Now is the winter of our trade content.
Yes, there’s a chill in the air, and yet there’s also an awful lot of heat coming from the local hot-stove. Vancouver Canucks-related speculation is rampant at the moment, and we’re back again with another Rumour Roundup to help make sense of all the talk.
Today, we’re looking at those rumours about ongoing trade discussions between the Canucks and the Columbus Blue Jackets that just don’t seem to be going away.
Frank Seravalli was the first to mention some serious “smoke” around the two teams, though he was iffy on the details and clear about his mention of Bo Horvat’s name as being pure speculation.
The next day, Elliotte Friedman echoed those sentiments, again mentioning Horvat specifically as the Blue Jackets’ most likely target.
Since then, no one has made much effort to debunk the rumour or expand upon it. But it hasn’t gone away, either, so it’s time to break out the depth charts and see if we can’t figure out what might be going on.
What’s in it for Columbus?
The Columbus Blue Jackets are in an odd place, franchise-wise. Most assumed that they had already begun the process of a full, tear-down rebuild. But then they went and landed the top veteran UFA this summer in the form of Johnny Gaudreau, along with a couple other key veterans, and now their timeline has shifted.
Joining Gaudreau in Columbus is the previously-acquired Patrik Laine. Between the two of them, they’re making an average of $18.45 million a season to staff two-thirds of Columbus’ top line, but there’s just one problem: they’re both wingers.
In order to make a reasonable return on their investment, the Blue Jackets need someone capable of playing in between Gaudreau and Laine. Unfortunately, they’re coming up short.
Youngsters like Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson are too unpolished to be relied upon now, and there’s no real guarantee that they ever get to where they need to be. More established types like Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic have been doing their best to fit in, but none of them are built for top-line duty, either.
Ideally, if the CBJ are going to make the most of the most productive years on that Gaudreau contract, they’re going to want to find a capable top-line center sooner, rather than later.
And the Canucks might have not one, but two of those on offer.
Yes, Horvat’s name has been the one most frequently attached to the Blue Jackets, and it makes plenty of sense. He’s certainly scoring at a first line pace, and his sniping style may be the perfect fit for an elite playmaking winger like Gaudreau.
Horvat is a pending UFA, but we have to imagine that the Blue Jackets wouldn’t even consider trading for him unless an extension was in place. Given their place in the standings, they’re simply not in the market for a rental, and with no major re-signings on the immediate horizon, they’ll have the cap space to accommodate a Horvat raise.
But that’s not the only potential outcome of these trade discussions. The Blue Jackets could also take a look at the Ohio-born JT Miller, a player whose long-term status as a center is still highly questionable, but who did put up 99 points in that position just last year.
At first blush, Miller looks like less of a fit with Gaudreau and Laine than Horvat, but that might not be the case. Miller can score and make plays with roughly equal aplomb, and he could really mesh well with a playmaker on one side and a true sniper on the other.
If anything, a Gaudreau-Miller-Laine line is oddly reminiscent of the Lotto Line.
The Blue Jackets would have to swallow Miller’s extension as is, which they will have room for, but might be less willing to do than they would be with Horvat’s, as Miller is both older and presumably more expensive.
Then again, nothing beats home cooking, and the hometown factor could be an important draw.
Either way, suffice it to say that the Canucks and Blue Jackets have plenty to talk about.
What can Columbus offer the Canucks in return?
It does, of course, take two to tango. Now that we’ve established that the Canucks have something that the Blue Jackets might be interested in, can the Blue Jackets say the same?
Fortunately, the answer is a resounding “yes!”
Below, we’ll take a look at all the pieces that might make up a return for either Horvat and Miller, and explain why they might belong in the rumoured trade.
Columbus’ 2023 First Round Pick (with protection)
Any trade of Horvat pretty much has to return a 2023 first round pick. That draft has been hyped up for years now, and a first rounder is almost a standard price for a top-flite pending UFA, extension or no. The Canucks would certainly prefer to return one for Miller, too.
That being said, there’s just no way that the Canucks are going to get their hands on Columbus’ 2023 pick without some protection being attached to it. The Blue Jackets are, after all, only four points out of last place in the entire league, and they certainly don’t want to get caught trading Connor Bedard for Bo Horvat.
How much protection is included will be up to negotiations. It’s fairly safe to say that the CBJ would want the pick protected against top-ten placement, meaning that if the pick fell somewhere in the top-ten, it would automatically be bumped to next year. The Canucks would push for only top-five or even top-three protection.
