Free Agency Preview: Which Forwards Fit the Blue Jackets' Plans?

By Sam Blazer on June 29, 2017 at 7:25 am
Alexander Radulov celebrating after scoring a goal.
Adam Hunger-USA Today Sports

Free agency is quickly approaching and everyone in the NHL knows that the Columbus Blue Jackets are looking to add to their offense this offseason.

They shook the hockey world with their trade of Brandon Saad for Artemi Panarin but they aren't done.

This free agent class isn't very top heavy, yet good value can still be had if a team is looking in the right place.

These are the top five scoring forwards that are available on July 1.

Radim Vrbata (20 goals-35 assists-55 points)

Just guessing without even looking at this list, Vrbata doesn't strike you as a player that would be at the very top of free agency scoring.

Surprisingly in the league for a while, he has carved out a great niche for himself after years of playing on mediocre teams. Playing on a downtrodden Arizona Coyotes team doesn't change that image. At 36 years of age, it is time for him to go Stanley Cup hunting and joining lineups that need a boost. 

Never regarded as one of the best in the game, he isn't a "sexy" signing during free agency. Nonetheless, he is a beacon of consistency. He has only posted a negative Corsi relative to his teammates once in his career and that was his rookie season. He drives play in the right direction and has seen very little drop off over the past few seasons. 

Being that he is an older player, it would be unlikely that Vrbata is pursued by the Blue Jackets. Much like Sam Gagner last season, it wouldn't be surprising to see them circle back around to Vrbata if they strike out on big names.

Alexander Radulov (18 goals-36 assists-54 points)

The Blue Jackets already have a slew of talented Russians on their roster, why not add one more?

Radulov returned from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) this past season with much fanfare as he played a pivotal role in the Montreal Canadiens' offense. He only signed a one-year deal when he came back into the league and now has the league in the palm of his hand.

One of the younger free agents available, it makes sense that many teams are in pursuit. His volatile nature was well-documented when he played for the Nashville Predators but all worries should be cast aside as talent is going to win out in this one.

According to reports, it looks like Radulov is looking for a long-term contract that would pay him up to $7 million a year. That is a lot of cheddar for a player that isn't going to improve your offensive options that much.

The Blue Jackets shouldn't pay that amount of money to a non-elite option even though Radulov is a tempting player to pull the trigger on. If the price drops, Radulov immediately becomes a more tempting option.

Joe Thornton (7 goals-43 assists-50 points)

Thornton is a player that is looking for his Stanley Cup and after multiple close calls with the San Jose Sharks, he is looking to take his talents elsewhere.

Recently tied to the Blue Jackets in a report, Thornton is a compelling player to add to the team. He is a sure-fire first ballot Hall-of-Famer and is one of the most dominant centers of the past generation.

After a knee injury that derailed the tail end of his season, how much is left in the tank?

If he was a free agent after his 2015-16 campaign where he posted a point per game, it could be argued that it is time that the Blue Jackets back up the Brinks truck to his home. This isn't then though, he was well below his career pace and it is tough to pinpoint if this is the regression all players suffer at the end of their careers.

All of the underlying metrics for Thornton scream a player that still has a lot left in his legs. He is a shot differential monster and still controls the game at an elite level.

Reports state that he wants a three-year deal and off of legacy alone, many are going to pay his asking price. Analysis of his play deserves more nuance and he could end up being a risky proposition.

Sam Gagner (18 goals-32 assists-50 points)

The name sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Gagner had one heck of a redemptive season playing for the Blue Jackets and because of it, is about to be paid on the open market. Mostly used as a bottom-six center and power play specialist, projecting him onto other squads is difficult.

He has recently been tied to the Blackhawks as they try to strengthen their power play. He remains an intriguing option to the Blue Jackets as he is a familiar resource. After starting out strong, Gagner tapered off towards the end of the season. Projecting a similar outcome is all about usage.

The Blue Jackets would use him in a similar way but it doesn't look like he is in their plans despite his production. As they try to circle a top flight player, his usage doesn't scream "elite" and unless they miss out on everyone, a match isn't likely.

Thomas Vanek (17 goals-31 assists-48 points)

Vanek was tied with Justin Williams for this spot but with the fewer games played, Vanek wins out. 

After being bought out by the Minnesota Wild, Vanek took a "show me" deal with the Detroit Red Wings and lit up the league. He was subsequently traded at the trade deadline to the Florida Panthers, where he posted a half a point per game pace. Much lower than what he posted in Detroit.

Vanek despite his great scoring and despite his flashy play is a risk to any team that signs him. Not the most consistent player in the world, bringing him in a long-term deal spells trouble. Continuing to bring him in on one-year deals would be a savvy move for a contender. 

With the trade market still abuzz, the Blue Jackets are looking for a game breaking player. That time has passed for Vanek but his usefulness can't be overlooked, teams in desperate need of scoring are going to pay the price. He should strike most contenders as a Plan B option.



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