Columbus’ AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters, can complete a Calder Cup sweep of Hershey with a win on Saturday.
And if that happens, you can expect guys with NHL jobs to be taking even longer looks over their shoulders.
[GM Jarmo] Kekalainen’s job this summer will have more to do with unloading NHL contracts than adding players via free agency or trade. His task is to clear space on the roster and under the salary cap.
“Everybody under contract in Columbus is noticing what’s going on (in Cleveland),” he said, almost ominously.
Rumors have persistently swirled around Columbus and its more expensive veteran players. Scott Hartnell ($4.75M annually through ’19) was the subject of trade rumblings throughout the year, as was d-man Fedor Tyutin ($4.5M through ’18).
David Clarkson, he of the albatrossian seven-year, $36.75 million deal — that expires in 2020 — is considered to be a buyout candidate.
And with Lake Erie’s success, one has to wonder if more moves will happen.
Kekalainen says he “loves” the comparison between his AHL affiliate and Tampa Bay’s cup-winning Norfolk side of 2012. That team featured the likes of Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn, all of whom quickly graduated to the NHL — with great success.
Like that Norfolk team, Lake Erie’s fueled by a crop of quality young prospects: Zach Werenski, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson, Sonny Milano and Kerby Rychel, to name a few.
Werenski and Bjorkstrand are probably the most exciting — the former, still only 18 years old, projects to star on the CBJ blueline next to Seth Jones (Werenski is the No. 2 scoring d-man in the playoffs).
The latter, meanwhile, is tied for the AHL playoff lead with nine goals in 16 games.
This is why Kekalainen might have some difficult decisions moving forward. The Jackets have a lot of well-paid veterans that haven’t been getting it done in recent years, and have five forwards under contract next season that are 30 or older.
Maybe it’s time for some new (and, less expensive) blood?
“I always tell the young players, ‘You play too well for us to send you down, and we’ll make room for you,’” Kekalainen said. “It might take a little while, but we’ll make it happen.
“If somebody deserves to play in the NHL, they’re going to make it.”