I had the majority of a post put together for an offseason game plan post featuring all the moves I wanted to see the Jackets make. I’d figured out reasonable cap hits for the guys I wanted to be signed, figured out a nice trade or two that made sense, and wrote a nice long paragraph about how no one in their right mind would deal anything of value for RJ Umberger. Then it all got blown to hell. It came out that Jason Spezza had Columbus on his no trade list (I had him as a trade target), Nikita Nikitin was dealt to the Oilers, and Umberger was somehow traded for Scott Hartnell. In my opinion, those moves took care of a lot of what the Jackets needed to do this offseason. So instead of a post detailing everything I wanted to see, I figured I’d hit everything that has happened so far, and what I want to see happen the rest of the offseason.
Tendered Ryan Johansen, Corey Tropp, Matt Frattin, Sean Collins, Dana Tyrell, David Savard, Tim Erixon, Cody Goloubef, and Will Weber
It was also announced they won’t tender Oliver Gabriel, Jake Hansen and Anton Blomqvist. For the most part this all makes sense, and is pretty much exactly as I would have done it. I might have let Tropp walk, but the rest is right on. Frattin was in limbo until the last minute, but I am pleased at the resolution. Frattin has some legit NHL tools, and I think he’ll fit right into a Skille-eqsue role moving forward. Collins, Tyrell, Goloubef, and Weber are likely headed back to Springfield. Johansen, Savard, and Erixon were no brainers.
Re-Signed Dalton Prout
I had the Jackets signing Prout for about $1.25m per season. He ended up coming in with an even better number, at two years, $1.075m cap hit. That’s pretty good value, and a solid number for a 6/7 defenseman. That’s really all Prout should be, and hopefully what will be asked of him this coming season.
Re-Signed Curtis McElhinney
The term and number are fine: one year, $650k one-way deal. The problem is the last part, a one-way deal. I’ve said it ad nausem over the course of the season, the Jackets need to improve in the backup goalie spot. Unless they are willing to pay McElhinney NHL money in the AHL, then I really dislike this move.
Announced Plans to Re-Sign Derek MacKenzie and Jack Skille
They also announced they were not negotiating with Nick Schultz and Blake Comeau. I like the MacKenzie re-signing if he comes back for the right number on a short term deal, but I’m skeptical the Jackets will get it done if he gets to tomorrow without a contract in place. I like bringing back Skille, although will we see if it’s a one or two-way deal. I’m good with letting Schultz go, as there are better options out there if they want to bring in a veteran. Comeau should be brought back. He’s not a top six forward, and he shouldn’t be more than a spare third line forward, but when it comes to fourth liners, he’s top notch. He can be frustrating, as he constantly has possession of the puck in the offensive zone without creating many scoring chances. A fourth line doesn’t need to create offense though, and I’d rather have someone who helps keep pucks out of their own net, even if it isn’t through defensive prowess.
Nikitin Traded to the Oilers
After Edmonton signed him to a two year, $9m contract, the Jackets get a 2015 5th round pick in return. This is just so Oilers. Nikitin is a fine player, but if he’s more than a third pair guy you are in trouble. He’s currently the 38th highest paid defenseman in the league. You don’t get that kind of money to play on a third pair. He’ll drop down the list some as players sign tomorrow, but he’s still going to be making high-end top four defenseman money, while not even coming close to the production. Getting a 5th round pick for a guy who was walking is just gravy.
Scott Hartnell Trade
So good. So so good. I didn’t think they would get anything for Umberger. He’s paid like a top six forward while probably only being capable as a poor third liner. Hartnell is properly paid for his current production, but the backend of that deal will look bad in a couple of years. However, it’s totally worth it. The Jackets got the better player by far, and who knows what’s going to happen by the time that deal is bad. Maybe the cap jumps up a ton by then and his deal isn’t so bad. Maybe something else goes down and there are more compliance (aka no cap impact) buyouts. Point is, the value for Philly in this deal is way in the future, and can’t yet have a price put on it. The Jackets got a ton of tangible value in this deal, dumped a poor contract/potential problem, and filled their biggest hole (a top six forward).
