Nick Foligno is having himself quite the contract year

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During the contentious Ryan Johansen negotiations, Columbus president John Davidson said the following:

“We understand the make-up of our team, we understand the CBA, we understand players deserve money and players deserve to be paid the way they should be paid and we’ll continue to do that.”

With that in mind, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Nick Foligno.

The 27-year-old is a pending UFA and playing the best hockey of his life. Through 28 games he leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with 14 goals and 27 points, is getting a boatload of ice time (19:10 per game, up from 16:04 last season) and sits sixth in the NHL with seven power-play goals.

It is, as many have pointed out, quite the contract year.

There’s no denying Columbus wants to keep Foligno and Foligno wants to stay in Columbus. Per the Dispatch, agent Pat Morris has started negotiations with GM Jarmo Kekalainen.

“I’m happy that they’re talking,” Foligno said. “Hopefully they can get something done in a timely manner.”

But two key questions remain: 1) What can Foligno get from Columbus, and 2) What can he get on the open market?

The first question is interesting. For all their bickering with Johansen and Kurt Overhardt, the Jackets do have a history of rewarding players that have, for lack of a better term, “earned it.”

Brandon Dubinsky’s a good example. Viewed as a heart-and-soul guy, he netted a six-year, $35.1 million extension this summer, one Kekalainen called a “well-earned contract,” adding that Dubinsky “plays like we want every Blue Jacket to play.”

Is Foligno held in the same regard? One would think he’s close. He’s been a good foot soldier since coming over from Ottawa in the Marc Methot trade of 2012, and actually played more games in a Blue Jackets uniform (144) than Dubinsky (109).

It’s also worth noting Foligno returned from a knee injury during last year’s playoffs to score this huge OT winner in Game 4 versus Pittsburgh, one of the biggest goals in franchise history:

The open market, though, will be tantalizing.

Foligno’s in the last of a three-year, $9.25 million deal that carries a $3.08M cap hit. It makes him the sixth highest-paid forward on the team; one expects all those figures will rise if he’s back next season.

Columbus shouldn’t have any issues paying Foligno. Even if it needs to break the bank for pending RFA goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, there still would be plenty of money left over — and there’s no telling what additional financial relief could come on the Nathan Horton front if he’s unable to return from a severe back injury.

On the open market, though, Foligno could also score huge.

There just aren’t many guys going to market anymore. Depending on what happens with Chris Stewart and Mats Zuccarello, Foligno projects to be one of the premier forwards under the age of 30 and given some of the deals from last summer — like the $20M Benoit Pouliot got from Edmonton, or $27.5M Florida paid for Dave Bolland — well, the idea testing waters has to be tempting.

And make no mistake, Foligno has value. Aside from career-high offensive numbers, he’s also showcased his versatility over the last few years, frequently shifting between wing and center.

“There have been a lot of times the last three seasons where Nicky has ended up down low in coverage playing the wing,” head coach Todd Richards said, per the Dispatch. “He’s comfortable down there.

“We need that depth down the middle.”

There is a final option to consider here, of course. If Columbus can’t strike deal with Foligno and the trade deadline draws close, would it be willing to risk losing an asset for nothing in free agency? Remember, this is the same club that traded away Marian Gaborik at last year’s deadline — in a year where it made the postseason.