Sometimes less is more, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are proving that saying can apply to offseason acquisitions.
Columbus finished 27th in the NHL in 2015-16, but the months following the campaign did not see a major roster shakeup. This is not to say the team did nothing — signing Seth Jones to a contract extension was extremely important, especially considering how well he has played while leading the team in ice time per game this season.
And when you have young players like Zach Werenski, Josh Anderson, Markus Nutivaara and Lukas Sedlak making an impact as first-time NHL regulars with the big club, it’s sort of like acquiring new players. But in terms of bringing new guys into the organization via free agency or trades, or getting rid of players, the Blue Jackets made less of a splash and more of a ripple.
Still, some transactions that appear minor on the surface have contributed to the Blue Jackets’ stunning success. Let’s take a look.
Sam Gagner Signing
Now, it’s easy to say that signing free-agent Sam Gagner was the most impactful move Columbus made in the offseason. At the time, the markings were not those of a big splash:
Told Sam Gagner's deal with #CBJ – likely to be made official today – is one-year, $650,000.
— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) August 1, 2016
Gagner was coming off of a season in which he tallied just eight goals, eight assists and 16 points — all career lows — in 53 games with the Philadelphia Flyers and played in the AHL for the first time. Still, this is a guy who was 26-years-old when signed (27 now) and was taken sixth overall in the 2007 NHL Draft. Before that rough 2015-16 campaign, Gagner notched more than 40 points in six of his first eight NHL seasons, not including the lockout-shortened 2012-13 when he scored 38 points in 48 games. So the contract made the signing a low-risk move with potential, considering Gagner produced at a pretty consistent level apart from last season. And the move has paid off in a big way.
Gagner is on pace to set a new career high in points and has played a major role in the Blue Jackets’ dynamic power play. His 34 points rank fifth on the team while his 15 power-play points are just two shy of his career high. All this comes with Gagner averaging less ice time per game(13:35) than any other season in his career. This signing is a move that has worked out for both sides; the Blue Jackets got a great deal, and Gagner should receive quite a raise when it’s time for a new contract.
Buying out Tyutin and Boll
While it doesn’t have the same gravitas of a trade or free-agent signing, buying out the contracts of Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll was a big deal, partially because they had been with the team for so long. Tyutin and Boll rank second and fourth, respectively, in games played for the franchise. They are also two of the three players who were on both of the Blue Jacket teams to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. So the buyouts were probably tough for many fans to swallow, but knowing what we do now, they were for the best.
For one, they freed up a little cap space, which is still in pretty short supply for Columbus according to CapFriendly.com. The buyouts also opened up roster spots for younger players. If Tyutin is still with the Blue Jackets, maybe Nutivaara isn’t a regular. And while Boll was a fan favorite in Columbus, there’s no question that the team’s depth forwards now, including Sedlak and Gagner, bring much more to the table.
This move is really one of the only ones left. In June, the Blue Jackets sent 2013 first-round draft pick Kerby Rychel to Toronto for Scott Harrington. Essentially, it was young forward for young defenseman. Harrington has not seen a ton of action this season, playing nine games for the Blue Jackets, but his presence has been important lately with Nutivaara and David Savard both missing games. He even scored his first NHL goal.
Harrington hasn’t been flashy, but in limited action with Columbus, he has shown the ability to be a serviceable depth defenseman. And at 23, he still has time to prove he can be more than that.
Jeff is a college hockey and Columbus Blue Jackets contributor for The Hockey Writers. He is a former TV sports reporter who has covered, broadcasted, coached and played hockey at various levels. You can follow him on Twitter @jeff_schaffer13