Blue Jackets Sunday Gathering: How will GM Don Waddell approach free agency?

COLUMBUS, Ohio — A collection of notes, insights, ruminations and did-you-knows gathered throughout the week that was for the Columbus Blue Jackets:

Item No. 1: Free agency primer

Don Waddell has tried to temper excitement heading into the start of NHL free agency on Monday. The Blue Jackets want to make changes, absolutely, but this is not the time — or the best way — to add game-changers or superstars.

“I don’t anticipate doing a whole lot in free agency,” Waddell, the Blue Jackets’ president and general manager, told reporters after the NHL Draft ended on Saturday in Las Vegas. “But we’re going to tweak a couple of things.”

Waddell wants to add reliable, consistent veteran players on both ends of the ice, players who can help show the young players how to thrive in the NHL without blocking them from opportunities to play higher in the lineup. It’s a tricky balance, sure.

Look for the Blue Jackets to add one or two players at both forward and defense, and they seem to have no other options — Waddell’s words — than to stick with their goaltending tandem.

Let’s look at the both ends of the ice, first by accounting for the players we expect to return, and then by the players we expect Waddell and the Blue Jackets to pursue.


The main reason Waddell traded winger Alexandre Texier to St. Louis last week is that he wanted to clear space for the incoming new faces.

There are a couple of other ways he can do that further. Patrik Laine and the Blue Jackets have mutually agreed to trade Laine this summer, and they’ll likely do everything they can to facilitate that. There’s also the specter of a buyout for fourth-line wingers Mathieu Olivier and Justin Danforth.

Asked if the Blue Jackets planned any contract buyouts by the 5 p.m. deadline on Sunday, Waddell was surprisingly noncommittal.

“Decision in the morning (on Sunday),” Waddell said in a text conversation with The Athletic.

Who’s back: For now, we’re counting 12 forwards (listed alphabetically): Yegor Chinakhov, Justin Danforth, Adam Fantilli, Johnny Gaudreau, Boone Jenner, Kent Johnson, Sean Kuraly, Kirill Marchenko, Alex Nylander, Mathieu Olivier, Cole Sillinger and Dmitry Voronkov.

Make that 13, because a Laine trade is likely to bring a forward back to Columbus.

Of that group, Johnson, Marchenko, Nylander and Sillinger are restricted free agents. You can bet the bank that Johnson, Marchenko and Sillinger will be qualified and eventually re-signed, but it’s unclear what Waddell has planned for Nylander.

If Nylander is not qualified, the Blue Jackets will have 12 forwards targeted for NHL jobs. If Danforth and/or Olivier have their contracts bought out, the Jackets would be down 10 or 11 NHL forwards.

Possible targets: With that collection of forwards, there’s probably room to sign two lineup regulars.

One name to keep in mind is veteran center Sean Monahan, who spent nine seasons with Gaudreau on the Calgary Flames. The two remain very close friends. Monahan has been dogged by injuries in recent seasons, but he played every game in 2023-24 and scored 26 goals between Montreal and Winnipeg.

Monahan would be a bigger signing than Waddell has primed us to expect, but it’s unclear if they can land him.

Two other names to keep in mind have played under Waddell in Carolina: Stefan Noesen and Jordan Martinook, who are highly competitive third- or fourth-line players. And what about former Minnesota and Colorado fourth-liner Brandon Duhaim?


The Blue Jackets have two top prospects — David Jiricek and Denton Mateychuk — who will get long looks in training camp to make the roster. Jiricek has played two seasons of pro hockey, while Mateychuk has just finished his major-junior career.

Waddell will likely be patient with both players, only keeping them on the NHL roster if he believes they’re ready. And he might not be able to reach that conclusion until after the preseason, when he’s watched them play a few games.

Who’s back: Adam Boqvist, Erik Gudbranson, Ivan Provorov, Damon Severson and Zach Werenski would seem to be targeted for lineup spots unless Waddell swings a trade or two.

Jake Bean is a restricted free agent, but it would be a surprise if Waddell extends him a qualifying offer, allowing him to become a free agent. That’s why we’re not counting Bean in the above paragraph.

There’s a chance that Provorov, who’s heading into the final year of his contract, could be deemed expendable of the Jackets get a decent trade offer.

If Jiricek amd/or Mateychuk make the roster, they’ll have to be able to eat decent minutes, otherwise they might be better served playing in AHL Cleveland. (Although who knows what Jiricek might do if he gets demoted against next season. That did not go well last season.)

Possible targets: With this numbers, the Blue Jackets may sign one or two defensemen in the marketplace, and they’d likely be second-pairing guys on the right side and a third-pairing guy on the left.

There’s a long cast of players who fit that description. First, the right shots: Tyson Barrie, Alexandre Carrier, Matt Dumba, Colin Miller, Matt Roy and Sean Walker. And the left: Ian Cole, Matt Grzelcyk and Dmitri Kulikov.

Item No. 2: Trade talks

How badly did the Blue Jackets want to draft center Cayden Lindstrom with the No. 4 pick on Friday? Just listen to the trade offers they turned down, and these are only the ones that became public over the weekend.

The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun reported that the Philadelphia Flyers offered the No. 12 overall pick, a second-round pick in this year’s draft, a first-round pick next year (previously belonging to Colorado) and a roster player for the No. 4 pick, which they planned to use on Russian winger Ivan Demidov. The Blue Jackets declined.

