With Free Agency opening up Wednesday at noon, the Blue Jackets have two main positional needs: Defense and Center. With about $17 million in cap space according to CapFriendly, the Jackets could be poised to make a splash, even with Patrick Laine (expect around $9M) and others (Emil Bemstrom, Nick Blankenburg, and Trey Fix-Wolansky; expect less than $3M total) to resign. Let’s look at how they could add some talent to the back end.
John Klingberg, Dallas Stars
At 29 years old, John Klingberg is on the younger end as free agents go. He also is by far the most effective offensively, putting up 47 points in 74 games last year, almost double the next highest UFA D available. And he plays the right side. As such, he’ll likely be the most expensive, likely pricing him out of the Blue Jackets’ range.
John Klingberg, reportedly desiring a trade, is an offensive defenceman with excellent puck skills who hasn't quite been his best self since Rick Bowness took over in Dallas. One of the higher-ceiling rentals out there. #TexasHockey pic.twitter.com/pI0naqlIF7— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) January 7, 2022
Ben Chiarot, Florida Panthers
Speaking of next-highest-scoring-UFA-D-available, Ben Chiarot! The 31-year-old defensemen was dealt at the deadline to the Florida Panthers, and posted 26 points for them and the Montreal Canadiens in 74 combined games. That being said, his advanced stats are... less than ideal. Pass.
Ben Chiarot, acquired by FLA, is a physical defenceman who was asked to do far to much in Montréal this season. Loves to battle along the boards and in front of the net, chases hits, and takes a lot of minor penalties. #TimetoHunt pic.twitter.com/bXjzSOjTnE— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 17, 2022
Nick Leddy, St. Louis Blues
The other major player on the market, Nick Leddy seems to frequently go under the radar. Leddy set up 21 goals this year between the Red Wings and Blues, but at 31, it seems his best days are behind him. I’d be very hesitant to sign him for more multiple years.
Nick Leddy, traded to STL, is a smooth-skating puck-moving defenceman who is also a major drain on his team's results at both ends of the ice. There might not be a blueliner in the game with a bigger gap between transition skills and on-ice impact. #STLBlues pic.twitter.com/CBlnMzqCk2— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 21, 2022
Josh Manson, Colorado Avalanche
The 30-year-old impressed with the Avalanche in the Playoffs, which will drive up his price, but he plays the right side and could potentially fill in next to Zach Werenski, allowing Andrew Peeke to slide down to a more appropriate role on the third pairing. I’ll be honest, his advanced stats are significantly lower than I expected; like I said, I was very impressed by him in the Playoffs.
Josh Manson, traded to COL, is a physical two-way defenceman who undermines much of his on-ice impact by putting his team on the penalty kill very frequently. #GoAvsGo pic.twitter.com/JWeqJNho45— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 14, 2022
Calvin de Haan, Chicago Blackhawks
If you ask me, Calvin de Haan should be the Blue Jackets’ main target. He’s on the wrong side of 30, but is one of the best defensemen available in terms of WAR%. His offenseive advanced stats are also decent enough, though he only put up 8 points last year. Playing on the Blackhawks will do that to ya. He probably shouldn’t play top-line minutes, but I could see him and Zach Werenski making a decent enough top pairing until David Jiricek develops. (Also sorry for the low image quality.)
Nikita Zadorov, Calgary Flames
If we can’t get de Haan, I would not mind Nikita Zadorov as a consolation prize. While his WAR% here may look unimpressive, look at the Defensive Expected Value. That’s our main need, and that’s his specialty. Plus he can play the right side, is only 27, and put up 22 points last year. Like de Haan, he probably shouldn’t get top-end minutes, but he’s better than Andrew Peeke.
Ilya Lyubushkin, Toronto Maple Leafs
Though more of a depth option, Ilya Lyubushkin is another young, defensively-minded, right-handed defenseman. Aka, exactly what the Blue Jackets need. The question is, is he better than Andrew Peeke? Jake Bean? Nick Blankenburg? He has experience playing with Jakob Chychrun, so maybe he’d mesh well with Zach Werenski.
Ilya Lyubushkin, acquired by TOR, is a one-way (and I mean one-way) third pairing defensive defenceman.— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) February 20, 2022
Brings no offence to the table whatsoever but has a consistent track record of suppressing scoring chances against. Played mostly with Chychrun this season. #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/soIC6gj9EJ
Justin Braun, New York Raners
Another name to look out for is Justin Braun, a 35-year-old righty, who is also all defense. Don’t expect anything from him offensively, but defensively he’s one of the best in the league, in the 92nd percentile. I wouldn’t mind a flier on him, though age is a concern.
Justin Braun, acquired by NYR, is a veteran shut-down defender and penalty killer who put up strong defensive results in a 2nd pair role on one of the league's worst defensive teams. #NYR pic.twitter.com/w5AUQKbizN— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 21, 2022
PK Subban, New Jersey Devils
This is honestly a terrible idea and the opposite of what we need, but it’d be fun.
This one is just a bummer. #NJDevils https://t.co/kCfRVYbcTu pic.twitter.com/qAwwcIcemd— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) March 21, 2021
Other notable names
In order of average time on ice, and only those who played more than 50 games:
Anton Stralman, Zdeno Chara, Danny DeKeyser, Olli Maatta, Erik Gudbranson, Mark Pysyk (who apparently also plays wing?), Brett Kulak, Marc Staal, Andy Greene, Ian Cole, Justin Schultz, and Stanley Cup Champion Jack Johnson