The Columbus Blue Jackets enter a very interesting and uncertain next few weeks. It starts with the NHL Entry Draft Friday. Then free agency and the rest of the offseason come quickly behind it. What can we expect from the Blue Jackets? The thing is, I’m not sure anyone outside the walls of Nationwide Arena really knows. That’s where our mystery begins.
Welcome to our 2019 Columbus Blue Jackets Offseason Guide. Normally, we would do both a draft guide and an offseason guide. But given that the Blue Jackets hold just two picks as of this writing, we are combining the guides into one.
The thing that makes the draft very interesting for the Blue Jackets is the amount of cap space they have. According to Cap Friendly, assuming a cap of $82 million, the Blue Jackets have about $30.7 million available to them. Even if the caps goes down to say $81.5 million, the team would still have over $30 million available. They have their own to take care of, but there’s still a bunch of room for interesting moves if they so choose to pursue them.
That will be one of the main things the Blue Jackets will try to accomplish Friday and Saturday. They will try to add picks. They have a few options available to them.
It could be as simple as trading back from their current third round pick. With a lot of players with similar profiles available, they can acquire some later picks by trading down. It all depends on who is available and where these players slot in on their master list.
The Blue Jackets can also trade players for higher picks. Ryan Murray comes to mind. Maybe Sonny Milano to a lesser degree. With how high the organization views Emil Bemstrom, Alexander Texier and Liam Foudy, there are only so many spots available. Trade is certainly a possibility.
The other more dynamic option available is the ability to absorb a bad contract. That could allow them to acquire either a high pick or a good player depending on the player and their contract. Remember David Clarkson? The Golden Knights are reportedly trying to trade the last year of his contract as they are in desperate need of cap space.
With Vegas not being the only team in cap trouble, teams will call the Blue Jackets seeing if there’s a match. Oh the possibilities.
There is a wide range of outcomes in play from picking the two picks all the way up to a major trade. With information hard to come by, the Blue Jackets have the potential of being a major player at this draft despite only holding those two picks.
Here’s the other thing. The Blue Jackets did due diligence at the Combine by interviewing a bunch of prospects projected to go in the top-62. While that could be due diligence and nothing else, if a player impressed enough, acquiring picks to get those players is not out of the question. Stay tuned.
Offseason Things to Watch
- The Blue Jackets have a tough decision to make on Matt Duchene. They want him. He is interested in talking to them. But are the Blue Jackets willing to pay upwards of $10 million per season while having to part with their 2020 first rounder? They’re not short on centers. Pierre-Luc Dubois is there. Alex Wennberg is there. They have depth at center also. But Duchene is a number one who will make your team better. Where is the Blue Jackets’ limit? That’s the big question.
- My take on Duchene: You need stars up front. You won’t land a bigger star than him in free agency. I’d make the offer of eight years, $80 million and see where it goes. Columbus is starting to become a preferred destination. Having Duchene there along with Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and others will help attract free agents in future seasons. They need to do what it takes to keep the momentum of last season rolling.
- As mentioned earlier, the Blue Jackets are very high on Bemstrom and Foudy. Do not be surprised if they each make the team out of camp. Because of this, one of the outcomes of this offseason is very little in the way of moves. Many would be disappointed if this happened. But considering how young and talented they would be, the window would still only be opening.
- Goaltending is a major question mark. Is Joonas Korpisalo ready for the number one gig? Is Elvis Merzlikins the real deal? Do they need to add a veteran in the meantime? If they do, why not take a swing at Brian Elliott on a one-year deal? I think they go into the season with Korpisalo and Merzlikins. But adding a veteran is possible too.
- Just a gut feel. I feel the Blue Jackets aren’t going to sit back. They can and if they do that’s ok. But with the flexibility they have, they can get one or two bigger names via free agency or trade if they see a fit. They need left wingers especially impact ones. With Max Pacioretty apparently available and Vegas needing cap space, is there a match here? I sure think so. Kasperi Kapanen would be a nice fit too.
The draft starts Friday. Then the real fun begins. For the Blue Jackets, expect them to explore every avenue to get better especially to help offset their losses. Expect them to try to gain extra picks. Most importantly, expect them to be active. But don’t be disappointed if they’re not. They have a plan and will execute it, even if it takes some time. Enjoy the show, hockey fans.