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The Blue Jackets have a need for a top center: could Nazem Kadri make sense in free agency?

The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently in the midst of a half-hearted rebuild. The team and front office, to this point, has been willing to trade some pieces for futures (Nick Foligno and David Savard, for example) but steadfastly is hanging on to pieces that will not contribute to the team long term when they are ready to compete for the playoffs again (Joonas Korpisalo and Gustav Nyquist among them). The team has one major restricted free agent to sign this summer (Patrik Laine), but currently have $21 million in cap space to spend this summer should they desire.

The Blue Jackets have several promising players in the pipeline that look ready to play this season (Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson), plus several players in their early-to-mid 20s who should be in their prime or just entering it: Oliver Bjorkstrand, Laine, Zach Werenski. This odd collection of in-prime players, prospects on the, and veterans on extended contracts has left the Blue Jackets in a tough spot – they’re too talented to bottom out, but not quite a playoff contender, much less Stanley Cup contender. What, then, is the front office going to do with this mix and their cap space?

This summer, there is one free agent that can address two of the biggest needs the team faces: top six center, and high-end playmaker. This player is hitting unrestricted free agency and it’s currently unlikely his team will be able to afford him and has Stanley Cup experience. Could Nazem Kadri be a fit for the Columbus Blue Jackets?

Nazem Kadri, fresh off winning a Stanley Cup with the Colorado Avalanche, put up a career year in his age 31 season. Kadri scored 28-59-87 for the Avalanche as their second line center. 58 of his points, including 20 of his goals, came at even strength which indicates that he was not simply a byproduct of the Avalanche power play – he was able to be productive at 5v5, not something often seen in free agents the Blue Jackets have signed.

Kadri’s underlying numbers are also outstanding. Over the last 4 years, he has posted at least a 58.5% CF% and at least a 57.4% FF%, showing that he is capable of driving even strength play. Kadri has also posted a 2 PTS/60 over the past two years at 5v5, again demonstrating his drive of play at even strength, an area Columbus truly struggles.

There are two concerns, of course, with signing Kadri. The first is willingness: would he even want to sign in Columbus? The Blue Jackets have long been spurned by marquee free agents in the past, and Kadri could be seeking a contract with a team more close to winning than Columbus. Among playoff teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Avalanche, and Calgary Flames have more cap space available than Columbus (though those teams have contract issues of their own to work out). Kadri could find a team closer to contender status with cap space to sign him and, as a result, never look at Columbus.

The second concern, of course, is his age. Kadri will be 32 years old at the end of next season. Historically speaking, signing unrestricted free agents who are 30+ does not often work out. Those contract tend to age poorly as the player becomes more injury prone, loses a step, and the grind of the NHL simply catches up to them. Kadri had a career year last year, but he played for a team that has been one of the league’s best for several seasons running and would be taking a step back with Columbus. Could he perform to his contract? It’s possible. But Kadri will be looking to cash in with a seven year contract and a large payday. It’s unlikely that he lives up to that deal. But, if Columbus thinks Kadri could help power out of the rebuild and to contender status in the next year or two, it could be worth it.

I do not expect Columbus to seriously pursue Nazem Kadri this summer, but let’s hear from you: would you welcome a Nazem Kadri signing this summer?