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Mark Scheig The Hockey Writers

Published on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

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Blue Jackets Remain Confident Despite Quiet Deadline

Unwavering confidence.

That is what Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen showed when he spoke to the media on Monday after having a much quieter trade deadline than last season. They made just two moves on the day. However the team seems pleased with how things went. You can watch his availability below.

When the dust settled on everything, the Blue Jackets sent two players to new teams while acquiring one. The makeup of the current roster didn’t change much at all as a result.

Recapping the Moves

In their first move, the Blue Jackets sent Sonny Milano to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for forward Devin Shore. As we talked about on Sunday, the writing was on the wall for Milano.

Things between him and the Blue Jackets were just not working out. He’s an offensive talent with a unique skill set. However that skill set was never fully utilized under the current system employed by John Tortorella.

Tortorella plays a very structured system which places emphasis on play away from the puck. It was in this area of the game where Milano struggled mightily. On many nights, he would find himself out of position. Bad reads and turnovers would results in chances against.

Tortorella tried to remain patient with Milano as he continued learning this side of the game. But you could see it just wasn’t working out. Therefore Milano was made available and they were able to find a trade partner.

In comes Shore, a versatile two-way forward who has spent most of his NHL career with the Dallas Stars before being traded to the Ducks. He’s a middle-to-bottom six forward who can play all three forward positions. He plays straight ahead and is the kind of player that fits better under Tortorella.

That said, the Ducks got the better player in the deal. Shore does not have the high offensive upside Milano has. As captain Nick Foligno said Monday, Milano could see things on the ice others couldn’t see. Then when they looked back on tape, they saw what Milano was trying to do. He sees the game in such a unique way. With a fresh start, it would not be surprising if Milano finds his game more consistently and becomes an offensive threat. But time will tell about his defense.

As for Shore, he will jump right into the Blue Jackets lineup Tuesday in Minnesota and will likely play center. Riley Nash left Monday’s game with an injury and did not return. So with Nash out, Shore becomes the 12th forward for the game.

As for a way too early grade, I give this trade a B-. The Ducks got the higher upside player for sure and there are some lingering questions about what all Shore can bring. But the Blue Jackets did get a controllable asset for Milano when it was once thought they wouldn’t get anything given his value. They also get a player more in line with how they want to play. Shore is 25 and a pending RFA after the season. If Milano can’t figure his game out in Anaheim, then the Blue Jackets did well here.

Devin Shore Anaheim Ducks
Devin Shore hopes to come right in and contribute right away for the Blue Jackets. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

A Second Move

In a second move, the Blue Jackets sent Markus Hannikainen to the Arizona Coyotes for a conditional seventh rounder in 2020. The condition is if Hannikainen plays 10 games with the Coyotes this season, the Blue Jackets get a seventh rounder. If not, then there’s no compensation.

The writing was on the wall for Hannikainen as well. Given all the injuries, he was bypassed several times. His own injuries didn’t help matters. But with him being in the organization for several years, the sense I get is they know exactly what they have and there just wasn’t a fit on the team anymore. They’d rather play other youngsters to give them a shot to see what they can do.

Hannikainen is a bottom-six winger who can kill some penalties. He was really never much of an offensive threat. This trade gives him an opportunity at a fresh start. It also opens a contract slot up for the Blue Jackets. They now sit at 47 contracts out of the maximum 50 allowed.

So despite not getting much back, the Blue Jackets get an A from me on this one. Hannikainen wasn’t going to play and they managed to free a contract up as well as AHL dollars since he was on a one-way contract.

Markus Hannikainen #37, Columbus Blue Jackets
Markus Hannikainen will get a fresh start with the Arizona Coyotes. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Overall Grade

So it was just those two moves. Overall I give the Blue Jackets a solid B for their deadline performance. They did get some forward help albeit not to the level of their Metro contenders. But more importantly, the Blue Jackets didn’t do anything crazy. They kept their top prospects in order and carry that valuable first rounder for the 2020 draft. That will be an impact player given how deep the top of the draft is.

