NHL Free Agency Targets: Defensemen
Slim pickings among unrestricted free agents this summer
The Columbus Blue Jackets boast two of the best defensemen in the world in Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. Despite a strong supporting cast joining those two on D, the Jackets may need to head to the free agent market to pick up the missing blueline piece. Let’s figure out who the team may target in a relatively thin unrestricted group (in no particular order) come July 1:
2017-18 regular season stats: 67 GP/5 G/15 A/20 PTS/+14/51.1 CF% (EV)
2017-18 regular season CBJ stats: 20 GP/2 G/5 A/7 PTS/+11/52.2 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $2.1 million
Here’s a known quantity: Ian Cole flourished in a new role with Columbus after coming from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline, forming instant chemistry with new partner David Savard. The Lumberjackets gave the CBJ a fearsome, bearded pair that saw Cole post seven points in 20 regular season games and three assists in the playoffs. The fans like him, he seemed to like Columbus, and he’s made overtures about preferring to stay.
Given his production, he’s in line for a raise from his $2.1 million salary. To keep Cole in union blue may cost the Jackets around $3.75 to $4 million in cap hit for a guy who will likely want a longer deal as he approaches age 30. With Savard signed for the next three seasons at $4.25 million (though we saw how chemistry with Savard can change in the curious case of Jack Johnson), the free agent answer may be in the room.
Calvin de Haan
2017-18 regular season stats: 33 GP/1 G/11 A/12 PTS/+11/49.1 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $3.3 million
Calvin de Haan has been in the New York Islanders organization since he was drafted 12th overall in 2009. Last summer, de Haan forwent a long-term deal and signed a one-year, $3.3 million contract hours before arbitration to prove his worth and improve his free agent stock. Those plans went by the boards, though, when he suffered a shoulder injury shortly before Christmas, ending his season at 33 games. The injury proved a massive blow to the Islanders defense, as de Haan had tallied 12 points in those 33 games and had played the third-most minutes on the team.
Despite his injury history and shortened season, de Haan should command a sizeable deal that the Jackets may have room for. David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period reports that “upwards of 10 teams” have interest in the 27-year-old Canadian. De Haan’s 2016-17 season saw him play every game and score 25 points, which is more than Savard, Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray or Ian Cole scored last season.
2017-18 regular season stats: 80 GP/3 G/21 A/24 PTS/-6/50.4 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $3.75 million
First: Dan Hamhuis will turn 36 years old in December. He’s ancient by hockey standards. That said, Hamhuis missed only two games and scored 24 points for Dallas last season, logging 20:11 of ice time per night. He’s old, but he’s reliable if Columbus wanted to pick him up for a year or two while the youngsters round into form. He brings a ton of experience to a young corps, can play on the PK, boasted a 59.5 percent defensive zone start rate and won’t be expected to be a savior.
Hamhuis enjoyed a $3.75 million deal with Dallas and his next deal will certainly not increase. The defense doesn’t need to get older and slower, but he’s out there.
2017-18 regular season stats: 66 GP/8 G/25 A/33 PTS/-14/47.9 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $6 million
It’s unlikely the Blue Jackets have the money to splurge on Mike Green, but who knows what can happen over the next week or two. His neck injury may scare potential suitors away, but he’s still near the top of this free agent class. It’s hard to envision his salary drops too dramatically, but he’d be a big boost to the Jackets’ blue line.
Term may become an issue as well, as the 32-year-old could be looking to cash in for one final big contract. Columbus may not want to lock up a guy like Green for that long with all the young deals that will come due over the next few summers, but look: he’s good, and there aren’t too many guys like that in this group.
2017-18 regular season stats: 69 GP/5 G/20 A/25 PTS/+20/47.7 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $2.2 million
Thomas Hickey was a fourth overall pick in 2007. That’s wild. He didn’t crack the league due to constant injuries until 2013 as a 23-year-old with the Islanders. Since then, he’s been a mainstay on the Islanders’ defense and enjoyed his best pro season in 2017-18, matching a career-best 20 assists with new highs in points (25) and plus/minus (+20).
Hickey’s due for a slight raise, though he’s a bottom-pairing left-handed shot that played well for a team that struggled defensively. The Jackets have plenty of guys like Hickey already, but maybe the coaching and scouting staffs see something to invest in.
2017-18 regular season stats: 81 GP/7 G/11 A/18 PTS/+3/48.4 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $1.67 million
As stated above, it’s a thin group. CBJ fans remember Moore from his 21st overall pick in 2009 and some underwhelming early seasons before the club sent him to the New York Rangers in the Marian Gaborik trade. He’s since played for Arizona and New Jersey, where he carved himself a nice little role for the Devils over the past three seasons. He’s only 27 and coming off an 81-game season where he scored more goals (seven) than most of the CBJ defensemen.
He’s in line for a raise after his most complete year as a pro. Matt Cane (@Cane_Matt) of HockeyGraphs predicts Moore will pull down a two-year, $3.45 million deal somewhere. That’s a lot of money to throw at a guy whose possession numbers leave much to be desired but hey, he already knows how to get to the arena.
2017-18 regular season stats: 73 GP/4 G/13 A/17 PTS/-5/47.4 CF% (EV)
2017-18 cap hit: $1.65 million
As long as we’re bringing back defensemen who started their career with Columbus, why not Nick Holden? The 6’4” d-man was traded from the Rangers to the Boston Bruins shortly before the deadline. Yeah, he’s not going to be the long-term answer in Nationwide, but he notched 34 points in 2016-17 and saw his possession numbers buoyed in his shortened time with Boston, though he struggled to crack the lineup down the stretch and in the playoffs. If the Jackets become desperate, maybe?
Others to keep in mind: Luca Sbisa, Brandon Manning, Alexei Emelin