The first big trade of the 2015-16 NHL season took place last week, when the Columbus Blue Jackets shipped Ryan Johansen to Nashville, in exchange for Seth Jones. The deal made perfect sense for the Predators — not only did they acquire the No. 1 center they’ve long been searching for, they dealt from a position of extreme strength to get him.
Most teams need blue line help, but the Preds had a relative treasure trove of talent at the position. Is Jones a gifted young defenseman with a lot of upside? Absolutely. But GM David Poile could afford to move him for the right price because he already has Shea Weber, Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis at his disposal. In this case, Johansen was the right price.
In fact, Nashville’s top line when the team took the ice against the Coyotes on Saturday read like an All-Star team of former Metro Division players: Filip Forsberg (acquired from Washington), Johansen and James Neal (Penguins).
From the Columbus perspective, Jarmo Kekalainen landed a potential blue line anchor for years to come. Couple that with the emergence of Ryan Murray and the eventual arrival of Zach Werenski, and the Jackets should be a tough team to score on in the not-too-distant future. Problem now is, they need a No. 1 center again.
Of course, that’s the risk you run when you deal away a 23-year old who has 59 goals to his name over the last two seasons and plays up the middle. Those guys aren’t easy to find but, for whatever reason (there are plenty of theories floating around out there), Columbus felt it was time to move on from Johansen. If nothing else, at least they got a decent return for him.
This isn’t the first time the Blue Jackets have been willing to roll the dice and move a quality offensive weapon in an attempt to strengthen the overall roster either. Here are eight of the most notable active forwards they’ve dealt away — for a wide variety of reasons — over the last five years:
Jakub Voracek to Philadelphia, for Jeff Carter (2011). Columbus also threw in a first and third rounder from the 2011 draft to sweeten the deal. To be fair, Kekalainen wasn’t the GM yet, so don’t pin this on him. And, at the time, the Jackets were really looking for a star player to help give the club a jolt alongside Rick Nash up front. Voracek was a highly regarded former first rounder (No. 7 overall in 2007) who had averaged 48 points over each of the prior two seasons, so they knew they were giving up a potential valuable asset. But they felt like they had to swing for the fences.
Antoine Vermette to Arizona (Phoenix at the time) for Curtis McElhinney (2012). Columbus got a second and fifth rounder in the deal too. This one wasn’t nearly as high profile as some of the others, of course, but Vermette was a productive pivot for the Jackets for just over three years. Since then, he’s gone on to play some of his most productive hockey in the desert — including a run to the Western Conference Finals the year Columbus moved him.
Jeff Carter to Los Angeles for Jack Johnson (2012). Remember that deal to bring Carter to town? That didn’t really go as planned, which prompted this trade with the Kings. Johnson’s been decent for the Jackets ever since, and they did get a conditional first rounder out of the transaction too, so this wasn’t just a complete waste or anything. But LA — who promptly rode Carter to a Stanley Cup just a few months after landing him — was the real winner.
Rick Nash to New York, for Artem Anisimov, Brandon Dubinsky and Tim Erixon (2012). Columbus also threw in Steven Delisle and a third rounder, while getting a first rounder back. The point of this piece isn’t to use 20/20 hindsight to retroactively grade all of the Blue Jackets’ moves. If that were the case, lifting Sergei Bobrovsky from Philadelphia and Nick Foligno from Ottawa would need to be included too. It’s more to show how many good active players have spent time in Columbus. And to point out just how busy of a year 2012 was for this franchise. Not only did both those moves happen at that time, it’s also when they moved the face of their franchise to the Rangers. Talk about upheaval.
Derick Brassard to New York, for Marian Gaborik (2013). There were other pieces involved here, but Brassard and Gaborik were the headliners. Similar to the Nash trade a year earlier, the Jackets swung a pulled off a fairly big swap with the Rangers. Unfortunately it had some similarities to another move the organization made earlier as well.Marian Gaborik to Los Angeles, for Matt Frattin (2014). Sure, there was a second and third round pick heading to Columbus too. Whatever. The lesson to be learned here is: if the Jackets pull off a blockbuster and it doesn’t work out, the Kings will be right there to scoop up the pieces and use said pieces to instantly win a Stanley Cup within months. First they did it with Carter in 2012, then again with Gaborik in 2014.
Artem Anisimov to Chicago, for Brandon Saad (2015). Marko Dano, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin and a fourth rounder also went to the Blackhawks, who tossed in Alex Broadhurst and Michael Paliotta to even things up. Obviously, the centerpiece of this one was Saad, who Chicago sort of had to move because of cap issues. Naturally, Anisimov is on pace for a career-high 28 goals in his first year with the ‘Hawks — but that’s what happens when you land on a line with Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin. At least Saad is already paying dividends (a team-leading 16 goals and 30 points). Otherwise, he might be on his way to LA.
Ryan Johansen to Nashville, for Seth Jones (2016). See above. They got a very good player back, but there aren’t many teams willing to move a center with Johansen’s skill set because a) there simply aren’t enough No. 1 centers to go around in today’s NHL and b) everyone remembers the trade that sent a gifted young center named Tyler Seguin from Boston to Dallas a couple years ago. Is Johansen on the same level of Seguin? No, but it’s still not a common occurrence to see a player like him get shipped away. Then again, the Jackets have already shown they’re not afraid to make a deal or two.