The 2020 NHL Draft has come and gone. For the Columbus Blue Jackets, they were right in the middle of all the action.
Their draft day started with a big bang. Josh Anderson and the Blue Jackets were unable to reach an agreement. Therefore he was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for center Max Domi and a third-round pick in this draft.
The Blue Jackets were always looking for a top-six center. If Anderson was going to go in any deal, that had to be in the return. This deal was rumored for some time given the fit on each side.
In the end, it’s a good hockey trade for both sides. The Blue Jackets get a number-two center behind Pierre-Luc Dubois who can help on their power play. The Canadiens get a power forward on the wing who is a physical presence.
Domi and the Blue Jackets then agreed to a two-year, $10.6 million contract that takes him right to UFA status. He will get $4.6 million this season and $6 million next season.
This gives both sides an opportunity to get to know each other. A long-term extension could be in the works if things work out over the next year. It’s a fair deal for both sides. Now it’s up to Domi to show what he can do and help the Blue Jackets get to their ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup.
In a Zoom interview on Wednesday, Domi said he has closed the door on his time in Montreal. He is super excited for his chance to be a center on the Blue Jackets. Domi said that the Blue Jackets are a team that’s “ready to win a Stanley Cup now.” If he can return to 70-point form, he might not be wrong.
The Domi trade is just a tip of the iceberg of what’s coming next for the Blue Jackets. With free agency starting up on Friday, action around the league is going to be insane.
While the Blue Jackets may not be major players in free agency, they will make some news. There’s just no way around it given the cap and roster situation. Where do they stand now after the trade and contract signing?
According to Cap Friendly, the Blue Jackets now have a cap hit of $79.775 million. That leaves them just $1.725 million away from the $81.5 million salary cap. They still have Pierre-Luc Dubois and Vladislav Gavrikov among others to sign. So yes, other moves are coming.
Brandon Dubinsky and his $5.85 million cap hit is a point of emphasis. That contract could be traded to a team who has extra cap space or to a team who will utilize long-term injured reserve since it’s expected he won’t play in the NHL again. If a trade cannot be reached, the Blue Jackets would utilize LTIR themselves.
Wennberg Being Bought Out?
Next, watch the Alexander Wennberg situation. With Domi signed, although not official, I do expect the Blue Jackets will go ahead with a buyout of Wennberg’s contract. With so much business left to attend to, I’m not sure how you can justify paying a bottom-six center $4.9 million for three more years. Since a buyout would mean they’d only have to pay 1/3 of the remaining contract, it makes sense to do a buyout out now.
I think the Blue Jackets have been looking for a trade first to see if anyone would take on the contract. But given the inconsistencies of Wennberg, I don’t see anyone taking a chance at that price. Watch the waiver wire especially Thursday at 12 P.M. eastern. The deadline for the first buyout window is Thursday at 5 P.M. eastern. I think we may have seen the last of Wennberg in a Blue Jackets’ uniform. If this doesn’t happen, then something else behind the scenes is going on. They have to open cap space up somehow.
A Loaded Blue Line
Here’s another situation to monitor. The Blue Jackets still have a glut of defensemen on their roster ready to play now.
Andrew Peeke might be ready for the NHL. If he is, the Blue Jackets would have seven other defensemen on the roster with a cap hit of $1.6 million or higher. That’s nice depth, except that doesn’t count Gavrikov since he still needs a contract. Something has to give here.
Both Ryan Murray and David Savard have one year left on their deals at over $4 million on the cap. Each has been rumored to different places at different times. If there is no intention to bring either back in the future, it seems now is the time to find a deal.
With that said, each are good defensemen in their own right. The Blue Jackets could elect to trade a Markus Nutivaara instead who has term left at a lower cap hit. Regardless of what happens, we expect a move or two within the blue line. The preference would be to get forward help in a deal. But if not, taking futures and cap relief would be a welcomed return.
This is a numbers game. Carrying nine defensemen is not ideal. We’ll see who is the odd-man out soon enough.
Another option is the goaltending situation. The Blue Jackets are listening on both of their star netminders if good forward help comes back. Even despite the Domi deal, I do not think they’re done.
What does make this different is that the Blue Jackets can go into the 2020-21 season with both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins together. They don’t have to make a move like they do on defense. But teams are definitely calling the Blue Jackets. Kekalainen will only move one of them if they get a significant forward in return.
If one of them does move, that opens more space up either for the incoming forward or to help conduct their own internal business. Calgary has been said to be in these talks but reports suggest they’ve died down for now.
The issue here is the state of the goalie market. There are many UFAs. Teams looking to trade a goalie might have a hard time doing so since the supply on the market is saturated. Still, teams would love a controllable, affordable goalie if they can land one. That makes the Blue Jackets’ duo a trade target.
The Blue Jackets can let this unfold before having to act. They will either A) carry two good goalies into next season or B) acquire another significant forward for their roster. That’s a win/win for the Blue Jackets.
Bigger Moves Incoming?
I mean, maybe. With Domi in the mix, I think the attention on the forward side would be an impact winger. Patrik Laine? Johnny Gaudreau?
I still do not see the fit on Laine with the Blue Jackets. While he would be great, the Jets would want Zach Werenski or Seth Jones. That goes nowhere. I don’t think the Blue Jackets have the pieces to make such a deal.
Now with Gaudreau, that’s more plausible especially if the Flames want Korpisalo or Merzlikins. Still it would be a bigger trade to construct. Would both sides be willing to meet the asking price here? I’m not so sure.
But what I do wonder now is if the Blue Jackets would entertain the idea of one year of Taylor Hall? He has said he’d go to a contender for one year. Personally, I don’t see it. Once Dubois and others are signed, they would be near the cap unless other moves happened. Still, we can’t rule out this possibility. There’s a gaping Artemi Panarin sized hole on the left side. Hall could fill that role and make the Blue Jackets even more dangerous.
The team I am watching out for on Hall is Colorado. They have plenty of cap space and are ready to win now. Imagine a line of Hall-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen. That’s just not fair. This fits like a glove so we’ll see where it all goes. Kekalainen said he doesn’t depend on the free agent market all that much. Still Hall is worth investigating to see if he’d be willing to come to a contender in the Blue Jackets.
So as you can see, the Blue Jackets have a lot of business left to attend to. Given the need for cap space and roster movement, it’s a matter of how many moves they make, not if they’ll make them. It should make for a very interesting next week within the walls of Nationwide Arena.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.