After a season that saw them finish fourth worst in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets lottery in 2016 was a very good representative of their 2016-17 season, in that the results were good, but they still managed to find a way to screw it up. In the case of the draft, it was passing on Puljujarvi to pick Dubois, and in the case of the 2016-17 season, it was deciding that they “got away from what made them good during their 16 game winning streak”.
While many think the Blue Jackets run was unsustainable, they were kind of right, in that they were a good team that looked great. But, they’re still a good team, and they might be able to become a great team pretty quickly, but only if they make the right moves.
Up front, the Blue Jackets thrived off of a deep offense, where there was no standalone star, but everyone contributed. They had only one 60 point scorer in Cam Atkinson, but they had four additional forwards with at least 50 points, and another forward with 41 points in Brandon Dubinsky. They also benefited from having quite a few breakout seasons from players, such as the aforementioned Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg’s 59 points, and Sam Gagner’s 50 point season. Defensively, it was similar, as they didn’t have too many elite defensive forwards, as only Saad (54.6%) and Gagner (54.1%) had at least a 53% 5v5 CF% among forwards with 500 minutes, but they also had few bad defensive forwards, as only William Karlsson (47.8%), Josh Anderson (47%), Matt Calvert (45.8%), and Lauri Korpikoski (45.7%) had below a 48% 5v5 CF%.
Their defense was definitely a strong point on the season, as they had blueliners step up both offensively and defensively. Zach Werenski gave the team a Calder-worthy rookie season on the blueline at only 19 years old, putting up 47 points, and leading their defense with a 53.2% 5v5 CF%. Seth Jones wasn’t far behind in his first full season in Columbus, as he had 42 points, and a 52.4% 5v5 CF%, while David Savard has solidified himself as a top four defenseman, with 23 points this season, and a 51.5% CF%. Jack Johnson seemed to put behind all of his off ice problems this year, as he also had 23 points, and a 49.5% 5v5 CF%. While the top four was very good, and pretty healthy (the four combined to only miss 19 games), their bottom pair was a revolving door of inconsistency. Nutivaara and Murray saw quite a bit of time, but it got inconsistent when the team acquired Kyle Quincey, while Scott Harrington rarely saw any action. They’re only decent defenseman of the bunch, Dalton Prout, only played 15 games before getting traded for Quincey.
However, goaltending was the best part of the team. After a couple years of inconsistency, Sergei Bobrovsky had an amazing year that may see him win another Vezina trophy, with a 41-17-5 record, and a .931% save percentage. Their backup to start the season, Curtis McElhinney, was strong with a .927% save percentage, but right when he started to falter, the team waived him, and he was claimed by Toronto. In his place, Joonas Korpisalo was okay as the backup, with a .905%, but has a track record that hints that he may improve.
The Blue Jackets are in a bit of a cap hell for this offseason, as they have potentially five roster players that they have to re-sign, with just over $2 million. They have some relief, as David Clarkson’s $5.25 million contract will be on LTIR, but that might not be enough. Luckily, with their trade yesterday, they’ve (hopefully) guaranteed themselves an additional $1-2.875 million in relief with the expansion draft, as they gave Vegas a 1st and a prospect to ensure that Vegas takes one of Karlsson, Calvert, or Murray.
So, this means that the Blue Jackets have $8.25-10 million in cap to work with at max, depending on who Vegas takes, to sign Gagner, Korpikoski, Anderson, Wennberg, and Quincey, as well as Anton Forsberg. While I wouldn’t re-sign Korpikoski or Quincey, I would expect Gagner to ask for a big pay raise from his previous $650,000, and Wennberg will probably want a big pay raise after the year he had, so his price tag will probably depend on the term the team wants to give him.
OFFSEASON GAME PLAN
For their internal contracts, Quincey and Korpikoski are easy decisions to let go, while Gagner I would also let go of. He had an excellent season, but he played mostly sheltered minutes, and got a lot of points on the power play this season, which probably isn’t worth whatever he’s asking for. As for Wennberg, despite the 59 points, his rate stats are a bit lacking, so I’d maybe give him a two or three year bridge deal in hopes to see if he improves in that regard before investing in him long term. As for Anderson, keep it short, and keep it cheap. He’s a fourth liner who can score goals, and that’s all.
As for free agency, I’d stay away from the big fishes, and try and go for the low value signings, like an Ales Hemsky or a PA Parenteau, in hopes of getting a Sam Gagner like season from them. I’d do something similar on the blueline for that bottom pair, whether it’s a Brendan Smith, Cody Franson, or even cheaper, like a Matt Hunwick, John-Michael Liles, or Jakub Kindl.
With the trade market, there probably isn’t much to add aside from the obvious “if someone wants Clarkson’s god awful contract, don’t give them time to reconsider”. There isn’t anyone else on the team who either needs to be traded, or on a terrible contract, so that’s probably all they need to consider. All in all, it should probably be a quiet offseason from the Blue Jackets.
PREVIOUSLY IN THIS SERIES…
30. Colorado Avalanche, 29. Vancouver Canucks, 28. Arizona Coyotes, 27. New Jersey Devils, 26. Buffalo Sabres, 25. Detroit Red Wings, 24. Dallas Stars, 23. Florida Panthers, 22. Los Angeles Kings, 21. Carolina Hurricanes, 20. Winnipeg Jets, 19. Philadelphia Flyers, 18. Tampa Bay Lightning, 17. New York Islanders, 16. Nashville Predators, 15. Calgary Flames, 14. Toronto Maple Leafs, 13. Boston Bruins, 12. Ottawa Senators, 11. San Jose Sharks, 10. St. Louis Blues, 9. New York Rangers, 8. Edmonton Oilers, 7. Montreal Canadiens, 6. Anaheim Ducks, 5. Minnesota Wild