Columbus Blue Jackets are a team with a young core, veteran leadership, and a top level scorer, who are constantly underrated. In short they are the perpetual underdog. Columbus is not a traditional hockey market and a hard place to entice free agents to sign. The biggest names who have played here were either traded here or drafted here. The exception (kind of) was Bobrovsky who re-signed after being traded here by the Flyers. Now it seems he is on his way out too along with other top talent Duchene (maybe) and Panarin.
Make no mistake the cupboards are not bare in Columbus. This is who the CBJ could expect on the roster at some point next season.
Atkinson, Wennberg, Jenner, Bjorkstrand, Anderson, Dubois, Dubinsky, Foligno, Nash, Robinson, Sedlak, Texier, Milano, Sherwood and Fix-Wolansky.
Jones, Werenski, Savard, Murray, Nutivaara, Kukan, Gavrikov, Peeke and Carlsson.
Korpisalo, Merzlikins and Kinkaid (BIG maybe).
The lists above are with the caveat that the expectation is for the CBJ to sign the listed RFAs and possibly re-sign Kinkaid.
With that in mind, let's look at the easy part first: Defense.
Jones, Savard, Nutivaara, Kukan, Garvikov, Peeke and Carlsson are all under contract for 2019. With the exception of Peeke and Carlsson all have NHL experience although Garvikov only has a few playoff games under his belt, but he didn't look out of place. It is very likely that Werenski and Murray will re-sign and be back with the CBJ. I would guess that early projection for the line up would look something like this:
Jones - Murray
Werenski - Savard
Nutivaara - Garvikov
Kukan, Peeke and Carlsson (extras)
Being a CBJ fan I may be bias or overvalue these players, but that looks like a solid D-Corp without necessity of additions.
Off-Season work to do:
Only thing to handle in the off-season is to lock up the RFAs.
A little bit harder is the group of Forwards.
Of the group Sedlak, Robinson and Milano are the only RFAs. And given that Panarin, Dzingel and Duchene may leave (Duchene and Dzingel may not but we will see) I have not included them as likely to be part of the 2019 roster. Here is what a forward line up could look like:
Atkinson - Dubois - Anderson
Bjorkstrand - Jenner - Foligno
Texier - Wennberg - Dubinsky
Sedlak - Nash - Robinson
Milano, Sherwood and Fix-Wolansky (extras)
Not exactly a group of forwards that strikes fear into opponents. In particular the 2nd line looks fairly weak. Bjorkstrand isn't out of place but Jenner and Foligno would be better served on the 3rd line with Tex-Wenn-Dubi moving back to 4th line duties. That leaves Nash to find a home. While he didn't pile up stats, his presence was missed at the end of the playoffs.
Off-Season work to do:
Address top 6 forwards with UFAs or trades. This could include re-signing 2 of Dzingel, Duchene or Panarin. Since Panarin is very unlikely the push should be signing D&D. If they are going to look outside the current roster some UFAs that CBJ may want to target could include Eberle (NYI), Nyquist (SJS), Zuccarello (DAL) and Donskoi (SJS). This seems more like a wish list than a realistic group as many other teams will be chasing these guys.
On the trade front there is talk of availability of some interesting players: Kadri (TOR), Kessel (PIT) and Nylander (TOR). What would go the other direction is of concern, these players will not come cheap.
RFAs that could be on-the-move via trade could include William Karlsson (VGK), Puljujarvi (EDM), Connor (WIN) and of course the biggest RFA out there Marner. Realistically Marner has zero chance of becoming a Blue Jacket for a variety of reasons, the biggest is the Cap hit he would gobble up for the next 8 years.
While most of the above seem impossible to happen in Columbus, Jarmo has worked some magic in the past.
