At the end of the 2016-17 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets were nearly a cap team. The team had spent $71,408,979 of the $73 million dollar cap, leaving them $1,591,021 on the last day of the year. This figure did not include the long term injured reserve relief the team received from the cap hit of David Clarkson, whose $5.25 million cap hit did not count on the team’s day to day spending.
Several contracts fell off after the season ended: Alexander Wennberg, Anton Forsberg, and Josh Anderson need new contracts as restricted free agents. Sam Gagner, Lauri Korpikoski, and Kyle Quincey are unrestricted free agents. The Las Vegas Golden Knights took William Karlsson in the expansion draft, and a trade also removed Clarkson’s contract from the CBJ books.
So, where does the team go from here?
According to capfriendly, the Blue Jackets have $64.7 million committed for next season, leaving the team $10.3 million to re-sign players and potentially make a splash in the free agent or trade markets.
So, here’s the visual breakdown:
So, where do the Blue Jackets go from here?
Restricted Free Agents
Anderson had a breakout season last year in his first full season in Columbus. Obviously, with the team giving up picks to keep him protected in Columbus, he’s going to be re-signed in Columbus. I see him getting a cheaper deal than Boone Jenner did on his bridge deal, given that Boone was a more established NHL player at the time. Let’s guesstimate that Anderson gets a 3 year, $6.75 million dollar deal, giving him an annual cap hit of $2.25 million.
Wennberg lost his buddy last night to Las Vegas, but he’s not going anywhere. Wennberg is seen as one of the two centers of the future on the team (along with Pierre-Luc Dubois), so he will be staying. I could see Wennberg getting either a bridge deal similar to Ryan Johansen, or a long term extension a la Brandon Saad. If I had to guess, I’d think the team wants to sign him to a bridge deal to help motivate Wennberg to continue his improvement. I’m going to sign Wennberg for a slightly expensive deal, a bit cheaper than the one Ryan Johansen got - 3 years, $10 million. That gives him an annual cap hit of $3.3 million.
He might be a future goaltender for the club, he might not. But still, depth for the Cleveland Monsters and an emergency backup should something catastrophic in Columbus happen cannot be let go for free. Let’s give him a $1 million dollar per year deal for 3 seasons.
After re-signing the restricted free agents, the team has (in my hypothetical) $3.75 million to spend this coming season. Are there any unrestricted free agents they might want to bring back?
Gagner would be the most interesting case. He had a career resurgence last year in Columbus after being signed to what amounted to a one year “prove it” deal. The team could want Gagner back - he could fill in any role when necessary, played big minutes on the power play, and was trusted in defensive zone starts late in games. Gagner might be looking to capitalize on his career year and seek on last large contract, however, and I do not think that is something the team would be willing to give him. Despite his success, I think Gagner leaves.
Quincey came over at the trade deadline for Dalton Prout (seriously, how Jarmo?) and played admirably down the stretch. At 31, he’s not the fleetest skater alive, but he filled in as injuries on the blue line to Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski mounted. However, with those guys back, the emergence of Gabriel Carlsson, and the potential arrival of Vladislav Gavrikov, there just isn’t room for him. Goodbye, Mr. Quincey.
The last few days have opened the Blue Jackets to some roster flexibility. The team can sign free agents, make a splashy trade, bring back Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg, and still have room to spare. The price might have been high, but the team now has the cap room to do virtually anything they could want. There are holes to fill, but with AHL players like Sonny Milano and Markus Hannikainen available, the team could fill from within.
The Blue Jackets have flexibility they have not had since Nathan Horton was still a Boston Bruin. Let’s see what they do with it.