The salary cap isn’t going up as much as everyone hoped. Also, there were plenty of trades, buyouts and extensions handed out in the last week. Nick, Colby, Cap’n and Pete examine each move and pick 2019 NHL Awards winners.
Nick and Pete discuss whether or not it’s worth pursuing Pavel Datsyuk this summer, the Adam Fox trade and what it means for the New York Rangers, as well as more Second Round musings in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For the second game in-a-row, the Boston Bruins came from behind in the third period and won with a game-winning goal in the final minute of regulation to extend their 2nd longest point-streak in franchise history to 19 games with a, 3-2, win over the Ottawa Senators.
Brad Marchand, Chris Wagner and David Krejci had goals for the Bruins, while Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Brady Tkachuk scored for the Senators.
Tuukka Rask (24-8-5 record, 2.30 goals against average, .921 save percentage in 38 games played) made 17 saves on 19 shots against en route to the win for Boston on Saturday night at TD Garden.
Rask is now 16-0-3 in his last 19 appearances, while the Bruins are 15-0-4 in their last 19 games.
Ottawa goaltender, Craig Anderson (14-23-4, 3.53 GAA, .903 SV% in 43 GP) stopped 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss and fell to 0-11-1 in his last 13 starts.
Boston improved to 42-17-9 (93 points) on the season and maintained 2nd place in the Atlantic Division, while the Senators fell to 23-40-6 (52 points) and remained last in the division.
The Bruins improved to 4-0-0 in the month of March and finished their six-game homestand with a perfect, 6-0-0, record. Likewise, the B’s improved to 27-5-5 on the season when scoring first in a game and 21-3-5 overall since Jan. 1st.
Kevan Miller (upper body), David Pastrnak (left thumb), Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Marcus Johansson (lung contusion) remained out of the lineup due to injury, while Steven Kampfer was the only healthy scratch for Boston.
The B’s recalled Lee Stempniak on emergency basis from the Providence Bruins (AHL) hours before the game on Saturday and Bruce Cassidy inserted the NHL veteran winger on the second line with David Krejci and Joakim Nordstrom.
Peter Cehlarik took over for Nordstrom on the third line to start the game, though Cassidy adjusted his lines during the 60-minute effort, placing Danton Heinen alongside Krejci and sitting Stempniak in the closing minutes of regulation.
Heinen opened the event sheet with a minor penalty for slashing at 4:32 of the first period. Ottawa’s ensuing power play was cut short when Zack Smith was penalized for high-sticking Brandon Carlo at 6:28.
The resulting abbreviated skater advantage for Boston didn’t even see it’s full tenure as Charlie McAvoy tripped Brian Gibbons at 8:07 and gave the Sens another chance on the power play.
In the final seconds of the opening frame, Anthony Duclair was called for holding and sent to the penalty box at 19:58 of the first period.
Boston’s ensuing power play would carry over into the second period, while both teams entered the first intermission tied on the scoreboard, 0-0.
The B’s led in shots on goal (12-6), takeaways (5-2) and face-off win percentage (59-41) after 20 minutes of play, while the Senators led in blocked shots (5-0), giveaways (4-2) and hits (10-6).
Both teams were 0/2 on the power play entering the seconds period.
Early in the middle frame, Grzelcyk was sent to the sin bin for high-sticking Ottawa winger, Bobby Ryan, at 2:27 of the second period.
The Sens did not convert on the ensuing power play.
Magnus Paajarvi hooked Noel Acciari at 9:04 of the second period and the Bruins went on the power play for the third time of the night.
Almost a minute into the power play, the B’s were dominating possession in the attacking zone, yielding a chance from Torey Krug over to Marchand, whereby Marchand (28) settled the puck and unloaded a shot past Anderson to make it, 1-0, Bruins at 10:11.
Krug (41) and Patrice Bergeron (38) had the assists on Marchand’s power play goal. Boston recorded six shots on goal (including Marchand’s goal) on the power play.
Less than a minute later, Pageau (3) capitalized on a defensive breakdown by the Bruins and snuck into the slot all by himself to receive a pass from Tkachuk and tie the game, 1-1, at 11:08.
Tkachuk (20) had the only assist on the goal.
