NHL: Jackets move on to free-agent options

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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The Blue Jackets were unable to acquire a proven NHL scorer during draft weekend, but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen is undaunted.

“We’re going to add a scoring forward, one way or the other,” Kekalainen said. “We have some good plans and a great opportunity ahead of us.”

The process begins today, when a two-day window opens for the Blue Jackets and 29 other NHL clubs to make their pitch to unrestricted free agents. Contracts cannot be signed until Friday.

Although Kekalainen would not reveal names, there is a cluster of players who would appear to fill the bill. The Blue Jackets want to sign one forward.

David Clarkson (New Jersey), Nathan Horton (Boston), Viktor Stalberg (Chicago) and Valtteri Filppula (Detroit) make a lot of sense. Danny Briere (Philadelphia), Pascal Dupuis (Pittsburgh), Damien Brunner (Detroit), Ryane Clowe (New York Rangers) and Clarke MacArthur (Toronto) will draw attention, too.

“The top guys, you’re going to try to have them visit,” Kekalainen said. “You won’t fly the whole list in, but if we have interest in a player and they have interest in us, we’ll do what we need to do. We’re going to go after the No. 1 guy on our list, and if he doesn’t want to come, we’ll scratch him off and go to the next.”

Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets would like to add size to their cast of forwards, but not size alone.

“If you ask anybody, they’d take a 6-5 guy who scores 30 goals over a 5-8 guy who scores 30 goals,” Kekalainen said. “But me personally, I prefer the small guys who play with big heart to the big guys who are less passionate.”

The Blue Jackets are about $8 million under the NHL salary cap after re-signing winger Blake Comeau to a one-year, $1 million contract yesterday. Kekalainen said they wouldn’t spend up to the cap, but it’s reasonable they will spend $4 million to $5 million on the right player.

If the Blue Jackets find free agency to be fruitless, they still have two other possibilities. Kekalainen said the trade market has remained warm as general managers left Newark, N.J., from the draft.

“When you trade, you’re talking about giving up some kind of a commodity, maybe a player off your roster,” Kekalainen said. “The benefit of free agency is you just get the player. But we’ll go about this however we have to. There are lots of options.”The Jackets had talks last week with St. Louis regarding forward David Perron, but nothing has happened yet. They also spoke with Boston about young center Taylor Seguin, but it’s unclear whether the Bruins are really serious about trading him. If so, the Jackets would get in line with several other clubs.

The other option is a familiar name: Vinny Prospal, the Blue Jackets’ leading forward the past two seasons, becomes a free agent on Friday. Prospal has stated numerous times, lately with a tinge of frustration, that he wants to return to the Blue Jackets and finish his career in Columbus.

But management has put him on hold, hoping free agency or the trade market can bear fruit.

aportzline@dispatch.com

@Aportzline

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