No offseason in recent years is as pivotal as this offseason for the Columbus. No week in the offseason is as crucial as this upcoming week for the Blue Jackets.
Before the start of free agency on July 28, Columbus has to worry about the NHL Expansion Draft and NHL Entry Draft. Not to mention, the less than 48-hour window between the expansion draft and entry draft that could see blockbuster trades. The league could very well be chaotic during that 48-hour period.
For Columbus, they find themselves in the midst of what many are calling a mini rebuild. The stakes are high for Columbus this week. This week could very well speed up any sort of rebuild or set them back a few years. Here are three things to watch for this week from Columbus.
NHL Expansion Draft
Last weekend, 30 of the 31 current NHL teams submitted their list of protected players. On Wednesday, Seattle gets to pick from a list of unprotected players to put together their team. Columbus is really hoping Max Domi is not going to be a member of the Kraken after Wednesday night.
Over the weekend, Columbus turned a lot of heads around the league when they chose to protect winger Eric Robinson over Max Domi. The word around Columbus management is that they’re hoping Max Domi’s recovery from shoulder surgery could sway Seattle into not picking him. As of now, Domi is set to miss a healthy portion of next season with recovery.
If Seattle chooses to not select Domi, their next best options are defenseman Dean Kukan and center Kevin Stenlund. Columbus has little depth at the center position, so Dean Kukan is the favorable pick to join Seattle. While Domi didn’t have an amazing campaign in 2021, he does provide Columbus with a centerman on one of their top two lines. On the flip side, losing Domi to Seattle means Columbus gains over $5 million in cap space.
Signings and Trades
After the NHL Expansion Draft on Wednesday, most NHL teams will begin striking deals with other teams prior to the start of the NHL Entry Draft on Friday. During those 48 hours, Columbus’ GM Jarmo Kekalainen will be answering phone calls.
With Columbus, nothing is entirely off the table. If the right deal is there, Kekalainen will be sure to take advantage of it. This could be the time when the hockey world finds out who won the Seth Jones sweepstakes and what the Blue Jackets will get in return. As of Tuesday, trade rumors are focused on Chicago and Dallas as the favorites to land the defenseman.
Rumors have been swirling of a potential Patrik Laine trade. Columbus is rumored to be exploring the market for the Finnish winger. Laine is currently a restricted free agent and Columbus’ rumored plans are if contract negotiations go south, they’ll have a backup plan.
Columbus will probably be very aggressive when. It comes to trades during this time to lock up as many draft picks in this year’s draft.
The Blue Jackets currently have six other restricted free agents other than Laine in their organization. Some big names like Alexandre Texier and Andrew Peeke may seek contracts after the expansion draft. Some other players that could seek contracts are unrestricted free agents like Michael Del Zotto and Mikko Lehtonen.
NHL Entry Draft
Prior to Wednesday’s expansion draft, Columbus currently is situated with nine picks for Friday and Saturday’s entry draft. Columbus currently owns three first-round picks, two fifth-round picks and one pick each in rounds three, four, six and seven.
Columbus may use any of their picks in this year’s draft in a trade package, but no matter what picks they do end up using, they’ll need to get them right. With three first-round picks, Columbus has to find at least one franchise player with those picks. If they end up drafting three players who all turn out to be busts, it may set the franchise back a few years.
The 2021 NHL Entry Draft is critical for Columbus to not mess up on. Under Kekalainen, they have done pretty well in drafting solid players. They’ll put that to the test in Friday’s NHL Entry Draft.
Cover Image Courtesy of Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.