Other Draft Picks
We don’t need to get into excruciating detail here, but it’s safe to say that other draft picks might be involved in any potential trade, and that the Blue Jackets have plenty of them to spare. Fully recovered from their deadline spending spree of a few years ago, Columbus has possession of all their important picks for the next few years, and a couple of spares, too.
This is the real prize of the Columbus system, at least as far as the Canucks see it. Jiricek, an 18-year-old RHD referred to by some as the “Czech Chris Pronger” was number one on a lot of Vancouver draft boards last year, and he remains the Blue Jackets’ top overall prospect.
That, in turn, means that they would be loath to part with him.
If the Canucks could land Jiricek — the exact sort of player for which they’ve been desperate for several seasons running now — all other pieces might be considered secondary.
But that’s a mighty big “if.”
A player whose name sounds like someone mocking Karson Kuhlman, Corson Ceulemans is in fact a real player and pretty darn good one, at that.
If not for Jiricek, Ceulemans would be considered the Blue Jackets’ top RHD prospect. Drafted 25th overall in 2021, Ceulemans would instantly become the Canucks’ best defence prospect, period, and go a long way toward solidifying their future blueline. He’s got size, skating ability, and a raw, all-around game that is showing great signs of development.
One has to imagine, too, that the Blue Jackets are a lot more willing to deal Ceulemans than they would be with Jiricek, and maybe even more willing to add bonus value on top of him.
Should the Canucks deal Horvat or Miller, it makes sense that they’d be looking for a long-term replacement in their own lineup. Who better than Port Moody’s own Kent Johnson, the 20-year-old center drafted fifth overall in 2021?
Like Jiricek, Johnson is the sort of elite prospect that doesn’t get traded very often or very easily. Unlike Jiricek, Johnson already has an NHL resume in the form of eight points in 24 total games spread across two seasons.
The CBJ do also have Cole Sillinger on hand, which might make them more willing to give up Johnson for a more immediate center solution. But it wouldn’t make for an easy negotiation.
Turning from prospects to veterans, the 24-year-old Andrew Peeke very much fits the profile of what the Canucks need on their roster right now. He’s a big, mobile RHD with some serious shutdown capabilities and a surprising amount of physicality, to go along with potentially untapped offence.
In other words, he’s everything the Canucks don’t have on the right side of their blueline, and Peeke is signed for the next three seasons at a very reasonable $2.75 million cap hit, to boot.
Another RHD option for this trade is the 22-year-old Adam Boqvist, currently on LTIR. He’s a little more offensively-oriented than Peeke, which might make him less of a fit for the Canucks, but he’d still find a place on the Vancouver blueline easily and constitute an upgrade on most of their established RHD.
He’s an option, just not a very exciting one.
Canucks fans will probably remember the 24-year-old Nick Blankenburg hammering a few of their players to the ice earlier in the season. Despite his 5’9” frame, that’s kind of the book on Blankenburg.
This is the sort of player who will probably never belong in a top-four, but who could carve out a long career for himself as a dependable, bottom-pairing defender with game-changing physicality. Or, he could be out of the league in a couple of years.
As a throw-in piece, he has some value, but he’s not anyone the Canucks should be focusing on.
We come now to the cap dumps.
As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have more than $8.72 million available in cap space, but that’s only because Zach Werenski and his $9.58 million hit are on the LTIR. Werenski is expected to miss the remainder of the season, so clearing up immediate cap space isn’t a priority for Columbus — just a preference.
In order to maintain flexibility for further additions, the Blue Jackets would probably ask, at the very least, that the Canucks take back the final year of Gustav Nyquist’s $5.5 million AAV contract. Nyquist, who has eight points in 18 games this year, wouldn’t do much for the Canucks, but he’d expire and move on this summer, so it’s not much of an ask.
Where the Blue Jackets will really want to cut cap is in all future seasons beyond this one, so as to accommodate a theoretical Horvat/Miller extension and leave enough space to continually re-sign their young players.
To help with this, they’ll probably ask the Canucks to take on the 33-year-old Jakub Voracek and his $8.25 million contract, which expires in 2024.
Voracek is still an effective middle-six winger, but he’s drastically overpaid. In fact, he’s so overpaid that including him in this trade would almost certainly require the Blue Jackets to add additional value to the trade.
Voracek’s cap hit wouldn’t be convenient for the Canucks next year, but much of that money was already earmarked for a Horvat and/or Miller extension anyway, so it might be a moot point, and this might be a workable solution.
What would you expect from the Columbus Blue Jackets in return for either Bo Horvat or JT Miller? Sound off in the comment section.