Both teams entered the second intermission, tied, 1-1, on the scoreboard, while the Bruins led in shots on goal (26-14– including a, 14-8, advantage in the second period alone).
Ottawa held onto the advantage in blocked shots (9-5) and hits (17-10) after 40 minutes of play. Meanwhile, Boston controlled the game in takeaways (9-5) and face-off win% (58-42). Both teams had seven giveaways each.
The Sens were 0/3 on the power play through two periods and the B’s were 1/3 on the skater advantage heading into the final frame of regulation.
Almost three minutes into the third period, Boston bungled a chance to clear the puck out of their own zone, leading to a giveaway right to the tape of Tkachuk’s stick in front of Rask.
Tkachuk (16) pounced on the chance and gave the Senators their first lead of the night, 2-1, at 2:46 of the third period.
Chris Tierney (35) had the only assist on Tkachuk’s goal.
Dylan DeMelo and Marchand received matching minor penalties at 6:54 and momentum drifted towards the Bruins’ way.
Krug fired a shot from the point that Wagner (11) redirected past Anderson to tie the game, 2-2, at 8:47 of the third period. Krug (42) and McAvoy (17) had the assists on Wagner’s 5th goal in his last 11 games.
In the final minute of regulation, Krejci (18) tipped a shot from Heinen into the twine to give the Bruins the lead, 3-2, and help secure the victory without needing overtime at 19:15.
Krejci not has 8-11–19 totals in his last 17 games, while Heinen (17) and Grzelcyk (14) notched the assists.
The final total in shots on goal read in favor of the Bruins, 31-19, as did giveaways (15-8, Boston) and face-off win% (51-49, Boston). Ottawa finished the night leading in blocked shots (13-8) and hits (25-22).
The Sens went 0/3 on the power play, while the B’s finished 1/3 on the skater advantage.
Boston has come from behind to win 13 times over the course of their 19-game point streak.
Bruins defender, John Moore, participated in his 500th career NHL game and recorded a shot on goal in 14:41 time on ice.
The Bruins travel to PPG Paints Arena to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday before swinging through Columbus to face the Blue Jackets on Tuesday (March 12th) and Winnipeg on Thursday (March 14th) before returning home to face the Blue Jackets again on March 16th.
It’s past the quarter mark of the 2018-19 regular season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, but thanks to the way the calendar (and life) works out, I’m a few games behind on presenting my latest forecast for Columbus.
Thankfully, the Blue Jackets have a couple of days between their game on Monday (a 7-5 victory against Detroit) and their next matchup against Minnesota on Thursday.
As such, here’s a quick look at what to expect through the remaining 58 games this season.
Keep in mind, there’s many unknown variables that will change what’s to come due to injury, lineup changes, roster moves and whatever else Microsoft Excel doesn’t already know. My degree is in communication– not math– and I’d like to keep things as brief as I can in John Tortorella fashion so you can look things over, get a gist of it and go back to watching the game.
If a player meets the forecasted stats I’ve updated, they’ve met the latest expectations. If they do better, they’ve exceeded expectations. Of course, if they do worse– they just didn’t live up to expectations– it’s that simple. Well, either that or they missed a lot of action due to injury or something.
Anyway, you can’t forecast puck luck, but you can indicate general trends and estimated hunches based on what the scoresheet indicates each night.
Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 24 Games (58 Games Remaining)
Good news, Blue Jackets fans, Artemi Panarin should reach the 80-point plateau this season. Bad news, Blue Jackets fans, Panarin’s still a pending-unrestricted free agent at season’s end and still doesn’t seem intent on sticking around in Columbus.
Other than that, Cam Atkinson is expected to amass 62 points this season (35 expected goals, 27 expected assists) and lead the team in goals, while Pierre-Luc Dubois sits one goal shy of reaching 30 this season.
Newcomer Anthony Ducliar continues his career revival with respectable 19-18–37 expected totals and Zach Werenski should lead all defenders in expected goals (14), assists (32) and points (46).
Meanwhile, noted top-pairing blue liner Seth Jones, should amass 10-28–38 totals from the point with Werenski beating out Jones in goals from the blue line by four.
