Three of the best players on the Columbus Blue Jackets are impending unrestricted free agents this summer. What could go wrong?
One of those players being recently-acquired Matt Duchene - two-time All-star and seven-season 20-goal scorer. This was a massive addition for the Blue Jackets who have made it clear they are trying to go for a run this postseason.
Duchene is a center that the Blue Jackets have coveted for years now - dictates offensive play, can score, and very importantly, wins face-offs.
Along with Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, these are three players that the Blue Jackets, in an ideal world, would like to keep going into next season. But even they know, this is likely not financially possible, even if all three stars did want to stay in Columbus.
So, what could Matt Duchene's contract situation look like, if the likely scenario happens that at least Bobrovsky (between him and Panarin) leaves this summer? Let's break down what we know:
Matt Duchene is on the tail end of a five-year, $30 million contract that he signed with the Colorado Avalanche in the summer of 2013. A cap hit of $6 million seemed fair for the youngster, who was coming off an injury the season prior and had a career high 67 points three seasons before.
Now, Duchene is a point-per-game player, with 58 through 51 games to be exact. There are only 37 players in the league who are averaging more than a point per game (that have played more than ten games). This puts Duchene in elite company already, and a highly-sought-after player for any club.
What Duchene Wants
In January of this year, the Ottawa Senators offered Duchene an eight-year, $64 million contract, which he turned down, electing to be traded at the very least, or enter the summer looking for a different destination. Bottom line: Duchene knows his starting point in terms of contract talks, but has also made it clear by not committing to Ottawa that he cares about winning, and money isn't the end-all-be-all.
Columbus' Current Situation
Having three impending free agents is hard to balance, but it helps a little bit if one of them (Bobrovsky) is already halfway out the door. For discussions' sake, let's say Bobrovsky walks or is traded, leaving the Blue Jackets to deal with Duchene and Panarin. The NHL salary cap is currently $79.5 million, and Columbus currently has a cap hit of $74,732,369 at season's end. If Bobrovsky darts in the summer, the Jackets will be left around $18 million to work with, and $24 million if Panarin leaves too. If Panarin is gone, this would leave plenty for the Blue Jackets to work with to sign Duchene comfortably, and take care of impending restricted free agents in Ryan Murray and Zach Werenski. If Panarin stays, he has been reported to want around $10-$11 million, so this would call for a trade of one of the Blue Jackets' bad contracts, including Alexander Wennberg or Brandon Dubinsky.
What Columbus Can Offer
The Blue Jackets can offer something to Duchene that no other team in the NHL can offer: an eight-year contract. Since 2013, a seven-year contract limit was put on any unrestricted free agent when looking to sign with a new team. Since Duchene is a current member of the Blue Jackets, they are able to offer him eight years. This may not seem like the biggest incentive, but for someone like Duchene who will be 36-years-old by the time an eight-year-contract expires, and he will still be making eight million dollars that year, that's hard to pass up.
That being said, about Duchene's age, this will certainly play a role in the Blue Jackets' thinking when looking to ink the veteran center. Yes, having an eight-year offer will certainly sweeten the pot, but having a 36-year-old making eight-million is not ideal unless that player is Jaromir Jagr. He's technically already nearing the end of his prime, though it's impossible to predict where the Blue Jackets will be precisely in the standings in the mid-to-late 2020s, so maybe they will be near a rebuild, and the contract won't matter all too much. At the end of the day, if Duchene is asking for anything higher than eight million dollars per season, age will be a good counterpoint by Columbus.
Funny enough, one of the more similar players in the league to Matt Duchene is former Blue Jacket Ryan Johansen, currently with the Nashville Predators. He's an offensive-minded center who is averaging roughly 50-60 points per season and is incredible in the face-off dot. He inked an eight-year, $64 million contract in the summer of 2017 with the Predators, and will be 33-years-old when it expires. Duchene is certainly a better player than Johansen, but his age could knock the bargaining price down if he is looking in the nine-million-dollars-per-year range.
If Matt Duchene signs with the Columbus Blue Jackets, it's because he believes they are a team he could compete on for years to come for Stanley Cup championships. He has set his standard at the very least of an 8x64 contract, but winning seems to matter a good deal to the all-star. With Duchene not getting any younger but also being a point-per-game player, I could see the two sides settling on a mid-to-high eight-million-dollar agreement, let's say 8.7 million, for eight seasons. The Jackets get a discount for the age, and Duchene gets to make bank at 36-years-old. Everyone wins.
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