When the Chicago Blackhawks announced their roster moves yesterday, John Mitchell was among the cuts.
His professional tryout with the Blackhawks had come to an end, as it did for veterans Mark Stuart and Drew Miller.
It can be an uphill battle to make an NHL roster for veterans on professional tryouts. But for Mitchell, he quickly received another opportunity to attend a camp and try to land a spot, signing a PTO with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
#Blackhawks did Mitchell a favor by letting him go early. Saw their kids were ready, let him go early to catch on w club early in camp. #CBJ
Mitchell, 32, has appeared in 548 NHL regular season games with 70 goals and 177 points.
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets are still without forward and restricted free agent Josh Anderson, as the two sides are stuck in a contract impasse right now. It was reported on Thursday that his representatives have been in contact with Hockey Canada about the 2018 Olympics.
Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics
The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.
Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.
While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics.
Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.
Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.
No progress in contract impasse bw #CBJ, Josh Anderson. Doesn’t appear the position of either side has budged since camp started 8 days ago.
So, to reiterate, it could be quite a while before the Avalanche trade Duchene. It’s really difficult to tell, especially since moves can come together quickly after laying dormant for what seems like ages.
So, again, this isn’t to say a trade is coming. With training camp nearing, it’s fun to break down the facets of a possible move, anyway.
Let’s explore the logic of a possible move, though.
A game-breaker for Columbus?
The Hurricanes and Blue Jackets have at least two things in common that could make a Duchene trade more feasible and palatable: each franchise boasts a nice prospect stockpile and lack a true top center.
Now, you can argue that Duchene isn’t an “elite” No. 1 pivot, but he could really flesh out Columbus’ group (and take some pressure off, say, Alex Wennberg).
It’s easy to fixate on Duchene’s rough 2016-17 season, but at age 26, it’s fair to argue that last season was an anomaly. The Avalanche were a borderline historic disaster, and even if Duchene could have played better, it’s absurd to pin too much on the speedy scorer.
Look at his previous four sesaons and you’ll see evidence of a gamebreaker, especially in the low-scoring, modern NHL.
Duchene generated at least 20 goals in three straight seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and he almost hit 20 (scoring 17) during the 48-game lockout season of 2012-13.
The Blue Jackets, to some extent, score by committee. Adding a little more dynamic skill could really help Columbus find that “extra gear.”
Portzline indicates that a package involving Murray and Jenner could move the needle more, so let’s ponder Murray for a moment.
Considering that the Avalanche are shooting high for a Duchene return, they’d have to figure that Murray, 23, needs a fresh start. Management might even see the potential for a high-draft-pick turnaround that parallels how Erik Johnson‘s enjoyed a nice run with the Avs.
Yep, that would require a leap of faith … or the Avalanche would really need to be smitten by Boone Jenner.
Jenner is an interesting test case in perception.
Yes, he scored 30 goals in 2015-16, but nine of them came on the power play. Jenner was limited to 18 goals in 2016-17, with none coming on Columbus’ locomotive man-advantage. Realistic expectations probably place him at 20 goals with modest playmaking.
Jenner brings nice size and is only 24, so there are selling points.
Jenner ($2.9M, RFA after 2017-18) and Murray ($2.825M, RFA after 2017-18) and Duchene ($6M, UFA after 2018-19) all have their strengths and weaknesses. They’re all at or approaching a fork in the road in their careers with little time on their current contracts.
A Jenner + Murray combo could make some sense for the Avalanche, especially with both being at prime ages. You’d think that the Blue Jackets might need to sweeten the deal with a prospect, at least considering how big Sakic is seemingly dreaming.
Personally, from a Blue Jackets perspective, this seems like a great deal.
It would set the stage for a potentially fascinating summer of 2019, as Duchene, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky would all be eligible for unrestricted free agency. On the other hand, that would allow Columbus to assess where the franchise is at over a season or two, and pivot if they feel that this group just can’t get it done.
One understands the lure of hoarding prospects, especially with how fans can sometimes get attached to the daydream of production that may never come. Sometimes you have to swing for the fences, though, and the Blue Jackets might want to do that with Duchene.
You know, if they can actually convince Sakic to accept a reasonable deal.
Report: No contract, no Blue Jackets camp for Josh Anderson
Interestingly, Ferris noted to Portzline that Anderson, 23, could skate with a pro team in Switzerland if a deal continues to be on hold.
The Blue Jackets are really starting to get into gear with training camp on Thursday and Friday, while their first preseason game is scheduled for Sept. 19 (a week from tomorrow). That’s not a ton of time for a process that lacked “urgency,” according to what Ferris told Portzline.
Pondering Anderson’s value
We’ve seen some recent RFA impasses break up lately, with Sam Bennett receiving a deal that carries an AAV just under $2 million while Anthony Duclair will carry a $1.2M cap hit for a season.
It’s unclear what Columbus is offering and it’s also unclear what Anderson wants as far as years or dollars are concerned.
