After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is examining where each team stands in preparation for the 2020-21 regular season, which is targeted to start Jan. 1. Today, the Columbus Blue Jackets:
The Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t need to acquire a bunch of players to revamp their lineup. All it took was adding Max Domi and Mikko Koivu.
Seeking to strengthen their depth behind first-line center Pierre-Luc Dubois, the Blue Jackets acquired Domi and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft from the Montreal Canadiens in a trade for forward Josh Anderson on Oct. 6 and signed him to a two-year contract the following day. Then they signed Koivu, an unrestricted free agent after 15 seasons with the Minnesota Wild, to a one-year contract Oct. 10.
With Domi centering the second line and Koivu centering the third line, Alexandre Texier and Boone Jenner can play wing and Columbus suddenly has a much different look. Playing wing will allow Texier to concentrate on developing his offensive game without worrying about a center’s defensive responsibilities and frees Jenner to utilize his aggressiveness as the first forechecker.
“We’ve always talked about getting strong in the middle,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “I think we’ve done that now this offseason with Max Domi and Mikko Koivu. I think we’re a very strong team down the middle right now.”
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The Blue Jackets (33-22-15, .579 points percentage) surprised some people last season by qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth straight season after losing goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (signed with Florida Panthers) and forwards Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers) and Matt Duchene (Nashville Predators) as unrestricted free agents. After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in five games in the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Blue Jackets gave the Tampa Bay Lightning, the eventual Stanley Cup champions, all they could handle before losing in five games (two defeats in overtime) in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round.
With the additions of Domi and Koivu, the Blue Jackets believe they can take another step this season. And they should have salary cap space remaining to further improve their team after they re-sign Dubois and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov, who are restricted free agents.
That salary cap flexibility could be utilized to sign another player or acquire one from a team that needs to create space.
The NHL salary cap will stay at $81.5 million for next season.
“It could be teams have to move money and, in order to move money, they might have to move some really good players,” Kekalainan said. “So, I think the flexibility will come in handy here and we’ll be ready to improve our team in whichever way possible.”
Here is what the Blue Jackets look like today:
Max Domi, F: The 25-year-old scored 44 points (17 goals, 27 assists) in 71 games last season, shifting between wing and center. The Blue Jackets hope playing full-time as their second-line center will help Domi return to his level from 2018-19, when he set NHL career highs with 28 goals, 44 assists and 72 points in 82 games. … Mikko Koivu, F: The 37-year-old’s 21 points (four goals, 17 assists) in 55 games last season were his fewest since his 21 in 64 games as an NHL rookie in 2005-06. But Koivu said he is completely healthy now after lingering effects of a 2018-19 knee injury impacted his play last season.
Josh Anderson, F: Limited to 26 games because of a shoulder injury, Anderson dropped to four points last season (one goal, three assists) after he set NHL career highs with 27 goals, 20 assists and 47 points in 82 games in 2018-19. … Alexander Wennberg, F: He scored 22 points (five goals, 17 assists) in 57 games last season. Wennberg signed a one-year contract with the Panthers on Oct. 9 after Columbus bought out the final three seasons of his contract. … Markus Nutivaara, D: He scored nine points (three goals, six assists) in 37 games last season. The Blue Jackets traded Nutivaara to Florida for forward Cliff Pu on Oct. 8. … Ryan Murray, D: Limited to 27 games because of a back injury, Murray had nine points (two goals, seven assists) last season. He was traded to the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft on Oct. 8.
On the cusp
Liam Foudy, F: The 20-year-old scored 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) in 45 games with London of the Ontario Hockey League last season. After getting one assist in his first two NHL regular-season games during an emergency recall in February, Foudy played in all 10 postseason games, scoring two points (one goal, one assist). … Andrew Peeke, D: The 22-year-old scored three points (one goal, two assists) while averaging 13:51 in ice time in 22 regular-season games as an injury call-up last season but did not play in the playoffs. He should get a chance to play regularly for Columbus this season following the trades of Murray and Nutivaara.
What they still need
A goal-scoring wing. Kekalainen acknowledged he made a pitch for Taylor Hall before he signed with the Buffalo Sabres. The Blue Jackets will probably resume trying to add a wing after re-signing Dubois and Gavrikov.
One of the potential beneficiaries of the Blue Jackets acquiring Domi is wing Oliver Bjorkstrand, who was having a breakout fantasy season prior to an ankle injury last season. Despite being limited to 49 games, Bjorkstrand led Columbus in goals (21) and points per game (0.73) and should still be available late in fantasy drafts this season. Bjorkstrand has a chance to play with Domi, who had 72 points in 2018-19, at even strength and/or on the power play and can benefit from his new teammate’s potential bounce-back season. — Pete Jensen
Alexandre Texier — Pierre-Luc Dubois — Oliver Bjorkstrand
Gustav Nyquist — Max Domi — Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner — Mikko Koivu — Nick Foligno
Zach Werenski — Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov — David Savard
Dean Kukan — Andrew Peeke