As per the collective bargaining agreement, the Columbus Blue Jackets were forced to close up shop after losing top free agents Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene. Ha ha, yeah right.
Sure, the Jackets lost all three and made just three selections in the 2019 draft because GM Jarmo Kekalainen went for it at the deadline, but the Jackets shot their shot and it was totally understandable. Now, the recovery begins with the signing of versatile right winger Gustav Nyquist, most recently of the San Jose Sharks. He signed a four-year pact with an average annual value of $5.5 million per season.
In Nyquist, the Jackets get a player who can play all three forward positions and bring a nifty offensive skill set to a lineup that, with Panarin and Duchene now gone, is heavy on heavies up front.
Which is another way of saying that Columbus fans have no need to grieve – this team will still be pretty decent, assuming they can get competent goaltending with Bobrovsky gone. Coach John Tortorella knows how to run this team and the forward corps still has a decent amount of talent.
Remember: Cam Atkinson had 41 goals this past season, while power forward Josh Anderson is just coming into his own. Anderson’s goal output has increased steadily through three years and it wouldn’t be shocking to see him net 30 next year. Pierre-Luc Dubois is looking like one of Kekalainen’s best moves ever (drafting him third overall, ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi in 2016) and Nick Foligno is an unquestionably capable captain.
On the back end, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are two of the best there are and they’re both in their prime years, with many more to come. The X-factor comes in net. Could Elvis Merzlikins be the next Bobrovsky? That’s a lot to lay on a young guy who has never played in the NHL, but keep in mind Bobrovsky was an undrafted netminder when Philadelphia gave him a chance all those years ago. Goaltending could kill the Blue Jackets next season, but it’s too early to say for sure.
In a topsy-turvy Metropolitan Division, it would be folly to count Columbus out right now. Nyquist may not have the upside of Panarin, but he can be a solid contributor. His cap hit is downright decent and the term is right: he turns 30 in September and should be good for the entire duration of this contract.
So the sky may be cloudy in Columbus, but it’s not falling. The Nyquist signing certainly made the outlook at least a little less bleak on this initial day of free agency.
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