Now that we’re past the NHL Draft, it’s time to shift full focus to July 1 and the start of NHL free agency. Just days away, we’ve already had a flurry of activity as RFA’s and UFA’s have begun signing on the dotted line, and teams looking to balance competitiveness and financial constraint within the salary cap.
Even though it was never going to happen, you can put away the Erik Karlsson pipe dream as the superstar defenseman re-upped with the Sharks last week for 8-years, $92 million. Ole friend John Davidson and the Rangers swung a trade for RFA defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Jets. Calvin de Haan was dealt from the Hurricanes to the Blackhawks on Monday. The Flyers traded for Matt Niskanen from the Capitals, so he’s staying in the Metropolitan anyway.
The Devils bolstered their team, acquiring All-Star defenseman P.K. Subban, and retaining all salary, in the trade with the Predators — looks like Matt Duchene might be Nashville’s minds. Patrick Marleau joins the Hurricanes after a trade from the Maple Leafs, as Toronto has tough salary cap restrictions to maneuver.
With everything that’s happened so far, and still much more to play out, we take look at defenseman that are set to hit the open market, and some potentials for the Blue Jackets, or who could make sense as the team looks to bolster its core.
Right now, the Jackets are set up with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski penciled into the first pairing, and that perhaps includes Ryan Murray assuming he's still on the roster and is healthy — obviously so far he is. The being on the roster part. Markus Nutivaara and David Savard fill in the middle, and newcomers such as Vladislav Gavrikov provide quality depth alongside Scott Harrington. Adam Clendening, an RFA, also re-upped on Tuesday for $700,000 through 2021. The Jackets are in a good situation regarding their defense, but may still look to fill in that depth.
Michael Del Zotto
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 42, G 1, A 9, P 10, CF/EV 50.0
2018-19 cap hit: $3 million
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 4 years, $3,938,092
Del Zotto was a member of three squads in the 2018-19, traded from Vancouver to Anaheim, who then dealt him to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Blues. He didn’t provide much offensively as he only appeared in 42 games on the season, seven with St. Louis, and none in the playoffs. You’ll remember he and his potential with the Rangers, and he has familiarity with John Tortorella, whom he credited for being tough on him as a player.
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 62, G 3, A 27, P 30, CF/EV 52.2
2018-19 cap hit: $4.05 million
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 7 years, $6,820,761
Jake Gardiner will get paid this summer. At 29-years-old, Gardiner represents among the premier defenseman on the open market. While Toronto would love to keep him, and GM Kyle Dubas has said as much, it’s hard to gauge what they Leafs can do until they settle the Mitchell Marner situation. It’s not very likely he’s ending up in Columbus but they do have a ton of cap room. Until he’s off the market, I’ll include him for the sake of it. I mean, you never know right?
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 25, G 3, A 4, P 7, CF/EV 53.9
2018-19 cap hit: $2.9 million
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 1 year, $717,946
Carl Gunnarsson, like Del Zotto, is a Blues’ UFA and only played in 25 games last season, with another 19 in the playoffs. Aside from winning the Stanley Cup, his big moment came when he scored the overtime game-winner in Game 2 against the Bruins of the Stanley Cup Final. Gunnarsson would represent a bottom-pair, depth defenseman, and one who could provide some valuable minutes. As long as he can manage his health. Something that has plagued Gunnarsson throughout his career, including upper-and-lower body ailments in 2018-19.
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 81, G 5, A 18, P 23, CF/EV 48.9
2018-19 cap hit: $3 million
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 2 years, $3,648,382
Ron Hainsey is 38-years-old, entering his 17th season in the NHL, and still rather productive. You’ll remember Hainsey in Columbus all the way back in 2005-6 through 2007-08. Since then he’s won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins and finished the last few seasons with the Maple Leafs. I know he’s older and maybe not what you would be looking for. But again, he played 161 out of a possible 164 regular season games the last two seasons, and hasn’t played under 72 games in a season since the lockout shortened season of 2012-13.
He scored 23 points each of the last two seasons (five goals, 18 assists in 2018-19), and is coming off a $3 million price cap hit in 2018-19.
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 47, G 0, A 2, P 2, CF/EV 44.9
2018-19 cap hit: $800 K
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 1 year, $762,518
Luke Schenn has been around the NHL for a while now, starting with the Maple Leafs in 2008-09, with stops in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Arizona, Anaheim, and Vancouver being his most recent stay. Something as more of journeyman defenseman over the last decade, Schenn was relegated to AHL San Diego and Utica in 2018-19, where he played another 29 games. Seems like the kind who could spend time in Columbus as a depth piece.
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 47, G 2, A 15, P 17, CF/EV 47.4
2018-19 cap hit: $4.5 million
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 3 years, $4,475,273
Anton Stralman is another former Blue Jacket (2009-11) and most recently finished up with the Lightning, after five seasons over there. At 32, he’s a little bit younger than Hainsey, but comes off an injury shortened year in which he played in 47 regular season games and none in the playoffs.
They had a quick playoff series, didn’t they?
Prior to this past year, he played in 308 of a possible 328 games over the last four seasons. The Lightning are trying to solve their salary cap crunch, and as Stralman begins to get up there in age, and was among those in a defensive rotation under Jon Cooper, I don’t think it would be surprising if he moved on.
2018-19 regular season stats: GP 82, G 11, A 33, P 44, CF/EV 50.0
2018-19 cap hit: $925 K
Projected cap hit per Evolving Wild: 7 years, $6,844,122
The deal will get done, but until it is, Werenski, one of Columbus’ main RFA’s, is among the main priorities for Jarmo Kekäläinen. We delved into his profile last week and the former Wolverine is in line for a huge multiyear raise.
In conclusion, expect the aforementioned deal for Zach Werenski to be done soon. Likely Ryan Murray as well, and maybe the potential to trade the latter still exists. You have to figure the Blue Jackets sign a middling defenseman for added depth, if they acquire one at all, but if they were to move someone like Murray, it opens up more of a hole for the Jackets to fulfill. The entire free agent list is located here.