The Columbus Blue Jackets face contract decisions with four key defensemen this offseason.
Considered across the league to be spoiled with young defensive talent, the Columbus Blue Jackets still face key decisions with a number of free agent defensemen this offseason. As the Jackets address a much cloudier picture amongst their forwards, there should be significantly less change in the back end of their lineup this summer.
The Blue Jackets have accrued depth through trade and years of identifying defensive talent in the draft. This puts the Blue Jackets in a healthy position on the blue line. With anchors like Norris-worthy Seth Jones, all-star Zach Werenski and seasoned bruiser David Savard, the CBJ are in a good space to be selective amongst who should stay in Columbus and who might go. Here we look at each of the four free agents and discuss their outgoing contracts and likelihood of staying in Ohio’s capital city.
A long-time cornerstone of the Blue Jackets and their blue line, Jack Johnson’s fate was likely sealed in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Seeking a long-term deal and displeased with his healthy scratch status, it is a foregone conclusion that Johnson will be playing for another team next year.
At just 31-years old, JJ has plenty of gas left in the tank to contribute on another club, it’s simply a matter of excessive depth and young talent in Columbus. Having gone as far as requesting a trade at the 2018 deadline, it appears a win-win for number seven to seek minutes elsewhere.
In his brief time in Columbus, Ian Cole provided little offense, but significant reliability pairing well with shutdown grinder David Savard. Cole essentially replaced Jack Johnson in the lineup, playing a similar style of defense and adding minimal offense. Less sloppy handling the puck, Cole plays heavy penalty kill minutes and doesn’t mind battling in the paint for his goaltender.
It is unknown if the former Penguin desires to stay with the Jackets or not but it has been echoed that the Columbus Blue Jackets would like to keep him if possible. Having made $2.5 million last season as an unrestricted free agent, it’s likely Cole will test the market for a raise. If the asking price rises too far above the $2.5 from 2017-2018, the Jackets may look to invest its cap space elsewhere and turn to its young blue line depth.
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Ryan Murray presents a unique conundrum for Blue Jackets management. After being selected second overall in the 2012 draft, CBJ fans have long wanted to see #27 play up to his early potential. Unfortunately, the Union and Blue faithful may never get more than a second pairing role player.
Some might be quick to give Murray a performance pass due to his injury-riddled career, but even when healthy his play has been inconsistent. He did show flashes of excellence down the 2017-2018 stretch playing alongside newly-inked Markus Nutivaara.
Whether or not those are enough to keep the 24-year old defenseman in Columbus is to be determined. A restricted free agent who made $2.8 million last year, it’s hard to imagine Murray collecting a heavier paycheck. Having played just one full season since 2012 surely won’t help Murray’s campaign.
If #27 does seek a substantial pay raise, or if Ian Cole ends up moving along, it will be very interesting to see what Jarmo & Co. do with the left-handed blue liner.
The journeymen defender acquired from the Washington Capitals last year is unlikely to play a large role with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 29-year old Ontario product has never played more than 55 games in one NHL season and the Blue Jackets’ depth is honestly too rich for Chorney to start in Columbus.
At $800,000 his unrestricted status could have him signed elsewhere unless the Jackets lose Johnson, Murray and Cole which is more than doubtful. Even if Chorney were to move on and the CBJ missed on the aforementioned three d-men, there are still affordable, promising options in young Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan and Gabriel Carlsson. If somehow Chorney is signed again in Columbus, it is strictly for seasoned depth and not a significant role inside Nationwide Arena.
Click below to see my breakdown of the 2018 CBJ free agent forwards. The forecast up front is much cloudier than that of the defensemen.