smaller moves earlier in the day there was not really anything that stood out.

Then the Red Wings and Capitals swung the Anthony Mantha blockbuster.

It is such a great trade for deadline because, 1) nobody expected it, and 2) both teams are getting exactly what they want. The Capitals get the best player in the trade that fits their team, is signed long-term, and they probably save salary cap space in the future, while the Red Wings get a very strong haul centered around Jakub Vrana and additional draft picks to add to their cupboard.

[Anthony Mantha traded to Washington Capitals]

Loser: Kevyn Adams

The return on the Taylor Hall trade was, in a word, underwhelming. Now, granted, Hall is having the worst offensive season of his career, he has a big salary cap hit, and his no-trade clause clearly impacted what the Sabres could do with him. Hall ultimately had the final say, and if he wanted to go to Boston, well, Adams’ hands are tied. But the Sabres are the ones that put themselves in this position. They signed Hall to a one-year contract in a year where everybody knew they had almost shot to make the playoffs and gave him a no-trade clause knowing that would mean he could dictate where he would go.

In their defense, they should have expected more production from Hall. But this signing clearly did not work the way they wanted and now they are left just looking embarrassed.

[Hall traded to Boston for underwhelming return]

Winner: Taylor Hall

He gets a chance to rebound from an awful start to the season on a better team with more talent around him, while also getting a chance to play in the playoffs for just the third time in his career.

Loser: Ken Holland

The Oilers only trade leading up to the deadline was to send a draft pick to the New Jersey Devils for Dmitry Kulikov which is … fine. It does not make or break the team or its chances in any meaningful way.

But what puts Holland and the Oilers in the loser column was Holland’s comment about how you can’t go all in every year and you have to pick and choose your spots.

Question: Why isn’t this year one of the years you want to pick?

The Oilers have two megastars in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl playing at the top of their game. Dominant players. MVP level players in the prime of their careers playing at their peak. A duo that most teams never get. And it is a year where you are in a division and in a playoff format where it might be possible to go on a deep run. It’s not so much the lack of moves, but the publicly stated reasoning behind it. Just seems like a defeatist attitude for a team that should be taking advantage of its window. If not this season, then when?

Winner: Julien BriseBois

He worked some magic with the salary cap to get the player he wanted (David Savard) to strengthen his defense. It is the second year in a row he went bold at the trade deadline and he still has Nikita Kucherov‘s return looming for the start of the playoffs.

[Blue Jackets trade David Savard in three-team trade]

Loser: Nashville Predators

The Predators have played their way back into playoff contention, and instead of adding somebody that could make an impact, they only added Erik Gudbranson. That does not really move the needle much.

Winner: Teams using salary cap space to buy draft picks, prospects

San Jose, Chicago, and Detroit all used some of their extra salary cap space to get involved in trades over the past few weeks to gain some free assets.

The Blackhawks were willing to take Brett Connolly‘s contract from Florida, while the Sharks and Red Wings were the third team in separate trades where they would retain a portion of contracts (David Savard and Mattias Janmark) in exchange for draft picks. Just a little salary cap creativity to give yourself an extra lottery ticket in the offseason. If you have the space, use it.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2021 Trade Tracker]

Winner: New York Islanders

With Anders Lee done for the season the Islanders had to get another forward in a close division. Their trade for Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac was a huge win given the low cost involved and the fact Lou Lamoriello convinced New Jersey to retain half of the remaining salary.

Loser: Philadelphia Flyers

Weird day. They were sellers by trading Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson, which makes sense given the way their season has gone. They retained salary on both trades, but only added a fifth and seventh round pick. The one player they could have traded for a meaningful return (Scott Laughton) they re-signed to a five-year contract worth $15 million. There is always a risk in signing a depth player to a long-term deal. Seems like a confused team right now.

[Flyers re-sign Scott Laughton]

Winner: Columbus’ draft stock

It has been a rough season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but they were able to get first-round picks for Savard and Nick Foligno, giving them three this year, including their own. That could make for some intriguing trade options this offseason.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Trade: Blue Jackets send David Savard to Lightning in 3-team trade

A busy day of trades continued on Saturday with the Tampa Bay Lightning adding another major piece to its lineup when it acquired defenseman David Savard in a three-team trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings.

