Exploiting Cap Hell: Columbus Blue Jackets Edition

Jarmo Kekalainen

For the second year in a row, it appears that NHL teams living close to the salary cap are in for a difficult season. We don’t have a final salary cap number yet and won’t until the NHLPA decides what it wants to do with is escalator option, but it’s reasonable to expect something between the current level of $71.4 million and a possible high of $75 million.

For a lot of teams, that means trouble. For clubs like the Edmonton Oilers, it might mean opportunity. Today’s potential target: the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Depth Chart

I’ve decided to start with non-playoff teams, and the Blue Jackets are one of a handful hanging around near the edge of the cap. The team has a pair of prominent restricted free agents to sign and outside of pending UFA Rene Bourque isn’t shedding much money. Edmonton catches a lot of flak for having its core locked up, but at least the Oilers’ core is young. In Columbus, the veteran core that led the team to a 27th-place finish is signed long-term.

Salary information, via NHL Numbers:

Left Wing Centre Right Wing L. Defence/Goal R. Defence/Goal
Boone Jenner Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson Ryan Murray  Seth Jones
$2,900,000 $5,850,000 $3,500,000 $2,285,000 RFA
Brandon Saad Alex Wennberg Scott Hartnell Jack Johnson David Savard
$6,000,000 $1,400,000 $4,750,000 $4,357,000 $4,250,000
Matt Calvert William Karlsson Nick Foligno Fedor Tyutin Dalton Prout
$2,200,000 RFA $5,500,000 $4,500,000 $1,575,000
Kerby Rychel Gregory Campbell Jared Boll Cody Goloubef
$1,213,000 $1,500,000 $1,700,000 $750,000
David Clarkson Sergei Bobrovsky Joonas Korpisalo
$5,250,000 $7,425,000 $925,000

Total Cap Hit: $67.8 million

Total Cap Space: Between $3.6 and $7.2 million

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This is a 22-man roster, with only a single spare at forward and on defence. Another player may well make the team and of course it would surprise absolutely nobody if Kerby Rychel were to be replaced over the summer.

Seth Jones is the big name on this list, and the expectation is that the Blue Jackets will go long-term with him rather than forcing a bridge deal. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch has him tagged as getting a comparable deal to Toronto’s Morgan Rielly and I can’t argue his logic; that puts Jones’ price-tag at somewhere in the range of $5.0 million per season and pretty much single-handedly chews up all of the Jackets’ cap space.

William Karlsson is coming off a 20-point season and shouldn’t be too hard to sign, but he’ll cost money too; I’d peg him as landing right around $1.0 million in total cap hit.

There are other considerations. The final year of Jared Boll’s deal could be bought out, saving some money. On the other side of the coin, 2015 No. 8 pick Zach Werenski has a bonus-laden entry level deal and could well make the team as a rookie pro. He was a point-per-game rearguard for the University of Michigan last year and turns 19 this summer.

Depending on where the cap ends up, the Jackets will either have precious little room to operate or will be forced to cut costs.

Targets for Edmonton

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The Oilers needs are pretty obvious and for the most part aren’t a great fit for Columbus, though there are two players who deserve special mention.

David Savard is a guy who we can plausibly speculate might be in play. He played a top-pairing role early in the year but was bumped down into a second-pair role with the arrival of Jones. If the Jackets are bullish on Werenski as a top-four solution in the near future, they might consider using Savard as bait for other needs and bumping someone from the left to the right side.

If available, Savard would be a very interesting fit in Edmonton. He’s a 25-year-old right-shot defenceman signed long-term and with the ability to impact the game in multiple ways. He has a decent record of power play production in the NHL, he’s listed at 6’2”, 227 pounds and he’s both mobile and capable with the puck. His shot metrics are a little bit meh but he’s generally played in a shutdown role with noted possession nightmare Jack Johnson.

Scott Hartnell is certainly in play and was supposedly almost moved at the deadline. The 34-year-old can score and brings size and a physical game to the mix. One issue is that he’s got so much time left on his deal (three years remaining) and he’s already old for a hockey player; the other problem is that he’s primarily a left-shooting left-winger (Columbus is weak on the right side and flipped a bunch of players over this year) and unless the Oilers move someone surprising down the line Edmonton’s need is on right wing. I’d stay well away from that risky contract, but given the style Hartnell plays I felt obliged to mention him.

Additionally, Fedor Tyutin is certainly available after an ugly year offensively (three points) but his underlying numbers weren’t as bad. He does have two years left on his current $4.5 million deal and is a left shot; if I ran a team with an ugly long-term deal at lower money and a need on the left side of my blue line I’d seriously consider talking to the Jackets about him but the Oilers are really not that team. Finally, Kerby Rychel turns 22 in October, is a two-time 40-goal man in junior and brings size to the mix. He’s been a fixture on the rumour mill for a while and is an interesting prospect.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

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