Oh Elliotte, how you tease us.
The screenshot above is from Elliotte Friedman’s latest 30 Thoughts
column, and it’s one that undoubtedly perked up a lot of interest around these parts.
The Columbus Blue Jackets may consider trading down from the third overall spot. The spot affording whichever team there to select Finnish wunderkind Jesse Puljujarvi.
Let me in on this action.
Blow Them Away
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch did throw a little cold water on the whole thing a day later with this tweet.
So, what exactly does that mean, “blow them away”? What will blow the Columbus Blue Jackets away?
Obviously a deal including any of Calgary’s core (the Gaudreaus, Brodies, Monahans, Bennetts) would, but Brad Treliving isn’t in the business of making deals for the sake of making deals, and a Sam Bennett for the third overall pick is a sideways move at best. It would also be dumb and make me unhappy. Nor am I convinced that would even get a deal done, frankly. Columbus has a history of attempting to solve their problems through trade and that trade blowing up in their face (see: Carter, Jeff).
Of course, there’s also the flipside where fans assume packaging a Mark Jankowski with the sixth overall pick will move you up to the promised land of Jesse Puljujarvi. Columbus would really have to love Jankowski and we already know John Weisbrod works in BC, not Ohio. Some prospect you deem expendable in Calgary isn’t going to do the trick. Frankly, anyone off the Flames’ trash heap won’t do the trick; Columbus wants – rightfully – quality in return.
The Jackets, despite being a middling team the last few seasons, are approaching a cap crunch with many of their core pieces needing new contract extensions, and a host of bad contracts hogging cap space. They’ve been rebuilding all but one season since they entered the league nearly two decades ago, so some urgency to win with this group – or at least find some measure of success – is no doubt burning.
The trading of Ryan Johansen may have shored up their blueline via Seth Jones, but it left a glaring hole at centre. When Brandon Dubinsky and Alexander Wennberg are your top two centremen, yer gonna have a bad time.
They need NHL centremen in general, as well as a top line pivot.
Centremen are at a premium in the National Hockey League, and elite ones even more so. No one will just gift you a 1C without serious value in return (look no further than the Johansen/Jones deal).
Teams need to draft their franchise centreman, and it just so happens there are some pivots in this draft that hold such potential; they’re just ranked a little lower than third overall.
So, Calgary’s sixth overall pick is the starting point. Duh.
While extra picks are nice (I’m talking about Calgary owning 10% of the second round), I don’t think the Jackets are willing to trade an almost surefire top line RW for futures. They’d want something tangible, and it needs to be good on top of that.
Columbus is stupid deep on the wings, which is good because the Flames aren’t and would have nothing to offer in that respect. Their needs lie down the middle, as mentioned, and on the blueline as well.
Down That Middle
The Flames have just recently rebuilt the middle of the ice that was in absolute shambles for years, so what is the appetite to sacrifice some of that?
Getting back to the tangible talk, the Jackets are likely not terribly interested in Calgary’s scrapheap of centre ice prospects.
Bill Arnold has yet to sniff the NHL since his one-game stint with Gaudreau at the end of the 2013-14 season. His ceiling is third line centre anyways; that’s not vaulting you up to the top three.
Mark Jankowski? I realize a love affair with him has been ignited since he signed, but Jankowski isn’t likely to amount to anything more than a third line centreman, not to mention the immense risk associated with him. Same thing as with Arnold, he’s not the type of asset that convinces a team to move on from a Jesse Puljujarvi.
I would write about Joe Colborne, but that’s a bit of a waste of time seeing as the only time he ever looked like a serviceable NHLer was on the wing, and Columbus doesn’t need any more bottom six wingers.
So, you’re left with Mikael Backlund. If I’m Columbus, knowing the Flames don’t part with their other two quality centremen, Backlund is the guy I’m targeting, assuming I intend to bolster my weaknesses with the third overall.
Backlund is a bonafide middle six centreman and can effectively play against opposing teams’ top lines, not to mention just enjoyed a breakout offensive campaign. With Backlund and Dubinsky taking on the top two lines of any Jackets opponent, it frees up Wennberg for a more offensive role, which he’s significantly better suited for.
Backlund wouldn’t be a sexy pick up for Columbus, but like he’s done in Calgary, he would be an extremely effective one.
Then, if the sixth overall is used on a centreman, the Jackets have turned their pivot position into a strength with just one deal. That must be tempting, at the very least.
From a weakness to a strength over the course of the summer, the Flames have stockpiled a nice little collection of prospects on the blueline, and at all levels, too.
Brandon Hickey and Rasmus Andersson are both premier prospects outside of the pro-ranks, while Oliver Kylington and Brett Kulak headline a strong pro-class of defence prospects in the organization.
Could the Flames package a Rasmus Andersson and Tyler Wotherspoon to the Jackets along with the sixth overall for the third overall? There are any number of combinations you could concoct using the Flames’ blueline prospects to put together a good looking package for Columbus.
But – emphasis on the but – that then leads to the last, and frankly the most important part of this discussion.
Would It Be Worth It?
The biggest problem with trading away a Rasmus Andersson, as mentioned just above, is that then you no longer have Rasmus Andersson.
The guy who pushed for an NHL job as an 18-year-old and looks to be trending towards that 4D spot the Flames need to fill, is gone. Sure, there are other guys who can push for NHL jobs, but prospects are anything but sure things – quality AND quantity when it comes to them – and getting rid of promising ones is never a preferred action.
If you trade Mikael Backlund, then the same thing happens. You no longer have Mikael Backlund and, this being a worse scenario than trading a defenceman, there is no one to succeed him. I just outlined the Flames’ paltry depth of centre ice prospects, and if Backlund goes out the door, the Flames would have to turn to free agency more than likely to add an another centreman. Given the cap situation, it’s unlikely they bring in anyone of Backlund’s value.
So, as attractive and tantalizing it would be to add a player of Jesse Puljujarvi’s calibre, the guy being picked at six is also going to be a damn good prospect, and devastating the depth you’ve worked so hard to build up may not be worth the jump.
I’m honestly not convinced a Calgary Flames team with Jesse Puljujarvi but without Mikael Backlund is that much better than the reciprocal. Maybe by a bit, but not by a lot.
And if the sixth overall turns into a player, then this team is far better suited to keep Backlund, Andersson, or whoever else might be extorted by Columbus.
I’ve obviously been spitting out blind speculation about who, or what, it may be the Jackets would demand to move down to six, but if they need to be “blown away”, it’ll no doubt be a lot.
Maybe it’s Backlund AND Andersson? Or some combination of quality pieces the Flames have assembled. Would you deal the three second rounders to move up to third overall? Would Columbus even consider that? Remember, the New York Islanders once offered their entire draft
to move up TWO spots, from fourth to second, in 2012.
I don’t say this often, because I love trades and I love Jesse Puljujarvi even more, but if the Flames have to willingly succumb themselves to a fleecing in order to move up three spots in the 2016 NHL Draft, they should simply forget about. Alex Nylander will do.