The trade breaks down as follows:

Columbus receives: 2021 first-round pick (from Tampa Bay), 2022 third-round pick (from Tampa Bay)

Detroit receives: 2021 fourth-round pick (from Tampa Bay)

Tampa Bay receives: David Savard (from Columbus), Brian Lashoff (from Detroit)

Here is how the three teams got to that point:

Columbus initially traded Savard to the Red Wings for Brian Lashoff and retained 50% of Savard’s remaining salary.

The Red Wings then sent Savard to Tampa Bay for a fourth-round pick and retained 50 % of his remaining salary from the original move with Columbus.

Tampa Bay then sent the two draft picks to Columbus for Lashoff.

All of that maneuvering means Tampa Bay is getting Savard at just 25% of his salary cap hit for the remainder of the season. Given how close they are to the salary cap, that is very important.

Red Wings general manager Steve Yzerman, of course, spent years as the general manager in Tampa Bay and obviously has a strong relationship with current Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois.

[More: ProHockeyTalk’s 2021 NHL Trade Tracker]

In the end, the Lightning end up giving up three draft picks (a first, a second, and a fourth) to get Savard at a greatly reduced salary rate.

Savard was one of the top defenders available at the deadline and should further strengthen an already great Tampa Bay team that still has a Nikita Kucherov return looming for the playoffs.

It is definitely a steep price to pay in terms of picks, but the Lightning have not been afraid to pay steep prices at the deadline. Remember it was just one year ago that they traded two first-round picks and prospects for Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. That duo, along with Yanni Gourde, helped form one of the best lines in the playoffs and was a major factor in their Stanley Cup victory. That line has still been great this season. If the Lightning are able to put together another deep playoff run, and perhaps even repeat as champions, nobody in Tampa Bay will care about the draft picks.

Columbus, meanwhile, gets a very nice return in terms of draft pick capital for a veteran defender that it probably was not going to re-sign after the season.

Detroit gets an extra draft pick for simply getting involved and eating some salary to help Columbus and Tampa Bay make its trade work financially.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL Trade Deadline: 9 defensemen teams might target

The 2021 NHL trade deadline is Monday, April. 12 at 3 p.m. ET. As we wait to see who will be dealt, we’ll be looking at the top names who could be on the move next week. Today, we finish with defensemen.

Mattias Ekholm, Predators (30 years old, signed through 2021-22, $3.75M cap hit): As Juuse Saros keeps juicing the Predators’ win-loss record, defensemen like Ekholm keep slipping down various “trade bait” boards. But we might as well get two Predators defensemen out of the way first, as Ekholm and his upcoming colleague rank as the cream of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline crop.

It makes sense that the Predators might get cold feet about trading Ekholm, as he checks oh-so-many boxes. Blueliners as defensively adept as Ekholm simply don’t hit the market (trade or free agent) very often. When given the opportunity, Ekholm’s also revealed some offensive upside, too. Combine those skills with his bargain cap hit and the notion that you can get two playoff runs out of his current deal, and it’s easy to see why he’s so sought-after. And he might just end up too valuable for the Predators to trade.

[NHL Trade Deadline Primer: Back when it seemed clearer with Ekholm]

Ryan Ellis, Predators (30 years old, signed through 2026-27, $6.25M cap hit): About two weeks ago, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman raised eyebrows by asking if the Predators might trade Ryan Ellis instead of Ekholm. It seems silly that the Predators’ 2021 NHL Trade Deadline outlook could change so much after several wins, but hockey — and especially hockey goalies — can be tough to predict.

Ellis is an especially interesting name because, like Ekholm, he checks boxes on offense and defense. Consider how their multi-season RAPM charts compare, via Evolving Hockey:

Yes, Ekholm and Ellis are very, very good. (via Evolving Hockey)

Ellis stands as an even more potentially fascinating potential trade deadline target because such a move would be about the future more than this next run. At the moment, he is healing up from surgery, so a would-be buyer would be thinking about the many years left on his contract. Last season, he put up numbers comparable to Norris Trophy-winning teammate Roman Josi, only Ellis suffered through injuries that killed his argument. While his age makes this contract a gamble, it could pay off if he delivers at a high level. Really, it might make more sense to the (potentially rebuilding) Predators to move such a contract. If the price is right, Ellis could rank as a huge splash — but we might not see the biggest waves until quite a while after the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

David Savard, Blue Jackets (30, UFA this summer, $4.25M cap hit): When old-school hockey people conjure images of old-school, punishing, playoff-style defensemen, they think of someone like Savard. John Tortorella sees it that way, too, as Savard tends to go from playing solid minutes in the regular season (20:26 TOI average) to being a playoff workhorse (23:38 TOI average for his playoff career, 25:24 per night during Columbus’ last run). He’s also a right-handed shot, making him a rarer breed. There’s a lot to like, so he’s ranking as high as the top spot on some trade boards. Don’t let that time he boondoggled Victor Hedman fool you, though; Savard’s not going to bring much offense. There are some signals that maybe Savard’s asking price might outpace his reputation, too. If the price stays reasonable, he could be one of the best 2021 NHL Trade Deadline options, on defense and overall.

