Ahead of the expansion draft, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a decision to make when it came to exposure and, in the end, paid handsomely for protection for a few players. Among those that the Blue Jackets gave up a 2017 first-round selection and 2019 second-round pick to protect was Josh Anderson.
Paying to protect Anderson, who very well could've been lost, was a no-brainer for the Blue Jackets. The 23-year-old winger put up 17 goals and 29 points in his first full NHL season – he had cups of coffee with Columbus in 2014-15 and '15-16 – and he was showing great promise given those were his numbers in limited minutes. His combination of size (6-foot-3, 221 pounds) and scoring ability made him the perfect middle-six player and one who was projected to take on a third-line role, and possibly some power play time, when the 2017-18 campaign rolled around.
Yet, two weeks into training camp – and three months after the Columbus coughed up picks to protect him and a few others and more than five months after the Blue Jackets' 2016-17 season ended – Anderson remains without a contract, the two sides seem at an impasse and, according to a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman on Thursday, Anderson has requested a trade.
It’s not as if the seemingly heated back-and-forth between the two sides is a revelation. As the off-season has worn on, and as other restricted free agents signed their deals, Anderson has remained one of the lone RFAs whose contract situation is unresolved. (The Detroit Red Wings' Andreas Athanasiou, also represented by agent Darren Ferris, is the other.) The stalemate between the two sides has led to reports of Anderson heading to Europe to start the season and talk of him contacting Hockey Canada to explore the potential of playing for the national team at the Olympics. But this is the first time a trade request has entered the discussion.
It is worth noting that neither party has publicly confirmed the request. After his initial report, Friedman wrote that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen made contact to say the trade request was “news to (him),” before adding Columbus was not looking to deal Anderson. Ferris, meanwhile, refused comment on negotiations, though told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that he “(hoped) to have a resolution soon.”
Even in the chance there's no fire behind the smoke, though, one has to wonder how the situation with Anderson, a player the Blue Jackets made concessions to protect and who possesses potential to be a fixture of their roster for years to come, has reached this point.
The hangup, of course, is the terms of the contract. This doesn’t appear to be a situation in which Anderson wants or desires a change of scenery for a better opportunity or a spot further up the lineup. But when it comes to the deal, it seems as though both sides have dug in when it comes to both term and money. One recent report, coming from TSN’s Bob McKenzie, was that Columbus had offered a one-year qualifying offer or a three-year deal that would see Anderson earn south of $1.9 million. That was followed up recently by an additional report from Portzline saying the two teams were “as little as $150,000” apart on the year-to-year value of the deal. Judging by the fact there’s been no pen-to-paper, it’d be safe to say neither Anderson or the Blue Jackets have decided to budge.
It’s hard not to feel as though that’s a gap that should be able to be bridged, however, even if it’s Columbus that has to extend the financial olive branch. If $150,000, or somewhere in that range, is the difference between the two parties, it’s safe to suggest we’re talking about a bridge deal. For the sake of argument, let’s imagine the terms that would get this done is a three-year, $6-million pact. That’s not an entirely out there suggestion, either, considering Calle Jarnkrok, Micheal Ferland and Carl Hagelin earned in that range after a roughly 30-point season coming out of their entry-level deals over the past four years. So, what would the impact of such a $2-million deal be on the Blue Jackets?
Columbus currently has about $8 million in salary cap space to work with this season with Anderson unsigned, so a $2-million deal would leave them with $6 million left over with and no real moves to be made. Additions at the deadline wouldn’t be all that difficult with $6 million, nor would it really prevent the Blue Jackets from talking trade. OK, so we’re good there. But what about the future?
Well, next season, Columbus does have some work to put in when it comes to free agency. Up for deals as RFAs are Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara. Jenner and Bjorkstrand are the biggest concerns of the four, both capable of earning sizeable raises, but deals for Murray, if he’s even retained, and Nutivaara aren’t exactly going to be bank-breaking. As for UFAs, consideration has to be given to new contracts for Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert and Jack Johnson.
But, even with Anderson signed, cap space shouldn’t be a big concern next year for two reasons. First, removing $2 million from the equation for Anderson, Columbus would have nearly $22 million to spare, per CapFriendly’s projections. Second, that projection could go way up if the salary cap increases, and Friedman reported that there has been mention of a potential $80 million cap next season. That’s an increase of $5 million from this season’s $75-million upper limit. In three seasons’ time, there’s contracts to worry about for Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, both UFAs in July 2019, as well as Zach Werenski, Joonas Korpisalo, Sonny Milano, Lukas Sedlak, Markus Hannikainen and Scott Harrington. Columbus’ projected cap space — sitting at roughly $45.5 million, but without any of the aforementioned signings — should provide enough cushion, however, even if it means one of the UFAs walks.
Some will still argue that bending to Anderson’s desired salary could present some potential pitfalls in the future; other free agents could take a similar hardline stance or Anderson’s contract could give other RFAs a higher comparable contract. But the alternative for the Blue Jackets isn’t much better, especially not if the result of this seemingly contentious contract negotiation is that the high price paid in part to protect Anderson doesn’t result in Columbus keeping him at all.
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