It’s clear injuries handcuffed the Blue Jackets. Had they had the defensive depth of earlier in the season, perhaps they get an impact forward. But they made the best of the cards they had and they remain confident in their plan. They want to get back to draft and develop after the craziness of last season. In that sense, this is a good start.

The Blue Jackets now set their sights on the playoffs. They got some help in the form of Shore. Kekalainen admitted that both Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson are close to returning. Part of the deadline strategy was getting the injured back.

Even though it’s been a crazy season to date, the Blue Jackets believe in their plan and in each other. This was reinforced on Monday. It wasn’t flashy but it was effective. The Blue Jackets made the most of what was presented to them.

Columbus Blue Jackets Jarmo Kekalainen
Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen remains confident even after a quiet trade deadline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Gary Wiepert)

Side Dishes: The Game

  • There was a game Monday night, the only one in the NHL. Where do we even begin? Ottawa started the game with 18 skaters because Matthew Peca and Rudolphs Balcers were delayed getting to Columbus. Peca arrived and eventually entered the game. Balcers got to Nationwide Arena at 8:15 P.M. only to see his gear not get there. He didn’t play the entire night as a result.
  • Balcers raced to Columbus because the Senators sent Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Tyler Ennis and Vladimir Namestnikov packing to different teams thanks to trades. That left them short for the game. This is why playing a game on deadline day should be reconsidered. There’s enough stress on teams as it is. Now try having to play a game after making several trades. I hope the deadline becomes gameless at some point but I am not holding my breath.
  • Turns out Columbus ended up short too but because of injuries, again. Riley Nash took the worst of a hit and left the game. Elvis Merzlikins got run by Anthony Duclair and he left. Seriously did someone step on the Blue Jackets’ logo in the locker room? This run of injuries continues to be mind boggling with new ones seemingly coming up daily. The Blue Jackets just got Joonas Korpisalo back too only to lose Nash and Merzlikins. Anyone know of a good bubble wrap company?
  • But despite the injuries, the Blue Jackets gutted out a win. They were tired. Tortorella said as much postgame. They fought through it and finally found a positive result in overtime thanks to Emil Bemstrom. The win keeps them in the second wildcard spot for now and it breaks their eight-game losing streak. Full credit to Korpisalo for stepping right in and playing the way he did.
  • Stefan Matteau scored again and now has points in every game since joining the Blue Jackets. Here’s Tortorella postgame about Matteau and what he has to continue to do: “We have a standard as far as your body fat and weight – he had to meet that before he came here. He did that, did his work and has played some very important minutes for us and he’s going to have to continue.” His play caught the attention of management. He changed his approach and is now playing regular minutes. Tortorella can utilize him in different spots. “I can use him on both wings, he’s played three-on-three, we used him in the shootout the other night.”
  • My early impression of Matteau is that he’s not afraid to camp out in front of the opposing goalie. He scored his goal Monday from in front on a beautiful redirect. Here’s Matteau postgame: “I think it’s just working hard and trying to be simple, get to the net as quick as I can, beat your guy to the front of the net and be ready.” Matteau went on to say he and the team practice tips a lot. He’s winning battles down there allowing him to get these chances and it’s paying off in the early going. But as Tortorella said, he has to continue producing.
  • The Blue Jackets played an awful first 10 minutes. Nick Foligno said as much during an intermission interview. He said they’d rectify it and come back better the rest of the game. He scored twice to help the Blue Jackets to this victory. But he’s been leaned on heavily of late given the injuries. He’s produced. He’s playing at the level an NHL captain needs to play at. This couldn’t have come at a better time for him.
  • Tuesday will mark 11 games in 19 days for the Blue Jackets. That’s a lot of hockey. Can they gut out one more game against the Wild before getting some much needed rest? The schedule does ease up some in March before a crazy ending. The Blue Jackets are primed to make a run at the playoffs with some extra rest and healthy bodies coming back. They’ll spend the next week after Tuesday not having to leave Columbus while playing just twice. Can’t understate how huge that rest will be.
  • Matiss Kivlenieks was already called back to the Blue Jackets thanks to the injury to Merzlikins. Expect Korpisalo to start while Merzlikins gets healthy.

The post Blue Jackets Remain Confident Despite Quiet Deadline appeared first on The Hockey Writers.


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