31 Days of Mayhem
It's June 1 kids. Time to strap in -- the next 31 days promise to be intriguing, to say the least.
No, this isn't an Allstate commercial, but with the calendar flipping to June, the hockey world is going to be really, really busy -- both on and off the ice. Further, the vast majority of these events directly impact the Blue Jackets' fortunes in both the near and long term. Let's meander through the next 31 days and see how things shape up.
June 1 -- The deadline for NHL clubs to sign 2014 draft picks from Canadian juniors or overseas. Mike has covered this really well in his piece, noting that really only two players -- RW Julien Pelletier (4th Round) and defenseman Olivier LeBlanc (7th Round) -- are impacted for the Blue Jackets. Some confusion arose as to the status of goalie Elvis Merzlikins (3rd Round), who is plying his trade in the Swiss league. However, as the Blue Jackets' Rob Mixer explained on Twitter (@RobMixer), because the NHL does not have a transfer agreement in place with the Swiss league, the Blue Jackets have no mechanism to sign a player under contract in that league. So, Columbus retains his rights indefinitely, so long as he is under contract in a league with no transfer agreement. Mixer also tweeted that the Blue Jackets are "highly unlikely" to offer contracts to LeBlanc or Pelletier, who will then enter the draft.
From where I sit, this all makes sense. The Blue Jackets have a deep reserve of youth, a boatload of RFA candidates, and a kid named Jesse Puljujarvi likely joining the ranks of those with contracts. Accordingly, the club needs to be cautious in managing the 50 contract limit (they sit at 42). The Blue Jackets have quietly built a very respectable goalie pipeline, with Joonas Korpisalo, Anton Forsberg, Oscar Dansk and Merzlikins, and they will be looking to leverage that depth. To paraphrase, you can never be too rich, too thin or have too many goalie prospects. Teams are always hunting for help in net, and having help to offer provides lots of leverage, and the potential for solid return.
June 6/June 15 -- The earliest and latest dates that the Stanley Cup can be awarded. No direct impact on the Blue Jackets, other than the opportunity to root against the whiners three hours east on I-70. I have to confess to being squarely in the San Jose Sharks' camp here. I attended the Sharks' NHL debut in 1991 at the Cow Palace, and endured their NHL record 71 losses in the 1992 - 1993 campaign. (That was an 84 game season, which saved the Sharks from setting the record for fewest points in a season. That distinction belongs to the 1974 - 1975 Washington Capitals, who went 8 - 67 - 5 in an 80 game season as their NHL debut.)
Blue Jackets fans can and should relish the appearance of the Sharks in the Final after 25 years, and can look to San Jose's past futility as a beacon of hope for the future. (Sarcasm? Maybe . . . you decide)
June 11/June 17 -- The earliest and latest dates that the Calder Cup can be awarded to the AHL Champion. Obviously, with the Lake Erie Monsters vying for the trophy, this is (or should be) of major interest to Blue Jackets Nation. If nothing else, it provides a measuring stick versus the other 29 teams from an organizational/prospects point of view, and shows that the drafting/scouting of late has met the mark. Again, talent provides options for the parent club, and the front office has to love that. Seeing players like Anton Forsberg, Lukas Sedlak, Daniel Zaar and Dean Kukan emerge must also be gratifying to the front office. Win or lose, it has been a great development experience for the Blue Jackets' youngsters. (The festivities start tonight, and our own Scott Tennant has a great preview of the series here.)
June 15/17 - June 30 -- The window during which NHL teams can buy out player contracts. If the Stanley Cup is awarded in Game 6 or earlier, the window opens on June 15. If it goes to Game 7, the window opens on June 17. The relevance to Columbus? Well, it depends somewhat on what transpires with respect to expansion (see below). If expansion happens for the 2017-2018 season, much will ride on whether teams need to use their limited protected slots for players with NMC/NTC clauses. If so, that provides incentive to clear any dead wood off the books before that time. For the Blue Jackets, focus would turn to David Clarkson. While not an ideal candidate for buyout, due to his deal being mostly signing bonus, the Blue Jackets would still realize $1.5 million of cap savings in each of the first two years of the buyout, another $1 million per year for the next two, and then would take a $500,000 hit for the next four years. That's relatively insignificant, even with only modest increases in the salary cap. That's a prospect worth considering.
