Brandon Dubinsky has seen it all.
From a top-six center to a healthy scratch, Dubinsky is on the back nine of his career and the polarizing center heads into his age-33 season in a precarious place. The veteran has now played more seasons in Columbus (seven) than he did in New York (six), and skated a career-low 12:21 over 61 games in 2018-19, a season that included injuries and healthy scratches.
Dubinsky has seen his effectiveness as a player lessen in recent years. According to Evolving-Hockey, he had the lowest WAR (wins above replacement) on the Blue Jackets this past season, coming in at -0.5 wins. Put another way, a 'replacement' level player would have contributed half of a win more than Dubinsky did over 82 games. And per hockey-reference, his point-shares (an estimate of the contributions provided by a player) have fallen in every year since 2013-14, from 5.3 to 4.4, from 4.3 to 4.1, and in the past two seasons down to 0.6 and 0.2.
Aside from TOI, Dubinsky has seen his points total decrease as he's aged. His 14 points in 61 regular season games a year ago are his lowest point total and lowest points/game total of his career. The only season that was nearly as fruitless was 2017-18. At points this past season, his role was diminished to taking a face-off (hopefully winning it, something that has, to his credit, improved with age) and getting off the ice, to replaced by the younger and more dynamic Pierre-Luc Dubois (like on this OT goal).
During the playoffs, things changed. The Blue Jackets frequently iced a fourth line featuring Riley Nash (when healthy) and Boone Jenner that resulted in unexpectedly positive results. Some players get teams to the playoffs, while others help teams once they're in the playoffs. Dubinsky may be the latter, but at this point in his career, he's not the former. He showed he still had something to give and appears more built for the playoffs and the style of game that comes along with it, even in a diminishing role.
Now the question becomes: is it worth it for the Blue Jackets to keep him on the books? With $11.7M owed to him over the next two years ($5.85M AAV), he's paid more than all forwards other than Cam Atkinson. There's no debate that he's not worth that cap hit, now or going forward.
The expected UFA exodus should serve to help Dubinsky. Obviously, with fewer quality players returning, his chance of being on the opening night roster seems sound. And, again, he proved to be useful in the playoffs. Even as an overpaid player, he's still a body that can play 8-12 minutes a night. He also displayed (again) his effectiveness as a penalty killer, as he was on the ice for just five power-play goals this past season in almost 79 minutes of PK time.
As one of the leaders of the team, he, along with Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Seth Jones, etc., will be tasked with helping to groom what will again be among the youngest rosters in the NHL. I'm not sure it's enough on it's own to keep him around, but it doesn't hurt his cause, either.
Perhaps most importantly, the Blue Jackets have one of the more enviable cap situations in the NHL and can almost certainly afford to keep him in the lineup. With no contracts on the books (as of this moment) over $6M, they have money to burn.
The arguments for buying him out certainly exist. His lack of offense and acumen for winning face-offs means he plays primarily in a defensive capacity, starting often in the defensive zone at 5-on-5. But even still, his possession numbers were atrocious (45.13% CF%), and he was on the ice for just 12 goals for and 36 against at 5-on-5 over the regular season (.25% GF%).
Per CapFriendly's buyout calculator, the club would save $3.9M in total by eliminating his contract from the books. Instead, they would incur a $1.95M cap hit for the next four seasons, ending after the 2022-23 season. For context, the Blue Jackets will pay over $2.7M combined in 2019-20 for similar buyouts of Fedor Tyutin and Scott Hartnell, with the former coming off the books after this year, while Hartnell's $1.25M cap hit will be removed after 2020-21.
It wouldn't surprise me if he's bought out this summer, but unless the Blue Jackets find themselves as big (read: huge) spenders in UFA or take on additional bad contracts to garner draft picks in trades, I have a hard time rationalizing buying out Dubinsky. Even if he isn't in your top-12 forwards and is a frequent healthy scratch, he'll be off the books in two seasons, which is more appealing than paying him off for four years. Basically, he's just valuable enough to keep around and eat the cost.
This could be a debate worth having again in a year, but as it stands now, I think the Blue Jackets should refrain from buying out his contract.