Scott Harrinton’s expected 18 points fit perfectly behind Ryan Murray (30), Markus Nutivaara (25) and David Savard (24) as the Blue Jackets defensive corps continues to improve at moving the puck out of their own zone and into quality scoring opportunities.
Other than Panarin’s uncertain future, the only other concern for Columbus revolves around the franchise’s stability in net.
Sergei Bobrovsky‘s expected goals against average has worsened after the first quarter of the season. It’s now set to be a 2.46 GAA by season’s end. Yeah, that’s not great.
In fact, it would be Bobrovsky’s worst GAA since he posted a 2.75 in 37 games played in 2015-16. To begin with, he’s at a 2.74 currently with a .912 save percentage in 16 games this season.
At least Bobrovsky’s save percentage is expected to improve to a .920 SV% by the time 2018-19 wraps up.
Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo should end up with a 2.61 GAA and .919 SV% by season’s end, which would be significant improvements from last season’s 3.32 GAA and .897 SV% in 18 games.
As is it, Korpisalo has a 3.73 GAA and .886 SV% through nine games played this season, so things can only get… better? That’s the hope anyway.
Columbus has to work on suppressing shot attempts against, let alone shots on goal, since they’re evidently overworking their goaltenders and it’s showing (remember, a goalie has to move around and “make the save” regardless of whether or not the puck actually hits the net as an official shot on goal).
It’s either that or maybe Bobrovsky isn’t worth as much as some might think he is (because he’s also a pending-UFA in July)– especially in a contract year.
Somehow the Blue Jackets find themselves 2nd in the Metropolitan Division with 30 points on the season and a 14-8-2 record on the season and a plus-six goal differential.
So has Columbus been under the radar and quietly good? Or are they just quietly lucky and surviving in a volatile division (whereby the Pittsburgh Penguins– remember them? they won back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017– are currently 6th in the division outside the playoff picture)?
Time will tell or @capncornelius and/or @vanekatthedisco might fill you in on their outlook sometime.
Hello Columbus Blue Jackets fans, I’m not Cap’n Cornelius, but since we know each other and I visited your wonderful city in August, I was determined to deliver some Blue Jackets forecasted stats throughout the season.
Alas, the regular season started almost a month ago, but I promised I’d have some forecasted stats for Columbus’ entire roster for the entire season by the end of the month and I have finally gotten around to it.
These things take time when you’re transferring data into a new system and trying to watch every game on TV, as well as exist on Earth among its people.
For now, let’s pretend the season hasn’t started or that we’ve all jumped into a time machine and gone back to October 1st. How would things play out for the Blue Jackets this season?
Based on last season’s results– a 45-30-7 record, good enough for 97 points on the season and 4th place in the Metropolitan Division as the first wild card team in the Eastern Conference– Columbus is poised for a bit of a bounce-back in the division standings.
Why? Because the other teams ahead of them got worse– namely the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals.
The Flyers are
off to their usual slow start (wait, I forgot, we’ve time travelled back to the beginning of October) just overall worse and the Capitals look to be dethroned by the Pittsburgh Penguins for the Metropolitan crown at the end of the regular season.
Last season’s Blue Jackets won two playoff games on the road against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, then lost the next four games to extend Columbus’ misery as the only NHL franchise without a playoff series win.
That’s the major storyline to the Blue Jackets this year– will it be one last hurrah or will Panarin and/or Bobrovsky leave the city in the dust among the cornfields on its outskirts in what might become the franchise’s greatest departure(s) since trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers in 2012?
If this season is a failure, is it head coach, John Tortorella’s fault, a roster problem or General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen‘s inability to construct the necessary components of a successful organization?
Critics will be sure to point out all the flaws that mar the franchise, but one thing’s for certain– there’s a lot of expectations.
One way to generate an unnecessary buzz about expectations is to believe your educated guesses about how players should perform this season makes any difference to what actually goes on the ice.
Fear not, for I am about to do just that.
Before I do, however, I’d like to remind those of you in the audience that are familiar with my roster forecasts before and inform those of you that are new here for the first time of my actual area of expertise.
It’s words. My degree is in communication.
There’s nothing that I will present here that you cannot do yourself, better and/or read anywhere else. All of this is an educated guess– an educated expectation– thanks to one of my sport management classes from college.
