On the eve of free agency, traditionally a somewhat crazy time in the NHL, what will the Blue Jackets do? After making a big splash last year with the signing of Nathan Horton, this summer looks to be a much more sedate one for the club.
The NHL salary cap will rise from $64.3 million to $69 million in 2014-2015. This means that clubs will have that much more money to throw at the unrestricted free agents that will be on the market Tuesday.
Yes, Columbus has a need of a proven goal-scorer, notwithstanding the breakout performance of forward Ryan Johansen (33-30-63) over the past year. With Johansen a pending restricted free agent, Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen has stated that they will match any offer made for the young forward.
Johansen was the fourth overall pick for Columbus in the 2010 draft and they’ve waited patiently for him to become an offensive threat. Columbus will be looking to sign him to a "bridge" deal to ensure that last year’s performance wasn’t an aberration. Have no doubts, Johansen will get a hefty raise.
With qualifying offers made on Johansen, Corey Tropp, David Savard, Sean Collins, Tim Erixon, Cody Goloubef, Will Weber and Dana Tyrell, they are looking to lock up their organizational depth. With the recent trade that will see forward Scott Hartnell wearing union blue for the next five years, Columbus has a roster with little-to-no room for a potential free agent signing.
While there are some proven goal-scorers who will be available on Tuesday, do the Blue Jackets want to disrupt the emerging chemistry with their still-young team? Conventional wisdom would say "no." But, if we’ve learned anything since Kekalainen took over as GM, is that he’s not afraid to make a deal that will better the team.
NEWS AND NOTES
NEW TO THE JACKETS: The recently completed NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia saw Columbus add to their prospect pool, which is what consistently-contending teams do in order to be successful. The closest of the seven players selected by the Blue Jackets would seem to be forward Sonny Milano (first round, 16th overall).
With him slated to start the season in Beantown for Boston College, he’s still a few years away from playing at the NHL level. The comparisons to Phil Kessel and Patrick Kane while he was with the USNTDP should fill the fans with joy.
All seven of the players selected in this year’s draft will be in Columbus for the Blue Jackets Development Camp (July 7-11). Fans will get their first in-person look at LW Sonny Milano, D Ryan Collins (47th overall), G Elvis Merzlikins (76th overall), D Blake Siebenaler (77th overall), LW Julien Pelletier (107th overall), RW Tyler Bird (137th overall) and D Olivier LeBlanc (197th overall) as they don the union blue and take to the ice next week.
Add in the prospects selected in last year’s draft and this should make for an exciting time in Columbus. The organizational depth is taking shape, which will pay dividends in the not-to-distant future for the club.
SIGNING IN THE BOOKS: Saturday, the team announced that defenseman Dalton Prout had signed a two-year/$2.1M contract extension. This would see him locked into the third defensive pairing on the team. While the 24-year-old defenseman didn’t have the greatest of seasons (2-4-6 in 49 games) last year, Columbus likes what they’ve seen out of him.
He’s a big body (6’3", 222 lbs.) that fits in with the way the Blue Jackets play the game. He blocked 65 shots and fired a career-high 56 shots on goal last year.
COUNTDOWN ON: There are 101 days until Columbus opens the 2014-15 campaign on the road against the Buffalo Sabres at the First Niagara Center on Oct. 9. There are 103 days until the home opener against the New York rangers at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 11. Is it October yet?