Blue Jackets continue down curious path with Damon Severson contract

The Columbus Blue Jackets are coming off a 59-point season but they're acting like they're on the brink of contention.

When it comes to making big moves, the Columbus Blue Jackets' offseason is off to a roaring start.

Whether those moves are right for the team is up for debate.

On Friday, the Blue Jackets completed a sign-and-trade that will bring defenseman Damon Severson to town on an eight-year deal with a $6.25 million AAV. That's a lot of money to spend on a guy who is neither an offensive force nor a shutdown defender.

Severson plays a competent all-around game and he gave the New Jersey Devils 22-plus minutes per night in every season from 2018-19 to 2021-22. When the Devils took a step forward as a franchise in 2022-23, his average ice time dropped to 19:57 in the regular season and 18:33 in the playoffs— providing a clue that he might have been the best option on a bad team in past years rather than a true top-pair guy.

Not only are the Blue Jackets signing him through his age-36 season at an AAV that doesn't seem discounted based on his hefty term, they are giving up a third-round pick for the right to do it. The sign-and-trade structure allows Severson to get an extra year on his deal, and perhaps that's the only way the Blue Jackets could entice him to Columbus.

Even so, the Blue Jackets — who are coming off a 59-point season and need all the draft picks they can get — ought to be asking themselves why they wanted Severson so badly that they were willing to give up an asset to pay him through the age of 36.

In isolation, the deal could be considered a head-scratcher by a team locked in on a particular target, but its trade for Ivan Provorov earlier in the week indicates we're looking at a trend of questionable team-building decisions.

The good news for Columbus is that Provorov has shown himself capable of logging big minutes in the past, plays a competent two-way game, is just 26 years old, and will have a cap hit of $4.725 million for the next two years.

He's a solid on-ice asset with a reasonable price tag, and the cost of acquiring him — the 22nd overall pick in the 2023 draft and a conditional second-round pick in either 2024 or 2025 — is within reason.

The Blue Jackets also desperately needed defensive help with Zach Werenski coming off a nasty injury, Vladislav Gavrikov gone, and Erik Gudbranson ranking third on the team in average ice time last season.

Provorov — a left-shot defenseman who could pair well with the right-handed Severson — makes Columbus better, but that doesn't mean acquiring him was a win for the Blue Jackets.

The Ivan Provorov doesn't really fit the Blue Jackets' window of contention. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
The Ivan Provorov doesn't really fit the Blue Jackets' window of contention. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

The veteran is under contract for just two more years, which makes this a win-now deal for Columbus. Considering the Blue Jackets won just 25 games last season, it's tough to see a short-term road to contention for this group.

The Blue Jackets have some star power with Werenski, Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine aboard — as well as a strong prospect pool — but this group is lacking quality up and down the lineup. Their top two centres, Boone Jenner and Jack Roslovic, would be bottom-six players on many teams. Their crease is a mess, with Elvis Merzļikins — signed through 2026-27 with a $5.4 million cap hit — coming off a disastrous season. The blue line is much better with Provorov and Severson on the roster, but it doesn't rank among the NHL's elite.

In a world where Columbus won the draft lottery it could be considered justifiable to accelerate the team's timeline by loading up on veteran defensemen, but Connor Bedard isn't coming to Ohio.

Provorov will help the Blue Jackets win games over the next two years, and they should improve in that time, but it seems unlikely they'll do so enough to make this deal make sense. Severson is around for the long haul, but by the time Columbus is a real threat he could be suffering from age-related decline.

The biggest asset they're giving up — the 22nd overall pick — isn't a massive prize, but since 2005 it has yielded impact players like Claude Giroux, Max Pacioretty, Jordan Eberle, and K'Andre Miller, as well as solid NHLers like Olli Maatta and Kasperi Kapanen.

Columbus needs the chance to get homegrown players of that ilk more than it needs a defensive upgrade in seasons that it's likely to miss the playoffs. The second-round pick and third-round picks are more like lottery tickets, but if the Blue Jackets continue to struggle they could still be valuable selections.

Trading futures for established NHL talent is a great idea if you're the Tampa Bay Lightning, but right now Columbus should be hoarding picks, not using them as trade chips.

As questionable as the Provorov trade is from an on-ice perspective, it also comes with off-ice red flags considering his boycott of the Philadelphia Flyers' Pride Night last season. With the Blue Jackets reportedly on the verge of hiring Mike Babcock — whose dubious motivational tactics are well-documented — the culture being built in Columbus seems less-than-ideal.

In most cases, when you have a young team that's not particularly close to competing for a Stanley Cup — with a number of blue-chip prospects on the way — it's wise to prioritize adding draft picks, finding a developmentally-focused coach, remaining patient, and building a cultural foundation.

Instead, the Blue Jackets have just made two win-now moves that cost them valuable futures and picked a head coach infamous for completely mishandling a young star at his last stop.

Columbus is likely to take a step forward next season, but that's mostly due to the incredibly low baseline the team set in 2022-23, not because the franchise is on the right track. The offseason is still young, but the Blue Jackets are off to a bumpy start.