With the NHL season done, the interesting stuff like trades, the draft and free agency is upon us. With the inevitable expansion draft looming next year, I’ve decided to start a series: Disasters of the NHL. Each post will cover a team or a situation in an unfortunate position that will cause them major headache. Anything from salary cap hell to free agents leaving to disastrous trades and signings (they will happen). I will break down the situation, implications and perhaps, solutions too.
The first disaster in the series is the Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap. It is no secret that the Blue Jackets are in turmoil right now. Their issues started years ago with the signings Foligno, Dubinsky and Scott Hartnell up front, and Fedor Tyutin on the back end. That does not even cover the Nathan Horton fiasco, which will be covered extensively in this piece.
Let’s start with the most pressing issue. This season saw a star centre in Ryan Johnasen traded to Nashville for Seth Jones, a young stud on the back end. Johansen fell out of favour with head coach John Tortorella, who I’m not even sure should have been hired. This is one of the first cases in recent memory where the coach outlasted the star player. This is not a case of a world class coach like Babcock outlasting Kessel/Phaneuf. This is a coach who has had many questions asked about his ability in the new age, and is not known for his resume. Johansen’s previous issues with Jackets management during his hold-out and overall attitude cannot be dismissed either. He definitely had a part in this. Mid-season, Johansen shipped out in favour of Seth Jones. A one-for-one deal, very rare for players of this calibre. Jones is an RFA this summer, and will very deservingly get a raise. The issue is, Columbus does not currently have the cap space to sign Jones to anywhere near what he is worth. That makes him susceptible to an offer sheet, not ideal considering what Columbus gave up for him. Bottom line, the Blue Jackets cannot afford to lose Seth Jones. So why is a team in the basement strapped for cash to sign a top d-man who could pair very nicely with prospect Zach Werenski in the future? Let’s take a look.
- Brandon Dubinsky: 5.85 AAV until 20/21
- Nick Foligno: 5.5 AAV until 20/21
- David Clarkson: 5.25 AAV until 19/20
- Scott Hartnell: 4.75 AAV until 18/19
- Fedor Tyutin: 4.5 AAV until 17/18
- Sergei Bobrovsky: 7.25 AAV until 18/19
Not only is every individual listed overpaid, all of them have some form of No Movement Clause. That means, they will have to be protected come expansion draft next June. That is, unless the NHL allows players to waive NMC for the opportunity to go to Vegas. That would be interesting. This excludes David Savard’s contract at 4.25 AAV until 20/21. The six contracts listed amount to $33.1 million against the salary cap, or 44.7% of next year’s cap.
The 4 forwards add up to $20.85 million. With the NHL moving towards the younger player, having this amount of money locked up for 3 players over 30 and Foligno, who is 28, presents a difficult problem. They combined for 138 points last season, none hitting 50 points, and David Clarkson only playing 23 games. Representing 4 of the 5 top paid forwards on the team, these contracts will likely take some creativity to get rid of.
Part of the reason David Clarkson was mentioned has to do with why he was acquired in the first place. When Nathan Horton signed in Columbus, they failed to insure his contract. When he was hit with a degenerative back injury, they were fully on the hook for paying a player to sit in the stands. For a team that isn’t known for its financial strength, this was not ideal. David Clarkson’s homecoming had gone worse than anyone could’ve possibly imagined in Toronto with suspensions and injuries never allowing him to get on track. The Leafs, known for their financial strength could afford to pay a player to sit out and perhaps be a tool for LTIR, if necessary. In a one for one swap, Columbus got a similar contract for someone who could play, an immediate upgrade (however, small) over a player who would likely never play again. That’s a trade that worked out for both teams: one got a player that could play and one got a tool for the salary cap.
The Blue Jackets have a great young D core. If Jones can be retained, their D core for the next 10-15 years could foreseeably be Seth Jones, Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski. Werenski stood out at the World Juniors and was key in the Lake Erie (AHL) Calder Cup Championship. Those are 3 defensive stalwarts that will be key to Columbus’ success or demise. Tyutin’s contract has 2 years left on it, as does Jack Johnson’s. Johnson would make a good 4th D for the core as a veteran, but he will need to take between 3-4 million for it to be feasible.
There have been rumours of the Blue Jackets interest in trading the rights to Jones and their 3rd pick for Toronto’s 1st overall pick. This would be interesting because Jones would be the top 4 that Toronto covets, and they get one of Puljujarvi or Laine. I say one of them because I know there is strong belief that the Jets will take Puljujarvi at #2 if Matthews is gone. This would mean the Leafs get potentially get Jones and Laine, an incredible haul. While that may be “pie in the sky,” Columbus has to do something before they lose on everything.
Columbus has many issues, stemming from decisions made years ago. Maybe its ownership, maybe it isn’t. They have a coach who isn’t known to be good in these situations. A couple of terrible contracts for veterans who would be 3rd/4th liners on most teams and young kids who deserve the money. They have to do something. They better make the right decision, or the implications will not only be on the ice, they could come on the books too if the team does not perform.
Your move, Jarmo.