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Davidson Q & A: 'We have to be patient ... we have to be smart'

Blue Jackets' president of hockey operations talks draft, free agency and continuing to climb.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider /

A busy offseason for the Blue Jackets is getting even busier this week.

The action starts with an NHL Board of Governors meeting in Las Vegas that John Davidson, Blue Jackets president of hockey operations, will attend. After that, it's the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas for Davidson, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and the rest of the hockey-operations staff - followed by the start of development camp Monday in Columbus.

After development camp concludes Friday, the focus shifts to the start of free agency on Sunday, July 1, which is usually the biggest day in the offseason for roster decisions.

"It looks like a real good draft from what we understand, from all of our scouts talking to us," said Davidson, who was interviewed this week by Bob McElligott, Blue Jackets' radio play-by-play broadcaster. "Then you have development camp, free agency, you have a little bit of everything … contracts. It's nine or 10 different things going on at once. This is action. This is what you like. Jarmo's fielding calls from general managers, making his own calls. It's action."

According to a report by Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman on Tuesday, some of those calls might pertain to star left wing Artemi Panarin, who has a year left on his contract and reportedly told the Blue Jackets recently that he's not ready to talk about a contract extension yet.

Kekalainen issued a statement in response, saying there's still "plenty of time" to reach an agreement for a contract extension, but that's now part of the backdrop for Columbus heading into the draft.

There's a lot going on for the Blue Jackets in the next couple weeks, but a busy summer is a good way to wipe the slate clean after another bitter loss to an eventual Stanley Cup champion in the first round of the playoffs.

"It's a good busy," Davidson said. "Losing to Washington was really frustrating, and it stays with people. You get raw, real raw about it, but then you just simply have to get over it and understand where you are as a franchise, keep your plan in place that you've implemented a number of years ago and just keep going North."

Video: Davidson on prospect of a good draft and free agency

They'll have to go South first. Literally. Southwest, to be exact, to the draft at American Airlines Center in Dallas.

The Jackets have five picks going into it, including the 18th overall selection, but there's no certainty attached to that pick or any of the other four. Kekalainen has already said Columbus will keep its options open heading into the draft and free agency, and that was before the Panarin situation developed.

Davidson reiterated that sentiment in his interview with McElligott, who cited the Jackets' blockbuster trade last year that brought Panarin to Columbus on the first day of the draft.

"You've got to think big," Davidson said. "You want to think big, and if it's out there you want to try to find it, but you can't hurt the organization while you're still making a steady climb. So, it would be nice if we could pull something off, or Jarmo and the group, but if we don't, we're still in a good position, where we're climbing the way we want to climb."

Video: Davidson on possibility of making a draft day move

Either way, there's soon going to be plenty for Blue Jackets fans to follow.

"It's going to be interesting," Davidson said. "It's going to be fun. Right now, I think, more than anything else, since we're real close to the draft, this is huge for us. There's some good players in this draft … Can we move from our pick to get somebody we really want, at what cost, or do we move back and still get somebody we thought we were going to get at our pick and then maybe pick up a couple more picks down the road? So, it's fun. It's a real interesting time. The phones burn up and you've got to be sharp and quick, and that's one of Jarmo's very strong strengths."

Free agency should be interesting too.

The Blue Jackets have seven players set to become unrestricted free agents (UFAs) July 1, including all three veterans acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline in late February, plus three more who are pending restricted free agents (RFAs): Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray.

Columbus also has 20 players signed for next season, including rookie defenseman Dean Kukan, rookie forward Eric Robinson - a college free agent signed in March - and rookie forward Alex Broadhurst, who agreed to a new contract Monday.

"It's awfully hard for me to sit here and say that, you know, we need to improve this or improve that," Davidson said. "We have to see who we can sign first. When we sit down and have our meetings … it's the 'what-if' scenario. There's so many moving parts. We know we want to improve the team. We know we have to be better at center ice. I mean, that's not a state secret by any means. We also feel that we have some people within the organization who could have better years. So, we have to be patient. We have to be smart."

Video: Davidson talks about free agency

Those still needing extensions to stay beyond 2018-19 include Panarin, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, defenseman Zach Werenski, forward Sonny Milano and backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo - all of whom entering the final year of their current deals.

"I think we're getting to that phase now, where I think as a hockey group we know what we need," Davidson said. "Can we accomplish that from the outside? I don't know. Can we continue to work at it through the draft-and-development program? Possibly. So, we have to figure it out."

Video: Davidson on prospect of a good draft and free agency

Decisions also need to be made about the pending unrestricted free-agents, including defenseman Ian Cole - one of the veterans acquired at the trade deadline. Cole, who melded seamlessly into the Jackets' locker room and lineup, could hit the open market on July 1.

"We'd love to retain Ian," Davidson said. "He's a good man, but it's got to fit. Now, it's up to Ian. Does Ian want to come back here and sign on the dotted line and be happy or does he want to take a look at the July 1 marketplace and see what's out there, and maybe get a longer term, maybe more money, but maybe not as good a place to play? He's got to weigh all that stuff."

The Blue Jackets already have. Now, the puck's in Cole's corner.

"We've weighed it, where we have a great deal of respect for Ian, love to have him back, but we have to do things that fit our whole situation economically, regarding cap and everything else, and he may want to go somewhere else," Davidson said. "But, I'll tell you this. I don't know if it would be as good as playing here. He was great for us, there's no question and he really enjoyed Columbus, but it's business too - and he's got to make that decision."

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