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Taking Care Of (In-House) Business: The RFAs

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Before we get this blog started, can we take a moment to marvel at that absolutely awesome pass by Nikita Nikitin? Easily one of my top Blue Jackets plays of the second half of the year. Catches the Red Wings defense napping in the neutral zone, stretches the ice, and Derick Brassard is on the business end to cash it behind Ty Conklin. Brilliant stuff.

Oops, sorry. This guy is having a hard time coping with the offseason. How many days until training camp? Holy dog days, man.

Anyway, what we're looking at today are the Blue Jackets' restricted free agents. The dawn of UFA Day is less than a week away and it's time to get geared up for one of the more fast-paced days in the National Hockey League. How much activity will there be? It's always hard to tell, but we anticipate a busy week (or more) on the Blue Jackets front.

GM Scott Howson has been taking care of in-house priorities, as well, and that began shortly after the end of the season. Derek Dorsett, set to become a restricted free agent on July 1, was re-signed to a three-year contract that keeps him with the Blue Jackets through the 2014-15 season -- and that's great news for the club. Dorsett had a breakout year in 2011-12, scoring a career-high 12 goals and 20 points, while proving he's a valuable player that can log effective minutes in all situations.

Not long after, Howson retained another valuable depth forward in (pending UFA) Derek MacKenzie. I talked to MacKenzie shortly after he signed his new two-year deal, and he said there was little thought of going to a team other than the Blue Jackets. He's got a solid role on the team, is a good face-off guy, and is a useful penalty killer.

Ryan Russell, signed last offseason for depth at the AHL level, signed a one-year, two-way contract extension after an impressive campaign in which he split time between the Blue Jackets and the Springfield Falcons (AHL).

With regard to players that spent time at the NHL level in 2011-12, the Blue Jackets currently have four restricted free agents (RFA) remaining, and have five players scheduled to head to free agency (UFA) on Sunday. That latter number would be six, but goaltender Curtis Sanford accepted an offer to play for Lokomotiv of the KHL next season.

Let's take a brief look at the restricted free agents:


WHERE HE FITS: Mayorov proved two seasons ago that he could be on the cusp of being a full-time NHL player. Scouts and coaches are intrigued by his unqiue mix of grit and skill; Mayorov, still only 23, has a long way to go to establish himself as a regular NHLer, but has adapted well to the pro game and has averaged roughly 15 goals per season in four years in the AHL. He has reportedly drawn interest from Ak Bars Kazan (KHL), but has received a qualifying offer and could return to the fold in 2012-13.


Howson has said on a couple of occasions that he plans to open contract talks with Boll's agent in short order. Boll has become one of the top fighters in the NHL, and shown a willingness to always stick up for his teammates, regardless of the time/score/situation of a game. There's a spot for him in the NHL, but Boll will need to rebound from a disappointing 2011-12 season, in which he put up just 2-1-3 in 54 games. He's got an above-average wrist shot and underrated skill -- two things he will need to use more often to garner regular playing time. With a qualifying offer tendered this week, expect "Boller" back in the fold.

AGE: 25

WHERE HE FITS: After acquiring Nikitin in a trade with the St. Louis Blues, the Blue Jackets found exactly where he  fits -- and that's among the team's top four defensemen. The 25-year-old Russian blueliner could very well be one of the most underappreciated and least-heralded pickups of the year, especially given the role he stepped right into in Columbus. Nikitin played most of his minutes alongside Russian countryman Fedor Tyutin, and the two formed a reliable duo capable of playing in all situations. On top of a steady defensive game and exquisite first pass (see the video above), Nikitin tallied seven goals and 32 points in 54 games. Nikitin will be back in Columbus next season -- and likely beyond -- with a new multi-year contract. The Blue Jackets like this guy a lot, and really want to get him locked up.

AGE: 25

Brought in on an emergency basis in the latter stages of the season, Hunwick was a feel-good story that became even cooler when Todd Richards put him in the net for the final minutes of the 2011-12 season finale. But given the lack of pro hockey experience and an organizational need for experienced pro goaltenders, there doesn't appear to be a fit between Hunwick and the Blue Jackets moving forward. Howson said the club is looking for two more pro-level goaltenders, making it highly unlikely Hunwick returns to the team next season. Hunwick did not receive a qualifying offer by the deadline.

-- Stay tuned to CBJ Today throughout the week as free agency gets closer. We'll also take a look at the Blue Jackets' pending unrestricted free agents, and see where/how/if they figure into the plans moving forward.

-- Defensemen Brent Regner and Nick Holden, both scheduled to become RFAs, did not receive qualifying offers from the Blue Jackets by the June 25 deadline. They will be UFAs on July 1.

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