Drafted Sonny Milano 16th Overall
I love this pick. To me, the draft should be all about big swings. Bottom six forwards can be had in free agency. They can be picked up with mid or late round draft picks. So focus on taking big swings, finding franchise cornerstones that are nearly impossible to get in trade or free agency. That means skill, which Milano has in spades. By the 16th pick he was arguably the most skilled player left, with only Josh Ho-Sang (and his “character” issues) rivaling him. He’s a long ways off, but the Jackets don’t need him in the short term, and he’ll have a good chance to develop at Boston College.
Remainder of the Draft
After Milano, I’m not a huge fan of most of the rest of their draft. I don’t love drafting defensive defensemen high, aka Ryan Collins in the second round. I like drafting goaltenders early even less, see Elvis Merzlikins in the third round. Once you get past the first three rounds, it becomes difficult to find valuable players from the CHL. See Julien Pelletier and Olivier Leblanc. That leaves two picks left. I don’t know enough about Blake Siebenaler to really say much about him. Not sure he’s got the offense I’d like to see from an early round CHL defenseman, but we’ll see. I do really like the Tyler Bird pick in the fifth round. He’s got good size, had great numbers in Mass Prep leagues last year, and is headed to Brown University. That’s the kind of late round pick that can really end up paying dividends in the future.
The Impasse with Ryan Johansen
As reported by Aaron Portzline today, the contract talks between the Jackets and Johansen has stalled. The Jackets are set on a bridge deal of two or three years, while Johansen (and his agent) want a long term deal. Nothing to see here folks, move along. This is the game. The Jackets are standing firm on a bridge deal (as they should), and Johansen and his agent want something longer. The key here is the UFA age. The Jackets want to bring him back for a shorter term, make sure he’s worth big money and term (remember he’s only had one good season, was a healthy scratch in the AHL just over a year ago), and then lock him up for most of his UFA years. Johansen wants something at least four years long, that allows him to hit unrestricted free agency in his mid-20′s. Know what a mid-20′s 30 goal scorer gets in unrestricted free agency? All the money.
Thoughts on Free Agency and the Remainder of the Offseason
I expect them to be quiet (as does Portzline) after the Hartnell pick up. They are currently sitting on almost $19m in cap space, but have to bring back the tendered RFA’s (Johansen, Frattin Tropp, Savard) and the UFA’s mentioned above (Skille and MacKenzie). That will probably take up $11 to 14m pending the outcomes. It will also leave them with 14 or 15 forwards on one-way deals (or firmly entrenched in the NHL) pending if Skille signs a one-way or a two-way. So I doubt they do anything at forward unless they make a trade. On defense, they will have six guys on one-way deals or firmly entrenched in the NHL. They will also have Tim Erixon, who needs to stay in the NHL or risk being lost on waivers. So that’s 21 or 22 players who need to be in the NHL next year. I wouldn’t be doing too much overall and just plan to roll with this lineup. If anything happens in free agency, I could see bringing in another defenseman to add some experience to the bottom of the lineup (and maybe another right-handed shot).
In the trade market, I would be good with trying to move some talented youth (say Erixon) for the right veteran defenseman. I’d also be good with moving Jack Johnson, but at that point you start getting into chasing your moves. If you move Johnson, you need to pick up a big minute defenseman. That could be Matt Niskanen at the high-end, Christian Ehrhoff, or Tom Gilbert at the less high-end. But it is very risky banking on unrestricted free agency to fill a major hole. That can make you desperate, and desperation leads to overpayment. The next option to fill that hole would be a trade, but that would likely mean moving a top six foward, which again opens up a spot that needs to be filled.
So at this point, an offseason game plan doesn’t make sense to write, as I think the lineup will more or less end up as is. Jarmo isn’t afraid to take big swings though, and has come out of nowhere with a move in the past, so I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I’m off the mark on that prediction as well. Even if the Jackets don’t make a move, the free agency frenzy is always entertaining.