This is a 30 part series analyzing the short and long term cap situations of each team in the NHL as we head into the 2015-16 season. The stats and information that I use in these articles is courtesy of Hockey Reference, War on Ice, and NHLNumbers.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are one of those teams who appear to be on the brink of breaking out and becoming a legitimate playoff contender for the first time in their franchise’s history. Unfortunately, thanks to a handful of pretty bad contracts, they’re also on the cusp of being one of those teams stuck in cap hell. What can we expect from the Jackets this year? And what are they going to do about Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner, and Ryan Johansen, who all need new contracts in the next coupe of years?
- Signed Curtis McElhinney to a two year contract with a $0.800 million cap hit.
- Traded Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, and a 2016 fourth round pick to the Blackhawks for Brandon Saad, Michael Paliotta, and Alex Broadhurst.
- Signed Gregory Campbell to a two year contract with a $1.50 million cap hit.
- Signed Brandon Saad to a six year contract with a $6.0 million cap hit.
- Signed Matt Calvert to a three year contract with a $2.2 million cap hit.
- Signed David Savard to a six year contract extension with a $4.25 million cap hit.
- IN: Brandon Saad, Rene Bourque, Gregory Campbell, Michael Paliotta, Alex Broadhurst.
- OUT: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Jeremy Morin, Corey Tropp, Jack Skille, Mark Letestu.
The Blue Jackets didn’t really do much this summer. Their one notable move was a big one, as they traded for RFA forward Brandon Saad and then signed him to a six year contract with a $6 million cap hit. The price they paid for Saad was significant, as they sent Chicago Artem Anisimov, Jeremy Morin, Corey Topp, and Marko Dano. Losing Dano is obviously the part that hurts most, as he looked impressive in his first NHL stint last season, scoring eight goals and 13 assists in 35 games. In those games, he also made pretty heavy defensive zone starts and managed a 54.3 Corsi For percentage, which was among the best on the team. What they got in return in Saad is a 22 year old (who turns 23 in late October) who’s already scored 126 NHL points in 208 games, has played in 67 playoff games, and has two Stanley Cup rings. Of course, there’s some skepticism that Saad is just the product of his environment and his production will take a dip now that he isn’t a member of the Hawks logging the majority of his minutes with Marian Hossa and Jonathan Toews. While there is a risk there, Saad is certainly worth it, his production and accomplishments at his age speak for itself — even if he did benefit from playing on a good team.
The Jackets now have a good chunk of their core forwards locked up for the long run. Unfortunately, they also have some pretty bad contracts locked up for a long time, and two key young forwards are going to be in need of new contracts in the next couple years. Like I said, having Saad and Nick Foligno locked up for six years at $6 and $5.5 million respectively is a good thing for the Blue Jackets, and Brandon Dubinsky is also signed for six more years at a cap hit of $5.85 million, which isn’t great, but it isn’t terrible either. He’s a solid player, but you could probably find a better way to spend $5.85 million — especially if he continues to miss significant time with injuries like he has in two of the three seasons that he’s been a member of the Jackets. After that, they have Scott Hartnell for four more years at $4.75 million and David Clarkson for five at $5.25 million. Hartnell at that cap hit right now isn’t bad at all. Last year, in his first year with Columbus, he scored 28 goals and 32 assists, good for third on the team in points. Unfortunately, he’s 33 now, so it’s pretty fair to say that his production isn’t going to remain at that level for the duration of his contract. Then there’s Clarkson, who owns probably the worst contract in the NHL, so I don’t really need to go into detail with that at all.
When it’s all said and done, the Jackets have $27.35 million tied up in Saad, Foligno, Clarkson, Hartnell, and Dubinsky, and only two of them are really worth the price they’re being paid. Then you add in a combined $5.4 million for Jared Boll, Matt Calvert, and Gregory Campbell and you have the makings of a pretty ugly cap situation. I mean, it doesn’t look that bad right now because Ryan Johansen is only making $4 million for the next couple years, but once that’s over with he’s going to be commanding a huge pay raise. On top of that, they’re also going to need to give Boone Jenner a new contract at the end of the season, so those overpaid forwards they have are going to look a lot worse pretty soon.
