All the Columbus Blue Jackets‘ related headlines will flash outbound Marian Gaborik‘s name. The real story though is a supposed mere footnote in today’s NHL trade deadline. Columbus acquired defenseman Nick Schultz from the Edmonton Oilers in return for a fifth-round pick. Schultz isn’t exactly a name that moves the needle, but it may be the player that nudges Columbus into the playoffs.
Columbus sits solidly in the top 10 in the league in GPG, mostly done without the services of Gaborik. They have a reigning Vezina Trophy winner between the pipes. They’re armed with a bunch of young, up and coming defensemen who will anchor the blue line for years. The Blue Jackets could have already been holding a playoff-worthy hand.
Make no mistake about it though, the Jackets are still far from a Stanley Cup royal flush. They rank 17th in the league in GA/G, and that’s with Sergei Bobrovsky‘s often stellar play. Even three goal leads going into the third period don’t feel safe. They haven’t demonstrated much of an ability to shut other teams down when it matters most, sometimes grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory. The main culprit is their own bright future at the blue line.
Young defensemen and prospects like Ryan Murray, Dalton Prout, Tim Erixson and Cody Goloubef form an embarrassment of youthful riches, but it’s said youth that seems to be plaguing the club. They’re simply unfinished products lacking the polish and baptismal by fire experience of the NHL playoffs. The Blue Jackets being about the seventh youngest team in the league demanded a veteran addition. It’s great to be in a playoff position with such a young core and know your best years are probably ahead of you, but that comes with growing pains people see in many games.
The perfect remedy for this is a veteran defensive defenseman, and that’s exactly what the Blue jackets got. Their inability to force their will on opponents trailing by a county mile compounded by injuries to both Fedor Tyutin, the Jackets’ most steady blue liner, and Murray further necessitated a trade of this nature. Also, giving up a fifth-round pick was a pretty small price to pay to put a band aid on this situation.
Columbus fans can look forward to Schultz bringing in something they’ve been grossly lacking in their back end: poise. The 31-year-old also has good mobility, a 205 pound frame and the ability to eat up a ton of minutes. This is huge relief for Jack Johnson, who has had to be quite the workhorse to fill in for Tyutin and Murray’s absences. His greatest gift to the club would be to mentor the young blue liners and instill a veteran’s sense of calm for everyone on the ice.
Schultz hasn’t had the best season in Edmonton, but, in all fairness, who has? He was a rock during his time with the Minnesota Wild and has a better supporting cast in Columbus than his previous, struggling club. He doesn’t have much to offer in the way of offense, but just about every other defenseman has more offensive upside than the average NHL blue liner. As long as Schultz successfully aids Bobrovsky and company in keeping pucks out of their net, GM Jarmo Kekalainen will be grinning from ear to ear.
The flash that comes with Gaborik is the playoff rental a lot of Columbus fans wanted. But the low-key, veteran’s presence of Nick Schultz is the rental the Blue Jackets need; it’s the one that’s sending them straight into the playoffs after a half-decade long hiatus.