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Blue Jackets confident restricted free agent Dubois will sign before camp

GM preaching patience but '100 percent sure' contract will get done

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

Pierre-Luc Dubois remains a restricted free agent, but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said he's confident the Columbus Blue Jackets will re-sign the 22-year-old center before training camp for the upcoming season.

"I'm 100 percent sure it will get done," Kekalainen said. "I know he wants to play in the National Hockey League, so the only way he can play in the National Hockey League in this year is if he signs a contract with us."

Although there is no approximate date for the opening of camp, the NHL continues to target Jan. 1, 2021, for the start of the season. 

Dubois, the No. 1 center for the Blue Jackets, is their lone remaining restricted free agent after defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov signed a three-year contract Nov. 5. Dubois, the No. 3 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, led Columbus with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 70 regular-season games and 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 10 postseason games last season.

But the Blue Jackets know from experience that being patient is sometimes part of the process with re-signing restricted free agents. Columbus re-signed defenseman Zach Werenski on Sept. 9, 2019, three days before the start of training camp, and went through similar experiences before re-signing forwards Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson prior to the start of the 2017-18 season.

"We've been in this situation before where we've had RFAs that want to take their time to agree on a contract, and we respect that and they have that right," Kekalainen said. "But I'm confident he'll be signed before training camp starts."

Re-signing Dubois sooner than later would be additionally beneficial for the Blue Jackets so they know how much space they have under the $81.5 million NHL salary cap in case they want to add another player before the season begins. Gustav Nyquist had surgery to repair a labral tear in his left shoulder Nov. 3, and the expected recovery time is 5-6 months, creating an opening for a top-six forward.

The Blue Jackets expect Nyquist to return before the end of the regular season but will explore internal options, including 20-year-old rookie Liam Foudy, 21-year-old Emil Bemstrom and Mikhail Grigorenko, a 26-year-old returning to the NHL after playing for CSKA Moscow in the Kontinental Hockey League the past three seasons.

Kekalainen said the Blue Jackets also are evaluating the unrestricted free agent forwards who remain available.

"We're looking at it, but it has to be the right fit not only for the way we like to build our team, but also in the cap world," Kekalainen said. "So term and dollars and all of that, plus how he fits into our team structure and our team culture, those are the factors that we weigh in when we make our decisions.

"So far we've stayed with this group and time will tell if that will be the case a month from now or two months from now. But we feel confident in our team. We feel good about our team."

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