The protected lists for each NHL organization have been released, and the Columbus Blue Jackets stirred the pot a bit with their decision to protect defenseman Ryan Murray. While many are criticizing the decision, there is every reason to believe that this was the right move for the Blue Jackets.
Protecting Ryan Murray was the Right Decision
While it is safe to say that Murray has had a rather disappointing career to this point, this was the right decision. There are multiple ways to look at this, and every one points to this being the best move for the Blue Jackets as an organization.
The Blue Line Could have a New Look
The Blue Jackets decisions to protect Murray, leaves veteran defenseman Jack Johnson unprotected. While it could be argued that Johnson has been more effective over the last year, who Murray and Johnson have been paired with needs to be taken into account. Johnson proved to not be a complete anchor to David Savard, and Murray spent most of his time with rookie defensman Markus Nutivaara.
The difference in defensive partners can be showcased by the 1.99 Relative Corsi-For percentage that Savard carried in comparison to the -3.10 that Nutivaara had. This isn’t to say that Nutivaara can’t develop into a good defenseman, just that Murray had to carry more of the load when paired with him as compared to Johnson with Savard.
If the reports of Columbus having a trade in place to keep the Vegas Golden Knights from selecting Joonas Korpisalo or Josh Anderson is true, Johnson could be a serious option for selection in the expansion draft. This would open a slot in the defense that could be filled internally quite easily. This could see Ryan Murray paired with Savard on the second pairing, and the third pairing could very well be Nutivaara and Gabriel Carlsson.
This would allow Murray to play with a defenseman better in possession, taking much of the load off him, and giving him another chance to show what he can provide for the organization.
Salary Cap Benefits
If the thought of having Ryan Murray on the second pairing doesn’t interest you, take into account the benefits this would have on the salary cap. If Johnson is selected, this would bump the Blue Jackets up to $6.3 million in salary cap space, making free agency a viable option to fill the hole on the second pairing, and with plenty of names in the market to choose from.
While this would be an option that should be entertained, the extra space in the salary cap could, and should, be used to re-sign restricted free agent Alex Wennberg. This would be a great bit of business for the Blue Jackets, and one can only hope that the Golden Knights agree that Johnson would be the best selection out of The Buckeye State.
Why Vegas Would Take Johnson
For one, Johnson has proven over the years that he is a solid NHL defenseman. Aside from his play, this would be a good deal of salary cap space towards hitting the cap floor for Vegas. While this is surely not going to be an issue for the Golden Knights, taking a solid defenseman that can contribute roughly $4.4 million towards the salary cap would be a prudent decision by the expansion franchise.
On top of the benefits Johnson would carry towards hitting the cap floor, he would be a solid addiction for the Golden Knights. With the reports of a trade with Vegas protecting both Josh Anderson and Joonas Korpisalo, Johnson becomes the most appealing and the best option for the Golden Knights.
So when looking at the usefulness of Johnson to the Golden Knights, both as a player and as part of the salary cap, the ability to fill the hole left by Johnson internally, the reports of a trade to protect other important players, and the benefits the freed up money would reap, protecting Ryan Murray has proven to be a very smart move by John Tortorella and Jarmo Kekalainen for the organization to move forward.
In short, the Columbus Blue Jackets were 100% right to protect Ryan Murray.