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At goaltender and on defense: A look into a crop of RFA’s up for new contracts

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The Blue Jackets have a mess of RFA contracts to figure out, on the blue line, and in the blue paint.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Washington Capitals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

With the 2018-19 hockey season over, the Stanley Cup Final out of the way, and the upcoming NHL Entry Draft taking place in Vancouver this weekend, we're that much closer to finding out what further developments could preside over the present — and future — of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise when they hit the ice next season.

Yeah, you know about Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Artemi Panarin, who are all set to be UFA’s and could be playing in another zip code come July 1. But aside from those guys, there’s other players on the team up for deals that Blue Jackets’ management must contend with. Yesterday, Ryan Real told us about the RFA forwards on the team, and today we talk defense and goalie.


Adam Clendening

Columbus Blue Jackets v Boston Bruins - Game Two Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

Regular Season
GP 4
G 0
A 0
P 0

Playoffs
GP 7
G 0
A 1
P 1

Clendening has played for seven organizations since 2014-15, and Columbus entered the fray last season when they inked the 26-year-old d-man last summer for a one-year, two-way contract. For the Monsters this past season, Clendening finished third among all players with 37 points, leading the way with 33 assists, a +18, and 98 PIM. His 0.82 Pt/G was fourth on the club.

He also earned time in the playoffs for Columbus in Games 3 of the first round against the Lightning through Game 5 of the second round against the Bruins.

Last Contract:
One-year contract signed prior to 2018-19 for $700 thousand
Arbitration eligible

Projected contract per Evolving Hockey:
One year, $823,847 cap hit


Joonas Korpisalo

Columbus Blue Jackets v Washington Capitals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Regular Season
GP 27
GS 21
10-7-3
GAA 2.95
SV% .897

Playoffs - DNP

This is an interesting aspect. What if they traded Korpisalo to garner whatever value the young net minder can fetch? It already appears the torch is being passed to Elvis Merzlikins as the next starter in net, but that has its own question marks. Korpisalo has never really had the chance to prove himself as the primary starter in the shadows of Sergei Bobrovsky, but he did yield some starts from the then No. 1 after Bobrovsky’s early-season struggles, and Korpisalo won his first five starts, staking out to a 5-0-2 mark. More on that in a second.

You’d have to think any team in the NHL would take a chance on a young goalie, but what’s that return value?

Maybe you trade Korpisalo and bring back in a Keith Kinkaid type, a veteran presence, for Merzlikins to learn from. Aaron Portzline of The Athletic wrote in May about how the Jackets look to Korpisalo and Merlizikins as their next tandem, at least next season. I agree, this is most likely.

From Portzline’s article, Jarmo Kekalainen had a quote:

“We have a goalie (Merzlikins) who a lot of people think is the best goalie outside the NHL. We have a goalie (Korpisalo) who, for good stretches when Bobrovsky’s been hurt, has carried the load with good performances. He’s been our No. 2 goalie for the last couple of years. He’s going to get an opportunity to play more now.

“It’s going to be a competition between those two unless something else happens. And if that’s what we have for our two goalies at the start of the training camp, we’re totally fine with it.”

That was then and this is now with still much more to play out, so we’ll see.

Korpisalo played in 27 games, with 21 of those coming as starts, and both totals the highest since his rookie campaign in 2015-16 when Bobrovsky dealt with a groin injury. His final line of 10-7-3, 2.95 GAA, .897 SV% may appear rather pedestrian at best, but let’s dive in.

Among his 21 starts, he yielded at least three goals in 15 of them, including a string of 11-straight. He threw together an impressive opening night start in Detroit last season, allowing two in an overtime victory. Korpisalo also had games in which he faced at least 35 shots in six instances, winning five of those, including a 43-save performance in a win against the Panthers.

Of particular interest to Blue Jackets fans, it is worth noting Korpisalo’s numbers within the Metropolitan last season.

Hockey Reference

Last Contract:
Two-year contract signed prior to the 2017-18 season for $1.8 million
Arbitration eligible

Projected contract per Evolving Hockey:

For some reason, Evolving Hockey did not do projections for goalies and those I reached out to did not offer a projection. I’ll guess one year, $1.5 million.


Scott Harrington

Columbus Blue Jackets v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Regular Season
GP 73
G 2
A 15
P 17

Playoffs
GP 10
G 0
A 4
P 4

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but who counted Harrington among their preseason plans playing as big a role for Columbus as he would? He set career-highs in every category, starting with games played (73), scoring his first career goals (2) assists (15), and points (17). He had 79 career games combined in the four seasons prior. That said, while Harrington proved to be serviceable, one could stand to upgrade the back end spot of the lineup. Hello to guys like Vladislav Gavrikov.

