The Columbus Blue Jackets have avoided arbitration with one of their restricted free agents and dealt with an expansion draft issue at the same time. The team has re-signed Kevin Stenlund to a one-year, one-way contract worth $1.05MM. The Blue Jackets can now leave him exposed to the Seattle Kraken to fill one of their forward requirements.
Stenlund, 24, played 32 games for the Blue Jackets this season, scoring five goals and ten points while averaging just 12:32 of ice time. The 2015 second-round pick does have the size that teams covet down the middle which could make him a candidate for the expansion draft, but getting him signed now allows Columbus to make sure their more valuable forwards are protected.
The deal, which gives Stenlund a raise of almost $200K over the qualifying offer he agreed to last season, also likely secures him a spot on the NHL roster for 2021-22. The team could potentially bury it in the minor leagues to clear the cap hit, but Columbus isn’t really in a situation to pay minor league talent more than $1MM. More likely he’ll serve in a bottom-six role next year if he’s still with the Blue Jackets, giving them another option at center as they try to figure out how to add depth at that position.
Stenlund will likely join Eric Robinson, Dean Kukan and Matiss Kivlenieks as the four players that fill the exposure requirements for the Blue Jackets. That doesn’t mean Seattle needs to pick one of them, but Columbus is in a rather strong position this time around—remember, GM Jarmo Kekalainen gave up a first-round pick in the Vegas draft to protect certain players, only to watch William Karlsson score 43 goals in his first year with the Golden Knights. Columbus is much better prepared this time and actually has three first-round picks that teams are “hungry” for as they make their own expansion draft plans.