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Cannon Blasts: Jackets’ FO quietly get a head start on the offseason

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That and more of this week’s links

Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

We’re in the middle of a very busy part of the season, so there were a few transactions in recent weeks by the Columbus Blue Jackets that we haven’t spent much time discussing yet. The Jackets signed extensions with three of their players who were going to be restricted free agents this summer:

Eric Robinson

Date of Contract: January 27, 2020
Years: 2
Cap Hit: $975,000
Why did the team offer: While is often listed with the other Monsters who were called up in December to replace injured players and who sparked an impressive two month run, remember that Robinson actually got called up much earlier. It was supposed to be a short term stint in November, but his strong play in those games earned him a permanent spot on the roster. He doesn’t yet have the scoring touch of Josh Anderson, but the size and speed are there so if you squint you can see them as similar players. That can be used as leverage when the team negotiates with Anderson this summer.
Why did the player sign now: As someone who just earned a regular role, why rock the boat? Being agreeable now keeps him in the team’s short term plans. Then, if the next two years work out well he can push for a raise on his UFA deal.

Nathan Gerbe

Date of Contract: February 2, 2020
Years: 2
Cap Hit: $750,000
Why did the team offer: Gerbe is the representative player of the style of hockey played by the Jackets since the Monsters entered the lineup. At 32 years old he’s no prospect, but he can be a good veteran example in either Columbus or Cleveland.
Why did the player sign now: Gerbe picked this organization for reasons beyond hockey. He wanted to be close to his family in Michigan, where his father has battled some health issues. This keeps him close for the next two seasons. That’s valuable security for a journeyman veteran. It’s a two way contract, but the AHL portion is $500,000, just $200,000-$300,000 less than his NHL salary in those seasons. That will be one of the highest salaries in the AHL of a player on a two-way contract.

Dean Kukan

Date of Contract: February 7, 2020
Years: 2
Cap Hit: $1,650,000
Why did the team offer: The last two seasons have shown what happens when a team’s defensive depth is tested. Last year it was the loss of Ryan Murray, Adam McQuaid, and Markus Nutivaara. This year it’s Murray, Seth Jones, and Kukan himself. One of the four second pair defensemen that we have (Murray, Nutivaara, Savard, Gavrikov) could be traded this summer for forward help. That makes it so important to have Kukan in the mix to stabilize the third pair.
Why did the player sign now: Kukan has been out since January 3 with a meniscus tear in his knee. It’s probable this injury will keep him out for the remainder of the season. What kind of leverage does a player have this summer, coming off an injury? Better to take that security now.

Why these three? Is there anything to be read into the order of these extensions? I don’t think the team has prioritized these players. My assumption is these three just happened to accept the first offer on the table, for the reasons listed above. Another benefit to signing early? There are so many RFAs and only $14 million or so in available space (before any more trades or buyouts), so if a star player gets his raise, then there’s less left for a fringe player if he waits to make his deal.

For reference, here are the other pending RFAs (listed in descending order by this year’s cap hit):

Forwards:

Josh Anderson
Pierre-Luc Dubois
Sonny Milano
Ryan MacInnis
Kevin Stenlund
Marko Dano
Jakob Lilja
Maxime Fortier
Paul Bittner
Calvin Thurkauf
Justin Scott
Kole Sherwood

Defense:

Vladislav Gavrikov
Ryan Collins
Gabriel Carlsson
Michael Prapavessis
Doyle Somerby

Goalies:

Joonas Korpisalo
Matiss Kivlenieks
Elvis Merzlikins

That’s quite a long list. It makes one wonder why more of those players haven’t been given an NHL game or two during this roster churn.

Contract data from CapFriendly

The week that was

Game #57: TBL 2 CBJ 1 (OT)
Game #58: BUF 4 CBJ 3 (OT)
Game #59: NYR 3 CBJ 1
Game #60: NJD 4 CBJ 3 (SO)

A winless week is very bad, especially at this time of year in such a tight playoff race. On the plus side, three points makes it not as bad as it could have been. This team is in the first wild card despite losing 327 man games to injury. That’s like averaging five regular players missing from the lineup each game.

In case you missed it, I attended CBJHAC last weekend, a hockey analytics conference presented by the Blue Jackets. You don’t have to be a math expert to understand and appreciate the information presented here. Much discussion centered around how teams utilize statistics and how it can be used to complement the eye test, rather than in place of or in opposition to it.

MrSwift was inspired by the Oscars to hand out some awards to the Blue Jackets.

Liam Foudy made his NHL debut this week, on an emergency callup from his junior team. Why use him rather than players down in Cleveland? That was discussed at length on this week’s Cannon Cast.

You know who has been great this season? Vladislav Gavrikov. Rachel wrote about what makes him special, both on and off the ice.

The latest NHL FanPulse results listed the Blue Jackets as buyers, but the discussion in the comments revealed that many would have selected “let it ride” had that been an option.

We have t-shirts: King of Columbus. Jump Hugs!

On Deck

Tuesday: at Philadelphia
Thursday: vs. Philadelphia
Saturday: at Nashville

The Flyers trail the Blue Jackets by just one point, making this home-and-home series so critical. After that, the Jackets embark on a stretch where seven of eight games are against the Western Conference.

Monsters Mash

Elaine wrote a State of the Monsters address to highlight three pairs of players who stood out during the previous weekend.

As for this weekend, the Monsters had to play three different opponents in three days in three different cities. Yikes. They took three more losses, to Grand Rapids, Rockford, and Chicago.

Around the League

Former Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson was named the new head of the AHL. Let’s hope he doesn’t trade multiple teams to acquire a team that doesn’t want to be there.

The Penguins acquired Jason Zucker from Minnesota. It’s a great move for them, so therefore I hate it!

Also in the Metro, the Devils continued their fire sale by shipping off Andy Greene and Blake Coleman. They got two prospects and two high draft picks in total. Pretty good haul for players that aren’t part of their rebuild.

On Saturday, the latest Stadium Series was held at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Here are the in-person takes from Jewels From the Crown and Mile High Hockey.

That game was yet another national broadcast featuring a bad team. Now, that bad team (the Kings) did win, but it was due to a hat trick from Tyler Toffoli, who may not be part of the team by this time next week! The league worst Detroit Red Wings, who may end up being historically bad, were on national TV three times in the last week. The Jackets aren’t on three times all season! One of their chances was the Tampa game on Monday, and that was pre-empted in most markets for the Capitals/Islanders game, due to Alex Ovechkin’s quest for 700 goals (since they started airing each game nationally, Ovi has not scored and remains at 698).

Next year’s Stadium Series will be held at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh and feature the Hurricanes. You know what would be cool? Making the Jackets the opponent! lol jk it’ll likely be the Pens again

National Sports Update

The NBA All Star game adopted the Elam Ending, and it actually made the fourth quarter competitive. It was a blast to watch. Please introduce this in real games. We’ve already seen it in TBT and the Big 3. Ending every game on a basket is great. But maybe not free throws?

My remaining complaint about NBA All Star Weekend? That so many players compete in the Skills Competition that I, a casual fan, don’t consider stars. Find some way to get LeBron and company to compete in the dunk contest or 3 point shootout.

Play me out

If you’re lucky enough to have Presidents’ Day off (I am not, dammit), then why not spend that free time watching a show about a president? HBO’s John Adams was an excellent adaptation of the equally excellent David McCullough biography. Adams was not a good president, but he was a critically important and often overlooked leader of the political and diplomatic side of the American war for independence.