June 22 -- Meeting of the NHL Board of Governors. This is approximately when we should hear the final word on expansion, and a relatively final word on what the rules will be when the Expansion Draft occurs. Bill Daly recently suggested that the requirement for each club to expose at least 25% of the prior year's roster salary may be off the table, and that varying treatment could be in the cards for different NMC/NTC clauses. The key here will be whether some of these clauses will simply be exempt from the draft, or whether clubs will need to use protection slots for those players. (See Clarkson, David). With the buyout window closing just eight days after the BOG meets, there will be more than a little urgency attached to this decision, as navigating buyouts, the expansion draft and the entry draft next year will be a chore. Clubs would likely prefer to start the wheels moving now, so that they have a clear line of sight on their roster situation come next June.
The other significance to the BOG date is that we can likely expect the formal announcement of the salary cap for 2016-17 right about this time. (It was announced June 23 last year). From prior league statements, this seems like a binary decision -- it will either stay at $71.4 million or increase to $74 million, if the NHLPA triggers the escalator clause. That gives the Blue Jackets between $4.8 million and $7.4 million to work with, based upon current configuration. However, buyouts, trades, etc. will dramatically alter that equation, and that is an entire article by itself.
Oh, and lest we forget, the NHL Awards festivities take place this evening in Las Vegas, which just coincidentally is the leading expansion candidate - and has been for some time. Almost since the awards moved to Vega. Just coincidence. Really. No connection whatsoever. Honest.
June 24-25 -- The NHL Entry Draft in Buffalo, New York. Always the prime focus of wheeling and dealing, this year should prove no different. The morning line has the Blue Jackets selecting Puljujarvi with the #3 pick, but Patrik Laine could be the one, depending upon the whims of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets. In either case, Columbus will get a player who can step in and play at the NHL level, and contribute meaningfully. With an early second round pick, some rumors have Jarmo Kekäläinen trying to find a way to land both the #2 and #3 picks. That seems a really tall order at any sort of acceptable price, but stranger things have happened. To use the favored euphemism applicable to such events, I would expect the Blue Jackets to be "active".
June 30 -- Deadline to provide qualifying offers to restricted free agents. While I expect that both Seth Jones and William Karlsson will be signed well before this point, the Blue Jackets have a number of other RFA players to address. These include: Anton Forsberg, T.J. Tynan, Michael Chaput, Michael Paliotta and Alex Broadhurst. With his emergence during the playoffs, Forsberg seems to be a no-brainer. Paliotta presents a more interesting case. He came over (with Alex Broadhurst) as part of the Brandon Saad deal, and will command just about $1 million to sign. He has been solid on the blue line, but has perhaps not shown either the pace of progression nor the offensive output that was projected when he was referred to as a "key piece" of the Saad deal.
Chaput and Tynan both registered 40+ point seasons with Lake Erie, but at 24 are they ready for the next step? After a promising stint with the big club a few years ago, Chaput has seemingly hit a ceiling, and Tynan has not had a significant shot on NHL ice. Broadhurst had slightly lower production in fewer games, and is a year younger. All of these guys could be in the "sign and trade" category, depending upon what the front office crystal ball shows for this year's draft class, the 2015 class and other adjustments to the number of outstanding contracts. I'm thinking that a couple out of this group are plying their trade elsewhere next year.
July 1 -- Free agency opens, or "Steven Stamkos Day", depending upon your outlook. At this juncture, you would have to think that Stamkos will test the market, and the market will be flooded. Of course, depending upon the cap situation, the feeding frenzy might be muted a bit, but their will still be plenty of suitors. That, in turn, will have a "trickle down" effect, as clubs need to clear cap room to make credible offers. Others, like Pittsburgh and Chicago, will be simply performing their annual cap calisthenics to squeeze into whatever the cap will be. This creates bargain potential for trades, as these clubs will not want salary back. Expect the unexpected on that score.
So, there you have it -- a jam-packed 31 days of hockey insanity. In between these benchmark dates, of course, will come the usual assemblage of signings, trades and other adjustments that will cause front offices to shred prior plans and move on to Plan B . . . then Plan C . . .then Plan D. That's why they get the big bucks. For the Blue Jackets, the first order of priority will be signing Seth Jones -- and all indications are that it will happen. Columbus has all of the leverage, and I suspect any lingering battles are over structure. William Karlsson will follow closely behind, and then the real fun begins.
Whatever happens, it will be entertaining to watch. Mayhem will abound. Stay tuned.