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Blue Jackets free agency 2012: Opening day thoughts

By Tom

OK, now we’re talking.

As opposed to last week’s NHL Draft, the moves made today by the Columbus Blue Jackets at the opening of the free agency signing period will actually have an impact on the performance of the team come October (presuming no lockout, of course).  So let’s dispense with the pleasantries and look at what’s under the Christmas tree…presented in chronological order:

CURTIS McELHINNEY (Goalie) – Re-signed

McElhinney was the injured salary dump player from Phoenix in the Antoine Vermette trade.  He’s apparently healthy now, and the Blue Jackets signed him to a one-year, two-way contract.  Drafted in 2002, McElhinney has played in only 69 NHL games for Calgary, Anaheim, Ottawa and Phoenix over 5 seasons with an 19-26-0 record and a 3.10 Goals Against Average.

Considering his history and the fact that the Blue Jackets have time to get another netminder to pair with newly-acquired Sergei Bobrovsky (or keep Steve Mason in Columbus, which surely is a possibility), I think we’re probably looking at a starting goaltender for the Columbus AHL affiliate in Springfield, the Falcons.  So why do we care about the Falcons?  Look no further back than last season, where presumed Falcons netminder Curtis Sanford was drafted into duty for the big club when Mark Dekanich’s injury bug left him at the starting gate all season long.  Sanford started as Mason’s backup and then assumed the starting job.  Point is, you want to know who your goalies are…even those down on the farm.


NICK FOLIGNO (Left Wing) acquired from Ottawa for defenseman Marc Methot

A 2006 first round draft pick of the Senators, Foligno is coming off the best of his five NHL seasons – a 47-point campaign.  As a point of comparison, he put up Jakub Voracek-like numbers for the Sens last season that would have made him the CBJ’s third-leading scorer.  I think it’s safe to say that the Blue Jackets will be looking to Foligno to help add firepower to the NHL’s 26th (out of 30 teams) scoring offense, so slot him in as a top-six forward until told otherwise.

It’s a good time to turn on the jets, too, as Foligno is a restricted free agent (the Blue Jackets essentially traded for his contract negotiating rights) and surely will get paid more than the $1.2 million cap hit he pulled in over the last 12 months.

As for Methot: I know he’s a great guy, popular in the dressing room and with the media and fans alike.  But when Ryan Murray was drafted second overall last week, Methot and his $3 million contract looked like the odd man out.  He wasn’t likely to crack the top two pairings (Wisniewski/Johnson and Tyutin/Nikitin are pretty safe locks), and no sane team puts a $3 million defenseman in a bottom pairing.

Don’t cry for Marc, though.  He’s going home to Ottawa and, after Filip Kuba signed with Florida, it’s very possible that he will be paired with Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson.  Not a bad ride up the professional elevator for a guy who missed so much of the 2011-12 season with his jaw wired shut.


ADRIAN AUCOIN (Defenseman) – Signed

38 years old.  17 years of NHL hockey under his belt.  Signed for a one-year, $2 million contract.  Rumored to be brought aboard as much for his ability to mentor Ryan Murray and John Moore as his on-ice performance.

I smell Vinning, and I like it.



Why am I mentioning a three-year, entry level deal for a 21-year-old who most likely will be in Springfield next season?  First, because of his gaudy (at least by Blue Jackets standards) offensive statistics: 24 goals and 40 assists over 76 games for the AHL Connecticut Whale last season.  A 95-point season (68 games) the year prior on his last tour in major junior hockey for the Quebec Remparts.  Neat stuff – nice to see talent like that in the CBJ pipeline.

There’s also the subtext, which surely isn’t the case but is too much fun to leave off the table: Audy-Marchessault was with the Whale, the AHL farm team of the NHL’s New York Rangers.  The Blue Jackets poached him.  How many more Whale players will the CBJ have to sign before the Rangers get the hint and just trade for Rick Nash?  Nah…not plausible.  Fun, but not plausible.


RICK NASH – Still a Blue Jacket

The hopes that a Nash deal would be consummated with…well, anyone Nash allows himself to be traded to…were dashed as nothing happened before or during the opening of free agency.  It’s presumed that the teams interested in Nash are also interested in top free agent forward Zach Parise, meaning that Parise has to pick which team will lavish him with riches before the non-suitors turn their eyes to trading for the likes of Nash or Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan.

Oh, the general manager of the Ottawa Senators said that they weren’t on Nash’s list of trade-acceptable teams.



That means that Kristian Huselius, Darryl Boyce, Radek Martinek, Brett Lebda and Aaron Johnson are still available.


It was only the first day, but some decent things happened for the Blue Jackets.  Opening day usually is the splashiest day, but the reluctance of Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter to sign is stifling the market somewhat.

As more Blue Jackets signings or trades occur, I’ll be back with additional thoughts.

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