A player who performs better than their expected outcomes here is merely exceeding these presented expectations. A player who doesn’t meet the expectations could’ve been injured, a healthy scratch or on a chronic cold streak that’s technically unpredictable.
Anything else is just an error outside my expertise and/or Microsoft Excel’s fault.
That, or there’s a little gut-feeling added for players with substantially fewer career NHL games played than the rest of the data shows (basically, if someone’s projected to score 100 goals and has only played in nine games, I might tweak the result until they’ve played a quarter of the season and have either proven themselves as Wayne Gretzky 2.0 or nothing like “the Great One”).
Take a look at the charts below as though everything were to fall in line and nothing bad could ever happen– an utopian view, if you will. Some things may pan out, some things may not– it’s just a suggested (expected) outcome in a sport that’s highly unpredictable thanks to its collective nature and sheer puck luck.
Columbus Blue Jackets Forecast Through 0 Games (82 Games Remaining)
As has been the custom since his arrival via trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin is expected to lead the Blue Jackets in points with 30-49–79 expected totals. The next best player on the team? Cam Atkinson.
Atkinson’s bound for 27 goals and 24 assists (51 points) this season, while the third best forward on the team, Pierre-Luc Dubois, is expected to match his rookie season totals with another 48-point season, at least.
In the meantime several other forwards fall within the 40-point range, while free agent signing, Riley Nash isn’t expected to break into the 30-point plateau after amassing a career-high 41-point season with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18.
Werenski’s expected totals tops Jones (9-28–37 expected totals) by seven points and is in a league of his own compared to his teammates on the blue line.
In goal, Sergei Bobrovsky is looking for redemption with an expected goals against average of 2.37 and an expected save percentage of .923 over the course of 2018-19. Backup netminder, Joonas Korpisalo seeks to provide healthy competition with an expected 2.68 GAA and .917 SV% prior to puck drop on the season.
Of course, now that we’re a month into the regular season, it’ll be time to update this entire forecast once Columbus is about a quarter of the way through their 82-game schedule.
The 2018-19 Columbus Blue Jackets are a riddle. Wrapped in an enigma. On paper, this is the best team the organization has ever put on the ice. Its top line features two wings capable of putting in over 30 goals and perhaps the first true top-line center the Blue Jackets have ever had in their history. On defense they feature a top defensive pairing that, arguably, has two Norris Trophy candidates (albeit one will start the season on the IR). In goal, they have a two-time Vezina winning goaltender. Is there another team in the league that can say this? No.
Yet, if you have read the season previews of the experts, you would come away thinking that this Jackets team was appreciably worse than the one that made the playoffs the last two seasons. The Jackets continue to be the Rodney Dangerfield of hockey, grabbing at their red tie, searching for some respect. Certainly, their playoff performances have not helped. All-world goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, has yet to put in a performance equal to his Vezina-winning status in the playoffs. The Jackets offense went missing after going up 2-0 on the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Washington Capitals.
So, it isn’t surprising that few of the experts were willing to go out on the limb and predict great things for the Blue Jackets in the 2018-19 season. Further complicating matters are the contract situations of the aforementioned Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin. The situations, particularly Panarin’s, received more off-season attention from the hockey media than the additions of Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair to a forward group that was already quite deep. There has been a lot of gnashing of teeth over the Jackets not moving Panarin in the off-season. However, any trade of Panarin will be a trade the Jackets lose in the short term. Therein lies the problem.
If you are Jarmo Kekalainen and you look at this team and you know it is better than last year’s and you know that last year’s team had the misfortune to play the team that won it all in the first round, do you make a knee jerk move that makes the team appreciably worse in the short term? What if you think the team, as built, is capable of winning a Cup this year?
We know the answer, as we prepare for Panarin to take the ice on opening night for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets stuck to their guns, didn’t accept offers for Panarin that they viewed as too low to allow them to compete for a Cup in favor of staying the course and making a run for a title. Most of the experts expect Panarin to be dealt at the deadline, but many of the same people assumed he’d be moved draft weekend. There is always the possibility that Panarin is moved at the deadline, but this only happens if the Jackets are out of playoff contention, which seems unlikely given what we know about the team. Bobrovsky is even less likely to be moved given the limited value of goalies, even great ones, in trade. So, enjoy watching them play what may be their final seasons with the Blue Jackets.
