The Blue Jackets figure to be quiet players when the NHL free agent signing period opens tomorrow at noon as the front office attempts to make sure the team is salary cap compliant come this October. Unless a massive salary dump appears in the form of a trade, the Jackets simply won't have the cap space to offer new free agents.
The Stamkos Sweepstakes (EDIT - DISREGARD)
The #1 free agent this summer, by far, is superstar Steven Stamkos. The top overall pick in the 2008 Draft has amassed 562 points (312 goals, 250 assists) in 569 games over 8 NHL seasons with Tampa Bay. He was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome this past spring, which sidelined him for the Lightning's playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals until he dressed for Game 7 against the Penguins. Stamkos and his agent have been in a stalemate with Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning for quite some time. Rumors have him linked to the Maple Leafs, the Red Wings, and several other NHL teams. With centers like Kopitar ($10 million), Malkin ($9.5 million), and Toews ($10.5 million) earning some of the largest contracts in the league, Stamkos is set to make megastar money at age 26. Let the bidding begin.
There is a solid group of free agents after Stamkos. Long time centerman for St. Louis, David Backes, is set to hit free agency. The downside for Backes is he turns 33 this year and the Blues also need to re-sign Jaden Schwartz. Backes has said he'd like to return to St. Louis, but will the club be willing to compromise on term to make their captain happy?
Reports are circulating that Milan Lucic has agreed in principle on a contract with the Edmonton Oilers, despite contracts offers not being allowed until July 1. If those reports are true, it could signal the Oilers attempting to upgrade their blue line by trading one of their $6 million forwards. (EDIT - happened yesterday)
It appears the New York Islanders are saying goodbye to Kyle Okposo. Several teams have been linked to wanting Okposo - the Coyotes, Sabred, Red Wings, Kings, Jets, and Wild just to name a few. He will be one of the most desired free agents.
There are several more 50 point forwards available - Loui Eriksson, Frans Nielsen, Mikkel Bodker, and Lee Stempniak are all looking for new contracts. Beyond that, former Stanley Cup champions Eric Staal, Andrew Ladd, and Troy Brouwer are searching for new teams (or, in Brouwer's case, potentially stay with their current team if they offer a fair contract). Speaking of Stanley Cup champions, Brian Campbell, despite his age, just put up 31 points last season with Florida. He should expect a pay cut from his last cap hit of $7.14 million, but teams needing a veteran defenseman will be reaching out to him.
On the blue line is former Blue Jacket, Kris Russell. Russell was traded to Dallas and finished his season with 19 points in 62 games. Jason Demers is a solid right-handed defenseman. Could he get $5 million per year on a new deal? Other defenders hitting the free agent market include Justin Schultz, former Jacket Kevin Connauton, Luke Schenn, Kyle Quincey, and Dan Hamhuis. Fedor Tyutin will also be available thanks to his buyout yesterday.
Up front, some names not yet mentioned include the recently-bought out Thomas Vanek, Teddy Purcell, Jiri Hudler, and Joe Colborne. Very few goalies make noise during free agency, but some netminders are available - names like Chad Johnson, James Reimer, and Karri Ramo.
Restricted Free Agency
Very rarely do high profile restricted free agents sign an offer sheet, but it makes for fun media fodder. Expect news on RFA signings throughout the day - Colorado needs to re-up with MacKinnon, for example, but would match any offer sheet he'd sign.
The one name gaining the most traction in recent days is Jacob Trouba of Winnipeg. Reports say that the Bruins are preparing a massive offer sheet for the young defenseman, and the Jets would have to seriously consider the draft pick compensation. This all seems like fun speculation for now.
Blue Jackets View
The Jackets made most of their noise yesterday, signing Seth Jones and buying out Fedor Tyutin. The possibility of a trade still exists, but there should not be a whole lot left to do for Columbus. They have qualifying offers out to T.J. Tynan (the only player with arbitration rights), Alex Broadhurst, and Scott Harrington. They did not qualify Michael Chaput or Michael Paliotta. Rene Bourque and Justin Falk, both unrestricted free agents, are not expected back with the club.
With well-documented cap space issues, which necessitated the Tyutin buyout, the Blue Jackets are not likely to make much of a splash, if any, once free agency hits. Depending on which prospects go back to their junior clubs, the team might not have a lot of flexibility against the 50 contract limit either. While they would probably like to add some center depth, it just might not be possible. Anticipating the loss of Justin Falk, perhaps the front office will look to sign a cheap defenseman who has some NHL and AHL experience and is willing to float between Cleveland and Columbus.
We will keep you covered when free agency kicks into high gear tomorrow. As of now, there appears to be no anticipation of the Blue Jackets being major players in the frenzy.