Mikhail Grigorenko dodges free agency in NHL and chooses to leave Columbus Blue Jackets for KHL

Veteran forward Mikhail Grigorenko, on the verge of going unrestricted free in the NHL, decided to return to the KHL instead on Saturday, accepting a three-year contract with CSKA Moscow, the league said.

Grigorenko, 27, a 2012 Buffalo Sabers first-round pick, has four goals and 12 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, playing 32 games in his second NHL term. He was serving in the forward rotation of the last six for former coach John Tortorella in Columbus and might have sparked interest elsewhere if he had touched unrestricted free agency later this month.

Grigorenko has already played three seasons with CSKA Moscow and may have been drawn to the stability of the situation there. In Columbus – like many veterans this season as franchises maneuvered around COVID-19 roster restrictions on the salary cap – he found himself on waivers to return to the Blue Jackets as no other team never claimed it. He won $ 1.2 million with the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets have struggled on and off the ice this season, and Grigorenko’s return to Russia is likely to be just a small piece of a hectic offseason. The team, which have hired Brad Larsen to replace Tortorella, must decide what to do with star defenseman Seth Jones, who will be a free agent after next season. The Blue Jackets could try to sign him long-term, or treat him this summer as a way to attract their most robust package.

In the long run, while a veteran like Grigorenko probably doesn’t play there, the Blue Jackets want to prove they can retain talent as an organization. But they’re often on a tighter budget than other teams and have struggled to keep high-priced players in Ohio. They traded Pierre-Luc Dubois this season, for example, and let stars like Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky walk in free agency in the past.

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