(It’s also way, way safer to bet on him getting traded instead of Ellis and/or Ekholm.)

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2020-21 NHL Trade Tracker]

Vince Dunn, St. Louis Blues (23, RFA this summer, $1.875M cap hit): From Savard, a defenseman old-school types love, to Dunn, someone who is often off the charts from a “fancy stats” perspective. Granted, Savard and Dunn share an interesting bond in being advanced stat friendly most seasons, except not quite as much in 2020-21:

Maybe Savard and Dunn aren’t so different? (via Evolving Hockey)

It’s a bit baffling that the Blues couldn’t find one taker for Dunn earlier this season. Sure, you might need to shelter him, but he’s a 23-year-old defenseman with at least some factors in his favor. He’s cheap for 2020-21, and could be a bargain going forward. Why not give him a shot?

Perhaps the Blues were/are simply asking for too much from a player they don’t seem to like a whole lot? Again, strange stuff, but Dunn carries the potential to be a heck of a reclamation project. Or maybe he was just overrated all along? Defensemen are confusing.

Josh Manson, Ducks (29, signed through 2021-22, $4.1M cap hit): A few years ago, Manson ranked as one of the NHL’s most underrated defensemen. His game has slipped in recent years, though. You can see it even in his deployment, as his ice time average dropped from 22:18 per game in 2018-19 to 20:38 per night last season, and all the way down to 17:19 this season. Not ideal on a Ducks team that’s basically asking John Gibson to save them most nights. That said, Manson’s experienced without being too old, is a right-handed shot, and some might hope that he merely needs a change of scenery. (If you need a laugh, consider the reported asking price of “first-round pick and top prospect” for Manson, as Pierre LeBrun reported for TSN.)

[Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Brandon Montour, Sabres (26, UFA this summer, $3.85M cap hit): Speaking of defensemen who saw better days a few years ago with the Ducks, we have Brandon Montour. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and that might sell a team on the idea that he could be useful in a better atmosphere than Buffalo. None of his numbers — traditional, or “fancy” really make you think he’d avoid his next coach’s doghouse for very long. (Then again, that skill, and he’s a right-handed shot …)

Ryan Murray, Devils (27, UFA this summer, $4.6M cap hit): Thanks to a dizzying array of injuries early in his career, Murray never really had a chance to justify being the second overall pick. Even of what turned out to be a lousy 2012 NHL Draft. Mike Ditka didn’t need the wig. To Murray’s credit, he’s found a niche as a meat-and-potatoes defenseman, especially during certain stretches previously with Columbus. It won’t be easier to trade Murray after the Devils already retained salaries in trading Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac, though.

Dmitry Kulikov, Devils (30, UFA this summer, $1.15M cap hit): Kulikov ranks high on the list of most confounding players of this pandemic-shortened season. Most seasons, he’s ranked somewhere between mediocre and outright bad. Yet, in this broken Devils season, he’s been shockingly effective. Observe one more RAPM chart from Evolving Hockey, which isn’t the only place where his metrics shine:

Most years, Kulikov’s charts are, uh, not this good. (via Evolving Hockey)

If you’ve followed Kulikov’s career, you’ll “Huh?” with me. Considering his miniscule cap hit, Kulikov might be worth a very small gamble at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

[Islanders land Kyle Palmieri from Devils in blockbuster trade]

Jamie Oleksiak, Stars (28, UFA this summer, $2.14M cap hit): Wait, by law, is Oleksiak allowed to be traded in a deal not also involving the Penguins? Might need to call Saul.

Anyway, Oleksiak is a huge defenseman with solid experience. He’s mostly been lingering around average, although he enjoyed a startling burst of offense when Rick Bowness allowed him to take some chances. Could be an interesting possibility if the Stars shop him at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline.

(Dials up Harvey Birdman, just in case.)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.