The Columbus Blue Jackets are typically fairly quiet in free agency. With their current salary cap space, it may look like they have a lot of flexibility entering this season’s open market but that may not actually be the case. Names like Johnny Gaudreau and Claude Giroux are going to get the most attention when their contracts expire on Wednesday. The Blue Jackets currently have nearly $17 million in cap space. It seems like there’s an opportunity for them to make a big splash right? Unfortunately, it’s not likely without making a trade and there’s one major reason why. Using the salary cap information available here on The Hockey Writers, let’s take a look at their situation going into July 13.
Patrik Laine Needs an Extension
The most critical aspect of this offseason for the Blue Jackets has undoubtedly been locking down star winger Patrik Laine for as long as possible. This is where a majority of the organization’s remaining salary cap space will go. He’s not going to be cheap, especially if they’re pushing for a deal upwards of four or five years. Just to make sure his contract isn’t underestimated, it’s best to set aside roughly $10 million of it for his extension. He may not take that entire amount, but the last thing general manager Jarmo Kekalainen will want to do is end up in a cap crunch by signing too expensive of an unrestricted free agent on Wednesday.
It’s also important to remember that Zach Werenski’s recent contract extension is also kicking in this upcoming season, which is going to tie up a lot of the cap for the foreseeable future. With Laine and Werenski expected to take up nearly a quarter of it on their own, Kekalainen needs to be very careful with how much he commits to a player outside of the organization.
Possibility of Blue Jackets Clearing Cap Space
It wouldn’t be a big surprise if management decided they wanted to move a player or two in order to open up more cap space if the right player is willing to join the organization. Our Nicholas Arnold discussed a few options who would be realistic free agent targets earlier this week, however, it’s hard to see essentially any signings happening without moving somebody out. Unfortunately, there are very few assets in the organization that could really clear up much space and even fewer that would be realistically moved. The easiest way to do it on paper would be to trade Jakub Voracek. It’s unlikely to happen, however, because not only would his contract be difficult to move, but after his contribution to the Blue Jackets last season, it would be surprising if management would be willing to let him leave.
The more realistic options would be Gustav Nyquist and Vladislav Gavrikov, who are both going to be unrestricted free agents in 12 months as it currently stands. Due to his age and higher cap hit, Nyquist would be the most likely to be traded as it’s doubtful that he’ll be brought back at the end of his contract. He certainly brings experience and a veteran presence to the locker room and quite a bit of skill on the ice, but it may be worth moving him for the right free agent opportunity. Gavrikov, on the other hand, is a major piece of the Blue Jackets’ defensive core going forward. As a result, unless he makes it clear he’s planning on a change of scenery once his contract expires, more than likely he’s going to get a contract extension in the near future and be removed from the rumor mill.
The Blue Jackets are typically quiet when free agency opens, with Nyquist and Sean Kuraly being the biggest free-agent signings on the current roster. If management decides to make a signing, it’s likely they’ll bring in another player of that caliber rather than a high-end talent. With the current salary cap situation, I wouldn’t count on that either, though. It seems more likely that they have a fairly quiet offseason, which would help the team avoid any unnecessary cap issues in the near future.
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.