The Columbus Blue Jackets have inked one of their two key restricted free agents, signing Vladislav Gavrikov to a three-year contract worth a total of $8.4MM ($2.8MM AAV). Gavrikov was an RFA but did not have arbitration rights and could not be signed to an offer sheet. Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen released this statement on the deal:
Vladimir Gavrikov was everything we hoped he would be during his rookie season last year, establishing himself as a top four defenseman in the National Hockey League. He is still a young player that we expect will get better every year and continue to be an important part of our blueline.
A sixth-round pick from 2015, Gavrikov took his time before finally coming over to North America in 2019, but when he did he was an instant success. The 24-year-old defenseman has quickly become a top option for the Blue Jackets, scoring 18 points in 69 games this season while logging 19 minutes a night. Now that the team has moved on from Ryan Murray those should increase even further, but he’ll still be at a very reasonable price tag.
Gavrikov had little leverage in negotiations with the Blue Jackets, other than perhaps threatening to return to the KHL. Notably, the three-year term that he worked out will take him directly to unrestricted free agency at age-27, the best chance for him to maximize his value at this point.
For Columbus though, the third year is incredibly important. In the summer of 2022, they will need to work out new contracts for both Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, with the former actually being scheduled for unrestricted free agency. Having Gavrikov locked in for just $2.8MM when extensions kick in for both of their top defensemen will be key in keeping their financial situation in order.
It also will give them some security if David Savard, currently their trusty third option, leaves as a UFA after this upcoming season. Savard, 30, will carry a $4.25MM cap hit this year but should command a raise on the open market after so many years of steady play.
Now, the Blue Jackets can focus all of their attention on Pierre-Luc Dubois, the final RFA to sign and arguably their most important forward. Dubois will command a huge raise, but Kekalainen has been clear that he will not rush into a deal that doesn’t make sense for his team. Dubois could potentially sign an offer sheet, but with such little cap space left around the league that seems extremely unlikely at this point.