Sonny Milano's time in the Columbus Blue Jackets organization may soon be coming to an end.
Milano, a first round draft pick from the 2014 draft, has had a turbulent career with the Blue Jackets. Over parts of four seasons, Milano has played a total of 70 games, tallying 15-9-24, and has played in four playoff games (0-0-0). In the early part of the 2017-18 season, the Massapequa, NY native looked to have turned a corner, leading the club with four goals in five games. He finished that year with a career-high 22 points in 55 games but was unable to carry that into the most recent season.
In 2018-19, Milano played just eight games, tallying 1-0-1, before being demoted to Cleveland of the AHL on November 3, where he remained for the rest of the season. An injury derailed season was somewhat salvaged with a stellar playoff performance, where he scored 2-8-10 in just eight playoff games for the Monsters, but the message sent was clear: Milano was not needed in Columbus.
His contract will expire on July 1, at which point he'll be a restricted free agent (RFA). If he's still on the team at that point, the Blue Jackets will extend a qualifying offer to retain his rights. But that's a big if. From Aaron Portzline of The Athletic:
Frankly, it’s hard to believe he remained with the Blue Jackets after the trade deadline... The Blue Jackets will likely be trading a former first-round pick for pennies on the dollar, as he’s regarded around the league as a highly unconventional player.
They’ll extend a qualifying offer to keep his rights, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t be traded at some point this summer. He’ll need to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL next season, so this could be Kekalainen’s last chance to get something for him.
As the Blue Jackets only have two draft picks in the upcoming draft, Milano is a prime trade candidate for the club to recoup some of the picks it traded away in recent months, though he won't fetch a high draft pick given his lack of NHL success.
If he's not traded this summer, the Blue Jackets will be essentially forced to play Milano in the NHL next season, since, as Portzline mentioned, he'll no longer be waiver exempt. Given what we've seen in the past, that's a difficult scenario to imagine. So while trading him for a middling draft pick (at best) isn't the sexy move, it's probably the most prudent, especially given the Blue Jackets dearth of picks in the upcoming draft.
Milano is a frustrating case, as there is no question that he has the skill to play in the NHL, even in a scoring capacity. But John Tortorella has shown through his actions that he's simply not a trustworthy NHL player, and it's not difficult to imagine other coaches coming to similar conclusions.
The Blue Jackets head into June with Milano still within the organization. If he makes it to July, it would be a surprise, since he'll require waivers to be sent to the AHL next season, and because he'll fetch a draft pick (or two) that the Blue Jackets need. While selling low on a player is less than ideal, in this case, it's the sound decision for Jarmo Kekalainen to make.