After the All-In: A Look at the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Cap Situation

UPDATE 07/29: Since we wrote this post back in March, a lot has changed in Columbus. Mainly in that all four of the players discussed in this post have signed elsewhere.

Artemi Panarin went to the New York Rangers on a 7 x $11.64 million contract, making him the second highest paid player in the league at the time of signing, behind only Connor McDavid. This is significantly higher than I predicted back in March based on performance and comparables. I figured he would be around $10 million per season. Though, as we saw with other winger contracts, such as Kevin Hayes and Jeff Skinner, the expected numbers got blown out of the water.

Sergei Bobrovsky is filling the void left by the retirement of Roberto Luongo and trade/buy-out of James Reimer/Scott Darling with the Florida Panthers on a 7 x $10 million contract. This is right on track with Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, and in fact, is slightly less than I anticipated, with an earlier prediction of $10.25 – $10.5 million.

Matt Duchene was also on the move, signing a 7 x $8 million contract with the Nashville Predators. This is right in line with the 8 x $8 million offer he received from the Senators earlier in the season, which was on the low end of what I predicted he would get anywhere else as well. Although Duchene was not affected by the jump in AAV seen in other wingers, interestingly enough.

Lastly, Ryan Dzingel remains unsigned as of July 9th. He will be a bit of an oddity, in my opinion, as he is a prime candidate for one of the overpayments we typically see from free agency. His performance leading into the end of the season and through the playoffs with Columbus left a lot to be desired, which may have put some hesitancy for GM’s in signing him.

Regardless, the Columbus Blue Jackets gave up a lot for this chance to go deep into the playoffs. And although they had their best season ever, sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the 2019 NHL Playoffs, this team will look significantly different next season.

The 2019 NHL Trade Deadline brought hockey fans one of the boldest plays by any team in recent memory. The Columbus Blue Jackets, realizing that two of their best players may walk in free agency, decided to go #AllIn on a 2019 playoff run. They kept Panarin and Bobrovsky. Then, they acquired Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Adam McQuaid to bolster their chances in the highly competitive Eastern Conference.

Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen appears to have put a dent into their prospect pool for this one playoff run (which, by the way, they may have to face the historically dominant Tampa Bay Lightning). Kekalainen does not feel he has mortgaged the future with these moves, but lets face it; he now has 4 high profile potential UFA’s heading into one offseason, the team has just 2 picks in the 2019 draft (a 3rd and a 7th), they have 5 picks, possibly 4 if Duchene resigns, in the 2020 draft (rounds 4 through 7, their first is conditional at the moment), and, he traded away 2 of the organization’s better prospects, Abramov and Davidsson, to acquire Duchene.

The next 3 years of Columbus’ draft picks

If Columbus has anything going for them right now it’s that they have a strong, young core on the team already (aside from the potential UFA’s) with talented defensemen to help them remain a solid team, with or without the likes of Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene, and Dzingel.

But, hypothetically speaking, what if Columbus has a successful playoff run? And that, combined with the additional support Kekalainen brought in for Panarin and Bobrovsky, is enough to entice the two stars to stay in Columbus? This would certainly negate the effect of the likely multi-year gap in the prospect pool, all while simultaneously solidifying Columbus’ place as elites in the East for a time to come.

So, what’s stopping them? Well, potentially cap space and any internal cap placed on the team. I was curious if the team could keep all of these players, so I decided to see what the Columbus Blue Jackets cap space situation looks like going into the offseason.

On first glance, this looks like it could be a bit rough for the team to try and retain all of these players. Currently, the Blue Jackets will have $29,847,501 in cap space come July 1st. The NHL projects the cap to rise to approximately $83-million next season, giving an additional $3.5-million. So, the Blue Jackets could be looking at roughly $33-million in cap space this offseason.

Each of the players is likely to garner around a $2 million raise this offseason and they also have RFA Zach Werenski to sign.

Artemi Panarin

Artemi Panarin, currently making $7-million per season, is definitely due for a raise. Although he has a bit less NHL experience than his closest comparables, his performance (and pro experience in Russia) is enough to counter that. Running a test for Panarin through the comparables tool on CapFriendly at a future cap hit of $9.5-million shows somewhat comparable contracts to those signed by Mark Stone, Jamie Benn, Rick Nash, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Toews, and Jakub Voracek.

Some comparables of Artemi Panarin

Note: The % match and actual cap hit/AAV aren’t as important in what I am looking at. In order to evaluate the comparables, I am looking at the CH% (cap hit percentage), career GP, and career points. For each player, I put in the approximate cap hit they could receive and put the GP and points for the reference contract as an estimate for the end of this season.

In my opinion, the closest comparable will lie somewhere between Jamie Benn and Evgeni Malkin, taking into account Panarin’s point production. The closeness of Mark Stone due to his recent signing is also a good indicator of where Panarin will sign. Stone is a more two-way forward than Panarin, however.

Due to the success of the players (Benn with individual hardware and captaincy, Malkin with individual awards and a Stanley Cup) and Panarin having less NHL seasons played, Panarin’s cap hit percentage will likely be less than those two. At $9.5-million with a projected $83-million cap ceiling, Panarin would account for 11.4% of the cap, which is significantly less than Benn and Malkin. We may expect Artemi to get somewhere in that $9.5 – $10-million/year range, likely closer to $10-million. That would be a $2.5 – $3-million raise over his current cap hit.

