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Huge If True: Can Columbus escape salary cap hell?

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a tough spot.

They're a really bad team, first and foremost. They finished fourth from the bottom of the league last season, and that was a number that felt more or less correct, to be perfectly honest.

But perhaps a worse problem they now face is the fact that, in terms of cap commitments for next season, they're currently second in the league(!!!!!) at more than $68 million. That's against a likely cap of no more than $73 million or so, and with a little-known free agent called Seth Jones still unsigned.

Clearly, this is the first order of business for Jarmo Kekalainen. He has to put very little thought into the draft in a lot of regards — pick Jesse Puljujarvi at No. 3 and then figure the rest out — but he has a lot of rotten contracts that need to be cleared out ASAP.

I mean, you look at this list and there are, what, seven deals where you start to get flop sweat just thinking about signing them?

This is a major problem for the team, especially because a lot of those deals are long-term in nature. And we see from Chicago how teams have to go about selling off bad assets to make cap space for players they actually want to keep around.

The question quickly becomes a simple one: Does Columbus have the assets and the will to make deals like this happen?

The Rumor
When you start looking at the options of “Guys You'd Prefer To Not Pay In A Perfect World” on a league-wide basis, Columbus is the leader in the clubhouse by a wide margin. Brandon Dubinsky ($5.85 million until he's 35), Nick Foligno ($5.5 million until he's 33), David Clarkson ($5.25 million until he's 36), Scott Hartnell ($4.75 million until he's 37), Fedor Tyutin ($4.5 million until he's 34), Jack Johnson ($4.36 million until he's 31), and David Savard ($4.25 million until he's 30) are all clear problems for myriad reasons.

Some of these guys just shouldn't have salaries like this. Others are being paid for far too long. Most are firmly in the “Both A and B” camp.

So it's a real problem.

There are some contracts that are just unmovable, or that the Blue Jackets continue to misevaluate. For instance, a quick scan of any rumors with respect to what the team is looking to do in the next few weeks doesn't indicate much movement at all on Jack Johnson or David Savard, both of whom have unconscionable contracts. Dubinsky, likewise, doesn't seem like a candidate to move.

So now we're down to bad deals for Clarkson, Foligno, Hartnell and Tyutin.

The problem with the Clarkson contract is that no one is going to want it, obviously. Moreover, though, there are somewhat persistent rumors that they might just LTIR him into oblivion, and bite the bullet on paying that terrible contract (for which they happily traded because they already had a guy who was overpaid and couldn't physically perform any more) until it expires. That's not such a bad idea, of course, because at least that's a cap constriction coming off the books. That makes the Blue Jackets' situation significantly more manageable.

But not ideal. Which is why you've heard Tyutin's name as a trade or even a buyout target (along with Jared Boll, who's bad and overpaid, but more affordable at $1.7 million for next season) for a while now. And why you've heard over and over that teams are pursuing Scott Hartnell, as Nashville did at the deadline.

The more recent addition to this group of potential castaways is Nick Foligno, whose name started to crop up in the past few days. In part because, hey, he's not shooting 17 percent any more! What gives, Nick?

Who's Going Where?

So what Kekalainen needs to do here is find someone who is either looking to take on money with one of Foligno, Tyutin, or Hartnell, or a sucker. Probably both.

The problem, again, is that Chicago precedent from last week: Low-budget teams are no longer just happy to get a trade away a few draft picks in exchange for making a team's cap problems go away. They have to send back value. Columbus, fortunately, has a good amount of it in the system, if not at the NHL level.

That might not be the case with respect to the Hartnell-to-Nashville rumors. The Blue Jackets have been trying to trade him for a while now, and they have his no-trade list. There might just be something of a buyer's market, but again, how do you make the money work in a lot of cases? Even Nashville — currently looking down the barrel of extensions for Filip Forsberg and Calle Jarnkrok, among others — would probably have to send money back to make it work. The term on the contract remains a concern as well.

The other two deals, though, Kekalainen might have little recourse but to throw in something enticing if he really wants to rid himself of the headaches.

The Implications
Let's not, however, get too excited about the prospect of Kekalainen trading down from the No. 3 spot, with anyone:

Murray on trading up to No. 3: “I called Jarmo and asked if he wanted to trade 3 and he said, ‘I don’t want to trade 3.‘”

— Joe Yerdon (@JoeYerdon) June 21, 2016

You're going to have to accept lower-level incentives to help Columbus, and actively hurt your own team in the process. If you want to make an actual hockey trade with them, be prepared to also have to swallow this kind of contract.

Not that the team is really in a position to be dictating terms like this, but whatever, I guess. Beggars apparently can be choosers, to a certain extent.

If I'm an opposing NHL GM, I start asking for the moon pretty quickly. There just aren't too many teams out there who are going to be either dumb or beneficent enough to help squeeze Kekalainen out of the pickle into which he's gotten himself. Let's put it in no uncertain terms, no one wants these contracts, and no one should.

If Kekalainen wants to make a deal, flexibility behooves him. Otherwise, he's stuck in cap jail for at least two more seasons in most cases. And when you're as bad as Columbus is, cap jail is absolutely the last place you want to be.

This Is So Huge, If True: Is It True?
On a B.S. detector scale of 1-5, with one being the most reasonable and 5 being the least:

When you're backed into a corner and your job is probably on the line, you become more likely to do things you otherwise might not. Kekalainen is now likely in that position. A healthy majority of the contracts and trades he's completed have resulted in a net loss for his club. It's tough to say anything to the contrary.

So can he maneuver out of it? There are some clear paths to safety, but they're a little dangerous along the way. Other GMs know he's in a vulnerable position and should act accordingly.

Scott Hartnell trade

(Someone probably wants him, and that might be enough to get Columbus pushed in the right direction here.)

Fedor Tyutin trade

(Who would want that contract?)

Fedor Tyutin buyout

(Doesn't really help the cap, but it's better than nothing.)

Nick Foligno trade

(Columbus would love to get out from under it, but it's one of the worse deals in the league today.)

David Clarkson LTIR forever

(Very easy to see this happening.)

Columbus trades No. 3 overall in the draft 

(Nah.)

In the end, Clarkson to LTIR and one trade or buyout gives them plenty of room for next season. They might still have some bad contracts at that point, but it'll be a lot easier to handle.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)

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