Welcome to trade deadline Monday, where the NHL spotlight is shining brightly on Columbus. Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, with two of the biggest names on the market, is sure to be making and fielding phone calls right up until the 3 pm deadline.
At one time, it seemed almost certain that the Jackets would deal either goalie Sergei Bobrovsky or forward Artemi Panarin, or both, but as the seconds tick towards the deadline, it feels less likely.
"We want to send a message into the locker room and to our fan base that we're serious about winning," GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Sunday, as he discussed his aggressive moves to acquire high end talent, rather than trade it.
Since Friday, Kekalainen has parted with draft assets, prospects and forward Anthony Duclair in order to add bona fide scoring punch in separate trades with Ottawa. First it was the Friday deal to grab center Matt Duchene, who played for the Jackets in a 3-0 win against Ottawa that night and then scored his first Blue Jacket goal Saturday in Nationwide Arena in a 4-0 victory over San Jose. Moments after that game ended, word circulated that Ryan Dzingel, a former Buckeye, was also heading from Ottawa to Columbus.
Duchene, 28, is a legit, top end center, who has 229 goals in his 10 year career and Dzingel, 26, is having the best year of his career, with 22 goals, one shy of his career high and 22 assists, already a career best. Like Bobrovsky and Panarin, both of the new Jackets stand to be free agents on July 1. Kekalainen's mindset however is he'll worry about free agency this summer.
"We're serious about winning," Kekalainen said when asked Sunday about the possibility that Panarin or Bobrovsky might be traded. "The answer is still the same. Only if there's an offer that really makes sense in the short term as well as in the long term will be be moving either one of those guys."
That's not to say that such an offer might come before 3 p.m. In fact Kekalainen's aggressive moves could well have increased the interest in Panarin. In terms of basic supply and demand, by taking two of the more valuable offensive trade deadline assets off the market, Kekalainen may force a team looking for high end offensive talent to offer more for Panarin than they would have three days ago. Even if there are more attractive offers however, it's no guarantee that Kekalainen will pull the trigger on a Panarin deal.
"Artemi Panarin is a huge part of our team," Kekalainen said. "It would take a lot....we're not trading Artemi Panarin for draft picks."
For Blue Jacket fans, who are starving for not just a playoff berth, but a playoff run, Kekalainen's "damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead" attitude is inspiring...but it's also risky. There's no guarantee that the additions of Duchene and Dzingel will translate into playoff success and with as tight as the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference are, it may not even mean a playoff berth. Having said that, without the benefit of hindsight, I love it. I love a GM going "all in." I love hearing a GM say "we're serious about winning" and I love the shot of adrenaline it gives Jacket fans.
We'll see what's in store in terms of Panarin and Bobrovsky these final hours before 3 p.m. and we'll see how all the moves Kekalainen has made and will make work out. For the here and now however, you have to give Jarmo Kekalainen credit. He's put his chips on the table and his neck on the line. The question that will now to be answered is will the Jackets deliver?