While the potential to eventually be great is there, the Blue Jackets are set to enter next season with one of the youngest defensive units in the league. As it stands right now, here are the ages of the Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman that could see significant minutes next year:
Zach Werenski - 24
Vladislav Gavrikov - 25
Adam Boqvist - 20
Jake Bean - 23
Andrew Peeke - 23
Gabriel Carlsson - 24
Dean Kukan - 28
With the loss of Seth Jones and David Savard, the Blue Jackets could definitely use a veteran voice on the back end to be a calming presence and mentor. Although Jarmo Kekalainen has said on multiple occasions he isn’t a big believer in spending big money in free agency, the Jackets have plenty of cap space to sign a player should there be a fit.
Let’s examine a few options...
Michael Del Zotto
Del Zotto seemed like a slam dunk to return after he made good on his “prove it” contract. Del Zotto (at only 30 years of age) filled the veteran role last season for the Blue Jackets’ defense. Del Zotto played up and down the lineup, even seeing time on the Jackets’ top pairing after Zach Werenski was shut down for the season. Although it is somewhat of an antiquated statistic, it is still worth mentioning that Del Zotto was the only defenseman, and one of two skaters (Eric Robinson) to have a positive +/- on a team with one of the worst goal differentials in the league. MDZ became a fan favorite, and the feeling seems to be mutual. He has gone on the record multiple times saying he’d like to stay with the organization, in addition to liking every tweet encouraging the team to re-sign him.
If player and management can come to an agreement on both term and salary, this seems like the most likely move for the team to make. With that being said, the recent additions of Boqvist and Bean may have made this move a bit more unlikely, as it has been reported that the Blue Jackets will have to choose between Del Zotto or Mikko Lehtonen.
Another familiar face who fits the bill of what the Jackets need on the back-end is Ian Cole. The Blue Jackets need Ian Cole’s skillset as a physical defenseman and someone who will punish opposing players in front of the net. Cole also appears to be a “glue guy” in the locker room and someone who can mentor the young players as they develop. Everywhere he has gone he has been lauded for being a great teammate.
Cole left the Jackets and signed in Colorado, was eventually traded to Minnesota and now that his $4.25M AAV contract is ending, he could potentially be added on a short term deal for slightly less. The Wild are interested in bringing him back, but as of now it’s still up in the air.
Guerin on pending UFA: "We've talked to Ian a couple times. Ian is a great guy. I'll never close the door on him. I don't know if it'll work out or not. But I've got a ton of respect for that guy. He's a good teammate and a good friend."— Michael Russo (@RussoHockey) July 24, 2021
Vatanen, a veteran two-way defenseman, is another name that could brought in to add experience to the room. Vatanen was a key part of a stacked Anaheim Ducks defensive unit in years past, but more recently has struggled with injuries and declining numbers after joining a bad New Jersey team. I hate to always point out when players share a nationality with our GM, but you’d have to imagine Jarmo is familiar with Vatanen as he has suited up for the Finnish National team on multiple occasions, including the 2014 Olympic Games.
Vatanen is only 30 years old and, if he can remain healthy, should have a few good years of hockey left in him. Vatanen is a low-risk signing, coming off of a one-year contract with the Dallas Stars that paid him $2M.
Jos tarvitsette maalivahtia tiedätte kenelle soittaa, Sami Vatanen. pic.twitter.com/D7i7OHYm6Q— NHL Suomi (@NHL_fi) July 26, 2021
36-year-old Alex Goligoski is hitting the open market for the first time in his career. Goligoski is the epitome of consistency and steadiness, and can play on either side in any situation. He’s a smart, puck-moving defenseman who can play anywhere in the lineup and would be a leader in the room. Rumor has it the Minnesota Wild are in pursuit of his services as well, so the Jackets would have to pay up on a one year deal. He is coming off a five year deal that paid him $5.475M AAV, and with multiple suitors, could get close to that number once again.
So this one is 99.9% not going to happen, but to not list the biggest name in the free agent market would be remiss. An offensive juggernaut on the blue line, Hamilton will most likely receive a contract that is similar to Seth Jones. While the Jackets’ can afford to pay up, this doesn’t seem like the move of a rebuilding team. Hamilton will also have his fair share of suitors, and aside from throwing a boatload of money at him, the Jackets won’t be at the top of his preferred destinations.
Do you think the Blue Jackets should look to add a veteran defenseman?