Hello Jackets faithful, in this edition of the Jackets Buzz we are going to look at what the CBJ may look like next year. First I will explore what the Jackets already have in the cupboard, then explore what is out there in free agency and finally explore any trade options that may be available. Some of this is going to be a realistic look at what next years roster may look like, some may be Pie-in-the-Sky dreaming, given the title "Wish List".
The quick list in no particular order includes Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Alex Wennberg, Boone Jenner, Riley Nash, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, P-L Dubois and Markus Hannikainen. These guys are signed, have played NHL minutes and would expect to make the roster (if not traded).
Prospects include Emil Bemstrom, Liam Foudy, Alex Texier, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Kole Sherwood, Eric Robinson and Sonny Milano. With the exception of Milano all these prospects are under contract.
The prospects are an interesting bunch as Texier, Sherwood, Robinson and Milano all have some NHL experience and will certainly be given a fair chance to make it in Columbus. The veterans are the guys that pose big questions.
Looking through this list I see Atkinson, Bjorkstrand, Dubois and Anderson as the only legit top 6 forwards. Of that list Atkinson is really the only top line guy. Dubois did play the role of top-line center last year prior to the Duchene acquisition, but didn't always look like a #1 center. Anderson and Bjork could definitely fill a top line W position, especially if they continue to develop, but are more likely 2nd line skaters.
The Need at Forward:
As always the Jackets lack a true #1 center. They will also need to replace some scoring on the wing with Panarin almost certain to leave.
Here are some forwards that could be targeted by the Jackets that have potential to make up some of the points walking out the door in free agency: Gustav Nyquist, Richand Panik, Joonas Donskoi, Alex Chiasson, Joe Pavelski, Anders Lee and Mats Zuccarello. Understanding the past, Zuccarello is not the best fit and would not likely choose to play for Torts. No one on this list is Panarin, but Donskoi has great potential. Chiasson may not live up to what he did in EDM without the help of McDavid, but that is also what people said about Panarin without Kane. Panik and Nyquist both could make up significant points too. Neither Lee or Pavelski are linked to Columbus at this time and it may be a hard sell to land either of these guys. One last suggestion would be Corey Perry. Being the victim of a buy-out, he may be fetched for a more reasonable price and shorter term. If healthy he could be a solid re-tread who may find 20+ goals. His speed, or lack of speed, may be a liability.
On the trade front:
Teravainen (CAR), Saad (CHI), Nugent-Hopkins (EDM), Zucker (MIN), Kessel (PIT), Nylander (TOR), Eakin (VGK), Ehlers (WIN).
The players listed above have been talked about as potential trade bait in rumors over the last month or so by various sources. With center being the bigger need, I first look at Nugent-Hopkins and Eakin. Both could fit in the 1 or 2 spot at center for CBJ, and would certainly be given the chance to take the top spot. Nylander sticks out among the wings. Picking up a guy with his talent is certainly going to cost the CBJ. The interesting move may be for Saad. He has been in Columbus before and CHI may be willing to part with him easier than the rest because of his contract.
Pie-In-The-Sky fix up front:
Sign Panarin and Duchene. Sounds simple right, right. It says pie-in-the-sky for a reason. Signing Duchene would cost another 1st round pick and both would want $9M+ (more like $11M for Panarin). Another idea would be offer sheeting Marner, Laine or Aho. Again, there would be a sacrifice of draft picks and then the price tag that comes along with signing them. It's a nice thought, but very unlikely.
On the roster: Seth Jones, David Savard, Markus Nutivaara and Dean Kukan.
Prospects: Vlad Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke and Gabriel Carlsson.
RFAs: Ryan Murray, Zach Werenski, Scott Harrington and Adam Clendening.
While I want to say that it is a given that Zach will get signed, each day that passes makes me less sure. Ryan Murray deserves one more shot to stay healthy, and it isn't likely that he gets and offer sheet. Harrington and Clendening can get re-signed by C-Bus if they choose to, but are not a must. Of the three prospects listed, Gavrikov will get a real shot in Columbus, but the other two will get a look.
Need on D:
Sign Werenski and Murray and keep this group together. Gavrikov has the potential to push the D-corp to make them better.
If Werenski isn't on this roster next season (which would be a tragedy) there isn't much out there to replace him. From a trade front there is Nikita Zaitsev (TOR) and Shayne Gostisbehere (PHI). Neither will come cheap, but would certainly fill the top 4 role.
On the roster: Veini Vehvilainen, Elvis Merzlikins (both prospects)
RFA: Joonas Korpisalo
Need in Net:
NHL experience. None of the three above have solid experience (if any). A veteran back up or starter could allow one of the above grow into a starter in the NHL. Here are UFA goalies that could fit the bill: Varlamov, Talbot, Mike Smith, Lehner or Mrazek. Varlamov, Lehner and Mrazek would expect to be the starter and would want starting goaltender money and term. Talbot is solid but may not be a true starter and could split time with the young guys. I think he would accept that role. If he struggles it could be a long season. Mike Smith is an interesting free agent. He has at least 2 years left in him if not more. His role could be as starter this season and transition goalie for the next two (bridge goalie).
On the trade front, Jonathan Quick has been in rumors. With 4 years on his contact he isn't exactly a "bridge goalie". Martin Jones may be made available if the Sharks go in a different direction, but he too has significant term on his contract. From a pie-in-the-sky view I ask the question: Would the Rangers trade Lundqvist? They do have Georgiev pushing for playing time but they want to win this year. Or at least that is what their actions have indicated. Relying on an untested goalie would be a risky plan. Re-signing Bob would be the other unrealistic option. He has been great the last 7 years and there is no reason to believe he will not be solid going forward.
Last thing...Pieces to get off the roster:
No wish list would be complete with out a salary dump or two. Two guys who consistently don't live up to their contract are Brandon Dubinsky and Alex Wennberg. Wennberg has potential and I wouldn't mind giving he another chance. Dubinsky should not be on this roster next season. He provides very little, plays sparingly and takes up too much cap space. The problem is finding someone who would want him.
Forward: Find 2 (or 3) top 6 forwards, preferably top line center and wing.
Realistic fix: Look to prospects or free agents like Nyquist, Donskoi or Chiasson.
Pie-in-the-Sky: Re-sign Panarin, offer sheet Laine/Aho.
Defense: Fill the top 4 with in house RFAs.
Realistic fix: Re-sign Murray and Werenski.
Pie-in-the-Sky: Trade for Gostisbehere
Goalie: Find an experienced starter.
Realistic fix: Sign UFA Talbot or Mike Smith as transition goalies for 2-3 years.
Pie-in-the-Sky: Long term contracts for Lehner, Mrazek or Bobrovsky.
Let me know what you have on the CBL Wish List.
Thanks for reading.