What Will the Blue Jackets Do With Their Pending Free Agents?

By Rob Mixer on April 27, 2017 at 8:16 am
Sam Gagner
Aaron Doster - USA TODAY Sports
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Free agency is often filled with stories of buyer’s remorse.

NHL general managers wait impatiently for the bell to ring on July 1 and then unleash unused cap space on players they think can take their team over the hump. Not only is it money, but it’s term that comes back to bite GMs who get a little too aggressive on Canada Day.

In the Blue Jackets’ case, they sat on the sidelines a year ago and ended up with one of the better value buys of the summer.

They signed Sam Gagner to a one-year deal worth $650,000 in August, with the hope he could help their power play and contribute minutes either on the wing or at center. For 40-plus games, they got more than they bargained for in the offensive category but it dried up for Gagner in the second half and into the playoffs.

He’s a free agent on July 1, along with trade deadline pickups Kyle Quincey and Lauri Korpikoski. At this point, it would seem like a long shot for either Quincey or Korpikoski to return to Columbus next season, given the club’s ongoing youth movement on the back end and the limited action they saw for the club last year.

With Quincey, there simply isn’t room. Assuming all remains status quo on the back end, the Blue Jackets expect a healthy Ryan Murray back in the fall and Markus Nutivaara will be a year wiser and, hopefully, physically stronger as well. Zach Werenski and Seth Jones will reprise their roles as the top pairing, while Jack Johnson and David Savard figure to round out the top four.

Scott Harrington, Gabriel Carlsson and potentially Vladislav Gavrikov could factor into the mix in training camp – making it hard to justify a contract for Quincey, who will likely have a better opportunity with more playing time on another team.

Korpikoski’s best game in a Blue Jackets sweater may have been his first game, and he didn’t play much at all after that. Expect him to depart via free agency.

And we’re back to Gagner. He’s not an old guy at 27 years old and enjoyed a career renaissance under John Tortorella, so it’s not an automatic “no” when it comes to re-signing him. It will, however, be difficult in the two primary categories: term and dollars.

Gagner set a new career high with 50 points in 2016-17, the most since his rookie year with the Edmonton Oilers in 2007-08. His 18 goals tied a personal best set in 2011-12, also with the Oilers.

Gagner is going to want a multi-year contract and he absolutely should. He’ll likely get it, just not from the Blue Jackets, who have a handful of young players ready to step into more minutes. Gagner is also entitled to a sizable raise from the $650,000 he made this season, and Columbus will be hard-pressed to accommodate too much of a bump in order to give itself adequate room under the cap.

If we had to guess, Gagner will also be testing the free agent waters on July 1 and eventually sign with another NHL club. He’ll have the Blue Jackets and their coaching staff partly to thank, too, as they deployed him smartly and efficiently throughout the season and made sure he was in position to do what he does best.

The two sides reportedly held preliminary contract talks shortly after the season ended, likely to gauge an interest if the player would like to return and what a potential new contract may look like.

We’ll wait and see how this one plays out in the coming weeks.


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