Veteran forward Nathan Gerbe has been more than just a minor league depth piece this season and the Columbus Blue Jackets have decided to reward his effort. The team has announced a new two-year extension with Gerbe, who was set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. It is a two-way deal, but just barely, reports Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. The deal carries a $750K AAV at the NHL level and a $500K salary at the AHL level, which Friedman notes will make Gerbe one of the highest paid players in the minors.
Gerbe, 32, is well-respected player in the NHL ranks for his many years of hard-work as an undersized, but effective two-way forward. At just 5’4″, Gerbe is one of the smallest players in the league, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing in over 400 NHL games. That includes four seasons of 25+ points, two each with the Buffalo Sabres and Carolina Hurricanes earlier in his career. Gerbe left North America in 2016 to play in the Swiss NLA, but ended up returning midway through the 2017-18 season to sign with Columbus. However, until this season he had played in only two games with the Blue Jackets, instead holding a leadership role with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters. After another hot start with the Monsters this season, Gerbe was recalled in December and has been a key contributor to the turnaround in Columbus’ season. He has eight points in 16 games, the best per-game pace of his NHL career, and has carved out a distinct role for himself on the team. The Blue Jackets clearly see a continuing need for that role and hope that this extension ensures that the serviceable veteran can continue to help them out.
There’s also the more cynical view of this extension, which is that the signing – at least the term – is largely fueled by the requirements of the impending 2021 NHL Expansion Draft. Each team must expose two forwards who have played in either 40 games in 2020-21 or 70 games in 2019-20 and 2020-21 combined and who also are signed into the 2021-22 season. Gerbe looks as if he could fit the bill as an ideal sacrificial lamb. If the veteran plays out the rest of the season in Columbus, he could have upwards of 46 games under his belt and would only need to be used sparingly to hit 70 games total after next season, while his extension keeps him under contract through 2021-22. While it’s impossible to accurately project expansion protection schemes at this point in time, at first glance the Blue Jackets’ lack of numerous long-term contracts up front leaves a relatively ascertainable group of seven forwards they could protect, leaving very little in the way of regular NHLers to be exposed. Gerbe could help to solve that problem. It may not be the only reason he was signed, and to a multi-year deal at that, but it very likely played a role.