With free agency now just a couple weeks away, teams are looking ahead to when it opens up. There will be several prominent players set to hit the open market while many teams have key restricted free agents to re-sign. While the Columbus Blue Jackets have no UFA’s of note, they still have their work cut out for them with a laundry list of RFA’s, including several core players.
Key Restricted Free Agents
F Pierre-Luc Dubois – Getting Dubois, 22, locked up long-term is the core objective of the Blue Jackets’ off-season. Over the three seasons of his entry-level contract, Dubois totaled 158 points in 234 games, including a 61-point campaign in 2018-19 and a 57-point pace this season. He also wrapped up his contract on a high note, recording ten points in ten playoff games this year. For a team that is lacking in center depth and elite scoring talent, Dubois is critical to the short-term and long-term success of the Blue Jackets.
The problem is balancing Dubois’ long-term potential and dollar value with the team’s limited cap space for next season With no unrestricted free agents departing the lineup, the Blue Jackets have limited funds to work with against the flat cap. Yet, they also don’t want to settle for a more affordable short-term contract and risk Dubois continuing to improve and increasing his price on a new contract. Negotiations are already underway and the goal stated by both sides is to stick with a lengthy term and to get the deal done before free agency opens to provide the club with some cap clarity.
If a long-term extension can be reached, don’t be surprised to see an AAV of upwards of $8MM or more. If the two sides instead opt for a short-term deal given the fiscal constraints of the current NHL economy, Dubois is still likely set to make $6.5MM or more against the cap on his next deal.
F Josh Anderson – It’s difficult to know where the status quo lies between the Blue Jackets and Anderson. The last time that these two sides sat down to negotiate a contract, it was a contentious affair that ended in a late-summer, below-market contract that left Anderson unhappy and fueled trade rumors. Those flames were stoked by a 27-goal, 47-point season for Andersson in 2018-19 in which the young power forward greatly outplayed his contract. Yet, the tables turned again this season, as Anderson missed much of the year due to injury and was unproductive even when active. The season tanked Anderson’s trade value and at least some of his bargaining power and left his future with Columbus up in the air.
The latest twist in this saga was Anderson’s recent proclamation that he hopes to sign long-term in Columbus. This runs counter to his previous sentiment, but could end up working in the Blue Jackets’ favor. Given their cap crunch this off-season, the team could benefit from deflating the AAV on an Andersson extension by extending the term. Anderson could also return to form and again be a bargain for the club. The risk of course is that his injury troubles persist or he is unable to rediscover his scoring touch. Given the uncertainty of this off-season and Andersson’s health and performance, this seems like a case that is more likely to be settled in salary arbitration than with a long-term deal. While a one-year arbitrator’s decision might risk Andersson leaving as an unrestricted free agent next summer, the Blue Jackets would likely be happy to get an affordable deal done for Anderson and to have another year to consider whether they want to re-sign or trade the big winger.
D Vladislav Gavrikov – Since joining Columbus in the 2019 playoffs, Gavrikov has done nothing but prove that he is a solid two-way defenseman. While his lack of NHL experience makes it difficult to project his long-term value, Gavrikov has at least earned a raise and some security in his next contract. It’s unclear what the expectations are for Gavrikov’s new deal, but the Blue Jackets have all of the leverage. Due to his limited experience, Gavrikov falls under Section 10.2(c) of the CBA as a restricted free agent who is not eligible to sign an offer sheet. Barring a trade, Columbus is the only NHL team that Gavrikov can play for and they can more or less dictate the terms of the next contract. With that said, Gavrikov has proven to be a reliable top-four defenseman and the Blue Jackets are not going to play games. Expect the team to work out a short-term deal with Gavrikov and potentially trade one of their other seven one-way defensemen to cement his role as a core piece on the blue line.
Other RFAs: F Paul Bittner, F Marko Dano, F Maxime Fortier, F Jakob Lilja, F Ryan MacInnis, F Justin Scott, F Devin Shore, F Kole Sherwood, F Calvin Thurkauf, D Gabriel Carlsson, D Ryan Collins, D Michael Prapavessis, G Matiss Kivlenieks
UFAs: D Dillon Simpson, D Doyle Somerby
Projected Cap Space
CapFriendly lists the Blue Jackets as having 22 of 23 roster spots already filled for next season, including 19 one-way contracts. As a result, it should not be a surprise that their cap space is limited, with CapFriendly projecting just over $7MM to spare. The concern though is that Dubois and Gavrikov – at the very least – will be on the roster and should combine for well over $7MM. And that is not even including any free agent or trade additions for a team that has vowed to be active on the forward market. Fortunately, the team will get a bit of a break in the form of Brandon Dubinsky, who is not healthy enough to play again. Dubinsky’s $5.85MM cap hit will be wiped out, bringing Columbus’ true cap space total to around $13MM. While most of that will still be taken up by RFA signings, it will give the club some more flexibility to change up the roster if they so desire.