It was a year to remember for the 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets. There was a historic winning streak, surprise performers, and an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Columbus Blue Jackets writers here at Last Word on Hockey have gotten together for a roundtable discussion to talk about the season and figure out what needs to be done going forward.
The Last Word on CBJ department is comprised of Managing Editor Nic Hendrickson (@RedArmyNic), Editor Sean Merz (@DasBrontosaurus), and contributor Andrew Allison (@17_Andrew_). You can follow Last Word on CBJ on Twitter as well (@LWOS_CBJ).
Last Word Roundtable: Columbus Blue Jackets Expansion Draft & Free Agency
Aside from those with a No Movement Clause, who should be protected?
Sean Merz: In addition to those players whose contracts include No Movement Clauses, I believe it is essential to protect the young offensive core that made the team so successful for much of last season. In my opinion, the best course of action is to protect the likes of Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, and Josh Anderson on offense along with Seth Jones, Jack Johnson, and David Savard on the blueline.
Andrew Allison: The player the Blue Jackets will undoubtedly protect that does not have a No Movement Clause is Cam Atkinson. Atkinson is coming from a season that saw him finish with career high in goals, assist, and points. Atkinson was also selected to his first All-Star Game. Improving every season he’s played, Atkinson has scored 40 points or more each year. This has allowed him to become a constant for Columbus’ offense. He is the top priority, in my opinion.
Nic Hendrickson: With David Clarkson being ruled exempt from the expansion draft, the Blue Jackets are getting another spot to protect a young forward. This is huge news, and it takes a massive weight off the shoulders of Jarmo Kekalainen and John Tortorella. The forwards who I think should be protected are as follows: Saad, Atkinson, Wennberg, and Boone Jenner. I agree with Sean that the three defenseman listed are the ones that should be protected.
Who would be the most palatable loss in expansion: Boone Jenner, William Karlsson, Josh Anderson, or Joonas Korpisalo?
SM: The easiest loss to take in the expansion draft, if there is such a thing, would likely be that of Joonas Korpisalo. Though he has shown moments of great promise in his time with the Blue Jackets organization, the club possesses a couple more high-potential goaltenders in the forms of Elvis Merzlikins and Anton Forsberg who can adequately serve as back-up for Sergei Bobrovsky. Failing that, however, there is no lack of quality back-ups around the league who could be involved in a trade to Columbus.
AA: The Blue Jackets easiest loss would be goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. Korpisalo has shown flashes of being an NHL goalie and has been a solid back-up. However Sergei Bobrovsky is only 28-years old and is one of the best goaltenders in the world. Bobrovsky has only gotten better as well, which means it looks like Korpisalo is a long way away from seeing a starters share of ice time. Losing a back-up goalie in the expansion draft is a lot better than losing an important skater.
NH: While I agree with both Andrew and Sean on principle, I believe the easiest loss would be William Karlsson. Karlsson is solid defensively and on special teams, but there are plenty of prospects in the organization that could step in and fill his spot. Aside from that, losing Karlsson would likely give the Blue Jackets enough cap space to keep Sam Gagner, who could directly replace him as a bottom six center, albeit in a much different role.
Put yourself in the shoes of Vegas: who do you pick from Columbus?
SM: Who Vegas takes in the draft is entirely down to who the front office deems to be replaceable. Korpisalo will be alluring, but there will likely be multiple goalies left open throughout the league and he may be overlooked as a result. If I were the general manager of the Golden Knights, I would likely select William Karlsson from the Blue Jackets. His combination of hustle and toughness on the puck makes him a solid bottom six center, and a young one at that. If there is room for a player of his ilk on the roster, his selection seems like a no-brainer.
AA: The best pick for Vegas to take would be Karlsson. A young, cheap, defensively solid center. What’s not to like about that?
NH: If I am picking for the Golden Knights, based off my list of protected players, I take Korpisalo. While there is likely going to be goalies with a better resume, and more experience, he is a goalie with a very high ceiling and the possibility of a future franchise goalie is too good to pass up on.
What is the Blue Jackets top priority in free agency this year?
