Making Sense of the Blue Jackets & Mitch Marner

On the latest episode of “31 Thoughts the Podcast”, Elliotte Friedman dropped a very interesting tidbit related to the ongoing Mitch Marner situation.

While many around the hockey world have been wondering if an offer sheet was coming to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ star winger, Friedman named a team that not many were thinking about possibly in the center of this conversation. Here’s what Friedman had to say about it.

“Last Friday, when everyone was talking about the (New York) Islanders, I think there was another team before that, and my belief is that team was Columbus. I think they were thinking about it.”

“From what I heard, and this is not like a fight, it did not turn into a bad negotiation, someone said don’t frame it as it turned into a fight between Columbus and the agent. I think what happened was if Columbus was going to do it, it had to be for seven years. And I think what Marner and his side was looking for was less term than that.”

“And if you’re going to go the full four (1st round) picks, you’re not giving up four first rounders for three of four years. You’re just not doing that. And I think that’s why that one fell to the wayside. But I had multiple people telling me that, if anyone was going to do that, it was going to be Columbus.”

Toronto Maple Leafs' Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews
The Columbus Blue Jackets apparently thought about the possibility of an offer sheet for Mitch Marner. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

What to Make of This

Well now. So it does turn out the Blue Jackets were possibly looking to go big game hunting in the form of an offer sheet. As Friedman said in the podcast, who knows what the exact truth is in this situation, but it’s still interesting and noteworthy nevertheless to see this being reported.

The question we need to consider is what can we take away from this? Even though this appears to be dead in the water from a Blue Jackets’ perspective, this still gives us a small glimpse into what the team is thinking.

By far the biggest loss this offseason for the Blue Jackets was Artemi Panarin. He was the game changer the team needed. How desperate were they to keep him? They tried to make a last ditch effort to get him to sign for eight years. He said no.

Life goes on. So the Blue Jackets knew they had to do something in free agency to fill the biggest need up front. They did sign Gustav Nyquist to a four-year deal. He’ll fill the need but not to the level of Panarin.

So now to see this report that the Blue Jackets apparently tried kicking tires on a possible offer sheet to Mitch Marner does reinforce something that GM Jarmo Kekalainen said a few years back when Panarin first came to the Blue Jackets. They needed a difference maker. In Panarin, they got that difference maker. Now that difference maker is gone. Clearly the team believes they need this kind of player to get to where they want to go.

Need proof they were serious about this? According to Friedman, the Blue Jackets would consider an offer sheet if it went for the full seven years. Apparently, Marner wants less term. The Blue Jackets would not give up four first-round picks in order to get 3-5 years of a player. In terms of where the Blue Jackets and Marner currently stand, it doesn’t seem like there’s a match to be had. Obviously things could change but it’s not likely in this situation.

Now that we’ve established Marner is most likely not coming to Columbus, we need to look forward and what could be coming down the road. If there is a takeaway to be had from this situation, it’s that the Blue Jackets will absolutely consider an offer sheet if the circumstances are right. It is a tool and a completely legal way to do business within the CBA. We now know that the offer sheet is within Kekalainen’s range of moves in the future. He isn’t afraid of an offer sheet nor is he afraid of a big trade.

Zach Werenski

As it stands, the Blue Jackets have about $15.7 million in cap space. They still have to work out a deal for current RFA Zach Werenski. For what’s it worth, I haven’t heard anything on where this stands. Now TSN’s Bob McKenzie fresh from his vacation did tweet out that he thinks most of the RFA’s will still be un-signed by the time Labor Day rolls around. While the most likely outcome is a new deal for Werenski with the Blue Jackets, there at least exists a small possibility that either A) this negotiation goes into training camp or B) he gets traded for an elite forward.

The reality of this situation is there’s no rush. It’s only July 15 as of this writing. Werenski and the Blue Jackets have time to hammer out a deal. As of now there is nothing to worry about. But if we’re still here come September 1, then we’ll need to see what’s really going on.

What will be interesting to watch is what each side believes the value of the player is. Werenski’s first three seasons offensively are very comparable to that of Drew Doughty.

  • Doughty: 33-93-126 in 239 games.
  • Werenski: 38-90-128 in 237 games.

Doughty’s second contract was eight years and $56 million. Werenski’s camp could argue that his numbers are comparable enough to Doughty’s that he should get $7 million per season. It’s worth noting however that Doughty was the second overall pick and played in the NHL right away while Werenski played one year in college then turned pro. Also Doughty was a Norris finalist in his sophomore season.

But these numbers don’t lie. It is extremely impressive for an NHL defenseman to post .5 points/game in his first three full seasons. This won’t be cheap for the Blue Jackets. At the end of the day, I believe Werenski will land north of $6 million but below $7 million. I have him at $6.5 million per season.

Zach Werenski Blue Jackets
Zach Werenski has comparable stats to the great Drew Doughty from an offensive standpoint. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Now the term. The Blue Jackets would love to lock him up. But Werenski and his camp might opt for less term in order to maximize the next contract. Seth Jones got six years when the Blue Jackets extended him. I think something similar happens here. Mark me down for six years and $39 million for Werenski.

As always, stay with the Hockey Writers during the summer as we will have occasional posts up as well as breaking news when it happens.