With progress finally being made toward starting the 2020-21 season, the pressure is mounting back up on those teams who still have players to sign and payrolls to manage. One of those teams is the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets have plenty of salary cap space with nearly $9.25MM of remaining room for a 22-man roster, but they have yet to sign perhaps their most important forward, restricted free agent center Pierre-Luc Dubois. Coming off his three-year entry-level contract, in which he recorded 18+ goals and 48+ points each season, culminating in a point-per-game showing in the 2020 postseason, Dubois has established himself as a centerpiece for Columbus and the team hopes he will serve in that role for many years still to come. Whether Dubois signs that lucrative long-term extension this off-season or instead opts for a shorter bridge deal remains to be seen. Either way, the team needs to get the talented young pivot under contract soon before the new season begins. Fortunately, NBC Sports’ Adam Gretz reports that the Blue Jackets are not concerned about coming to terms on a new deal with Dubois. GM Jarmo Kekalainen stated that he is “confident” that Dubois will have a new contract not only before the puck drops on the new season, but even before the first day of training camp. This would likely mean that a deal is expected before the end of the month, with training camps projected to open shortly after the calendar flips to January. Kekalainen compared the situation to that of star defenseman Zach Werenski last season; Werenski went much of the off-season with seemingly little progress on a contract extension, but signed a new deal just days before training camp. Gretz notes that the Blue Jackets have shown that they are not afraid to play hardball with their restricted free agents, but will have to be careful with Dubois. The young center is a pivotal piece of the team moving forward. Columbus has the cap space to lock Dubois up long-term at a higher cap hit now, but if the two sides do agree to a shorter term deal the hope is that there is a mutual goal to sign that long-term deal down the road.
- Gretz also reports that one of the top remaining unsigned free agents, forward Mikael Granlund, is expected to make a decision on his next team sooner rather than later. In fact, a contract could be signed in the coming days. Gretz writes that Granlund would like to get his family settled before the season, possibly even before the Christmas holiday, which could lead to an impending resolution to his free agency. Depending on the asking price, Granlund should have no shortage of suitors. The Blue Jackets have actually been cited by many as a top option for Granlund. If they do sign a more affordable, short-term deal with Dubois as many expect, Columbus could use their remaining cap space to add Granlund. The team had hoped to add at least one if not two top-six forwards this off-season which they have failed to do so far, only swapping out Josh Anderson for Max Domi.
- The Anaheim Ducks are another team with moves to make before the season begins. The Ducks are currently over the salary cap upper limit according to CapFriendly and that is with a roster that currently excludes a backup goalie. Anthony Stolarz is the favorite for the job behind starter John Gibson, but the team is likely to make an addition given their lack of depth behind that duo and their need for a goaltender with term on his contract beyond this season to expose in the upcoming 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. If the Ducks do not add another goaltender, the pressure will fall on Roman Durny, who Anaheim assigned to the ECHL’s Tulsa Oilers today, and Olle Eriksson Ek, who started in Tulsa’s season opener this weekend. Eriksson Ek and Durny shared the net in the ECHL last season, but would be slated to do so this year in the AHL if no further moves are made and would battle to be the next man up to the NHL behind Gibson and Stolarz. Durny, 22, Eriksson Ek, 21, and Lukas Dostal, 20, are all talented prospects but their lack of experience does not inspire much confidence in Anaheim’s net depth if an addition is not made. The Ducks should be scouring the free agent and trade markets for help, even as they work to cut salary from the NHL roster.
- Even as the NHL and NHLPA close in on an agreement to begin the new season, there hasn’t been much concrete information in the media on the actual start dates of training camp and the safety procedures leading into those camps. Perhaps the teams of those players on loan are hearing more than everyone else though. HC Slovan Bratislava of the Slovakian Extraliga has announced that Pittsburgh Penguins defensive prospect Cam Lee has been returned from his loan. In doing so, the club stated that Lee will begin his quarantine later this week and that training camp physicals will take place before the end of the month. At the very least, that makes it sound as though camps will be up and running in early January as hoped, if not sooner.