2015 Free Agency: UFA defensemen the Jackets could target

Tomorrow is July 1st, which means open season for the unrestricted free agents. Will the Jackets look to bolster the blueline by opening their wallet on a UFA?

The Jackets currently have eight defensemen under contract for next season, but there's a good chance that the CBJ brass would like to upgrade the group.

The eight already signed for next year are Fedor Tyutin, Ryan Murray, Jack Johnson, David Savard, Kevin Connauton, Cody Goloubef, Dalton Prout and Justin Falk.

An internal upgrade isn't likely, as the top prospects who could make an impact aren't ready for prime time yet: Austin Madaisky and Dillon Heatherington will still be developing in Cleveland while Dean Kukan was signed out of Europe to provide depth and competition.

This means that if the team wants to upgrade that group of eight, they'll need to look outside of the organization to do so. The salary cap for next season has been set at $71.4 million, and according to General Fanager the Jackets have approximately $7.795 million in cap space. A trade may be the more likely option, but with free agency season opening up tomorrow let's take a look at some of the options available:

Cody Franson

Previous Cap Hit: $3.3 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 78-7-29-36
Pros: Franson brings scoring from the blueline, and at 27 is in the midst of his prime years. He's also a right-handed shot.
Cons: For all of the reasons I just mentioned, combined with the lack of depth in this free agent class, Franson won't come cheap. There were also some question marks about why his offense dropped off after the mid-season trade from Toronto to Nashville. I think most of us will just chalk that up to playing a smaller role in a deep Nashville blueline.
Verdict: Franson is about to get the big bucks. While he'd be an excellent fit for the Jackets, his price tag likely doesn't fit the plan. Pass.

Mike Green

Previous Cap Hit: $6.083 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 72-10-35-45
Pros: Green is known for his high-end offense from the back end. He's a rightie, and though he likely won't hit the 70 point range again, he can still be an offensive leader.
Cons: Like Franson, Green will likely benefit from a thin free agency class. Though he may take a slight pay cut, he is still in line to receive a big contract.
Verdict: Like Franson, the money thrown at Green will likely be too rich for the Jackets. However, if they can shed salary one of these players may make sense. I'd be excited as hell to add a player like Green, as long as the dollars make sense.

Christian Ehrhoff

Previous Cap Hit: $4.0 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 49-3-11-14
Pros: Ehrhoff is a veteran d-man who brings excellent skating and puck movement.
Cons: His offensive numbers likely won't match his contract. He isn't an overly physical defender, which puts him in the tweener category in terms of ability.
Verdict: He's getting on in age, but he still plays a steady game. If he can be signed for a deal in the three-to-four-year range and keep his cap hit below $5 million, he could be a good fit for the CBJ.

Johnny Oduya

Previous Cap Hit: $3.375 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 76-2-8-10
Pros: Oduya is a Cup winner, and would bring a championship mentality to a team that signs him. Good skater.
Cons: He's not going to put up any significant offense, and isn't big or overly physical.
Verdict: I think he'd be a good fit for the Jackets, as long as his pay raise doesn't get out of hand. He's steady, but the biggest thing he can offer the CBJ is his winning pedigree. He knows what it takes to win.

Andrej Sekera

Previous Cap Hit: $2.75 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 73-3-20-23
Pros: Has good offensive tools and can play a lot of minutes.
Cons: He's not physical at all, and won't win many board battles. You'd be adding this guy for what he can do on the powerplay. Had one really good offensive year, can he repeat it, or has he already had his career year?
Verdict: I'm torn. I like what he can bring offensively, but can he get back to his career high of 44 points?

Raphael Diaz

Previous Cap Hit: $700K
2014 / 2015 Stats: 56-2-2-4
Pros: Great skater, with good offensive instincts. He'll be inexpensive to sign.
Cons: He's undersized, and has yet to really nail down a full-time NHL gig. In the right situation, he can be a contributor.
Verdict: His low price tag is a plus, but is he an upgrade over a guy like Goloubef? I'd say pass.

Matt Bartkowski

Previous Cap Hit: $1.25 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 47-0-0-4
Pros: Like Diaz, Bartkowski will come cheap. He can play a shutdown role.
Cons: He won't provide anything in the way of offense, and was often a healthy scratch in Boston last season.
Verdict: It's the same situation as Diaz. Is he enough of an upgrade over the likes of Goloubef, Prout or Connauton? Not really. Pass.

Zbynek Michalek

Previous Cap Hit: $4.0 million
2014 / 2015 Stats: 68-4-8-12
Pros: Plays a solid shutdown game and has a big shot from the point. He likely will come at a lower price than his current cap hit.
Cons: For as hard as his shot is, he doesn't use it enough. He's also got a history of injury.
Verdict: If the term is reasonable, Michalek could be a good signing. He'd make a steady partner for an offensive guy like Savard.

If the Jackets are going to really upgrade the defense and free agency is their primary option, it makes sense to avoid the low-end guys like Diaz or Bartkowski. Michalek, Sekera, Oduya and Ehrhoff make sense if the dollars and term allow the Jackets to have flexibility in the near future. Franson and Green are likely too expensive.
If I'm spending the Jackets' money, I'm giving a 3-4 year deal to Oduya. Sure, he's a bit older, but you just can't beat that Cup-winning experience. Oduya will also play major minutes, which will help Jack Johnson out.

We'll keep you posted on all of the free agent signings the Jackets make tomorrow. I'll report on NHL deals, while Scott will fill you in on AHL signings.

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