NHL Rumours: Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, Winnipeg Jets

NHL Rumours
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Hello and welcome to a Tuesday edition of NHL rumours! Teams are busily preparing for what comes when the regular season ends. That means plenty of speculation swirling around contract extensions and the playoffs. Check Last Word on Hockey frequently for the latest updates. Today’s NHL rumours feature the Columbus Blue Jackets, Chicago Blackhawks, and Winnipeg Jets.

NHL Rumours

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rumour: The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline recently dove into what Columbus might do for the upcoming expansion draft.

Analysis: It is safe to assume that Columbus will use the 7-3-1 protection scheme when the time comes to shield players from Seattle. Six forwards and three defenders are obvious choices. The team can either protect a seventh internal forward or acquire someone from a different team that could be lost.

The seventh forward spot could come down to either Eric Robinson or Gustav Nyquist. Of those two, it seems smart to dare Seattle to take Nyquist’s sizable cap hit of $5.5 million after the 31-year-old skater missed all of 2020-21. Robinson has been a determined bottom-six skater with five goals and 11 points in 46 games. He is far more of a certain thing compared to Nyquist at this point.

However, this is a prime opportunity for Columbus to acquire a quality skater from a team with too many. That could be a team like the Tampa Bay Lightning. It’s not hard to imagine the Jackets targeting someone like Tyler Johnson given his ability to play both down the middle and on the wing. The Lightning could reacquire the pick used in the David Savard trade if they are inclined to lessen the number of players exposed when the time comes. The only thing that we can for certain is that Columbus has rarely avoided making big moves when the situation presents itself.

Chicago Blackhawks

Rumour: The Chicago Sun Times’ Ben Pope recently examined how Chicago handles Nikita Zadorov‘s future with the organization.

Analysis: It was hard to imagine Zadorov doing better in Chicago than he did with the Colorado Avalanche. He was going from a top team to one that is still working on its rebuild. That is reflected in the fact that the big Russian has just one goal and seven points in 44 games despite his highest average ice time since 2017-18. The lack of production, plus Chicago’s trade deadline moves, means he could get squeezed off of the roster after this year.

Zadorov seriously needs to move to a good team that can afford to play him almost entirely on defence. One team that might fit that description is the Winnipeg Jets. Winnipeg has three solid defenders including Neal Pionk, but they could use a true forechecker to support the core. If Zadorov joined Winnipeg, his 141 hits would lead the current Jets roster and his 59 blocks would rank fourth among all skaters. His presence would allow Pionk and Josh Morrissey increased deployment in offensive situations.

Chicago has very little reason to extend a qualifying offer to Zadorov. They have younger defenders to focus on moving into 2021-22. That includes Riley Stillman, who joined the team at the deadline. The 6’1″ Stillman is obviously not as big, but he is willing to get in opponents’ faces. He also has similar possession stats in fewer games. The Blackhawks have more incentive to try out the cheaper Stillman until their new defensive core coalesces.

Winnipeg Jets

Rumour: Saturday night’s Headlines segment discussed how the Jets pursued Jamie Oleksiak before the deadline passed.

Analysis: Oleksiak seemed to be a popular name on the rumour mill this year. The 28-year-old defender is about to reach free agency after this year and would have been a fine blueline addition before he stayed with the Dallas Stars. However, that doesn’t mean the Jets can’t pursue him after the season is over.

Winnipeg could use Oleksiak for some of the same reasons they could pursue Zadorov. The Toronto native has posted 100 or more hits and 50 or more blocks in multiple seasons since debuting in 2012-13. He is no worse than average in terms of possession stats either. Adding him to the Jets blueline would ensure the team can separate who plays on the power play and penalty-kill more cleanly.

Oleksiak also might be one of the cheaper quality defencemen on the market after this year. He is currently 21st in scoring among pending free-agent defenders despite having a cap hit of just $2.5 million. The former 14th overall selection won’t blow anyone away, but it’s not hard to see why the Jets were interested at the deadline.

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