Matt Duchene

Matt Duchene’s contract is a bit easier to predict since we already know what he was offered. Before being traded, the Senators offered Duchene a contract for $64-million over 8 years, giving Duchene an annual cap hit of $8-million ($1-million more than he makes right now). But, just for fun, let’s throw that in CapFriendly and see how it compares.

Comparables for Matt Duchene

We see some very close comparables in the contracts signed by Steven Stamkos and Logan Couture. Although Matt Duchene has more games played than Stamkos and Couture, he has lower point production than both and less individual awards than Stamkos. Factoring this in, Duchene will be looking at a cap hit percentage closer to Couture. Therefore, Duchene could sign in the range between $8 – $8.3-million, which would place him at the 10% cap hit percentage of Couture.

Sergei Bobrovsky

Sergei Bobrovsky is also due for a bit of a pay raise. As one of the best goalies in the NHL over the last 5 or 6 years, earning a couple of Vezina Trophies for his efforts, Bobrovsky is reportedly looking for a Carey Price-esque contract. This would put Sergei at (or above) a $10.5-million per season cap hit.

With Bobrovsky already being 30 (though Price and Lundqvist both signed their deals at similar ages), coming off a season with a SV% and GAA well shy of his outstanding career averages, and playoff performances leaving much to be desired, I see this as being a bit of a reach. Especially now that we see the long-term reaction to Price’s contract. But, it is hard to dispute Bobrovsky’s merits as a top-5 goalie in the NHL and he will get paid accordingly.

Comparables for Sergei Bobrovsky

Unfortunately, we don’t get a sense of performance comparisons on this tool for goalies, but it shows enough to get a sense of what type of contract Bobrovsky could be signing.

Price and Lundqvist are the best comparables, and they both received a 13-14% cap hit percentage. They do have more games played at this point in their careers, the equivalent of about a season or two. How Bobrovsky finishes this season (and performs in the playoffs if Columbus makes it) will have a major impact on the final number. Simply putting in the 13-14% of the cap places Bob’s next cap hit range at $10.79 – $11.62-million per season. I feel that is a bit high, personally, and would see Bobrovsky getting closer to a $10.25-million – $10.5-million range.

Ryan Dzingel

Ryan Dzingel has risen through the ranks over the last 3 seasons. He is now viewed as a solid 2nd line forward with scoring potential. He has had a career year in the 2018-19 season, currently sitting at 50 points in 68 games as of the writing of this post. With a $1.8-million cap hit right now, Dzingel has put up numbers deserving of a raise.

With a wild jump in these comparables on career GP and points, it is more difficult to pinpoint exactly where Dzingel will end up. But, the common theme amongst them is the roughly 6.5% cap hit percentage the comparables signed for. With Dzingel having lower numbers (GP, points, points/game) and being primarily utilized as a winger (based on face-offs taken this season), I see his contract being on the lower end of this scale. Somewhere between 6 and 6.5% of the cap. This would have Dzingel’s next cap hit being around $5 – $5.4-million. I don’t see Dzingel making that much and would be more inclined to suggest something around $4.5 million, but it is hard to dispute the value of comparable contracts.

The Overall Situation

Restating some numbers from before, Columbus will have about $33-million in cap space this coming offseason. With Panarin at $10-million, Duchene at $8.5-million, Bobrovsky at $10.5-million, and Dzingel at $5.4-million (aiming for the upper range of my predictions, save for Bobrovsky because I do not see him getting over $11-million), Columbus will be looking at $34.4-million for just those players.

Additionally, Columbus will have to sign defenders Adam McQuaid (if they would like to retain him), Zach Werenski, and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. So, they’re going to need a few million dollars freed up somewhere. A trade, perhaps?

Look no further than underperforming centre Alexander Wennberg. He has been a healthy scratch on occasion and was rumoured to be part of one of the trades for Duchene or Dzingel. Trading him would free up $4.9 million per year for the next 4 seasons, giving the team enough room to retain all of these players. It could also be enough for Werenski’s contract as well, if he were to sign a shorter bridge deal similar to Darnell Nurse this past offseason.

Unsure of a potential destination for Wennberg? I would be looking primarily at the Ottawa Senators. Ottawa will be just trying to hit the cap floor next season, as they have most of their roster under contract and lots of cap space. However, it is no secret the Senators operate under a tight internal budget, meaning taking on extra, unnecessary salary will not be an appealing proposal to Scrooge McDuck Eugene Melnyk. We can only hope that Pierre Dorion will be able to convince ownership that this will actually help, by treating cap space as an asset to acquire prospects or draft picks for the rebuild.

I could also see the New Jersey Devils being a target to take on some extra cap hit. The team is in the middle of a minor rebuild, mostly focused on filling up their prospect pool after a season decimated by injuries.  For the Devils, this coming offseason will be fairly tame in terms of big-name resignings and they are already at the lower end of the cap range. Taking on a forward to help give them some 2nd or 3rd line depth may be wise.

But, this is assuming Columbus can retain all of these major UFA’s. Realistically, they will not be facing cap hell. In my opinion, it is unlikely that all of these players stay in Columbus. Speculation spread that Panarin and Bobrovsky were looking elsewhere, even being targeted by the Panthers as a combo signing. If Duchene, Panarin, and Bobrovsky do stay, Ryan Dzingel is a perfect candidate for free agency. This will help him get an appropriate contract (an overpay, even) based off his performance the last 2 seasons. And, a number of teams will be eager to add a speedy, scoring, mid-line winger to solidify their forward depth.

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