Last Contract:
Two-year contract signed prior to 2017-18 for $1.35 million
Arbitration eligible

Projected contract per Evolving Hockey:
One year, $947,190 cap hit


Ryan Murray

New York Rangers v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Regular Season
GP 56
G 1
A 28
P 29

Playoffs - DNP

It was another tough finish for Murray, who missed the rest of the regular season and playoffs with injury. Unfortunately, the staple to the Murray résumé. But he was arguably among the best defenders on the Jackets, and right up there with Seth Jones, as the two paired up together quite often.

In just 56 games this season, Murray set a career high with 28 assists and 29 points. He also set career-highs with shot attempts per 60 (7.05) and shots per 60 (3.55). But the “just 56 games” was the problem, as Murray now has just one full season in his six-year career, 320 career games out of a possible 492.

I feel like you have to at least consider the prospects of moving Murray, and while the injury history might scare some teams, no doubt the interest should be high. According to Scott Powers of The Athletic in a June 7 article, the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets had already touched base regarding the promising-yet-beleaguered defenseman.

Though it’s a completely different situation, I lump Murray into the Bobrovsky and Panarin black cloud scenario and kind of look forward to the team getting out from under it, if they can acquire an asset. Murray’s great but he’s always injured. Mark Lazerus, also of The Athletic, put together potential trade scenarios in this past Monday’s article that looked at acquiring Murray and Ryan Dzingel’s rights. Though that article was written after the Blackhawks trade for left-handed defenseman Olli Maatta from the Penguins, perhaps the ship has sailed on a move for Murray.

Stay tuned.

Alison Lukan of The Athletic has a very insightful piece on Ryan Murray that debuted Monday that you will want to check out.

Last Contract:
One-year contract signed prior to 2018-19 for $2.825 million
Arbitration eligible

Projected contract per Evolving Hockey:
Three-years, $4,146,272 cap hit


Doyle Somerby

NHL: Preseason-Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Regular Season - Cleveland
GP 66
G 8
A 12
P 20

Playoffs - Cleveland
GP 7
G 0
A 0
P 0

Somerby spent the entire 2018-19 season playing for the AHL Monsters, where he played 66 games, scoring 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists). He also skated to a +15, a year after posting a -19 in his first professional season with Cleveland in 2017-18 when he played 38 games.

I asked Elaine for her scouting report of Somerby:

“Doyle Somerby is one of the most consistent defensemen you will find on the market at the AHL level. He excels at protecting the crease and getting in the corners to retrieve pucks and clear them out of the d zone. Where Somerby falls is when he’s trying to make up for his partner’s short comings. He tries to do it all at one time.

Management and the coaching staff seem to reallly like him. I expect they will sign Somerby for at least two more years. However, signing him doesn’t mean they will keep him. The market is hungry for a guy like Somerby. He is definitely worthy trade bait. Personally, I would like to keep him. He’s also a leader both on and off the ice. Someone the team can mold into a captain one day.”

Last Contract:
Entry-level Contract signed prior to 2017-18 season for $1.5 million
Arbitration Eligible


Zach Werenski

Columbus Blue Jackets v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Regular Season
GP 82
G 11
A 33
P 44

Playoffs
GP 10
G 1
A 5
P 6

Werenski, set to receive a huge pay raise, is not only the best player on this list, but among the young rising stars across the NHL. Imagine some of those in the Blue Jackets fan base who are ready to trade him!

I’m always down to dangle a player just to see what the return value could be. But in no way are you actively shopping a 21-year-old, young-and-upcoming All-Star defenseman, who is still finding his way as an NHL player just three seasons into a promising start to a career.

For the first time in his career, Werenski just completed all 82 games of the regular season, has never scored less than 11 goals in a season, and fell just three points shy of his career-high of 47 points set in his rookie season. Since entering the league in 2016, Werenski’s 128 points ranks 21st among all defenseman and he is tied-for-141 with Kyle Connor, Alex DeBrincat, and Dustin Byfuglien among all players.

The Werenski-led Blue Jackets have also never missed the playoffs, for what it’s worth.

Does he still have warts in his game, defensively? No doubt. Keep in mind, after being told to think offense first at times — knowing when to be that ‘rover’ on the ice — in 2017-18, the challenge this past season was to focus more on the defensive side of the puck. As well as get back into typical playing shape following a shoulder injury and off-season surgery.

Overall, any team in the NHL would take a player like Werenski. Imagine being the fan who is trying to talk you into trading him. In his 2018-19 player review, Seeds referenced comparable players to keep an eye on with regard to contract scenarios as it plays out for Werenski. Alison Lukan of The Athletic also had a piece regarding the “Z” contract situation and comps.

Somehow, to the chagrin of some, Werenski will be in Columbus for some time to come. I shouldn’t have to do it, but alas I assure you, this is a good thing.

Besides, how can you dare break Seeds’ heart by trying to split up this duo?

Last Contract:
Entry-level contract signed prior to 2016-17 season for $2.775 million

Projected contract per Evolving Hockey:
Seven years, $6,970,807 cap hit