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2024 Free Agency: what else does Don Waddell have up his sleeve?

Jun 28, 2024; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Cayden Lindstrom is selected with the 4th overall pick in the first round of the 2024 NHL Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets at The Sphere. Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Don Waddell was hired as general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets on May 28. After taking a few weeks to get the lay of the land, he has been actively making his own mark on the team over the last two weeks.

June 17: Waddell fired head coach Pascal Vincent. Vincent had one year remaining on his contract, and one could understand giving him one more chance, under better circumstances. Instead, Waddell said “At the end of the day, I just couldn’t get comfortable that he’d be the guy who could take us to the next level.”

June 28: Pending restricted free agent forward Alexandre Texier was traded to St. Louis for a 2025 fourth round pick. Tex is a useful depth player, but again Waddell was blunt in his assessment:

June 28/29: In Waddell’s first draft with the Blue Jackets (but with the amateur scouting staff that had been assembled by Jarmo Kekalainen, led by Ville Siren), there was a clear emphasis on size, skating, and keeping the puck out of the net. The #4 pick was 6’3″ center Cayden Lindstrom, then day two featured four defensemen and a goalie. The defensemen include 6’3″ Charlie Elick, 6’3″ Trevor Henricks, and 6’6″ Luke Ashton. All are projects to some degree, but it gives the Jackets options a few years down the line.

June 30: Bloody Sunday saw Waddell make further cuts to the NHL roster. Adam Boqvist was placed on waivers for the purpose of a buyout. In addition to opening up space on the right side of the defense, there’s also small credit on the salary cap this season. Another undersized, oft-injured RHD, Nick Blankenburg, will not receive a contract offer, and so he enters unrestricted free agency. Marcus Bjork did not receive a qualifying offer, so that’s three blue liners on the side let go. That opens up a clear path for David Jiricek to make the NHL roster, and stay there.

On the forward side, Alex Nylander, Carson Meyer, and Tyler Angle did not receive qualifying offers. Like with Texier and Blankenburg, it’s hard to see some of these guys leave. Meyer is a local product, and Nylander had the best stretch of his career here after being traded from Pittsburgh in February.

What do they all have in common? They’re depth pieces. A common Jarmo problem was being too enamored with those types, and giving them term and/or salary above their role on the team.

The players who did receive QOs? Kirill Marchenko, Cole Sillinger, Kent Johnson, and Jet Greaves. Those forwards are all either in the top 6, or have clear top 6 potential. Greaves has performed well in every NHL opportunity, and was great for Cleveland. With the injury history of Daniil Tarasov and Elvis Merzlikins, Greaves is a worthy insurance policy.

The lesson? The bottom of the roster is going to churn, and roadblocks have been cleared for prospects to play their way onto the roster. There are likely more moves to come, and some will be painful. They are necessary, however, to get this team to the next level. This is why a fresh perspective from the outside was needed to re-evaluate the team.

Free agency officially opens at noon Eastern. Here is your thread for discussing all the happenings today by the Blue Jackets and elsewhere around the league. Will Waddell bring in any veterans to help the locker room? Will there be a hockey trade? Patrik Laine is still in play, though it appears he hasn’t been cleared from the Player Assistance Program yet, and another team likely won’t trade for him until they’ve had a chance to speak to him directly.

Oh yeah, and interview for the coaching position will happen this week. Buckle up!