SM: Looking to free agency, I believe the club’s primary focus should be the acquisition of either an elite scorer or yet another lockdown defenseman who can solidify the blueline. While the club’s strategy of scoring by committee worked out for the most part, there were games, and indeed stretches of games, in which the addition of a truly elite goalscorer could have changed the outcome. Although Zach Werenski, Jones, and Savard provide stability on the back end, there is a sharp decline in reliability beneath them, with the likes of Johnson, Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray, Kyle Quincey, and Gabriel Carlsson all fighting over the remaining three spots and playing inconsistently more often than not. If the club were to acquire a field-tested, second-pairing defenseman, it would go a long way towards making a deeper run into the playoffs next season.
AA: The Blue Jackets will need to go out and get a scorer at a cheap price, Thomas Vanek could be that guy. In 68 appearances, Vanek had 48 points, including 31 assists, with the Detroit Red Wings and Florida Panthers. Vanek could be a cheap playmaker the Blue Jackets need going into next season.
NH: While I would personally take Korpisalo in the expansion draft, I am hoping that Karlsson is the player picked. If that is the case, a bottom six forward with scoring ability is something that should be a top priority. If Columbus can free up another $1.5-2 million cap space, a top-notch third liner would be a realistic, and smart, addition going into the 2017-18 season.
Realistic targets in free agency
SM: While the dream target in free agency would be T.J. Oshie, I believe it is another Capitals free agent who should be the main focus of the Blue Jackets off-season efforts: Karl Alzner. At the age of 28, and with a cap hit of less than $3 million, Alzner would provide exactly the sort of lockdown second-pairing physicality and shot suppression that could elevate an already strong blueline into the realm of the elite. Imagining a lineup of Jones-Werenski, Savard-Alzner, Johnson-Carlson should bring a smile to any fan of the Blue Jackets, and his addition could help stem the often-heavy tide of shots that find their way to Sergei Bobrovsky on a nightly basis.
AA: The most realistic target in free agency, and one that would add a great deal to the bottom six, is Vanek. He has a proven track record of being a reliable playmaker, and his veteran presence would shore up the bottom six.
NH: While Oshie would be a fantastic addition, it is rather unlikely that he will stay within the Jacket’s price range this off-season. I agree with Andrew that Vanek would be a nice addition to the bottom six, but also I am not 100% sold on him coming to Columbus either, more out of lack of necessity for a player of his abilities. A player like Ryan Spooner would be a solid addition. He checks all the boxes: within the price range, young but experienced, able to produce. If I were in charge of that aspect, Spooner would be towards the top of my list.
Who should the Blue Jackets let walk in free agency?
SM: If last off-season is any indication of the front office’s plan for deadweight players, this off-season should see yet another clearing away of players who have outlived their usefulness to the organization. Kyle Quincey and Lauri Korpikoski will both become free agents this summer and will most likely be let go without much fight.
Additionally, the front office has shown that they are not afraid to buy out harmful contracts, and I would imagine Scott Hartnell being on the chopping block in that sense. I love the work rate and attitude he brings to the club, but his contract is one of the few remaining albatrosses weighing on the club and preventing the type of growth fans want to see. Ridding the club of those three should help massively, especially with Wennberg and Gagner looking for pay raises in the coming months and holes to fill following the expansion draft.
AA: The Blue Jackets got the steal of last off-season by signing Sam Gagner. Gagner had a career year, but his stint in Columbus might be over. Gagner was signed at the league minimum and not expected to give much. After this past season Gagner will be looking for a larger contract, and the Blue Jackets are up against the cap ceiling. Columbus cannot afford to pay Gagner big money and will very likely have to let him walk.
NH: Depending on a possible buy out of Hartnell’s contract, which isn’t at all a certainty, the Blue Jackets are going to have to get creative with their re-signings. Losing Wennberg isn’t an option for the organization. Letting Korpikoski, Quincey, and possibly even Gagner walk would be very smart moves by the organization respectively. If the Blue Jackets are able to talk Gagner into $850,000, or less, keep him. Otherwise, let the three mentioned go.
Stay tuned to Last Word on Hockey and the Last Word on CBJ Twitter account for upcoming off-season pieces on the Columbus Blue Jackets.
All salary cap and contract information courtesy of CapFriendly.