As a fourth-rounder (95th overall in 2012), he lacks the pedigree of a guy like Bennett. Anderson didn’t do much in the 18 games he spent with Columbus between 2014-15 and 2015-16, but last season was quite the breakthrough.
In 78 games, Anderson generated 17 goals and 12 assists for 29 points while totaling 89 penalty minutes. He also scored a goal and an assist in five postseason games. To his credit, Anderson managed solid numbers with minimal time on the Blue Jackets’ outstanding power play.
Looking at his work at other levels, it’s clear that he figures to focus on scoring goals, although Anderson isn’t afraid to “mix it up.” His 17 goals came on 119 shots on goal, good for a 14.3 shooting percentage, so he’d probably need to fire the puck more often in the future to continue to regularly hit 15-20 goals.
There’s value in a player like that, particularly since there’s conceivably some room to grow at age 23. The question, for both sides, is “How much?” The Blue Jackets boast almost $8M in cap space according to Cap Friendly, so this is a matter of value, although Columbus’ internal budget isn’t necessarily aiming for the cap ceiling.
If all of this uncertainty leaves Blue Jackets fans unsettled, take heart; at least there are “dad jokes.”
(Read more about his six-year deal with a $4.9 million cap hit here.)
Locking up the intriguing 22-year-old talent settles a big question for the Blue Jackets, but after looking at their salary structure, some agonizing decisions remain. Let’s look at some of those situations and their cap future overall, with help from Cap Friendly’s always-helpful listings.
Wennberg is signed through 2022-23, making his deal the longest-standing contract on the Blue Jackets’ roster right now. There are other significant deals, though.
The best one, for my money, is Seth Jones: his $5.4M cap hit runs through 2021-22. The 22-year-old is already starting to put together the numbers (career-high 12 goals and 42 points last season) that make him more than what he already was: a developing star. Even if he bounces somewhere between “very good” and “legit star,” just about any team would fork over $5.4M per year for Jones.
David Savard isn’t too shabby at $4.25M through 2019-20, standing as the only other blueliner with a lengthy deal for CBJ.
Wennberg’s deal stands along with two other forwards as far as lengthier contracts go. Nick Foligno ($5.5M through 2020-21) really improved his standing in the league last season, while Brandon Dubinsky ($5.85M through 2020-21) poses some concerns considering his rougher style and the fact that he’s already 31.
(Then again, you can have worse things on your resume than “Premium Sidney Crosby Disturber.”)
Several Blue Jackets face especially fascinating fork-in-the-road seasons.
Cam Atkinson exploded with an All-Star output last season, finishing with career-highs in goals (35), assists (27), and points (62). Ten of his goals and 21 of those points came on that power play, and being that he’s already 28, Columbus might be right to see if he slips a bit before making a big investment.
That said, Atkinson probably ranks as an underrated player, or at least he once did. This marks four straight seasons with at least 21 goals and 40 points.
The question isn’t about Atkinson getting a raise, but instead the keys are “How much of a raise?” and “For how long?” Atkinson carries a $2.9M AAV and would be an unrestricted free agent.
Both defensemen are intriguing. Murray, 23, has experienced a frustratingly stilted development thanks to injuries. Johnson, 30, draws plenty of criticism for his defensive play, and one would guess that Columbus would prefer to get a discount on another deal if they bring him back.
As significant as those expiring deals are, the two-year contracts stand as the biggest choices.
A year after injuries and inconsistency made Sergei Bobrovsky‘s $7.425M cap hit look questionable, a brilliant Vezina year (albeit somewhat tainted by playoff struggles) make that price look like a borderline bargain. Still, “Bob” is 28, so he’ll be 30 at the end of his current contract. If he wants a significant raise on a fairly significant clip, will Columbus be on board?
There’s some room for intrigue, as Joonas Korisalo’s $900K deal goes away after two years, as well.
“Cost certainty” was a theme of the Blackhawks’ explanations for their sometimes-shocking summer swaps, and that thought stands out in what Columbus got back in trading Brandon Saad, whose $6M cap hit expires in 2020-21. Artemi Panarin, meanwhile, is only covered through 2018-19 at the same $6M clip.
If Panarin proves that he can generate a ton of offense without Patrick Kane, his price tag could be significant; he’d only be 27 and is slated for UFA status. *Gulp*
The good news is that Zach Werenski (or Zachary?) stands as a tremendous rookie-deal-steal at $925K for two more seasons. The bad part is that Werenski would be in line for a big raise in 2019-20 and beyond.
With Bobrovsky, Panarin, and Werenski all having two years remaining on their contracts, it’s clear that Columbus has some decisions to make, whether they hand out extensions in the summer of 2018 or wait until deals expire.
Considering how dour things seemed for Columbus just a summer ago, the outlook is a lot sunnier today.
Even so, GM Jarmo Kekalainen faces some crucial choices in the next year or two. Which ways would you lean?
* – Some Blue Jackets execs might root for a Bjorkstrand breakout in 2018-19.