What the Columbus Blue Jackets must consider this offseason regarding their top six free agent forwards.
Unfortunately the postseason has arrived again in late April for the Columbus Blue Jackets. For hockey fanatics and armchair GMs, this means that the sometimes agonizing lull and thrill of free agency are upon us. Even though the Blue Jackets went into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the second youngest team in the league, this doesn’t serve as an opportunity to sit on the youth of the current roster and not improve over the summer months.
Without having to worry about locking up star winger Artemi Panarin (can you hear the Brinks truck?) for one more year, the Blue Jackets can focus their 2018 sights on a mixed collection of young and senior, second through fourth line forwards. Having made a small collection of trades at the March 26th deadline, the Jackets are now faced with deciding the futures of newly-acquired paint specialist Thomas Vanek and fourth line centerman Mark Letestu.
To go along with the pair of veterans, we also look at potential outcomes for Matt Calvert, notorious workaholic Boone Jenner, sniper Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alex Broadhurst. Let’s look at them one by one.
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After a brief, sluggish start in Columbus, Vanek showed his worth by helping the team push for a playoff run by scoring in streaks and contributing regularly on Alexander Wennberg‘s second line. At 34, the journeyman winger isn’t getting any younger but has been revered for his maturity and net presence.
Having earned $2,000,000 in 2017-2018, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Jackets re-sign #26 for one more season if they can get him at a similar price tag. It’s unknown how many good miles Vanek has left in the tank but he’s still a scoring threat even if he’s a liability on the defensive end.
Like Vanek, CBJ fans will be quick to address the disappearance of #55 in the playoff series with the Caps, but NHL junkies and Blue Jacket execs alike continue to rave about Letestu’s cerebral game. Since being acquired at the trade deadline, CBJ’s penalty kill saw flashes of brilliance with the addition of Letestu. Though, some might wonder if a fourth line center whose value lies in face-off percentage is enough to justify the $1.8 million he made in 2017-2018.
Much of Letestu’s future could ultimately be determined by the team’s limited center depth and a burdensome Dubinsky contract the Jackets may hope to move this summer.
The longest-tenured Blue Jacket is a fan favorite for a reason. Calvert is a notorious grinder but he could also be among the team’s most inconsistent players. When #11 is playing at his peak (i.e. the recent Caps series), you wonder where he has been all year. Unfortunately for the Jackets, this contract could be a tricky one to negotiate. Calvert is the team’s best penalty killer and he may use that plus his playoff performance as leverage to meet or boost his $2.2 million salary from the past season. Intangibles aside, the organization is going to ask itself, are a career-high 24 points (in 69 games) enough to keep Calvert in Columbus?
Similar to Calvert in his streakiness and grit, Jenner might embody the Blue Jackets more than any player on the roster. Although Boone got off to a slow start in 2017, many forget that he was coming off a stress fracture in his back and eventually found his groove.
After earning $2.9 million in 2017-2018, it’s likely Boone is going to not only crack the $3 million dollar mark, but a player of his effort and character could draw high demand across the league. Thankfully for the CBJ, Jenner is a restricted free agent so they will have more opportunity to hang onto #38.
In his first full season as a Blue Jacket, “Bjorky” posted a very respectable 40 points (11G, 29A). At the slim price tag of $655,000, any team in the NHL would fall over themselves to sign up for such a bargain.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, Bjorkstrand is likely to sell his potential to up the figure of a future contract. Unlikely to be on the first team power play or penalty kill in the next few years, the Jackets will have to ask how much they’re willing to pay the shifty sniper. If the CBJ can’t offer this restricted free agent somewhere in the $2.25M to $2.75M per year mark, Bjorkstrand could be an odd man out in the capital city.
A new name to many in the Columbus area, and NHL for that matter Broadhurst may survive free agency fate with the CBJ as there is likely to be attrition due to limited cap space. Having just played in two NHL games, Broadhurst (25) isn’t likely to breakthrough and see significant ice time barring injury.
Considering the CBJ are hefty on talent and lean in the pockets, Broadhurst might stick around in Ohio for a similar $650,000/yr and provide depth from afar while playing for the AHL Monsters in Cleveland.
A successful offseason can drastically change the complexion of a team regardless of their performance the year prior. As the Blue Jackets try to plan responsibly for a future that will require hefty raises for defenseman Zach Werenski, the aforementioned Panarin and rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois, the time is now to be cautious about giving out overreaching, long-term deals.
I’ll be breaking down the defensive outlook of free agency for the Blue Jackets later this week. Until then, let us know what you think the Jackets should do with the forwards in the comment section below.