NHL Rumor Mill – April 24, 2021
Are offseason changes in store this summer for the Blue Jackets? Could Patrik Laine, Max Domi or John Tortorella be part of them? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill
THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Aaron Portzline was asked if Patrik Laine’s body language suggests the Blue Jackets winger wants out of Columbus. Citing those who know Laine best, he said the winger does care, wants to be in Columbus and is being maligned by a lack of confidence. Laine becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. Portzline suspects he’ll get a one-year deal, making him an RFA again next summer.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Laine could also pop up in offseason trade speculation. Unless he demands a trade or the Jackets get a mind-blowing offer I expect they’ll re-sign him. A one-year contract could be the best path for now given his difficulties this season.
This was a tough season for the Jackets as a team and Laine personally. The club could have a different coach behind the bench and maybe some news faces in the lineup for 2021-22. Gauging Laine’s play over a normal 82-game schedule will allow them to fully evaluate whether he’s a worthwhile long-term fit.
The likely return for Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo could be underwhelming if the market for goaltenders is flooded this summer. He suggested teams like Colorado, Toronto or Washington could seek help between the pipes if their goaltending fails them in the playoffs.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: This summer’s pending UFA goalies include Boston’s Tuukka Rask, Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer and Toronto’s Frederik Andersen. There could still be a decent market for Merzlikins or Korpisalo assuming Rask and Grubauer sign with their current clubs.
The health of the franchise will depend upon what Seth Jones wants to do. Signing the defenseman to a contract extension this summer has to be the top item on general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s list, followed by deciding whether to sign or replace head coach John Tortorella.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Jones is eligible next summer to become an unrestricted free agent. The Blue Jackets can open contract extension talks once the NHL offseason is in full swing. His contract negotiations could become a hot topic in this summer’s rumor mill. If Jones prefers testing the market it could lead to a franchise-altering trade at some point before next year’s trade deadline.
Tortorella’s critics this season (of which I am one) wonder why he hasn’t been replaced given the Jackets’ decline this season and the struggles of Laine and Max Domi since their arrivals in Columbus. There’s no question he did a good job reversing their fortunes in recent years. Nevertheless, the club’s disappointing performance this season suggests it’s time for a change behind the bench. We’ll find out well before next season if Kekalainen shares that view.
Portzline is against trading struggling forward Max Domi, pointing out the Jackets would be selling low. He wonders if Domi might benefit from a different voice behind the bench.
In another mailbag, Portzline suggests the Jackets might have to package defenseman Zach Werenski to acquire a No. 1 center in the trade market, though they shouldn’t do that unless they know what Jones intends to do. Free-agent options include Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Montreal’s Phillip Danault but the former is really a second-line center and the latter a middle-six guy.
SPECTOR’S NOTE: Boosting the offense should be a priority, even if it means adding wingers if no decent centers can be found. The Jackets require a reliable first-line center but they might have to develop their own while making do in the short term with second-line additions via trades and/or free agency.