The assumption seems to be that somehow the Panarin and Bobrovsky situations will be such a distraction that Columbus won’t be able to overcome this and will miss the playoffs after a trade deadline fire sale. This seems to ignore the fact that both Panarin and Bobrovsky will want to have great seasons to justify long-term contracts netting them $10 million per year or more. This is especially true for Bobrovsky who just turned 30. A bad season for Bobrovsky could damage his market value, regardless of the Vezinas on his resume as teams might question “is he starting to slow down.” Likewise, it would be in Bobrovsky’s best interest to play well in the playoffs for once.
Another factor lost in the supposed turmoil is the Jackets depth. The top line is a bona-fide top line when a year ago it was a serious question mark. Meanwhile, the depth the team lacked in 2017-18 has returned through a combination of underrated off-season moves and development of players in the Jackets’ organization. Oliver Bjorkstrand, who had a solid first, full NHL season last year is poised to put up better numbers this season and has landed on the second line where he should receive more ice time and be freed up to play a more offense-first role. Sonny Milano will start the season on the fourth line…but it is a fourth line featuring free agent additions Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair, which could quickly see its ice time increased if the third line struggles to find the net. Every line has two wings capable of putting in 20 plus goals. Every line has a bona fide NHL center, which has not always been the case for the Blue Jackets. The biggest question will be whether coach John Tortorella, fresh off a contract extension, will learn from ice time mistakes he made in the playoffs and truly adopt his own “safe is death” motto to allow players like Milano to learn from their mistakes without being stapled to the bench.
The next question is whether Alex Wennberg will actually earn the second line center position he has been gifted the last two seasons. There is no denying that he regressed last season–look at his game score numbers, look at his power play performance, which was a large part of the team’s struggles on power play. His pre-season performance was lackluster, at best. He’s already been demoted to the second power play unit. The Jackets making a run for the Cup will hinge, to some extent, on Wennberg performing to the level of play some would like to attribute to him or the Jackets finding a replacement at the deadline (hey there, Matt Duchene).
There is some question about the performance of what I will term the “Underperformer Line” featuring Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Josh Anderson. It is probably unfair to Anderson to lump him in as an underperformer last season as he had to deal with injuries and bounced up and down the lineup without consistent line mates. Jenner and Dubinsky, on the other hand, struggled mightily. Particularly Dubinsky, who had to deal with scurilous rumors from the team’s road trip to Vegas. All accounts are that Jenner and Dubinsky were leaner at camp, but neither left an indelable impression in the pre-season games in which they appeared. If they struggle, it is probably less of an issue as the “fourth line” can easily replace them, but it would be best for the careers of all three players if they bounced back, if not to prior form, to something better than a typical third line.
With all of the above taken into account, despite the angst of the experts, the Jackets will likely make the playoffs. I also think that Bobrovsky will play the best we’ve ever seen in the playoffs to get them out of the first round–his next contract may depend on it. From there, it is up to Tortorella, Wennberg, Jenner and Dubinsky, in particular, to address the issues that held the team back last season or for the coaching staff and management to overcome those issues prior to the trade deadline.
There are plenty of reasons for anxiety if you are a Blue Jackets fan. But, like Slim Pickens at the end of Dr. Strangelove, you’re already riding the bomb down, might as well enjoy the ride.
Columbus Blue Jackets
45-30-7, 97 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division
First Wild Card in the East, lost in First Round to Washington (4-2)
Subtractions: LW Matt Calvert (signed with COL), D Taylor Chorney (signed with HC Lugano), D Ian Cole (signed with COL), D Cameron Gaunce (signed with TB), D Jack Johnson (signed with PIT), C Mark Letestu (unsigned UFA), RW Thomas Vanek (signed with DET)
Offseason Analysis: The Jackets enjoyed a successful, if not slightly underwhelming ’17-’18 campaign, where all-time high hopes were somewhat cooled by some notable underachieving seasons from players like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and even captain Nick Foligno. Fortunately these were offset somewhat by terrific years from players like rookie standout Pierre-Luc Dubois, emerging Norris Trophy candidate Seth Jones, and superstar Artemi Panarin. They’d close out the regular season on a 15-4-2 run over their final 21 games to lose out to Philadelphia for the final Metropolitan Division spot by a single point, instead drawing the first Wild Card spot and a date with the Washington Capitals.
