With Many Key Contracts Expiring In The Next Two Seasons, The Columbus Blue Jackets Have Created An Abundance Of Roster Flexibility

By Dan Dukart on October 19, 2020 at 1:20 pm
Nick Foligno, Zach Werenski, Seth Jones, and Emil Bemstrom before a faceoff
Cody Glenn-USA TODAY Sports

One of the classic hallmarks of professional sports: the only constant is change.

Like all NHL teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets expect roster turnover year over year, but their current and (near) future salary structure is worth monitoring with a huge number of contracts expiring in the short-term.

Per the wonderful resource CapFriendly, The following players will become UFA (or RFA) after the coming 2020-21 season: Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand (RFA), Alexandre Texier (RFA), Mikko Koivu, Riley Nash, David Savard, Mikhail Grigorenko, Andrew Peeke (RFA), and Brandon Dubinsky. 

Then, after the 2021-22 campaign: Seth Jones, Zach Weresnki (RFA), Elvis Merzlikins, Joonas Korpisalo, Max Domi, Boone Jenner, Emil Bemstrom (RFA), Liam Foudy (RFA), Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington, Eric Robinson, Nathan Gerbe, Gabriel Carlsson (RFA).

Put another way, only Cam Atkinson (through 2024-25) and Gus Nyquist (2022-23) are locked up for at least three more seasons. 

There are really several ways to look at this. On the one hand, it's clear that the front office has complete autonomy to reconstruct the roster on the fly as they see fit in the immediate future, and are anything but handcuffed by long-term, regrettable contracts, hindering no-move clauses, etc.. This goes and hand-in-hand with being among the youngest teams in the NHL for the past several years. That kind of flexibility is highly desirable. It makes the club an easy potential trade partner, it allows them to take advantage of other team's blunders, and it allows the organization a chance to move on from sub-par players with great ease. 

On the other hand, the club has shown a consistent inability to keep high-end talent into their UFA years, and players on expiring contracts (UFA or RFA) haven't been a walk in the park for this front office. Look no further than Josh Anderson, who laid the hammer down in recent contract negotiations that ultimately led to the Blue Jackets trading the winger for Max Domi. Is it a coincidence that Anderson and the club parted ways after contentious contract exploits that led to him sitting out of training camp in 2017 before signing a well-below-market-value contract? Other players, like Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene, left as UFAs as soon as their contracts expired with the club, though their situations weren't the same as Anderson's. 

In case you're not picking up what I'm laying down, the Blue Jackets front office has to be at least mildly concerned that Seth Jones will follow suit and leave as a UFA. Columbus and Jones will be allowed to begin negotiating on a new contract next off-season. That the Blue Jackets acquired zero assets (save for cap space) for Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene hurt the franchise's long-term prospects. The same would hold true if Jones were to walk as a UFA.

Of course, the expectation is that the majority (if not all) RFA players will be within the fold for the foreseeable future. Barring a trade, Werenski, Bjorkstrand, Texier, Foudy, Bemstrom, and Peeke will all be with the club well into the future. But other players, like Nash, Savard, Jenner, and even the captain Foligno, may not remain with the club beyond their existing contracts. Then there are the goaltenders. It looks more and more likely that the Blue Jackets will return both Korpisalo and Merzlikins in 2020-21, but it's unlikely that the club would be able to retain both of these goalies years into the future.  

With great power flexibility comes great responsibility opportunity. For the Blue Jackets front office, the roster flexibility they've given themselves has created the opportunity for myriad future roster decisions. But the pressure will be intensified in the coming year(s) as the club attempts to take the leap from middling playoff participant to Stanley Cup contender.