We continue our week-long preview of the NHL Combine and put the spotlight squarely in the face of the Columbus Blue Jackets. At first glance, you wouldn’t think a team with only two picks in the NHL Draft would garner much interest.
That couldn’t be further from the truth. The Blue Jackets in fact are one of the most interesting teams not only for the draft, but for free agency as well.
Why are the Blue Jackets so interesting? It’s because of the things that are available to them this time around. Want to see some creativity? You’ve come to the right place. Let’s set the Blue Jackets scene for you and you’ll see what I mean.
What Most Outside Columbus Think of the Blue Jackets
As soon as the second round ended, many around the hockey world started thinking of the potential mass exodus that would take place within the walls of Nationwide Arena. Don’t get me wrong. There will be changes aplenty.
John Davidson is now the President of the New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are basically gone. Matt Duchene is exploring free agency. Four main parts of the Blue Jackets could all be gone come July.
While many still wonder why the Blue Jackets went all-in, not much is being said about the positive that comes from this “exodus.” Panarin and Bobrovsky could each come with a price tag north of $10 million per season. While there’s hope Duchene could re-sign in Columbus, his price tag could be in the $9 million per season range. If all three leave, the Blue Jackets have a new found ally in their arsenal.
Look at the cap space they would possess.
Cap Space Aplenty
As of this writing, the Blue Jackets have around $32.5 million in cap space to work with. Now they have plenty of work to do for their own guys (Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, Joonas Korpisalo just to name a few.) But in a time where many teams find themselves pressed against the cap, the Blue Jackets offer an interesting and creative solution and could find themselves in high demand as we approach the Draft.
The Blue Jackets are looking to recoup picks they lost. One way they could do that is take on a player with term left to get that player off the other team’s books. But in exchange, they could land an early draft pick depending on term and dollars.
For example, not saying they would do this, but taking on Milan Lucic’s contract could land you the eighth-overall pick as part of the package. When you have the cap space, it allows you to be more creative in dealings.
Blue Jackets & the Combine
How does this relate to the NHL Combine this week? Despite only having two picks, the Blue Jackets will have staff there doing due diligence.
They still have their own third rounder. Players will be at the Combine who could be available in that spot. But more interesting to watch, how much do they talk to prospects expected to go in the top-60?
That could give us some interesting clues towards what the Blue Jackets might be thinking. If a prospect they speak to wows them, they could look at possibilities to trade up in order to draft that player.
When we talk to prospects after their fitness testing, they’ll tell us how many teams they spoke to during the week. Then individual media members will ask if they spoke to this specific team.
It was at this event last year that Flyers’ prospect Jay O’Brien told me the Blue Jackets heavily scouted him all last season. Had Liam Foudy not been available, good chance O’Brien is a Blue Jacket. He went to the Flyers right after Foudy.
It’s these kind of tidbits and information that help us develop the puzzle of how the NHL Draft could unfold. So despite the Blue Jackets currently having just two picks, I expect them to explore all avenues to get more. Whether it’s taking on a contract, or a sign and trade involving Bobrovsky and Panarin, or trading a current player (Sonny Milano, Alex Wennberg), the Blue Jackets have many options available to them.
In Buffalo, we will try to get a sense of what they might be thinking. They could get extra picks or they could be loading up for either free agency or a major trade. With the cap space they have, they can go swinging for the fences if the right situation presents itself.
We know GM Jarmo Kekalainen is not afraid to make a major move. That possibility is certainly within range given the current circumstances surrounding the team. So although they could lose a bunch to free agency, they have unique and creative opportunities available to them. They can even sit back and let teams lineup their best offer. Cap flexibility is one of the greatest assets a team can have in this current NHL.
With over $32 million available and a wide range of possibilities, the Columbus Blue Jackets are primed to be a major participant in both the draft and the offseason. For them, it starts in Buffalo this week.