The Jackets shocked everyone by taking Games 1 and 2 of the series in Washington, both in thrilling overtime fashion, to head back home with a 2-0 hold on the series. Then came “The Promise”. Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin told the media they’d be back in Washington for Game 5 with the series tied. They did just that, and rode the momentum on through the Blue Jackets, and everyone else in their way as they went on to grab the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. This was no consolation prize in the minds of Jackets fans, though, as losing to the eventual Stanley Cup champions is sort of a calling card in Columbus’ recent history. *throws another dart at a poster of Sidney Crosby*
Now, with another disappointing playoff performance on their record, a list of notable pending free agents on their plate, and the ever-looming Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin contract situations on their hands, the Columbus brass faced a rather trying offseason. But, as has been his MO over the years, GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t about to panic. Or really show any sort of human emotion of any kind. I think that’s just a Finnish thing.
First came the NHL draft, where once again ‘J.K.’ and his staff went a bit off the board for their first round pick, drafting speedster Liam Foudy 18th overall. Generally projected as a very-late first or early second round pick, Foudy caught the eye of the CBJ scouting staff for his ability to inject speed into their lineup, something it could definitely use. While likely to spend at least another year in Juniors, Foudy did ink his entry level contract over the summer.
When free agency opened, the Jackets very quickly lost longtime roster stalwarts Jack Johnson (fans weren’t that upset) and Matt Calvert (fans held memorial services), along with rentals Thomas Vanek, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu. Kekalainen quickly nabbed penalty-killing specialist Riley Nash to replace Letestu’s bottom-six depth. Initially his $2.75 million cap hit over the next three years seemed slightly steep for a guy who projects as a third-line center at best, but with the raised cap and resulting numbers we saw on some other signings/re-signings over the summer, the deal has aged fairly well. A few days later the Jackets would pick up troubled youngster Anthony Duclair on a league-minimum $650 thousand, one-year deal. Likened to the ‘show me’ contract given to Sam Gagner by the Jackets a few years ago that paid dividends, Columbus is hedging bets on Duclair’s willingness to shed some of the baggage he’s accumulated over the past few seasons and work hard to get back to being the player that scored 20 goals and 44 points as a 20-year-old. If he can, he’s an absolute steal. If he can’t, he’s barely even a blip on the salary cap radar, and could be placed on waivers without much concern.
Kekalainen decided to let his organizational depth fill the rest of the vacancies in the roster (which has definitely created one of the more intriguing training camps to watch). Instead, he invested a good portion of his time and effort over the summer into attempting to secure the future services of Artemi Panarin and, to a lesser extent, Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky only recently broke his silence about his situation, revealing that management knows his plans after his contract expires next summer, but declined to make public that information.
The Panarin situation was much more public, and highlighted by Kekalainen flying to France to visit with Panarin and his agent while the dynamic winger was on vacation. No real progress was made on a contract extension, as Panarin seems likely to either test the waters of free agency or possibly even return to Russia after this season. Some reports indicated he’d prefer to play in a larger market than Columbus, or perhaps at least a market with a beach (he did spend the last month or so of the offseason training with friends Nikita Kucherov and Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa), but no solid proof of any of this ever emerged.
The prospects of a future in Columbus that include neither their most potent offensive weapon nor their multi-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender are not fun to consider for the fanbase, but they do appear to be looming. In net, the Jackets do at least boast one of the strongest goaltending prospect pools in the league, but that’s far from a sure thing. Apart from possibly young Vitaly Abramov, they certainly don’t have anyone currently in the pipeline that could replace Panarin’s offensive production.
Getting away from the doom and gloom, let’s circle back to the earlier claim of a very interesting training camp.
