One of the biggest names that decided not to file for salary arbitration a few days ago was Columbus Blue Jackets restricted free agent Patrik Laine. While this was taken as a strong indicator that the two sides had at least some positivity in contract negotiations, Laine remains unsigned with just a day left to officially accept his qualifying offer. That offer will expire at 4pm CT tomorrow, though there is nothing stopping the two sides from agreeing on something similar further into the offseason.
Laine’s offer of $7.5MM would put the Blue Jackets in a bit of a conundrum if he decided to accept it. The 24-year-old forward is just a year away from unrestricted free agency and if he took the one-year qualifying offer, the two sides would not be able to officially file an extension until January 1, 2023. The team would also immediately go quite a bit over the cap, which is why it should come as no surprise that Aaron Portzline of The Athletic is reporting that the team is “actively trying to unload salary” with the hope of signing Laine to a long-term extension before the weekend.
This cap squeeze that the Blue Jackets find themselves in was created by landing the top free agent on the market in Johnny Gaudreau, who ate up $9.75MM on his free agent payday. The team also added Erik Gudbranson at a $4MM cap hit and reached a multi-year deal with Adam Boqvist that raised his hit to $2.6MM. Now, Portzline tweets that a “perfect world” scenario for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen would be to clear $5-6MM in order to fit in the Laine extension.
There do seem to be some reasonably easy ways to clear that money from their current roster–Gustav Nyquist does not have trade protection and carries a cap hit of $5.5MM, for instance–but as Andy Strickland of Bally Sports Midwest tweeted today, NHL front offices are finding it extremely difficult to move expensive contracts this summer.
Teams like the Buffalo Sabres, Arizona Coyotes, Anaheim Ducks, and even perhaps the Calgary Flames, should Matthew Tkachuk be on the move, have enough cap space to accommodate these salary swaps if they choose. Waiting to do so will likely only increase the prices though, providing them with more assets for allowing a team to park their contracts.
The next 24 hours are important for the Blue Jackets, as the next step for Laine will guide the rest of their summer.
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