The Columbus Blue Jackets made quite a splash on the first day of free agency by signing Johnny Gaudreau, but now they need to turn their attention to restricted free agent Patrik Laine. Adding an unexpected player at close to $10 million against the salary cap makes things a little more difficult on that front, but it’s certainly manageable without requiring many moves.
Monsters Help Shed Salary
The salary cap situation looks much worse than it actually is for the Blue Jackets due to the sheer number of players currently counting against it. As of right now, they only have roughly $2.3 million in cap space but that figures to increase to just over $6.4 million after some internal roster moves and assigning players to the American Hockey League (AHL). Players like Brendan Gaunce, Gavin Bayreuther and the recently acquired Mathieu Olivier will require waivers to be sent to the Cleveland Monsters but it’s likely they’ll begin their seasons in the AHL. Meanwhile, Carson Meyer and Daniil Tarasov are also counting against the cap, but they have the advantage of being waiver exempt, making them almost guaranteed to start with the Monsters.
The Blue Jackets’ youth is also a major factor that will help them escape a salary cap crunch. As it currently stands, they’ll have an opening night roster that features five players making less than $1 million, all of whom are 24 years old or younger. Of course, there’s also the chance that number increases if one of their first-round picks David Jiricek or Denton Mateychuk can have a tremendous performance at training camp. Prospects like Trey Fix-Wolansky, Jake Christiansen and Stanislav Svozil could make a strong case for the roster as well. Adding that many young players to the lineup only makes it easier to move away from the upper limit of the cap. Unfortunately, that alone won’t be enough to get them below the line.
Potential Blue Jackets on the Move
After the aforementioned internal moves, we’ll say that the Blue Jackets sit roughly $3.1 million above the cap if they sign Laine to an extension with an average annual value of $9.5 million. There are nine players on the roster who have a cap hit higher than that value, but realistically there are only three in that category who could potentially be moved. Those players would be Gustav Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Jack Roslovic.
The most obvious one would be Nyquist, however, management might not want to move him if they feel they’re ready to fight for a playoff spot this upcoming season. Bjorkstrand is the least likely of the three, as he’s on one of the most team-friendly contracts in the NHL. Not to mention, he’s also an underrated cornerstone of the franchise. Roslovic is in this category simply because he’s on a contract that’s very easy to move, and he hasn’t shown the level of play that has made him an important core piece of the organization.
While moving one of those players is certainly the easiest route to getting out of a squeeze, it’s not really necessary, as a package deal would just as easily get the team below the salary cap; but depending on the pieces traded, potentially not by much. The Blue Jackets have an abundance of defensemen and the addition of Erik Gudbranson only increased the logjam. Moving a blueliner is something that management should do regardless, so it would only make sense to have that be part of making room for Laine.
Vladislav Gavrikov and Jake Bean both make sense to move elsewhere, but the organization needs a Gavrikov-type of a player much more than someone like Bean. There are quite a few players in the organization who play like Bean, while Gavrikov was the closest thing they had to a stay-at-home defenseman last season, although he did have phenomenal offensive numbers as well. The only downside to Gavrikov is that his contract is set to expire at the end of next season, but an extension shouldn’t be an issue.
When it comes to forwards, Emil Bemstrom would be an obvious player to move. He’s a restricted free agent at the moment, so although he’s not counting against the cap, he wouldn’t really fit onto the roster regardless. From there, it’s difficult to see Eric Robinson and Alexandre Texier both fitting into the lineup. Although they’re very different players, adding Gaudreau and quite a few young players to the mix over the last couple of seasons has made it difficult to justify having them play consistently. Both have a cap hit of around $1.5 million so along with Bean, trading one of them would be enough to slide just under the salary cap. The ideal player to move would likely be Robinson since he has pretty much reached his ceiling already, but Texier would certainly bring a bigger return.
The summer has just started, but it seems as if it’s going to get even more hectic for Blue Jackets fans and management alike. Bringing in Gaudreau is a turning point for not only the organization but the city of Columbus as a whole. However, retaining Laine on a long-term deal will have a similar lasting effect. They’ve already done the same with Zach Werenski and signed the top free agent on the market. Keeping their other star winger will prove that not only is Columbus a hockey city, but it’s a place that players want to be as well.
William Espy is a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus. He has been writing about hockey since 2016 on various platforms. He currently covers the Columbus Blue Jackets but had a previous stint covering the Calgary Flames.