The Blue Jackets used a dramatic and expensive trade deadline to pull off the NHL’s greatest upset, and changed the win-now mantra for good.
Blue Jackets deals
With the departures of F Artemi Panarin and G Sergei Bobrovsky looming, the Columbus Blue Jackets had two options at the trade deadline. They could sell, and sell high, or go all-in for this season and make a run at the cup. They went all-in. Acquiring Senators F Matt Duchene and F Ryan Dzingel, and Rangers big guy Adam McQuaid (among other prospects and picks) all while giving up enough future picks and players for disrupt the future of the franchise. It was a gamble, and it paid off.
Not right away, I should add. Immediately following the trade deadline, Columbus was arguably worse than they were before. They went just 2-4 in the following six games, including a 4-0 loss to the Oilers. The Blue Jackets fell out of a wild card spot, and GM Jarmo Kekäläinen had seemingly burned the future of the franchise for nothing.
Just get in
When things finally turned around, the Blue Jackets had a chance at a wild-card spot, and just barely got in. Their prize? Playing the daunting, record-breaking, world-beating Tampa Bay Lightning. The closest thing we’ve seen to David v Goliath in the NHL world in decades. Tampa won 62 games, Columbus, just 47. Art Ross trophy winner Nikita Kucherov and the rest of the stacked Lightning were ready to sweep and keep it moving. Fans knew it, analysts and journalists knew, just about everyone who knows anything about hockey knew this was MAYBE a five-game series for Tampa. The trade deadline insanity for the Blue Jackets earned them just four or five more games.
The newest members of the Blue Jackets lineup weren’t exactly lighting up the score sheet, but their impact was seen by a lot of us, and it was clear they ended up better than they were. But, in no way were they good enough to play at the pace the Lightning bring every night. The storylines were endless, and only the most diehard Blue Jackets fans gave them a shot. Could they score against the Tampa Bay defense, would they be able to contain the record-breaking offense? No. No, they wouldn’t be able to, not even for a game in most people’s minds. To make things worse, Sergei Bobrovsky is a notoriously bad playoff goalie.
Then, the series began.
Dominating the Crease
Bobrovsky is currently posting .940 SV% and 1.67 GAA through three games. His postseason best prior to this year was .908 and 3.18 in six games, not even close to enough to win a series, let alone steal a game. The improvement can’t be overstated, not to mention it’s against a record-breaking regular season team. The Lightning scored 325 goals this year, +103 on the season. Scored five or more in over half their games, and never seemed to be contained at any point this season. The Blue Jackets gave up the fourth most goals of eastern conference playoff teams, +26 on the season. It should’ve been a slaughter.
Instead, Bob has been in Vezina form like we’ve never seen from him in the playoffs. In three games, the Lightning have scored just five goals, including three in game one.
Changing the deadline – The Blue Jackets way
If the Blue Jackets have taught us anything, it’s that there is more the deadline than going after the big fish. They used everything at their disposal to get the pieces they needed to take down a juggernaut. More often than not, good teams get complacent, and bad teams sell everything. Rarely do we see a “good” team like Columbus risk their future and go into a win-now mode in such a drastic fashion.
In a copy-cat league, this is one trend I really can’t wait to see more teams use themselves. Not just trading to make a trade, but using what you’ve got to make the jump. Especially when you aren’t sure if your two best players will even come back next season. This was the Blue Jackets last chance, and they’ve taken full advantage of it.