The Blue Jackets are entering a crucial point in the season where deals could get made should they fail to significantly improve.
As the Columbus Blue Jackets keep wallowing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, speculation persists over a potential roster shakeup at some point this season. TSN’s Darren Dreger reports the Jackets are entering a crucial point in the season where deals could get made should they fail to significantly improve.
Dreger claims some in the league believe Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen could try to move out some veteran players. He notes forwards Ryan Johansen and Scott Hartnell are among those who’ve been bandied about in the rumor mill this season.
Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman believes Johansen could be dealt at some point this season. He notes the center had contentious contract negotiations with Jackets management prior to last season. Friedman also points out the 23-year-old has already spent some time in coach John Tortorella’s doghouse, though he doesn’t rule out the possibility of the two working out their differences.
The Jackets could be hesitant to ship out their first-line center. If they decide to go that route, Friedman suggests the Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues or Vancouver Canucks could be interested.
Contract issues could also be at play here. Johansen is signed through 2016-17, after which he’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights who’s only a year away from eligibility for unrestricted free agency. His current cap hit is $4 million, but his actual salary for next season jumps to $6 million. It’ll cost the Jackets that much simply to qualify his rights in June 2017.
Johansen could seek an expensive long-term extension worth well over $6-million annually, along with the usual no-trade clause. Failing that, he could file for arbitration and receive a one-year deal, leaving him poised to depart the following summer for the riches of free agency.
If the front office isn’t convinced Johansen is worth that long-term investment, or if there’s any doubt he’s committed to a lengthy future in Columbus, Kekalainen could trade him. Such a move, however, could be risky.
Johansen was supposed to be the Jackets’ franchise player, the guy they hoped to build a contender around. Moving him sends a bad message to a fan base that saw a previous franchise player (Rick Nash) shipped out of town only a few short years ago.
Getting a quality return isn’t as simple as it seems. The Jackets need a top-two defenseman, which Johansen could certainly fetch in return. While that move addresses their blueline needs, however, it leaves them with a big hole on their first line.
Dealing a player like Johansen usually doesn’t happen in-season, especially with so many teams possessing limited cap space. Kekalainen could wait until the off-season when teams have more cap space and are more keen to make significant trades.
Hartnell will certainly attract interest among playoff contenders, but only if the Jackets are willing to pick up part of his $4.5 million annual cap hit through 2018-19. He also has a full no-movement clause, giving him control over potential trade destinations.
More likely trade options could include winger Cam Atkinson or little-used forward Kerby Rychel. Both have also frequently appeared in this season’s rumor mill.
The St. Louis Blues recently popped up as a team to watch in the trade market. Sportsnet’s Friedman believes they’ll be among the clubs seeking a deal in the coming weeks.
Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun thinks the Blues could soon face a decision over the future of defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. The 26-year-old blueliner is eligible in 2017 for UFA status. With a current salary-cap hit of $4.25 million, he could prove to be an expensive re-signing for the Blues.
Garrioch believes the Blues want to add a top-six forward. Entering this week, the Blues are 20th in goals-per-game (2.48), hardly the type of production expected from a supposed Stanley Cup contender.
Shattenkirk, however, is the Blues’ best puck-moving defenseman. Regardless of his contract status, it’s unlikely GM Doug Armstrong will consider dealing him this season.
If the Blues once again fall short in the playoffs, that’s when a roster overhaul could take place. Depending upon Shattenkirk’s performance, he could be part of those changes.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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