A New Direction

2020-09-17

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Andrew Payeur had to sit down and have a moment of reflection on the direction of his team after a disappointing second round playoff exit to the eventual Stanley Cup finalist Carolina Hurricanes. The team was expected to be a Stanley Cup contender, a notch below the eventual champion Dallas Stars, and Columbus had sold off large parts of its future in order to become that cup contender. But just like the year prior, it was all hype and no results. The team was unable to win the Metropolitan division and was easily defeated by the Hurricanes in the playoffs.  The expected path for most GMs would be to run it back with the same core group and try for another cup run. But executives within the front office knew that many of the team's veteran pieces would see diminshed 2020-21 ratings and because of that, expected the talent level of the roster to be eclipsed by several younger up and coming teams. With many key pieces of the team signed for only one or two more seasons before becoming unrestricted free agents, Payeur decided it was time to take the team in a new direction.  

It started as a simple retooling to move expriring contracts in Mike Hoffman and Mikael Granlund.  But as a result of the Granlund trade the team reacquired its own 2021 first round draft choice from the Ottawa Senators, opening up the possibility of tearing the team down further to maximize the value of that draft pick. 

A trade of Ivan Provorov to the Predators for Timo Meier was the next shoe to drop. Payeur's team building philosophy that acquiring skilled forwards is more difficult than a top defenceman, is what lead to that trade, and in the process allowed the team to add a 2nd round pick in the upcoming draft. Matt Duchene was the next of the veteran's to be traded, a player who one anonymous source within the organization described as "a third line center disguised as a second line center". He went to the flyers for defensive forward Valeri Nichuskin and promising prospect Tyler Madden.

Finally, on Thursday, Payeur made the most difficult decision of his EHE career in trading team captain and fan favourie Erik Karlsson to the New York Rangers. The ability to add NHL ready players in Hayton and Jokiharju, who the team believe can be high-impact contributors in just a year or two was the reason they were able to go through with the trade. Karlsson will surely be missed but major concerns around his injury history and doubts about whether he could reach his elite status again in the future were the reason the team decided to cut bait.

Payeur stressed that he's very happy with the returns he's gotten from his players so far and believes that with the remaining core of the team and with NHL newcomers in Meier, Jokiharju, Caggiula and Nichushkin the team could once again challenge for a playoff spot.

Meanwhile, veterans Evgeni Malkin, Shea Weber, Evgeny Kuznetsov  among others sit at home in limbo, wondering when and if their phone will ring.