If the NHL's salary cap is (in theory) going to be $70 million dollars for the 2012-2013 season, the Blue Jackets are in an interesting position.
With just over three months to go before the start of the regular season, the club is currently sitting at a payroll of $57,167,000 and some change (plus ~2.5 million in potential bonuses), safely above the $54 million dollar cap floor and with just about $13 million available should they choose to use it...but that number is deceptive.
After all, that number includes a $7.8 million dollar cap hit for Rick Nash, and if all goes to plan, that's not going to be around much longer.
Admittedly, we would assume the return for Nash would bring at least enough salary to keep the team above the floor (the much discussed idea of a trade with New York that included Brandon Dubinsky + Carl Hagelin, for example, would eat up ~$5 million of Nash's cap hit on those two players, not including anyone else), but that still leaves a big chunk of change out there.
The Blue Jackets are in the first year of the new lease agreement that removes much of their financial obligations and provided a big whacking injection of cash thanks to Nationwide Insurance's naming rights deal. The team has spent quite close to the cap before, and management seems willing to do so again in the right situation.
Imagine you have a mission to make this club competitive, the willingness of ownership to support your moves, and a lot of money available to make it happen. What would you do in Scott Howson's shoes?
I have a few ideas.
This probably has a bit of a "wait, what?" factor to it, but remember that the club has to ink Murray to his ELC before the start of the season. The team said they would work on negotiations after development camp, and his excellent performance last week is only going to speed that process. All things considered, I would expect to see a deal that works out to a ~$2 million dollar cap hit, maybe as high as $3 million if he looks for a deal modeled on Erik Gudbranson's contract with Florida.
You've probably been hearing this around twitter, and I'm quite high on the idea. Semin needs to shake off his negative image, and coming to Columbus (where he can take advantage of a growing contingent of Russian players to help him adjust to the room) might be just the ticket. Offer him a 1 year $5 million contract and throw in some reasonable performance bonuses as incentives (25 goals, 20 assists, 50+ points, etx) that will help give him targets to shoot for. (Why $5 million? Partially because I think his value is deflated a bit the longer he sits on the market, and partially because we establish a good "unwritten rule" that nobody on the club will break the $6 million barrier at this point. A Nash trade would leave the four highest paid players on the team as Wiz (5.5), Umby (4.6) Tyutin (4.5), and JMFJ (4.3), and that seems about right from where I sit.
If all goes well and Semin fits in with the room, sign him to an extension. If things aren't working so well but he's still putting up points, he's still a valuable chip at the trade deadline.
I previously highlighted Wellwood in a look at some potential UFA bargains, and much like Semin I think he's mostly still on the UFA market because of a previous reputation rather than actual performance. Coming off a 47 point season that would have put him at third in team overall scoring last season in Columbus, Wellwood could be a versatile answer to filling holes on the second or third lines without having to rush someone like Kubalik or Jenner. Given he played for under a million last season, I think $1.25 million is a pretty reasonable "let's see if this can be repeated" offer.
No, he's not a free agent, but with all signs pointing towards Roberto Luongo wanting to go back to Florida, Theodore has suddenly become a potential bargaining chip as the Panthers work to acquire the all star netminder. Even though he wasn't able to put the Panthers past the Devils in the playoffs, it's worth pointing out that Theodore still had a .919 save percentage and 2.46 GAA in the playoffs, virtually identical to his regular season numbers.
Since 2007, he's posted a .900 or better SV and 2.8 or lower GAA. He may be coming towards the end of his career, but it seems that he's still got a decent bit of playing ability left. Putting him into a tandem with Sergei Bobrovsky would immediately improve the team's goaltending situation, and Theodore would only cost $1.5 million against the cap.
That leaves the team with the freedom to put Steve Mason in the minors through the rest of the season, or perhaps even loan him to a club in Europe a la Cristobal Huet. (Why buy him out and waste cap space for 3 more years when you can grit your teeth and be done with it at the end of the season?) Hell, if Florida still isn't exactly hurting for cap space (they still need to get themselves back to the cap floor as of this writing, but a Luongo deal and / or a new contract for RFA Kris Versteeg could take care of that), maybe offer to send Mason to them to push Jacob Markstrom in the AHL for a year.
All told, that leaves the team at about $58 million (plus or minus the exact pieces of a Nash deal) and sets them up with a good mix of veteran players, young talent, and journeymen with a chip on their shoulder. It's the sort of roster that feels like it could do something very interesting on the ice, and still has cap flexibility if things need to change.
Players like Ryan Russell, Mark Letestu, and Colton Gillies would likely be starting the season in Springfield, and Jared Boll would take a lot of nights off in the press box with John Moore (or perhaps Moore gets some heavy minutes with the Falcons, and someone like Nick Holden plays the 7th man), but I don't think that's such a bad thing, and even if the team were to be hit with the injury bug, that means there's proven talent available to help fill the gaps.
Will it happen? I've no idea (and offering deals to UFAs still requires them to accept it), but it's a really interesting look at just how much Scott Howson might still be able to do in reshaping this club.