The Columbus Blue Jackets have less than $4.5 million in salary cap space for the upcoming campaign, but that’s not going to stop them from making some minor tweaks and additions to their roster.
According to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline, the Blue Jackets and Sam Gagner are closing in on signing a one-year, one-way deal that will bring the 26-year-old to Columbus next season.
Gagner should come in relatively cheap and shouldn’t eat into the Blue Jackets’ available salary cap space too much. Coming off of an eight goal and 16-point season in 53 games this past season, it’s not the worst gamble for the Blue Jackets to take, either. And with a hole in the bottom-six — and a depth center job open for whoever can step up and take it — Gagner’s ability to play both center and the wing makes him a perfect fit.
As Portzline points out, the likely spot for Gagner is in the middle of the Blue Jackets’ lineup. Brandon Dubinsky is all but assured the spot as first-line center in Columbus, while Boone Jenner could take the second-line role. However, Jenner spent a large portion of the past season on a line with Dubinsky, which could mean he’s destined to shift to a top-line wing role once again. That leaves youngsters William Karlsson and Alexander Wennberg to fight for the right to center the third line, with Gregory Campbell likely spending his season in the fourth-line role again.
If Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is looking for a more experienced option down the middle, though, that’s where Gagner could come in. It could be the exact opportunity he needs at this point in his career, too.
Gagner’s career has hit somewhat of a roadblock over the past two seasons. After a trade sent him to the Tampa Bay Lightning and then almost immediately to the Arizona Coyotes ahead of the 2014-15 campaign, Gagner spent just one year in the desert before being shipped off to the Philadelphia Flyers ahead of last season. And after having eight consecutive seasons in which he eclipsed the 35-point plateau, which includes six 40-point seasons, Gagner’s production fell off a cliff with the Flyers.
But if Gagner’s signing comes in cheap and he can produce anywhere near the 40 points that had been the norm during the early years of his career, it could be a nice, cheap deal for the Blue Jackets. And anything that could potentially help Columbus improve from their 27th-place finish in 2015-16 is worth a shot.
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