As the free agency window opened, the Columbus Blue Jackets watched veteran defensemen Jack Johnson and Ian Cole sign with new teams. To replenish their stocks in Cleveland and bring in competition for the 6/7 spot, they added three blue liners of their own.
On a day that showcased few fireworks in Columbus, the Blue Jackets took a quiet approach to free agency. As predicted by Columbus Blue Jackets fans and analysts alike, Jarmo mostly stuck to his guns, trusting the club’s youth to plug lineup holes.
Losing veterans Ian Cole and Jack Johnson opens up one starting slot on the blue line. With the top five defensemen essentially locked in, the Jackets are looking for a 6th man to pair with David Savard.
Having drafted defensemen early and often in recent drafts, the Blue Jackets have a number of young prospects vying for the spot. Scott Harrington (79 GP), Dean Kukan (19 GP) and Gabriel Carlsson (16 GP) have all seen time at the NHL level, albeit some more than others. I expect one of these three to seize the new opening.
If CBJ fans aren’t comforted by the green options in the aforementioned trio, Jarmo and company further addressed the defensive depth by signing three more blue liners to the organization. The players and their contracts are as follows.
Tommy Cross, 28, 1-yr, 2-way NHL/AHL deal. $650k/$300k, $450k guaranteed.
Adam Clendening, 25, 1-yr, 2-way NHL/AHL deal. $700k/$300k, $400k guaranteed.
Dillon Simpson, 25, 2-yr, 2-way NHL/AHL deal. $650k/$150k, $200k guaranteed in year one, $700k/$200k, $250k guaranteed in year two.
Even though many Columbus Blue Jackets fans (and brass) would’ve loved to hold onto Ian Cole, the numbers didn’t align. Fortunately, the Jackets’ extensive blue line depth should create a fierce competition for the sixth slot.
Top pairing defenseman Zach Werenski could be out until November with shoulder surgery. Expect the Jackets to rely on two of these six to start the beginning of the season. I suspect Clendening has the inside track out of the three new defenseman to get a chance in the NHL first due to his playing style and age.
Staff rumblings have been very positive about Kukan who was an AHL all-star last year. Harrington has considerably more experience and performed admirably in his time in Nationwide. Previous first round pick, Carlsson started last year before an injury sidetracked his momentum and sent him back to the AHL.
Sure, the free agency process has maybe been slightly anti-climactic for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but this should be fun to watch unfold. Even with an injury or two, Jarmo and Co. did a solid job today shoring up the defense and adding talent in Cleveland.