LeBrun also reported that the Chicago Blackhawks, who already held the No. 2 pick, wanted to add the No. 4 pick. They offered their first-round pick (not lottery-protected!) and a second-round pick in next summer’s draft. It’s unclear who the Blackhawks were targeting, but again the Blue Jackets said no.

One final offer, as reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, involved Waddell’s former employer, the Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are trying to trade restricted free agent forward Martin Necas due to a salary-cap crunch. Apparently, Necas was dangled as part of a package that would have delivered the No. 4 overall pick to Carolina.

Waddell said the Blue Jackets likely would have accepted one of those offers if Lindstrom had gone off the board with one of the first three picks. They also had talks ahead of the draft with Montreal, which held the No. 5 pick, Waddell said.

Item No. 3: Foes to bros

Lindstrom and Charlie Elick, the Blue Jackets’ second-round pick (No. 36 overall) on Saturday, have played against each other in Western Canada for many years now. They’ve also been teammates on Team Canada in the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, also known as the IIHF World Under-18s.

Given their potential and pedigree, they are expected to one day be teammates with the Blue Jackets, too. Which makes what happened last November all the more interesting.

Lindstrom and Medicine Hat had a 5-1 third-period lead over Elick and the Saskatoon Blades, but teams in the old-school WHL don’t just run out the clock. Temperatures were high as Elick and Lindstrom came out off the penalty box to join play.

A few seconds later, they were locked up along the wall and the gloves came off.


Lindstrom probably won the fight via a decision, but both players got their money’s worth before heading right back to the penalty box.

They quickly went back to being friends, too, because … well, hockey.

“We got pretty heated that game,” Elick said. “We were losing by quite a bit, so it was a heated matchup. But we’re good guys and good friends still. Two good players going at it and we ended up fighting, but we’re still friends.

“It’s so great to experience something like this (the draft) with him.”

Item No. 4: Snacks

• Waddell confirmed after the draft ended on Saturday that he’s not yet begun interview coaches for the Blue Jackets’ head coaching vacancy. “We’ll start that process in the next few days, for sure,” Waddell said. “This (past) week was going to be a busy week. With free agency (this coming week), probably not a lot is going to happen.” The Blue Jackets are expected to interview three or four veteran coaching candidates, including former San Jose, Edmonton and Los Angeles coach Todd McLellan and former Minnesota Wild coach Dean Evason.

• As of Saturday afternoon, the Blue Jackets had not yet been told that Laine was cleared from the NHL/NHLPA players’ assistance program. Waddell, more than a week earlier, had said he expected it to occur “any day now, hopefully.” The Blue Jackets, by NHL rules, are allowed to trade Laine while he’s still in the program, but Waddell has said that the teams interested in trading for Laine have made it clear they’d like to speak with him first. The first objective, of course, is for Laine to be well before he’s cleared. But the Blue Jackets had hoped it would happen before the draft, which is a prime time on the leagues calendar to swing trades, especially those involving big-ticket players like Laine ($8.7 million salary cap). The Jackets and Laine can still pursue a trade, but the further it goes into summer, the more difficult it will be.

• TSN analyst Craig Button, a former NHL GM, speaking with The Athletic’s Michael Russo, had some pointed words for the Blue Jackets when discussing Laine and the possibility that he could be traded to Minnesota: “What does he do as well as anybody? He scores,” Button said. “So he ends up in Columbus. No center. Patrik Laine needs somebody that’s going to get him the puck, right? So now you get disappointed. ‘Oh, he’s not scoring.’ Now he puts pressure on himself and whatnot. If you put players in the right situation, I don’t care where you are, then I think a player can thrive and be successful. Patrik is an elite goal-scorer. How many elite goal scorers are there in the National Hockey League? Not that many. I’m talking elite, one of the very best.”

• Button also brought Johnny Gaudreau into the conversation: “Johnny Gaudreau was one of the top players for years in the league. He ends up in Columbus, and now it’s, ‘Oh, what’s wrong with Johnny Gaudreau?’ You know what’s wrong with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine? Columbus. Patrik is 26 years old. We’re not talking a 33-year-old. I just think that he’s got lots of qualities that you want. Big size, he knows how to get space and he’s hungry. I’d be interested in Patrick Laine, big time.”

• The Jackets have until 5 p.m. on Sunday to extend qualifying offers to their remaining restricted free agents: forwards Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, Alex Nylander and Cole Sillinger, and defenseman Jake Bean. Of that group, Nylander and Bean are probably the only question marks. If they aren’t given qualifying offers, they’ll become unrestricted free agents on Monday, free to sign with any team. The Jackets also have a collection of minor-league RFAs who need qualifying offers: forward Tyler Angle, defenseman Marcus Bjork and Jake Christiansen, and goaltender Jet Greaves.

• The Blue Jackets had the option of sending Philadelphia their second-round pick this year (No. 36 overall) or next season to complete the trade last summer that brought defenseman Ivan Provorov to Columbus. They kept this year’s pick — and drafted Elick — so the 2025 pick now belongs to the Flyers.

• There was a mini-Blue Jackets reunion in Puglia, Italy, last week. Cam Atkinson, Scott Harrington, Scott Hartnell, Seth Jones and Nick Foligno traveled to attend Josh Anderson’s wedding.

• The Blue Jackets said they expect all six players drafted over the weekend to attend this week’s development camp in the IceHaus attached to Nationwide Arena. The first on-ice session is Tuesday. A roster should be released in the next couple of days.

(Photo of Don Waddell: Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top