As the NHL moves ahead with its Return to Play plan, Last Word on Hockey is taking a look towards the offseason. In terms of building a franchise, the offseason is the most crucial time of the year for front offices. However, due to COVID-19, the short-term future of how this operates has seen sweeping changes. How teams respond to a multitude of changes this fall remains to be seen. This series attempts to examine what choices teams may have to make.
The second batch of Offseason Primers will feature Metropolitan Division squads. Today’s edition delves into the possibilities surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets offseason.
Columbus Blue Jackets Offseason Primer
Pending Free Agents
The Blue Jackets and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen have an intriguing summer ahead of them. Their pending free agent list is relatively short but includes star youngster Pierre-Luc Dubois. Luckily for the squad, he is not eligible for arbitration, meaning the club has full control over the final deal that gets signed. Columbus’ other non-arbitration-eligible RFAs are Vladislav Gavrikov, Kevin Stenlund, Gabriel Carlsson, Maxime Fortier, Paul Bittner, Calvin Thurkauf, and Kole Sherwood. Pending arbitration-eligible RFAs include Devin Shore, Josh Anderson, Ryan MacInnis, Jakob Lilja, Matiss Kivlenieks, Ryan Collins, Marko Dano, Michael Prapavessis, and Justin Scott.
Columbus only has one UFA: Dillon Simpson. Doyle Somerby is a Group Six UFA.
Salary Cap Outlook
The Blue Jackets enter the 2020 offseason in a rather precarious salary cap position. Via the team’s CapFriendly page, they only have $5.2 million worth of space. While that’s not enough to retain star centre Pierre-Luc Dubois, there is some minor wheeling and dealing that Kekalainen may be able to do to make things easier on the cap-strapped Jackets.
While he won’t actually be departing from the club, it’s a distinct possibility that the last year of Dubinsky’s contract will be put on LTIR next season. Dubinsky has dealt with a nagging wrist injury over the past few seasons, and it kept him out of action entirely this year. His play has never been the same after a 41-point year in 2016-17 and is pretty much dead weight at this point. He’s actually the second-highest-paid player on the team behind Cam Atkinson, making it a really tough cap hit to swallow this next season.
It would increase Columbus’ space to $11.05 million, a much more comfortable figure if his $5.85 million deal is moved to LTIR
Hockey really is a game of chance. Success stories can sour seemingly overnight, which is unfortunately what’s happened to Anderson. After a breakout 47-point campaign last year (27 goals!), Anderson struggled mightily this year, only posting four points in 26 games (only one goal). His season was cut short due to a shoulder injury.
It’s unlikely he’s re-signed by the team at this point. Columbus will look to find a trade partner for the embattled Anderson, who looks to return to form but has put up concerning numbers recently.
He’s also become redundant, as the Blue Jackets’ recent signing of Mikhail Grigorenko likely fills Anderson’s previous role.
Due to Columbus’ rush of injuries this year, they made a few additions at the trade deadline in order to gain extra depth. Forward Devin Shore was one of those additions. He made a nominal impact with the team. Shore got only two points in six games. He fared worse than the depth forwards he was acquired to replace. With the emergence of younger forwards like Kevin Stenlund, Jakob Lilja, and Emil Bemstrom, Shore’s role becomes unclear. He’d likely cost too much in order to make it worth Columbus’ while, so it’s unlikely that they issue him a qualifying offer this summer.
The Blue Jackets shocked many back in 2016 when they picked Dubois 3rd overall instead of Jesse Puljujarvi. That choice has paid off immensely. Dubois has developed into a quality second-line centre. He can play on the first line if need be, and he still has room to grow at only 22 years old. After two 45-point seasons and a 60-point season, he’s sure to earn his big payday from the team.
Evolving-Hockey’s contract projection tool (subscription required) thinks that Dubois will receive a seven-year contract worth $7.1 million a year. It would take him until he’s 29, potentially becoming a steal of a deal down the road for Columbus. That’s considering Dubois still might develop further. It leaves Columbus with $3.95 million in cap space.
Drafted all the way back in 2015, Gavrikov didn’t make the jump over to North America until this season. A solid transitional player, the 24-year-old Gavrikov rewarded the Jackets for their patience. Slotting in on the second pairing, he notched 18 points in 69 games while providing a solid defensive presence behind the offensively gifted top pairing of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones.
While Evolving-Hockey suggests a shorter-term deal for Gavrikov, word around the street from The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline is that the focus is on a longer-term deal. For a longer-term deal, Evolving-Hockey suggests that a four-year term is the most likely affordable outcome. Gavrikov has had extensive professional experience in his home country of Russia for a rookie. For that four-year term, EH suggests a cap hit of $3.36 million. It brings Columbus down to just $590,000 in cap headroom.
Potential Free Agent Additions
Columbus likely won’t be making any big splashes in free agency due to their restrictive salary cap situation. That is barring an offseason trade. They also don’t really need to, as they’ll have many new additions come to the team internally. They acquired Mikhail Grigorenko earlier this offseason from the KHL, and players like Liam Foudy will be ready to make a bigger impact with the club. A season with fewer man-games lost to injury next year will boost things too. Columbus will likely improve on their ninth-place standing in the East.
Check out the other Offseason Primers for the Metropolitan Division:
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