On Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced the signing of Andrew Peeke to a three-year contract worth $8.25M ($2.75M AAV).
The 24-year-old defenseman, who was set to enter the final year of his two-year, $1.575M contract, is now a fixture on the blueline for the foreseeable future. The deal bought one year of his UFA seasons, and thus he'll be a UFA when his contract expires. The move gives the Blue Jackets a solid, right-shot defenseman at a reasonable cap number for a good chunk of his prime. Similarly, it gives Peeke stability and security for the next few years before heading into his theoretical peak (see what I did there?) seasons.
A year after surrendering the most goals in franchise history, the Blue Jackets' blueline isn't without concerns. Zach Werenski is entrenched on the top pair's left side, with Vladislav Gavrikov on the second. Some combination of Jake Bean, Gavin Bayreuther, and perhaps Jacob Christiansen will fight for minutes on the third pair. But while there are uncertainties on the left side, the right side is a complete question mark. Adam Boqvist, Erik Gudbranson, and Nick Blankenburg will all jockey for position on the right side. I recently wrote about the gap in the lineup on the first pair. Can Peeke ever become that player?
The analytics community doesn't believe so. The Athletic's Dom Luszczyszyn has Peeke projected as the club's worst player (tied with Yegor Chinakhov) and was critical of the signing. EP Rinkside's Jack Fraser's (pseudonym JFreshHockey) micro-stats also suggest that he's not a productive player.
This may be a classic eye-test vs. analytics debate, though the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I would argue that his analytics are rightfully poor - Peeke Peeke was inconsistent at times and was thrust into a big-minutes role way ahead of schedule. At the same time, he flashed his potential as a big-bodied, shutdown defenseman with NHL-caliber offensive instincts that evidenced why he was taken with a second-round pick in the first place. He's probably never going to be confused with a Werenski type, but he was never intended to be. If he can be a steadying, solid defender who can play penalty kill, that's a win for the club.
Here's #CBJ D Andrew Peeke, on the eve of training camp, talking about getting a taste of playing on an #NHL top pair last season with Blue Jackets perennial All-Star Zach Werenski: pic.twitter.com/VwVbowt8PM— Aaron Portzline (@Aportzline) September 28, 2022
The Blue Jackets are flush with young defensemen throughout the organization. In the past two drafts, the franchise has added three first-round defensemen, and two of them (Corson Ceulemans and David Jiricek) are right-shot. While neither of them is expected to crack the lineup this season (though never say never...), one or both of them are likely vying for a spot during Peeke's new contract.
By signing the 24-year-old, the Blue Jackets have given themselves an affordable player that can play up and down the lineup. He's still maturing and learning where he fits into a lineup. He told our Coby Maier that he's gained 10-12 pounds this offseason and, along with Gudbranson, should help stiffen a physically underdeveloped blueline.
With the salary cap projected to rise in the coming years, signing a player that can play 18-22 minutes per night to a sub-$3M AAV contract is a tidy piece of business. If Peeke falters, playing him lower in the lineup is a nice worst-case scenario. If he becomes a more impactful player, all the better for the organization. In all, a win-win for player and organization alike.