The Jackets’ camp roster includes over 60 players, and there are some very tight battles for more than a few roster spots. The race for bottom-six wing minutes is hotly contested. Players with Blue Jackets tenure like Sonny Milano, Markus Hannikainen, and Lukas Sedlak now find themselves being challenged by newcomer Duclair, along with a serious pool of prospects like Sam Vigneault, Kevin Stenlund, Eric Robinson, Jonathan Davidsson, Paul Bittner and even 2018 draft picks Foudy and Traverse City tournament standout Trey Fix-Wolansky.
While I don’t see the 2018 picks making the roster (more time in Juniors would serve their development better than limited fourth-line NHL minutes), the rest are interesting. Duclair obviously adds an element of offense and speed, but has also shown he’s not afraid to play with an edge as well. Vigneault and Stenlund are both every bit of 6-foot-5 and well over 200 pounds, but lack some speed and are both natural centers, a position that should be filled on the roster. Bittner is a superior skater to either of the ‘Twin Towers’, still comes in at 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, and is a natural wing, but has struggled to adapt his offensive game to the pro level to this point. Robinson played one game with the Jackets last year coming in as a free agent after captaining the Princeton Tigers in his senior year where he put up 31 points in 36 games. His pro game has yet to really be seen, so training camp and preseason will be important for him. To me, the most interesting name at forward is the Swedish RW Davidsson. An effortless skater, he brings plenty of speed and agility to the lineup, and has shown to be an extremely intelligent playmaker, but he’s definitely not a physical presence nor a defensive stalwart, so not who you’d normally have in a bottom-six role. He could probably use another year in either the SHL or AHL to continue his physical and defensive development, but if he impresses in camp he could at least get a look.
My projected forward lines are:
Panarin – Dubois – Atkinson
Jenner – Wennberg – Bjorkstrand
Milano – Dubinsky – Foligno
Sedlak – Nash – Anderson
Extra forwards Hannikainen and Duclair
On defense, Columbus has the luxury of one of the best top pairs in the league, with Seth Jones alongside blueline sniper Zach Werenski. Werenski set the franchise record for goals as a defenseman last year while playing basically the entire year with a destroyed shoulder. Offseason surgery will keep him slightly limited in camp and likely out of all preseason games, but he’s projected to be 100 percent ready to go for the beginning of the season. After the top pair, though, things are pretty fluid, with approximately seven players vying for the four remaining spots. Three of the four (David Savard, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara) are pretty well locked into the lineup, just more a question of where exactly they’ll sit on the depth chart. But the competition for the No. 6 spot and final roster spot as the seventh man is tight. Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington both saw limited NHL action with the Jackets last year, with Kukan putting up a respectable 4 points in 11 games and Harrington proving to be a reliable No. 6 down the stretch run. Adam Clendening only saw five games with Arizona last year, and has bounced between the leagues a lot in the past few seasons, but his last full season in the AHL saw him put up 59 points in 74 games. He’s not always the most defensively reliable guy, but he’s the best puck mover of the contenders. My personal pick for not only the Jackets roster but also for the No. 6 slot is 6-foot-5 Gabriel Carlsson. While still working to put some bulk on his lanky frame, Carlsson has already adapted well to the North American game, being a steady presence on the Cleveland blueline last year in the AHL. While certainly not an offensive producer, he’s very poised with the puck and is a confident passer. He skates well and uses his lengthy reach to make sure he’s always in good position. He’s also capable of playing either side of the ice.
I have the defense shaping up like this:
Werenski – Jones
Murray – Savard
Carlsson – Nuutivaara
Extra defenseman Harrington
In net, things are unlikely to look any different than last year. While J.F. Berube was brought in to challenge for the backup position after Joonas Korpisalo had a bit of regression last year, he’ll likely head to Cleveland as Korpi’s deal is one-way. Elvis Merzilikins and Daniil Tarasov are both top goaltending prospects, but they’ll continue their development overseas for the time being.
Offseason Grade: C+
Though there seems to be a general sense that more should have been done to improve the team over the summer, the handful of moves made were smart. The big thing here is that there is a lot of potential turmoil brewing heading towards next year. Kekalainen was likely smart not to hedge any knee-jerk bets on this season and instead rely upon his strong organizational depth to improve the team.
