Welcome to Part 2 of our season-ending series on the Columbus Blue Jackets. In case you missed part one, we discussed five costly mistakes that sent the team out of the playoffs.
We now turn our attention to the offseason. Seriously, who knows how this offseason is going to turn out? While the playoffs in the bubble are running smoothly to this point, Covid-19 is still running rampant in the United States. Without a viable vaccine in place, it’s hard to know when fans would be allowed to return to arenas to cheer their team on.
Head coach John Tortorella said on Friday that he has no idea how things this offseason are going to go. There’s no definitive timeline in place. We have a tentative for the NHL Draft. But in terms of an official start date for the 2020-21 season, nobody knows.
That’s not the only uncertainty teams are facing at this time. Given financial situations among other things, teams are going to have to adjust their offseason plans to hit their set budget. While some teams will conduct business as usual, others are only going to spend what is approved by ownership. That number could be far less than the cap of $81.5 million.
Blue Jackets Will Be a Cap Team
For the Blue Jackets, it’s expected that they will enter the 2020-21 season at or near the salary cap. Click here to see a breakdown of where the team stands at this point. (Thanks to our partners at CapFriendly for the detail.)
Including the Mikhail Grigorenko contract, the Blue Jackets have $75,047,500 committed to 2020-21. But there are some notable RFA’s they need to re-sign. The biggest of the group is center Pierre-Luc Dubois. More on him and the other big RFA’s in Part 3.
Dubois alone will take most of that cap room away once they agree to a new contract. Josh Anderson, Vladislav Gavrikov and Kevin Stenlund are also among the group that need new deals.
The $75 million figure does include Brandon Dubinsky’s cap hit. Kekalainen admitted Friday that Dubinsky’s wrist injury is chronic and that he “may not ever play again.” Being able to put his $5.85 million on long-term injured reserve could come in handy when trying to hammer these deals out.
Kekalainen recently admitted that things will be a little tight this upcoming season given the flat cap. But beyond that, the team will be fine. Now you can see why.
The Offseason Approach
What does this suggest about how the Blue Jackets will approach the offseason? It suggests that it takes them out of the running for most big-name free agents. They just don’t have the cap room to sign someone like Taylor Hall and others. They need to take care of their own first and that starts with Dubois. If they elect free agency, it would be a depth signing at a cheap rate similar to Grigorenko.
That leaves one viable option to improve the roster. That is making trades. Kekalainen said something interesting on Friday about completing trades. In short, he said 30 other teams are trying to improve their roster. He also said there’s a lot that goes into constructing a trade.
Why is this important? In my mind, it suggests they’ve already been looking at the market. The Blue Jackets know how bad their offense was. It was near the bottom of the league. They know if they want to take the next step as a team, they have to improve up front.
However, they also know it’ll cost them something significant if they want a significant upgrade. Here’s the trouble if you’re in the Blue Jackets’ shoes. They can call any team they want and inquire about an elite player. That’s doing due diligence. But in most every circumstance, the other team will immediately ask about Seth Jones, Zach Werenski or Dubois.
There in lies the problem. The Blue Jackets are not trading Jones. They aren’t trading Dubois either. And they most likely aren’t trading Werenski away. If the starter is one of those three players which it almost always is, you likely won’t see huge fireworks.
Connor McDavid isn’t going anywhere. Jack Eichel is probably not going anywhere. Elite talent just doesn’t randomly become available in today’s game. You generally have to draft that kind of talent. That leaves the Blue Jackets in an interesting situation. They need higher-end talent, but how can they acquire that talent without giving up one of their best players?
The Need To Be Creative
This is where we have to keep reasonable expectations. The Blue Jackets can improve their team. They are going to have to be creative in doing so given the cap. I would expect a trade or trades in this offseason. But they will either have to…
- A. Part with a really good player that isn’t one of the three mentioned above or…
- B. Dig into their prospect capital to bring someone in or…
- C. Trade their 2020 first-round pick, which will be no worse than 21st overall.
If it’s option A, the Blue Jackets would look to move a defender. That’s their deepest position. If Andrew Peeke is ready for a full-time role, then you’d have to think someone’s on the move.
The name that’s curious for me is David Savard. He has one year left at a reasonable cap hit. He’s a right-shot defenseman that contenders would love to add. The Blue Jackets love his presence and type of game he brings. But he is UFA upcoming next season. He’ll also be in his age-30 season. Is now the time to pull a trigger on a trade to get forward help?
The Blue Jackets could move one of their goalies. I personally do not think this happens as the team would like the stability of both. However if a team calls and blows them away with an offer that brings forward help, they’ll listen.
If it’s option B, do the Blue Jackets consider moving either Kirill Marchenko or Daniil Tarasov? In my mind, this only happens if the return is overwhelming. The team loves these two players. If it’s option C, the return has to be an impact player for several seasons. This wouldn’t surprise me to dangle this pick if it means bringing an impact forward in.
In terms of who’s out there, do the Blue Jackets call the Maple Leafs about someone like Kasperi Kapanen or William Nylander? Do they call the Lightning about one of their forwards given the cap crunch they’ll be facing? It’s tough to say at the moment who would be in trade talks. But expect several teams to inquire of teams with cap issues. I think that’s where you might be able to take advantage of a situation.
One last thought on the offseason for now. The Blue Jackets could also elect to wait until the trade deadline to see if something pops. Wait and see which teams fall out of the race and see if there’s a match to be made.
We need to temper our expectations some. Batman and Superman aren’t coming through the doors of Nationwide Arena although the team will try like heck to do something.
The flat cap does take away from some of the flexibility the Blue Jackets thought they were going to have. They’ll prioritize their own and then see what the market brings.
The Blue Jackets do have to do something. Making the playoffs four straight years is nice and all but there are higher expectations on them. They have yet to make it out of round two of the playoffs under Kekalainen. Their offense and power play were both bad this season. Not addressing these glaring needs will start putting questions around this management group.
I do expect them to do something. They need to tell the players that winning the Cup is the standard in Columbus. The ultimate test will come when Jones is a UFA. He especially needs to see tangible evidence that the Blue Jackets are on the verge of being a perennial Cup contender.
The Blue Jackets can’t afford to sit this offseason out. They must act on their shortcomings or else it could leaving lasting damages in future seasons.
Stay tuned for Part 3 of our series as we will take a much closer look at the big RFAs the Blue Jackets have and what to expect.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.