Mikhail Grigorenko dodges NHL free agency, elects to leave Columbus Blue Jackets for KHL

Veteran forward Mikhail Grigorenko, on the cusp of unrestricted free agency in the NHL, decided to return instead to the KHL on Saturday, agreeing to a three-year contract with CSKA Moscow, the league announced.

Grigorenko, 27, a 2012 first-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres, had four goals and 12 points for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, skating in 32 games in his second tenure in the NHL. He was serviceable in the bottom-six forward rotation for former coach John Tortorella in Columbus and may have garnered interest from elsewhere had he hit unrestricted free agency later this month.

Grigorenko has already played three seasons with CSKA Moscow, and perhaps was attracted by the stability of the situation there. In Columbus -- like many veterans this season as franchises maneuvered around COVID-19 roster restrictions with regards to the salary cap -- he found himself placed on waivers only to return to the Blue Jackets when no other team claimed him. He made $1.2 million with the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets struggled on and off the ice this season, and watching Grigorenko return to Russia will likely be just a small piece of a hectic offseason. The team, which 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 may attempt to sign him long-term, or deal him this summer as a means to attract the most robust package headed back their way.

Long term, though a veteran like Grigorenko probably doesn't play into this, the Blue Jackets want to prove that they can hold on to talent as an organization. But they are often held to a tighter budget than other teams, and have struggled to keep high-priced players in Ohio. They traded away Pierre-Luc Dubois this season, for instance, and let stars like Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky walk in free agency in years past.