Looking Ahead: 2015 Potential Free Agents

Jarmo & co. will have some difficult decisions to make this summer with free agents. Who should stay and who should go?

Reports emerged last week that the Columbus Blue Jackets front office had reached out to Nick Foligno's agent in hopes of agreeing on a new contract for the feisty winger. We know from previous reports that Sergei Bobrovsky's agent wants to wait to negotiate a new deal until after the season. Those are the two big names on the roster who will be in need of a new contract, but there are others to keep an eye on as well. Let's take a look at who does not currently have a contract for 2015-2016 (order of relative importance to the team, from my view at least):

-Sergei Bobrovsky, G RFA (current AAV $5.625 million)

You will recall that Bob's bridge deal caused some tension around the time of the 2013 Draft, but he got a pretty good contract coming off of winning the Vezina. He didn't match that level of play last year, but was clearly a horse down the stretch in carrying the team to the playoffs. It is no secret that he is disappointed in not having won a playoff round in his career to this point, and perhaps he and his agent are putting off negotiating in the hopes that he can carry the CBJ deep into the postseason. Another season as a top 5 goalie would be a nice feather in his cap as well, though he has struggled for most of this season so far.

The sticking point is how he should be compensated going forward. Does he belong at the Rask or Lundqivst level or is he in that tier below? It's pretty obvious he and his agent want to be towards the top and are using this season as a bit of an audition. Up to this point though, it is hard to justify a huge raise from his current deal. Barring a run to the Vezina and the playoffs, I don't know if we will see a contract worth more than $7 million per year (depending on term). In theory this could go to arbitration, but the CBJ want to lock him up long term and avoid any tension again in the summer.

-Nick Foligno, LW/C UFA (current AAV $3.083 million)

Earlier in the season, Aaron Portzline reported that contract talks had not begun between Foligno's agent and the front office. That has changed within the last couple weeks. During the roughest stretches, Foligno stepped up as a leader and we saw why Jeff has been advocating that he get the "C" for the captain-less Jackets. He also has become a fan favorite, most notably for his hugs. He's on a career pace so far this year at nearly a point-per-game pace. On the flip side of that, his career-high previously was 47 points in '11-'12 with Ottawa.

The Jackets really seem to love Foligno's versatility and tenacity. He has the respect of his teammates and is loved by the fans. On top of that, he's getting great results on the offensive end this year. And oh yeah, he scored perhaps the most memorable goal in franchise history last season. The front office will take massive heat from fans if they let him walk or, gasp, trade him at the deadline. This is his chance for that "big" deal and is going to command at least $5 million annually if he keeps up his current production. The guess here is that the Jackets want to keep that cap hit below the $5.5-$6 million range (maybe a "hometown" discount?) but we will have to see how the rest of the season might affect that.

-Mark Letestu, C UFA (current AAV $1.25 million)

Letestu has been utilized in just about every situation, on every line, and in every position. He isn't flashy, but he is one of those players that every good team needs. Whether it's asked to play point on the power play, center the 4th line, or help kill penalties, Test Tube answers the call. He does turn 30 in February, so perhaps the front office is a bit cautious about handing out a long term deal (think: Derek MacKenzie this past year). It is impossible to guess what is important to Letestu in seeking a new contract, but it would be hard to turn down a four-year deal if another team offers it. If that happens, would Jarmo match?

Somehow, Jarmo and J&D got him to agree to a contract that pays him just $1.25 million this season. I would guess his next cap hit might come in the $2-$3 million range (especially if you use Boll's $1.7 million as a comparable). With the youth that is waiting, how long is the front office willing to offer? This could be an interesting one to follow and Letestu is definitely a guy I want to see back in the union blue.

-Cam Atkinson, RW RFA (current AAV $1.15 million)

A name that always seems to come up in trade rumors is Atkinson. He has shown he can produce offensively (probably a 25-30 goal guy in the future) and he has a really reasonable cap hit. Some fans may debate how he fits into the "CBJ identity" since he isn't the most physical forward given his size. He does bring an element of speed in the open ice that few can match and also has seen some time on the penalty kill as well as the power play. Atkinson was in the dog house a bit last year as he was a healthy scratch a few times late in the season, but has rebounded nicely since then.

Word has been quiet about any contract talks for Cam, probably because of his restricted status. Jarmo can wait until May or June to try to figure this one out, or potentially deal the winger at the deadline. This situation is harder to read, especially given the sometimes streaky play of Atkinson. He will probably want to get paid like a top 6 scoring winger, though, and should see a fairly significant pay increase.

-Matt Calvert, LW RFA (current AAV $987,500)

Calvert has had trouble staying healthy in the NHL. He's energetic, relentless on the forecheck, but the offense he displayed in his rookie season hasn't always been there. In fact, that might have been his best season, posting 20 points in 42 games. When he has played this season, he hasn't looked like his old self either. Just last year, I probably would have said Matt is a huge part of the Jackets, but I am becoming less convinced as time goes on. Would it shock me to see #11 traded or not re-signed? To be honest, not entirely.

Like Cam, I haven't seen much on negotiations - again the restricted status allows the front office a chance to wait to try to get a deal done. Calvert sees time as a penalty killer, but a question to be answered going forward is if any of the young prospects could pass him up for one of those top 9 spots.

-The Others:

Curtis McElhinney will be unrestricted at the end of the season with a cap hit of just $650,000. His play this year has left much to be desired while Anton Forsberg is playing nicely for Springfield. Could we see a change in Bob's backup? I wouldn't be surprised.

Jordan Leopold is a UFA and his contract carries just a $1.75 million hit. Given his age, I don't know how likely it is that he will be back. This feels a bit like Nick Schultz last year, but you never know.

Both Tim Erixon ($600,000) and Cody Goloubef ($650,000) are RFAs on the blue line as well. The thought is that the blue line is too crowded when everyone is healthy, and that one of these guys may be on the way out at the deadline. If prospects like Madaisky and Reilly are ready to make the jump soon, it's going to be hard to find them space with so many guys under contract. Neither Erixon nor Goloubef have made an overwhelming case that they are among the six best defensemen in the organization so far, but they will get their ice time the rest of the year with the way the injuries are going.

There are three unrestricted forwards - Brian Gibbons ($750,000), Jack Skille ($750,000), and Adam Cracknell ($600,000). The determination to try to sign any of these guys may depend on if the organization thinks the young prospects are ready to fill in those 4th line roles. Skille has made the most of his opportunities of these three, but his offense can seemingly come and go. Right now, my bet is that he comes back while the other two do not but the rest of the season may change that. Michael Chaput ($706,667) will be an RFA and has played pretty well in a new role as a bottom six center. Given his restricted status, it will be easier to bring back the rookie than the unrestricted guys.

We will obviously revisit these situations more as the offseason approaches, but I just wanted to take a quick look at the free agent class coming up at the end of the season. For now, based on the reports, it seems like the next news will be on how the Foligno talks are going. At the very least, it is a good sign to hear the two parties have started talking. We will have to wait and see what happens with the other players.

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