If Kevin Lowe taught NHL General Managers anything last off-season, its that Restricted Free Agents are not off limits. With the emphasis on goalie play being at an all time high in the NHL right now, its time for someone to show the Blue Jackets that despite reports Leclaire and the Blue Jackets are working on a deal, waiting to lock up the key to franchise's season is not a smart move.
Leclaire wasn't merely good last season, he was a great player on an average Blue Jackets team with a below average defense. While shutouts and incredible stats like his don't just happen on their own, he had incredible numbers, with nine shutouts, a .919 save percentage, 2.25 goals against.
Another plus for any team is that he is 25. Other than Marc-Andre Fleury and possibly Carey Price, there isn't another goalie in the league at that age with top level talent at a young age. There are plenty of teams who need a goalie and have a ton of cap space teams. Even for teams questioning their space right now, teams don't need to be under the cap until the season starts, giving smart GM's months to move other pieces if necessary.
Due to the Blue Jackets amount of cap space left, they will probably match any offer, but that should not stop teams from trying to get him as long as they are willing to give up the draft pick.
It would be a crushing blow for Columbus to lose Leclaire. GM Scott Howson, hired a year ago, is trying to re-image the team, and seems to be doing so successfully. Losing Leclaire now, or even having to sign to a contract higher than anticipated, especially after most of the free agent goalies have signed elsewhere, would be a major blow to the organization.
The Jackets have added size and skill to their forwards by bringing in Raffi Torres, Kristan Huselius, RJ Umberger, re-signing Mike Peca, drafting and signing highly skilled Russian Nikita Filatov, and blue line by landing Mike Commodore, Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman.
The other NHL ready goalies in the organization are 34 year old Fredrik Norrena, who has played 92 career games with the Blue Jackets to mixed results, and 22 year old, untested, 2004 third round pick Daniel LaCosta.
It would make a lot of sense for St. Louis, Florida, Colorado, Toronto, Atlanta, Tampa, Edmonton, Los Angeles and possibly Buffalo, all who have goalies who could be shopped, bought out or have goalies in sticky contract situations, if Leclaire is signed. With the way many of these teams draft, getting Leclaire as a sure thing over the draft picks, or simply sticking it to a conference foe, is absolutely worth it.