In his Friday Insider column at The Athletic, Aaron Portzline discussed the state of negotiations between the Columbus Blue Jackets and their two restricted free agents, Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson.
Before we get into that, let’s set the stage:
Alexander Wennberg has scored 25 goals and 94 assists in 217 games over 3 seasons. This includes a 59 point season last year, where he finally secured his position as the 1C. Coming into this season, it is expected he will get to share a line with new arrival Artemi Panarin.
Josh Anderson played briefly in 2014-15 and 2015-16 before becoming a full-time player last season, scoring 17 goals in 78 games. The Jackets negotiated a deal with Vegas in part to ensure that Anderson was not selected in the Expansion Draft. It’s unclear whether Andy will be on the second or third line, but it’s clear the team loves his combination of skill and physicality.
According to Cap Friendly, the Jackets have $12.8 million in cap space. That is plenty to sign those players, but there are complicating factors. First, it’s still possible that a player (coughDuchenecough) can be added via trade. They may want cap flexibility to do so. Second, the team must think long term. Next summer Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, and Jack Johnson are unrestricted free agents, while restricted free agents will include Boone Jenner, Oliver BJORKSTRAND, Ryan Murray, and Markus Nutivaara. How many of those players do you keep? How much will that take?
So, should we panic or should we not panic about the state of these negotiations?
The agent for Blue Jackets right wing Josh Anderson said he has plans for Anderson to skate with a club in Switzerland if he doesn’t have a contract with the Jackets before the start of training camp Sept. 14.
It’s nothing personal, Darren Ferris told The Athletic. “It’s just that (Anderson) needs a place to skate, to stay ready.”
There was hope that when the Maple Leafs signed forward Connor Brown to an extension — Brown was seen as a key comparable — it would help spur a deal between the Blue Jackets and Anderson.
But Brown signed a three-year, $6.3 million deal with the Leafs last week, and nothing seemed to budge.
Perhaps [Wennberg’s] agent, Pat Brisson, is trying to create leverage with the Blue Jackets’ depth chart at center. Wennberg, the team’s undisputed No. 1, is unsigned. The No. 2 center, Brandon Dubinsky, is likely to miss most of training camp as he recovers from off-season wrist surgery.
The No. 3 center is a mystery, with rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois expected to grab the job in training camp, but that’s far from a certainty.
While the Jackets own the leverage of exclusive rights to these players, the players have leverage of their own. Anderson knows the team made a move to keep him. Wennberg knows there is uncertainty at the center position. Missing either player for part of the regular season would certainly hurt the team. Even missing camp is problematic. The Torts Training Camp ensures the players are in shape for the season. The lines are in flux, so it’s critical the players get that time to work together. Sure, Ryan Johansen played well despite missing the entire 2014 preseason, but do we want to go down that road again?
“We’re not asking anybody to do unfair deals,” Kekalainen told The Athletic. “But we have no choice. We have to look at the big picture and make sure we can keep our core together.
“If we’re overpaying guys because we like them and they’re good guys … we do that a couple of times and all of a sudden we have to trade somebody because we don’t have enough room.”
The list of unsigned RFAs usually fades by September, but it’s still lengthy this year, and it includes some significant young players: Boston’s David Pastrnak, Minnesota’s Marcus Foligno, Calgary’s Sam Bennett, Vancouver’s Bo Horvat, Detroit’s Andreas Athanasiou and Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov.
“It’s unusual to see so many,” said Ferris, who represents Anderson, Bennett and Athanasiou.
Well, at least we’re not the only team with this lingering uncertainty. Teams and players both will look to other deals as comparables in their negotiations. There are still two weeks before training camp starts, and deals have come together in less time than that. While it appears neither deal is close, it is also true that neither negotiation has gotten ugly. Neither player has gone public like Ryan Johansen did.
I’ve been saying all summer that I thought a deal would get done by camp, so I wasn’t worried about a delay. I was more focused on the possibility of acquiring Matt Duchene. So am I panicking now? Not yet. But I admit that I’m starting to get uneasy. It seems more likely now that at least one of Anderson and Wennberg will miss SOME of training camp.
The first preseason game is 19 days from now. I’ll panic then.
Are you worried about the Anderson and Wennberg contracts?
This poll is closed
PANIC. WE’RE GOING TO LOSE THESE GUYS, OR KILL OUR CAP
DON’T PANIC. I’M LIKE THE HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO THE GALAXY UP IN HERE