Free Agent Futures: Who Stays and Who Goes?

By Jacob Nitzberg on March 26, 2021 at 12:33 pm
Mar 6, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Nick Foligno (71) in action during the game between the Dallas Stars and the Columbus Blue Jackets at the American Airlines Center.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Blue Jackets will have five unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

Nick Foligno, David Savard, Michael Del Zotto, Stefan Matteau, and Riley Nash's contracts will all expire, so the Blue Jackets will have some decisions to make.

They will know very soon if they are still in the playoff hunt. After two games against Detroit, the Blue Jackets will take on the Lightning for two games, then the Panthers for two, then two more against the Lightning. After the final game of that stretch (April 8th), they'll know if they're buyers or sellers for the trade deadline of April 12th.

If they're sellers, multiple pending UFAs could go. If they stay in the playoff race, they'll have some offseason pondering to do.

So who will stay, and who will go?

Nick Foligno

The Blue Jackets' captain has had a tough year. He's tallied just 5-7-12 in 34 games, with one goal in his last 21 contests. Still, there would definitely be teams interested in his services. It would be a big statement from Jarmo Kekalainen to trade Foligno before the deadline, and even if that happens, the possibility that he would come back here in the offseason and sign a one or two-year deal is certainly there. He's in his ninth season in Columbus, and while he's not scoring thirty goals a season anymore, he's still a valuable player in some areas.

Re-Signing Verdict: Likely

David Savard

If the Blue Jackets are sellers at the trade deadline, you can bet the house on them moving Savard before the deadline. He's got lots of experience, and will probably fetch the Blue Jackets a second-round pick, or perhaps even a first. 

Just for fun, let's say that the Blue Jackets remain in the playoff hunt through the deadline and keep Savard. He's currently in the final year of a five-year, 21.25 million-dollar deal with an AAV of $4.25 million. The Blue Jackets have Andrew Peeke, a right-handed defenseman who will be ready to step into Savard's role next season. With Peeke in the wings, it's unlikely that the Blue Jackets will try to retain Savard on anything other than a very team-friendly deal.

Re-Signing Verdict: Unlikely

Riley Nash

The versatile center has bounced around on lines since his arrival in Columbus, playing with the likes of Patrik Laine one night and Eric Robinson the next. He's scored 10 goals in 175 games with Columbus, but John Tortorella is fond of Nash because of his defensive abilities.

He's in the final year of a three-year, 8.25 million-dollar deal with an AAV of $2.75 million. While he is another candidate to head out before the trade deadline if the Blue Jackets aren't doing too hot, Tortorella may want to keep him around. Nash is a solid bottom-six player, and one that the Blue Jackets should try to hang on to for another year or two.

Re-Signing Verdict: Moderately Likely

Stefan Matteau

Matteau is one of those players that you know what you're going to get from him every night. He's going to forecheck hard, battle for pucks, and work his tail off in every facet of the game. Does he have any flair or finesse? Not really. But that's not why you put him out there. He's on the final year of a two-year, 1.45 million-dollar contract with a $725,000 AAV. 

A league-minimum deal makes sense for both parties. He can produce at the AHL level, but he's unlikely to become an offensive contributor at the NHL level.

Re-Signing Verdict: Likely

Michael Del Zotto 

Del Zotto started off the year brilliantly, but he's cooled off as of late. He'd be an intriguing rental for a playoff team, and would likely fetch a mid-round pick in return. If he remains with the Blue Jackets through the deadline, it's tough to see them offering him another deal. He's on a one-year, $700K deal, and it's hard to say that he provides more on the ice than Scott Harrington or Gabriel Carlsson. 

Now, the one caveat is that the Blue Jackets will likely lose Dean Kukan to Seattle in their expansion draft, unless they arrange a deal for the Kraken to select someone else. After protecting Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and Vladislav Gavrikov, Kukan is left exposed. Still, it's doubtful that the 30-year-old will be with the Blue Jackets next season.

Re-Signing Verdict: Unlikely

The RFAs: Patrik Laine, Alexandre Texier, Kevin Stenlund

Each of these three will be extended qualifying offers. Laine and Stenlund are eligible for arbitration, while Texier is not, but these are three players that the Blue Jackets will want to keep around long-term.

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