“People say we used picks and mortgaged our future,” Kekalainen said. “And if we traded Artemi Panarin for draft picks, [they’d] say, ‘They don’t want to win now.’ So it’s just one of those things — you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. But every year is an opportunity to compete, and I feel we have a really good team and this gives us an opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup.”
Kekalainen deserves to be optimistic. With the Senators, Duchene created 117 scoring chances at even strength, including 53 from the high-danger areas such as the slot and crease; only center Pierre-Luc Dubois and wingers Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson have more for Columbus. Duchene also paid immediate dividends in his first game at home, scoring a power-play goal on a rebound against the San Jose Sharks.
Dzingel’s speed and scoring prowess is also sure to improve the franchise’s fortunes. Plus, he should help improve the Blue Jackets’ second power-play unit: With Ottawa, he generated more high-danger chances per 60 minutes (5.3) than Duchene (3.1) when given time with the man advantage.
McQuaid isn’t going to give you the warm and fuzzy feelings Duchene and Dzingel do, but it is worth noting that he was on the ice for the third-fewest shots against per 60 minutes at even strength (30.8) during his stint with the New York Rangers this season, and the second-lowest rate of scoring chances against (28.4) among the team’s blue-liners. And while Kinkaid has regressed mightily from last year’s performance (.913 save percentage in 2017-18; .891 this season) it’s unlikely he will unseat backup Joonas Korpisalo any time soon.
“I don’t know much about Kinkaid,” Columbus Coach John Tortorella told the Athletic. “I’m not going to forget about what Korpi’s done for us here this year. He’s given us some really good minutes. I’m not going to forget how Korpi’s developed here. Having said that, I think Kinkaid had a really good year last year for New Jersey. I know that. I’m not sure what’s gone on this year, but we’ll make a read as we go through.”
According to analytics site Evolving Hockey, Duchene and Dzingel are worth 2.7 and 0.7 wins above replacement, respectively, this season, with Duchene’s total higher than anyone else on the Blue Jackets. (Panarin is worth 2.6 wins above replacement heading into Tuesday’s games.) McQuaid is a replacement-level skater (0.0 WAR), and Kinkaid is slightly less than replacement level (minus-0.3). However, those four additions could still mean between four and seven more points in the standings, enough to push Columbus (35-23-3 for 73 points) ahead of the Washington Capitals (35-21-7 for 77 points) and possibly make things uncomfortable for the division-leading New York Islanders (36-18-7, 79 points). Yet it’s tough to say how shrewd these moves will be until we know the outcome at the season’s end.
For example, it is possible all six players discussed here — Panarin, Bobrovsky, Dzingel, Duchene, McQuaid and Kinkaid — are wearing different sweaters next season. Plus, Hockey Reference gives the Blue Jackets a 6 percent chance to win the East and less than a 3 percent chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. They would have to triple those odds just to get in the same conversation as the Toronto Maple Leafs and multiply those odds by seven to be on par with the front-running Tampa Bay Lightning — neither of which is likely between now and the end of the regular season. And that’s just among the Eastern Conference teams; the Calgary Flames (11 percent), Sharks (8 percent), Winnipeg Jets (7 percent) and Nashville Predators (7 percent) all have higher title chances than Columbus at this juncture. And let’s not forget: The Blue Jackets have never made it past the first round of the playoffs. While history doesn’t necessarily determine the future, it does speak to their lack of a postseason pedigree.
The odds do seem to be moving in the right direction for Columbus. The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook has changed the Blue Jackets’ Stanley Cup odds from 30-to-1 to 25-to-1.
“We felt we were a good team before, and we feel now like we’re a really good team,” captain Nick Foligno said Monday. “Nothing is given in this league. We’re excited about showing that.
“No matter what you do on the ice, it’s about what you do as a team. Can you come together? The challenge is on us now. We’re really looking forward to becoming the team we envision. They have given us every opportunity to do that.”