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Jones not ready to make decision on future with Blue Jackets

Defenseman can become UFA after next season; Laine, coaching search, goaltending situation also must be addressed

by Craig Merz / Independent Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- Seth Jones said he's not ready to make a decision about his long-term future with the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

The 26-year-old defenseman has one season remaining on a six-year, $32.4 million contract ($5.4 million annual average value) he signed June 29, 2016 and is eligible to sign an extension this offseason. He can become an unrestricted free agent after next season. 

"I think it's a situation that you only get it once in your lifetime and, yeah, there's a lot of pressure and people are looking at you from all over," Jones said Monday. "I really have to take a step back and think about what I want. I could very well be here, but I'm just unwinding right now, and I'll obviously be in touch with (general manager) Jarmo (Kekalainen) very soon.

"I'm definitely not making a decision right now. I'm here for another year. I plan to be here for another year and we'll see where that goes."

Jones' future is one of several offseason issues facing the Blue Jackets, who on Sunday announced coach John Tortorella would not return after six seasons. 

Forward Patrik Laine can become a restricted free agent after the season and the Blue Jackets must figure out their goaltending situation, which has seen Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo each develop into a bona fide No. 1 goalie.

Video: CBJ@CAR: Jones buries a shot for the overtime winner

But Jones is arguably the face of the Blue Jackets following the departure of forward and captain Nick Foligno, who was traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of a three-team deal with the San Jose Sharks on April 11. Columbus acquired a first-round selection in the 2021 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft from the Maple Leafs.

"I think everyone knows how important [Jones] is as a person and as a player to the city and the organization," defenseman Zach Werenski said.

Next season, the Blue Jackets could look very different from the team which finished last in the eight-team Discover Central Division (18-26-12) and missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Kekalainen was expected to meet with a group of veteran players Monday to discuss their role in the coaching search.

"It's obviously Jarmo's decision, but I don't think it's ever a bad thing asking around what guys are thinking," forward Oliver Bjorkstrand said.

Tortorella's replacement, which Kekalainen said could be named before the start of free agency July 28, is one of several decisions that will have to be made during the offseason.

Kekalainen and Laine each expressed optimism that the forward's future is in Columbus. Laine, a three-time 30-goal scorer, was acquired in a trade with the Winnipeg Jets with forward Jack Roslovic, for center Pierre-Luc Dubois on Jan. 23. Laine scored 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists) in 45 games for the Blue Jackets.

Video: CHI@CBJ: Laine goes end-to-end for beautiful goal

Laine seemed to struggle in the Blue Jackets' defensive-minded scheme and was benched several times by Tortorella.

"It's not the system's fault, it's just my fault," Laine said. "I don't think it matters who is behind the bench. I still have to go out there and do what I do, and I couldn't do that this year, but I'll do that next year. I love it here and I want to stay here for sure."

Kekalainen has said the Blue Jackets would try to re-sign the 23-year-old, who scored 110 goals in his first three NHL seasons after being selected No. 2 by the Jets in the 2016 NHL Draft.

Merzlikins and Korpisalo each may want to remain in Columbus, but it may not be possible. They have split duties the past two seasons and each has proven capable of holding the No. 1 role.

Merzlikins (8-12-5, 2.77 goals-against average, .916 save percentage, two shutouts, 28 games) and Korpisalo (9-13-7, 3.30 GAA, .894 save percentage, 33 games) each are 27 years old and each can become an unrestricted free agent after next season.

"Nobody's stupid here," Merzlikins said. "We understand that there's two No. 1 goalies on one team. I don't think that we both are going to stay, but you never know.

"If you keep both, well, it's great for the organization, but I don't think that he's going to be happy or I'm going to be happy."

The Blue Jackets have lost several high-profile players in the recent past. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forwards Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene in free agency after the 2018-19 season, and Dubois and forward Josh Anderson each requested to be traded. Anderson was traded to the Montreal Canadiens for forward Max Domi and a third-round pick (No. 78, defenseman Samuel Knazko) in the 2020 NHL Draft.

"I don't think there's a problem with the city of Columbus at all. I think that it gets a bad rap," Jones said. "These are some of the topics we'll bring up with Jarmo as well later today, but I think that obviously word of mouth travels when it comes to certain things and we have to figure out a way to be more of an attraction for free agents in the future so we can become a better team."

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