Columbus Blue Jackets, Elvis Merzlikins, Jarmo Kekalainen, Josh Anderson, Liam Foudy, Previews and Predictions

Blue Jackets Need to Make Season-Defining Decision

We now continue our month-long series on the Columbus Blue Jackets and the NHL Trade Deadline. In part one, we discussed why the Toronto Maple Leafs make a perfect trading partner. In part two, we explored why the Blue Jackets have reasons they could trade Josh Anderson.

Today, we get right to the heart of the matter. If you saw the game Saturday night, you saw the glaring need the Blue Jackets have.

A Quick Recap

The Blue Jackets carried a 1-0 lead into the third period thanks to their lock-down defense and Elvis Merzlikins. Then they came out and played their best period of the weekend to start. They dominated possession. They had several chances to make it 2-0. But they couldn’t beat Philipp Grubauer.

Then in a flash, it all changed. A turnover and a blast flipped the game from 1-0 to 2-1 in what seemed like a heartbeat. Although the Blue Jackets made a push at the end, they couldn’t get a tying goal. A familiar theme reared its ugly head.

Columbus Blue Jackets Elvis Merzlikins
Even Elvis Merzlikins couldn’t overcome the Blue Jackets lack of goal scoring Saturday night. (Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

Lack of Goals Again

Despite all of the recent success climbing back into the playoff race, the Blue Jackets still get into stretches where goals are hard to come by. Having the worst power play in the NHL since Dec 1 doesn’t help either.

In their last five games, the Blue Jackets have scored one, four, one, two and one. In the two games they scored more than once, there’s an empty net goal. So that’s seven non-empty net goals in their last five games, an average of 1.4 goals per game. Amazingly, they are 3-1-1 in those games. This perfectly describes the state of the Blue Jackets.

Going into Monday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blue Jackets have allowed the fewest goals in the NHL and are second in goals-against per game only trailing the Boston Bruins. But they are 27th in goals for per game at 2.63. With only four teams at a worse rate, this is a huge problem.

This is where the Blue Jackets must make a season-defining decision.

Their defense and goaltending have been outstanding. It’s the cornerstone of their team. It’s good enough to win in the playoffs should they get there. But their lack of goal scoring is concerning.

Here’s the decision that must be made by the Blue Jackets. How will they choose to address this glaring need? Is the answer from within? Or do they have to make a trade?

Given how the Eastern Conference playoff race is shaping up, this is not an easy decision. It will certainly put to test a lot of different elements of the organization from analytics to asset management and beyond. Let’s take a close look at the situation.

Jarmo Kekäläinen
Jarmo Kekalainen has two weeks to decide how to address their goal scoring before the deadline. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Current Situation

The Blue Jackets will need to evaluate if the answer to their season-long goal scoring situation can come from within. Josh Anderson should be back soon. Alexander Wennberg will eventually be back. So will Ryan Murray.

Three key pieces will come back to help this team. Wennberg was playing better before the injury. Murray is a solid defenseman when healthy and Anderson when right can impact a game. Will the Blue Jackets look at this as players coming back while the goal scoring regresses? Are they confident that goal scoring will improve if they choose to stand pat?

Before his injury, Anderson had just one goal and four points. Can he find his game in the heat of a playoff race? Will his presence allow others to find their game? The Blue Jackets will need to answer this question. His name has been in trade rumors of late so it makes this decision even more interesting.

So how will this play out? It will depend on some external factors including what is potentially being offered to the Blue Jackets in any trade. But here’s some different possibilities in play.

  • The Blue Jackets do nothing and depend on those currently there.
  • The Blue Jackets add a depth piece up front.
  • The Blue Jackets make a hockey trade and get an impact piece up front.

If they choose option three, the Blue Jackets would most likely have to part with a defenseman. Another decision that’s part of this equation: are they willing to do that? Given the injuries and the nature of the playoffs, you can never have enough bodies available. Having 9-10 defensemen on hand is almost a necessity. At what point will the Blue Jackets decide that giving up a defenseman is their best course of action?

They will not part with their first-round pick. So any hockey trade will involve a roster player or a current prospect. If the right deal comes, could a Danill Tarasov be part of such a package?

The need for forward help is glaring. It’s even more glaring down the middle. The Blue Jackets have reportedly made Liam Foudy an emergency recall for Monday’s game against Tampa Bay. That tells you everything you need to know about how they team views the help on the Monsters.

The ball is in Jarmo Kekalainen’s court. To make a trade or hold steady, that is the question. The team has clearly indicated they are good enough defensively and in goal. But they needs goals. Will Kekalainen give his team the help they need or is the team confident in who’s already there to turn it around?

No matter what they decide, the clock is ticking. We will find out soon enough what they think of the situation. The trade deadline is just two weeks away.

It’s truly a season-defining decision. Their chance at the playoffs depend on it.

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