If the youngsters make an impact, and you get a rebound season from a vet or two, suddenly even the prospect of losing your two Russian dynamos seems less daunting. Panarin is definitely trade bait for a big return before the deadline if you need to go that route, and if the team gets better from within, that leaves big chunks of cap space to bring in other pieces if necessary.
While they’ll obviously look to improve their fortunes (particularly in the playoffs) this year, it will really be next offseason where the brass will have to earn those shiny new contracts they received this month.
33-39-10, 76 points, 7th (last) in the Central Division
Additions: D Andrew Campbell (acquired from ARI), F MacKenzie Entwistle (acquired from ARI), F Chris Kunitz, F Marcus Kruger (acquired from ARI), F Jordan Maletta (acquired from ARI), D Brandon Manning, G Cam Ward
Subtractions: F Lance Bouma (signed, Switzerland), F Michael Chaput (acquired from VAN, not tendered a qualifying offer and signed with MTL), D Adam Clendening (signed with CBJ), F Christopher DiDomenico (signed, Switzerland), F Anthony Duclair (signed with CBJ), G Jeff Glass (signed to a PTO with CGY), F Vinnie Hinostroza (traded to ARI), F Marian Hossa (contract traded to ARI), F Tanner Kero (traded to VAN), D Jordan Oesterle (traded to ARI), F Patrick Sharp (retired)
Offseason Analysis: It was bound to happen. The shine was going to wear off. All good things must come to an end. All things must pass.
Throw whatever cliché you want at it, but the Chicago Blackhawks tumbled in 2017-18. The 2010, 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup champions missed the playoffs for the first time in the Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane era– and they missed it by a lot.
Granted, injuries ravaged the lineup from the crease to one of the game’s most prolific Slovakian scorers.
Marian Hossa’s contract was traded this offseason as part of a seven-player deal with the Arizona Coyotes. His last NHL game came in 2016-17 and he’ll be sidelined for the remainder of his contract due to a skin disease.
Corey Crawford, Chicago’s starting netminder for the 2013 and 2015 Cup runs, sustained multiple injuries during the 2017-18 regular season, leaving him on injured reserve since about a year ago now.
His upper body injury– while not officially disclosed– has kept him sidelined with General Manager Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks hoping he’ll be ready to go for training camp. Crawford doesn’t sound as optimistic.
The fact that Cam Ward is likely going to be Chicago’s starting goaltender for however long it takes for Crawford to return is cause for concern.
Tight against the cap through their Cup runs, the Blackhawks decimated their roster in the “non-essential” roles to keep their Cup winning core together.
There’s just one problem. Those “non-essential” roles have become exposed holes.
Duncan Keith, 33, and Brent Seabrook, 35, aren’t getting any younger with no clear-cut future top-pair defender to be found on the depth chart. Toews (a minus-1 in 74 games last season) all but disappeared from his prominent star-status as the ‘Hawks went from scoring more goals than they allowed to a minus-27 goal differential in 2017-18– their worst goal differential in the Kane and Toews era.
And Crawford is hurt.
No amount of Scott Foster can salvage the wreckage of time that takes a toll on Cup contending competitors.
Alex DeBrincat remains a bright spot, while Kane remains a face of the organization– but all expectations should be set on resetting. Expendable assets should be moved before the true foundation of a rebuild sets in.
One chapter closes, but the next one begins.
In the meantime, Marcus Kruger is back (does playing for the Blackhawks count as starring in a soap opera where the characters never die and come back from time to time?), Chris Kunitz was brought in as the new Patrick Sharp (Sharp retired, Kunitz fills a roster spot for the time being) and MacKenzie Entwistle is totally a real person that was involved in the Hossa trade and not a made-up player from a video game.
Offseason Grade: C-
There’s not much to sell, but pieces will once again be worth selling at the trade deadline. Unlike the Vancouver Canucks, the Blackhawks are just starting to enter a rebuild, so there’s a little leniency towards filling roster holes with grizzled veterans (even if they do have four Cup rings to back them up). Also because Chicago did the smart thing and only signed Kunitz to a one-year deal– no more, no less.
Nick and Connor discuss John Tavares signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Crosby/Malkin vs. Tavares/Matthews argument, best and worst free agency signings and more. At this point, we’re also strangely optimistic about the St. Louis Blues.