The Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in an unusual situation as free agency approaches: the top two forwards on the market played for the Jackets this season. With the likelihood that both Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene sign elsewhere, even a splashy move on the part of GM Jarmo Kekalainen will fall short of replacing the production and value of those two forwards.
That being said, there are still opportunities for Jarmo and Co. to acquire some top 6 forward talent. Only the Colorado Avalanche and Ottawa Senators have more cap space available than the Jackets’ $28.6 million. There are proven scorers who can be signed on mid-length deals to keep the team from relying too heavily on immediate production from young forwards like Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom.
Joe Pavelski, 34 years old, Center, San Jose Sharks
2018-19 Stats: 75 games played/38 goals/26 assists/64 points/19:03 minutes per game/54.7 CF%
Contract Projection: 3 years, $7,408,595 cap hit
The center market is very thin. After Duchene, there was a steep drop to guys like Kevin Hayes, who got $7.14M per year despite only once scoring more than 50 points. The current #2 appears to be Joe Pavelski. The 13 year Shark veteran showed no signs of slowing down in his age 34 season, notching 38 goals and 26 assists in 75 games. A three year contract sounds reasonable, as even the start of a decline will see him putting up legitimate top 6 numbers. In addition, he restores some depth to the center lineup and could mentor the younger centers Pierre-Luc Dubois, Boone Jenner, and Alex Wennberg.
Gustav Nyquist, 29, LW/RW, Sharks
2018-19 Stats: 81 games/22 goals/38 assists/60 points/17:31 TOI/55.3 CF%
Contract Projection: 6 years, $5,649,366
It seems like just yesterday that Nyquist was a fresh-faced 24 year old lighting the lamp for the 2013-14 Red Wings with 28/20/48. He has remained consistently productive since then, and even had a Kentucky Derby winner named after him! At age 29 this season was the best of his career, with a high of 60 points. Six years seems a bit too long for a player entering his age 30 season, but four years for that cap hit would be reasonable for a 50 point player.
Joonas Donskoi, 27, RW, Sharks
2018-19 Stats: 80 games/14 goals/23 assists/37 points/13:25 TOI/54.4 CF%
Contract Projection: 3 years, $2,796,060
I promise, this is the last Shark on the list. They’re in a tough spot, with only 7 forwards under contract and just $14.8M in available cap space. Donskoi is not the dynamic scorer we’re looking for, and the right wing is already crowded with Cam Atkinson, Oliver BJORKSTRAND, and Josh Anderson. Yet Donskoi is an unheralded player who comes cheap and could still make an impact. From Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic:
Few players drive play better than Donskoi does who is excellent at creating chances for himself and his teammates, as well as moving the puck up ice. The Sharks had a 58.2 percent expected goals rate with Donskoi on the ice last season as a result, the highest on the team and 4.4 percent better than when he was on the bench. For one of the best teams in the league in that regard, that’s seriously impressive. He’s a positive at both ends of the ice too ... Donskoi may not score much but could be very useful for a team needing middle-six depth that struggles to possess the puck and create chances. At under $3 million, he would be a steal.
Anders Lee, 28, LW/C, New York Islanders
2018-19 Stats: 82 games/28 goals/23 assists/51 points/17:05 TOI/49.2 CF%
Contract Projection: 7 years, $6,558,841
Lee faced quite a challenge this season, losing a great linemate in John Tavares and taking over as captain of the Isles. Yet he succeeded by leading his team to a playoff berth and scoring 51 points. It’s surprising that he and the Isles couldn’t come to a deal before this point. The Blue Jackets should take advantage by kicking the tires on him. Best case scenario: he fills a key role as a second line center or top line left wing. Worst case scenario: he goes back to New York, but his price gets driven up and eats up more of New York’s cap space.
Micheal Ferland, 26, LW, Carolina Hurricanes
2018-19 Stats: 71 games/17 goals/23 assists/40 points/14:06 TOI/54.2 CF%
Contract Projection: 4 years, $4,106,404
Ferland has played well with top line players in both Calgary and Carolina. Is it enough to plug him in to the top line, or do we want someone who can drive play on their own? That seems a bit risky to invest $4M a year. Another drawback: he can’t spell his own name correctly.
Marcus Johansson, 28, C/LW/RW, Boston Bruins
2018-19 Stats: 58 games/13 goals/17 assists/30 points/15:55 TOI/52.5 CF%
Contract Projection: 4 years, $4,576,765
Johnasson is no stranger to the Metro Division, as he started his career with the Capitals and played parts of the last two seasons with the Devils. That time in New Jersey did not meet expectations, but he was redeemed with 11 points in 22 playoff games this spring with the Bruins. Can he return to form as the 40+ point second line facilitator he was with Washington? The projected term and AAV seem worth the risk, especially with his ability to play all three forward positions and up and down the lineup. I wanted to acquire Johansson back at the trade deadline as a rental (I also considered Nyquist in that article).
Do you like any of these players? Are there any other free agent forwards you want the Blue Jackets to sign?