When Columbus parted with defensemen Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray in trades and bought out center Alexander Wennberg, it looked as if the Blue Jackets were planning on making a splash. However, it turns out that their plan was to use that to act as a deterrent to a potential offer sheet for restricted free agent center Pierre-Luc Dubois. However, with that effectively off the table, talks aren’t progressing as GM Jarmo Kekalainen told Michael Arace of the Columbus Post-Dispatch that discussions between the two sides have effectively stalled.
The 22-year-old is coming off of a bit of a quieter year offensively although he still led the team in scoring with 18 goals and 31 assists in 70 games while logging nearly 18 minutes a night of ice time, most of which was on their top line. Dubois was much better in the playoffs, picking up four goals and six helpers in 10 games which certainly was an encouraging way to end his year.
There’s no denying that he is the focal point of the attack for the Blue Jackets now so it stands to reason that they’d want to lock him up to a long-term deal now and buy out some UFA years. On the flip side, this isn’t an ideal marketplace from a players’ perspective to sign long-term with the Upper Limit of the salary cap levelling out for the foreseeable future. Financially speaking, a bridge deal to get to arbitration a couple of years from now when revenues are potentially back on the upswing may be better for him. That would keep his price tag down now and possibly allow for Columbus to make another addition this offseason as well.
Despite not having spoken to Pat Brisson (Dubois’ agent) for a little while, Kekalainen expressed no concern about the two sides not being on the same page at this time. With no arbitration eligibility and other top restricted free agents (such as Islanders center Mathew Barzal) still unsigned as well, it’s a waiting game as it often is; defenseman Zach Werenski was in a similar situation last year before signing a three-year deal in the days leading up to training camp.
Whichever way Columbus ultimately goes, they’ll have plenty of cap room to work with. Following their offseason activity, they currently have a little more than $12MM in cap space, per CapFriendly, with only Dubois and defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov in need of new deals. Gavrikov wasn’t eligible for salary arbitration and doesn’t have enough experience to be eligible for an offer sheet either so there’s no immediate rush to get anything done with him either.