Speaking of important players needing new contracts, Ryan Murray is due for a new deal at the end of the year. Murray is a huge part of the Blue Jackets’ success, but unfortunately for them, he’s had a terrible time staying healthy. Of course, the Jackets would love for Murray to have a healthy season and finally hit his stride and become the defenceman that was taken second overall in the 2012 draft. If that happens, the Jackets become a much better team, and are much more likely to not only make the playoffs, but maybe even win a game or two. On the other side of that, if he does break out and show he’s a really good player, they’re going to have to pay him like one, which doesn’t bode well because, like I mentioned before, they have a bunch of overpaid players filling up their budget.
I mean, obviously the Jackets would be ecstatic if they had to give Murray a handsome raise next summer because that means that they have themselves a good, top pairing defenceman, which is what they were looking for when they drafted him. This just compounds the fact they have an ugly cap situation even though arguably their two most important players, Murray and Johansen, aren’t really costing them anything. On top of that, the Jackets only have three defencemen signed for a long period of time. Johnson and Tyutin are signed for three more years at pretty solid cap hits, and David Savard was just given a six year extension that pays him way too much money. If you take their current ugly cap situation and add big raises to Murray and Johansen, which they’ll have to do this summer and next, you have all the makings of a team in cap hell.
There obviously isn’t much to complain about with Bobrovsky at all. I mean, $7.425 million is a pretty hefty cap hit for a guy who’s really riding on one huge season, but the term only lasts for four more years. If it turns out Bobrovsky’s Vezina winning season back in 2013 was the result of voodoo magic and it wasn’t the sign of a legitimately good goalie, then they only have to deal with that albatross for four years. In some ways, that’s better than having a guy locked up for the same total sum of money over a longer period of time.
Anyways, Bobrovsky has been really good the past three years, and the Jackets need him to play at an elite level in order for them to be considered anything remotely close to a contender. He doesn’t necessarily have to be 2013 season 0.932 save percentage good, but he needs to be as good as he was in 2013-14 when he helped the Jackets to the playoffs. That year, he managed a 0.923 save percentage, which isn’t far off his 0.918 career average.
The Jackets are a weird team. They have a lot of really nice pieces, and they look like fine candidates to have a breakout season if they can put it all together and have a healthy season. Last year, they were devastated by injuries to key players like Bobrovsky, Murray, Jenner, and Dubinsky so if they can stay out of the doctor’s office, they could actually be a good team. That being said, they aren’t getting as much bang for their buck as they need to in order to be a legitimate contender. In fact, they’re actually well on their way to being a team dangling on the edge of cap hell, especially considering Ryan Murray, Jenner and Ryan Johansen among others are going to all need new deals in the next two years.
Let’s break down exactly what’s going on here. Take all of the players they have signed for three or more years: Saad, Foligno, Dubinsky, Clarkson, Hartnell, Atkinson, Calvert, Tyutin, Johnson, Savard, and Bobrovsky, and you have a group of 11 players making roughly $53.5 million. That’s a hell of a lot of coin to be handing out because let’s be honest, that group of players really isn’t worth that amount of money. Add big deals to Johansen, Jenner and Murray and things are starting to get really tight. With those 14 guys signed they’re probably already going to be pushing somewhere around $65 to $70 million depending how much the three aforementioned players sign for, so unless the cap takes some astronomical spike in the next couple years, the Jackets aren’t going to have a hell of a lot of money to actually improve their team.
If they want to contend, they need to be more efficient in the way they spend money. At the rate they’re going, the Jackets look like they’re going to be a perennially good bad team, boasting a lot of exciting, elite talent that gets weighed down by players who range from low-key slightly overpaid like Dubinsky and Savard to complete boat anchors like Clarkson.