Decisions: Pending Free Agents
What will the Blue Jackets decide to do with their free agents this summer?
John Davidson, President of Hockey Operations for the Columbus Blue Jackets, has said there is no change in the plan and the team does intend to trade any of its core players as the upcoming trade deadline approaches.
Jarmo Kekalainen and Davidson locked up one of those core players when defenseman Ryan Murray signed a two-year extension last week. Where does that leave the rest of the players who are set to hit free agency this summer? Let's take a look.
-Anton Forsberg (RFA, $655K): Forsberg is only in his second full season in North America. He has played very well at the AHL level - both for Springfield last season and for Lake Erie this season. Forsberg has mostly struggled in his few spot starts for the Blue Jackets. He is 1-7 in eight career NHL starts with a 4.01 GAA and .882 save percentage. To be fair to him, he has played when the Jackets have been struggling as a team.
Given the uncertainty about Oscar Dansk's future with the organization (Dansk turns 21 at the end of the month but is playing for Rogle in Sweden this season), the team will probably look to keep Forsberg for another year or two in Lake Erie. No other goalie prospects appear poised to make the jump, and even though Korpisalo has clearly passed Forsberg on the depth chart the team will still need to have a couple guys at the ready in Cleveland.
-Seth Jones (RFA, $925K): The newest Blue Jacket may test Jarmo's "bridge coming off an ELC" theory. Jones is playing top-level minutes and still performing well for Columbus. Given his level of play, he would certainly command a higher cap hit than what Murray just received. The main question here is if Jones can get the front office to offer up a long-term deal. He will be back, it's just a question of cap hit and how long the extension is.
-Dalton Prout (RFA, $1.075 million): With the team losing Andrew Bodnarchuk and Kevin Connauton on waivers this season, extending Prout suddenly does not look like a crazy idea. His 2013 season was a fluke, but he can still pack a punch when needed. The issue is that he is not ever viewed as part of the long-term plans and his ceiling appears to be a #6 or #7 at the NHL level. The deadline will be interesting to watch for Prout...not to see if he is moved but if someone like Tyutin gets dealt. That could open up a roster spot for Prouter and lead the way to a contract extension. Ideally, the team would have enough talent to replace him but Prout may stick around until that happens.
-Justin Falk (UFA, $600K): Same deal as Prout. Unless Tortorella really ends up liking him, it is hard to see him in the future plans beyond holding down a spot until the prospects are ready. The front office may wait to see how Cleveland fills out before deciding whether or not to offer Falk an extension.
-Michael Paliotta (RFA, $925K): Scott has been keeping us up to date with the Monsters, and Paliotta is not always at the top of his list. Still, he is on a solid pace offensively (20 points in 47 games) and many believe he has a legitimate shot at being the team's #7 Dman next season. I think he will be extended with a chance to earn a spot at camp next fall.
-Oleg Yevenko (RFA, $650K) and John Ramage (RFA, $600K): no real impact at the NHL level next season. The front office will just need to figure out how it wants to fill out the Monsters and if they want to keep these two in Cleveland or not. Yevenko has drawn reviews for his fighting ability, but he still working on the other parts of his game.
-Rene Bourque (UFA, $3.33 million): He will walk in the summer unless a team making a playoff push wants to give up a late-round pick for a "veteran presence." Bourque has 6-3-9 with a -12 rating in 44 games with Columbus. If he can get five more points this season he will hit 300 points for his NHL career.
-Boone Jenner (RFA, $778K): Jenner will remain in the union blue. After struggling with injuries last season, Boone is putting up career highs across the board with 19-13-32 through 57 games. He has already surpasses his goal (16) and point (29) totals from his rookie season when he appeared in 72 games. That improvement will be a bit of a bargaining chip this summer, although he does not have arbitration rights coming off of his ELC. If Jarmo can strike a bridge-deal with an AAV around $3 million, it will be a contract well spent.
-William Karlsson (RFA, $830K): The young Swede has been a surprise for many after being acquired in the James Wisniewski trade last season. While he still has parts of his games to improve, the Jackets will want to keep Karlsson around. He will be another bridge candidate this summer.
-Michael Chaput (RFA, $650K): Chaput turns 24 this spring and has appeared in 53 NHL games to this point in his career. It is unclear if he has a future as a bottom six center with Columbus or if he is destined to more of an AHL career. Depending on what the team decides to do with Gregory Campbell, Chaput may earn another contract and could be pegged to fill that fourth line center role. If Campbell sticks around, then Chaput may look for a contract elsewhere with a shot at making an NHL roster.
-T.J. Tynan (RFA, $718K), Alex Broadhurst (RFA, $643K), and Lukas Sedlak (RFA, $613K): No real impact at the NHL level. Broadhurst was acquired in the Saad trade. All three can play center, so new contracts for any of these three players will depend on how the Monsters roster starts to take shape. The Jackets really only have one other center prospect besides the above three and Chaput, and that is Kevin Stenlund, who is playing over in Europe currently. The guess, for now, is that Tynan and Broadhurst are back on one-year deals while Sedlak may not return with the franchise.
The trade deadline will dictate what the front office tries to do this summer. If roster space is cleared up via trades of Hartnell or Tyutin, then it might be reasonable to expect some of these players above to be re-signed over the summer. If roster space is tight, then they might not be brought back to Columbus.
There is not a lot of risk of losing any player to free agency this summer. The challenge for the front office will be keeping the cap hits reasonable for both Jones and Jenner, and then filling out the Lake Erie roster appropriately.
As fans saw last week with the Murray news, stay tuned as signings could break at any time.