This off-season has not been kind to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Duchene, Panarin, Bobrovsky and now Dzingel have all walked away. Columbus received nothing in return. This was always a possibility and Jarmo knew it. But humor me and let me put a positive spin on this.
Bobrovsky 7 years $10M per year.
Duchene 7 years $8M per year.
Panarin 7 years $11.6M per year.
Dzingel 2 years $3.375M per year.
The total of those contract is over $32M per year. The reality is that CBJ could not have signed all of them. And in years 4-5-6 & 7 they would have regretted those contracts, with the exception probably being Panarin.
Bobrovsky's play wasn't that great during the regular season last year. When it counted he did turn it on and carried the team down the stretch and throughout playoffs. The window for FLA is 2-3 years with Bob as your starter, after that time there is the possibility of a renaissance (like Fluery) but it isn't likely. It's not the dollar amount of this contract it is the term. Bob will prove his worth in the first two years, maybe three. Jackets dodged a bullet on this contract, but will certainly look bad if FLA makes the conference finals or Cup with Bob in goal.
Duchene's contract had a greater cost for Columbus than NSH. It would have cost the Jackets an additional 1st round pick. No one who watches Duchene play can argue that he has offensive skill, but most will argue his defensive worth. There is a split between those that say his is or isn't worth the $8M per year. Once again I think early in this contract there is value, but late there may be buyer's remorse.
The Panarin contract is a fair-market contract. He is a top 5-10 scorer in the league and makes guys he plays with better. Barring injury he will be beneficial for the life of the contract The Jackets believed that given their last minute push to sign Bread. The decision for the Jackets at the deadline was to keep him or get a return. My guess is that the return wasn't that value that Jarmo wanted versus keeping him for a playoff run. The writing was on the wall, he was leaving. The choice was solid, given the sweep of TBL and a compeitive series with BOS. Panarin served as an 'in house rental.'
The Dzingel signing by CAR puzzled me a bit. The term and amount seemed to be within reasonable limits for Columbus to sign him. Did Jarmo/Torts believe that he would take a spot that they wanted a prospect to fill? Did Ryan clash with Torts (he was a scratch in playoff games)? Did the CBJ even make him an offer? Many open questions remain.
Overall, by not signing any of these free agents the Jackets have a great amount of flexibility under the salary cap. This may include a rumor that is floating around about an offer sheet negotiation with Mitch Marner (not likely tough).
Roster 2019 vs. 2018
The change in roster from the beginning of 2018 as compared to the beginning of 2019 is less significant that most believe. Bob and Bread are the pieces that are missing and I don't want to minimize their absence. But what about Duchene and Dzingel leaving? From a regular season perspective, Duchene and Dzingel had 12 points each (4 g, 8 a) in 23 and 21 games respectively. That is just over 1 point per game combined for these two players. In the playoffs Duchene stepped up his game and scored significant goals, while Dzingel disappeared with only one goal in nine games.
That leaves the CBJ with replacing the franchise goaltender and 90 points per season of offense. No small task. What the CBJ has been feeding fans is that they have prospects in the pipeline that are ready to contribute.
Replacing a Franchise Goalie
The one piece that Jackets fans were sure of at the beginning of every season in recent memory was that goaltending would not be an issue. In 2019 this is the biggest question mark. Korpi hasn't been consistent and many will argue he isn't a starter in the NHL. Elvis has provided good results during international play, but can he handle an NHL schedule? Splitting time between them seems to be the go-forward plan at the beginning of the season. Jarmo believes in the goalie prospects given the UFA goalie contracts that were 'passed' on.
90 Points of Scoring
Goal scoring has essentially been replaced, right? Won't other players just get the missing assists? Is this really a big deal? Lets take these questions one at a time.
When you look at the goals that Panarin put in the net himself (28) being replaced by Nyquist (22) it may look like a wash. But Nyquist only had 38 assists against 59 for by Panarin. Further Panarin had 44 primary assists (75%) and Nyquist only had 19 (50%). That means that Panarin contributed to a significantly greater amount of goals than Gus is likely to replace directly. But no one saw Gus as a 1-for-1 replacement for Bread.
Will other players just get those assists? Some. There is no easy answer here. Primary assists are the hardest to replace. Secondary have a significance when that player created the space or angle of the goal. Secondary goals are not all created equally.
Is this really a big deal? Yes. A 90 point scorer does more than just put up goals. It is a good chance that a 90 point scorer is also driving play and creating space and opportunity for their linemates. They put pressure on teams to match up with them, thus allowing other players down line to have greater opportunity too.
The silver lining is that a team without a superstar can be harder to beat than one with a superstar. Leaning on one player has significant risk. This was evident in the 2018 playoff series against the Capitals. Panarin was the CBJ top goal scorer (and top in points). Once the Caps focused on shutting him down they won 4 in a row. He ended that series with 2 goals in 6 games. In 2019 and 2018 the Jackets had 98 (5th in the division) and 97 (4th in the division) points respectively. Those were the seasons with Panarin. The season before he joined the Jackets they were 3rd in the division with 108 points. The top scorer had 62 points (Cam). Scoring was more diversified that season. There are many factors that go into how the team finishes (points and placement) that are outside of their control (other teams rosters, injuries, scheduling...) and I'm not suggesting the dip in point is directly related to acquiring Panarin.
In a prior post I noted that prospects are the lifeblood of a team like Columbus. At some point prospects become NHL players. This seems to be the year that Jarmo is putting trust in these young players especially at the goalie position. Bob wasn't going to be the answer forever. Columbus got his prime years and his leaving has forced the passing of the torch to the next generation. There are many recent examples of relying on tandem goalies or even young goalies that have been successful but also of teams that struggle in this situation. This is the biggest concern facing Columbus.
Do the Jackets Suck Again?
They do not. This roster has the potential of being a playoff team. Columbus lost their superstar and their goalie, true. The goalie was on the decline and the loss of a star doesn't doom a team. Everyone points to the NYI last year as the prime example of this. I point to the CBJ one year prior to Panarin. This team will score. Other players will be given opportunities. There are lower expectations for Columbus, but only by others in the NHL, not by those in Columbus.
Thank you for reading.