Columbus Blue Jackets’ Playoff Gamble Doesn’t Pay Off


Even though they went further than many fans expected, the Columbus Blue Jackets ultimately fell in the second round of the 2018/19 NHL playoffs. The Blue Jackets made history by sweeping the President’s Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round but couldn’t solve goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Boston Bruins in the second series.

Columbus started the set against Boston in fine fashion by losing the first game 3-2 in Beantown in overtime and then bouncing back with their own 3-2 overtime victory to take over home ice advantage. They then moved into the driver’s seat by winning the first game in Columbus 2-1 but went crashing out by losing three straight by scores of 4-1, 4-3 and 3-0.

The Blue Jackets were outscored 17-11 in the six-game series including 7-1 in their last two home games. There’s no question they played determined, physical hockey for the most part but Rask had their number in net for the Bruins including a 39-save performance in the deciding game in Columbus. Rask posted a 1.71 goals-against average in the series with a 94.8 save percentage and earned the sixth shutout of his postseason career.

The Blue Jackets have now been eliminated from the playoffs four times at home in the five times they’ve appeared in the postseason.

There wasn’t much luck on Columbus’ side in game six either as they hit the crossbar three times. They also went 0 for 4 with the man advantage despite entering the contest with the best power play in the playoffs at 29.6 per cent. There was also a controversial moment that arguably could have altered the outcome of the game when 6-foot, 208 lb Boston blue liner Charlie McAvoy hit Josh Anderson in the head when delivering a body check in the closing minute of the second period.

McAvoy was handed a minor penalty instead of being been ejected from the game with a match penalty which would have given the Blue Jackets a five-minute man advantage. The Bruins’ rearguard will now have to sweat out a hearing with the league’s Department of Player Safety and could be nailed with a suspension when his team takes on the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final. McAvoy’s absence will be felt if he’s banned as he’s notched a goal and six points in 13 playoff games this season with a plus-8 rating while playing 24:46 per night.

Columbus failed to score on their chances though and that was the end of their exciting playoff run. And depending on your point of view that run was either worth it for the club and its fans or a huge risk and mistake that will be regretted in the next few seasons.

As most fans probably know, Columbus hung on to pending unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky at the trade deadline even though their odds of re-signing with the club are pretty slim. At first glance it’s obvious the team may not have gotten this far in the postseason without them since Panarin led the squad in playoff scoring in goals, assists and points with five, six and 11 respectively while Bobrovsky went 6-4 with a 92.5 save percentage.

The Blue Jackets could have traded one or both of their stars and likely received draft choices, prospects and/or established players in return. There were several of teams that could have used Panarin’s offense in the postseason with the New York Islanders being a prime example.

Not only did Columbus forgo a plentiful return for Panarin and Bobrovsky they gave up prospects Jonathan Davidsson and Vitaly Abramov for forward Matt Duchene of the Ottawa Senators and also handed Ottawa their first-round pick in this year’s NHL Draft and a conditional first-rounder in 2020. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t finished there though as he then made another deal with the Senators by sending young forward Anthony Duclair and a second-round pick in 2020 and 2021 for forward Ryan Dzingel.

In addition, goaltender Keith Kinkaid was acquired from the New Jersey Devils for a fifth-round pick in 2022 and defenseman Adam McQuaid was picked up from the New York Rangers for defensive prospect Julius Bergman along with a fourth and seventh-round pick in this year’s draft. After the dust had settled, Columbus was left with just two draft pick this summer which are a third and seventh rounder.

Duchene posted five goals and five assists in the playoffs and was a plus 4 while Dzingel chipped in just one goal and was plus-1. McQuaid didn’t play due to an injury and Kinkaid wasn’t used. While the trades for Duchene, Dzingel, McQuaid and Kinkaid themselves may have been good value, what made them such a gamble was the fact all four of them are eligible for unrestricted free agency on July 1st along with Panarin and Bobrovsky.

In the worst-case scenario, Columbus could lose all six of these free agents without receiving anything in return. But not only do they get nothing back for the players, they gave up quite a bit to acquire Duchene, Dzingel, McQuaid and Kinkaid in the first place. It could be a huge swing as instead of receiving prospects, draft choices and players in return they have now given them up themselves and could be back at square one.

Kekalainen will do his best to convince the players to stay and should be able to afford them under the salary cap. However, Columbus is a small-city team and it appears at least Panarin and Bobrovsky are more interested in playing for a big-market club.

It’s going to be very interesting to see who walks and who stays in Columbus when July 1st appears on the calendar. On the bright side, if all six players leave the club still has enough talent to perhaps challenge for a playoff spot again next year with the likes of forwards Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Boone Jenner, Riley Nash and Josh Anderson as well as rearguards Seth Jones, David Savard and restricted free agent Zach Werenski.