The big question mark: goalie
For the first time in the better part of a decade the CBJ don't know who their goalie will be to start 2019. Bobrovsky is extremely likely to take his talent to another city, very likely in the same state LaBron left Ohio for. This leaves UFA Kinkaid, RFA Korpisalo and recently signed Merzlikins. To say the least this is an unpredictable bunch. Kinkaid has been a mixed performer since he had gotten split starting duties with NJD. That can be an inconsistent role and is hard to judge a player based on performance in that situation. Korpisalo was given an opportunity during the 18-19 season. For the most part he underachieved. Again, given a consistent role may do wonders for his performance or it may show that he should be considered a career back up. Merzlikins is the wild card. He has no NHL experience, good international performances (with a sub-par Latvian team) and a 'show-me' contract. He signed a 1-year deal for less than $1M with the hope to get a legit shot at starting. If he proves he belongs in the NHL he gets a chance to sign a more lucrative contract sooner. For Columbus, he will still be an RFA when this contract expires next summer and they are not paying a large contract for his potential. Seems like a win-win, especially if he comes as advertised. The bigger problem arises if he struggles.
There has been some other interesting scenarios to solve the CBJ goaltending conundrum.
Trade Bobrovsky's rights for Lehner's rights.
This would only benefit the CBJ if Lehner would be willing to sign in Columbus. Otherwise the Jackets would trade Bob's rights to a team for draft picks or prospects or something of value coming back to C-Bus. This is an interesting scenario. Both teams won 1st round playoff series, both goalies proved they can make a difference and both are UFAs. Difference is that Lehner may have a desire to re-sign with NYI while it seems Bob has not intention to sign in Columbus. A trade and sign scenario could make for some interesting Metro match ups next season.
CBJ trade for Quick.
Forgive me but I'm not sure why LAK would want to part with him. Quick was not the problem in LA last season and I'm not sure that Jack Campbell is the answer for the Kings just yet, but he may be. If LAK is ready to move on from Quick and anoint Campbell their starter, hopefully they would not want a king's ransom (sorry bad pun) in return. Logically, Korpi would go the other direction along with something to sweeten the deal for LA and a salary move for CBJ. Seems like an unlikely situation and may not turn out as well as CBJ would hope as Quick may be past his prime.
Varlamov, Talbot, Smith, Elliott and Mrazek are available options in the UFA market, at least for now.
Varlamov is currently a very expensive back up goalie making $5.9M per year sitting behind Grubauer. While Varlamov played a majority of the regular season he didn't see any playoff time. COL is likely moving on from him given his price tag and the emergence of Grubauer. He will certainly have to sign a more reasonable contract but will be pursued by other teams as well driving the price a little higher than his true value.
PHI would be wise to re-sign Talbot or Elliott as Carter Hart's back up (insurance policy) but the other would be available. CBJ could sign one of these guys, but should only do it as a 'last-available-option' type signing. Either would be a superior back up but only as a serviceable starter.
Mrazek had a bounce-back season in CAR much like Lehner did in NYI. Prior to an injury he was having an outstanding post-season as well. CAR would be wise to resign their goaltending duo from last season as they are both UFAs. Unless of course they are targeting Bob. Mrazek could be a great signing for the Jackets if CAR lets him walk. His salary should be affordable and, at age 27, could be a good investment for years to come. Again, this all hinges on him going to free agency versus resigning with the 'Canes.
What about Jimmy Howard?
Rumors swirled at the deadline about Bob being traded and Howard coming to Columbus to take his place. As it happened, Bob stayed and Howard is still in DET. Now Bob is leaving, would Howard still be available from the Wings? Howard is 35, played his entire career in DET and may only have a year or two left in him. The change of venue could revitalize his career as VGK did for Fleury or it could end up just a place to finish out his career as FLA is for Lou. This seems more like a stop-gap move.
For my money I would take a chance on re-signing both Korpi and Kinkaid while giving Elvis a shot. If that is my 1A choice, signing an available Mrazek would be my 1B option. I only order them that way because I don't believe Mrazek will actually be available.
What holes do you see in the Jackets line up?
Who would be your choice for goalie (if Bob isn't an option)?