Draft, Trades and Free Agency
Hello Jackets Fans...
Columbus was once again knocked out by the Stanley Cup Champions. Three of the last 4 Cup winners defeated the Jackets in round 1 of the playoffs (PIT in 2017, WAS in 2018 and TBL in 2020). The exception over the last 4 seasons was STL, who defeated BOS (and BOS knocked out the CBJ in 2019). Does this mean that Columbus is a really good team with really bad first round luck? Or does it mean that the Jackets are a pushover and allows the future champion a 'bye' in the first round. It is hard to argue either way, the former could be argued if they make a deep run in 2021, but the later could be argued if they miss the playoffs or bow out early once again. I will pick up this narrative as the 2021 playoffs come around...
Today is about off-season moves (or lack of moves). Jarmo has RFAs to sign and players to draft, but little else. The team is solid, they are young and there isn't any cap problem. Scoring is the problem that this team will face in 2021 as they did in the past season. But how does Columbus address this?
Columbus isn't a destination for free agent scorers as it's not a premier hockey market, the style of play here doesn't feature a top scorer and this team is focused on accountability and defense. The system does not accommodate a high scoring offensive player. I'm not saying that a top scorer cannot produce here, Panarin did. Cam has also scored 40+ goals in a season. The perception (and probably the reality) is that Torts runs a defense focused, team-first program. That style doesn't draw in top scoring talent with options on where to play.
At #21 in the draft, an impact scorer isn't coming to help in 2021. Just being honest. Any impact that may be felt from this draft pick is at least 2 years off.
What is Columbus missing... scoring, obviously, but what else. Most-if-not-all Stanley Cup Champions have veteran leadership. Dating back to the 90s (further would be my guess but I got tired of looking) every Stanley Cup winning team had a member that had previously won the Cup. That means one guy on every roster had been through the grind of the entirety of a Cup run and could provide insight about what it takes to do it. While Torts has done it, he needs a leader on the ice that has made a long run...or multiple long runs through the playoffs.
Tampa just won the Cup and they did it largely without Steven Stamkos. That is $8.5M in cap space that wasn't necessary to win the Cup. Columbus has cap space. SS is a veteran. He has extended experience in the playoffs. Problem is, he sat this one out. And that is the one TBL came out lifting the Cup.
What would Tampa want in exchange? They have proven that they can score without him and that there are other leaders on that team. He has 4 years of term left on his contract at $8.5M. One could argue that in 2 years time he will no longer be worth that cap hit, but he is only 30 years old. Here is the package that could entice TBL to negotiate with Columbus:
Columbus gets: Steven Stamkos
Tampa gets: 2020 1st-round pick (#21), Josh Anderson and Markus Nutivaara (or Ryan Murray)
Tampa doesn't have a first round pick in this draft.
Josh Anderson is an RFA and has a huge upside. Last season was injury filled, yes, but also saw a huge dip in his stats, meaning an RFA contract will likely be very reasonable.
Markus Nutivaara is young, with 2 years on a club-favorable contract and then will be an RFA. There are a lot of talented D-men in Columbus and he is a chip they can afford to spend.
If TBL wants Murray instead: When he is healthy, he is a top pairing defensemen. While he only has one year left on his contract it is with a favorable $4.6M cap hit. Tampa could re-sign him in season and (barring injury) be set with a top pair for years to come.
Jackets fans will cry that this is overpayment. It may be, but for leadership, experience and scoring like this you have to overpay. Truth is that Columbus may not be giving up enough in a deal like this and could be forced to sweeten it.
A move like this could blow up in JK's face, but I'd make it. It proves that you are willing to put the last pieces in place to support a solid core. You then have a few years to watch it play out. If you just draft at #21 (which is likely) you have to wait a couple years to even see what you drafted.
Argument against this trade:
Columbus has tried this before when they traded for Sergei Fedorov in 2005. This wasn't a terrible trade as he scored 43, 42 and 28 points over the next three seasons. Similarly they Added Adam Foote earlier in 2005 as a free agent signing. Neither was enough to provide a playoff birth or enough winning to be considered successful.
Why would this work with Stamkos?
There is a successful core already in place built from the back end forward.
Trade pieces will not greatly impact this team. There is more than enough talent on defense, Anderson was a non-factor last season and the #21 pick may or may not be an impact player in the future.
Stamkos is 30 years old. When the Jackets signed Foote he was 34. Fedorov was 35 when he joined Columbus. SS will be 34 when this contract expires. There is no guarantee and sometimes you have to take a risk to get rewarded. There is risk in keeping all those defensmen, Josh Anderson and the #21 pick, it is the risk that Columbus stays that team that makes the playoffs, is tough to play against, but never has enough to get over the hump.
Good Luck and Go Jackets!