Tag Archives: Ian Cole

Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-19 Season Preview

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)

Additions: G Jean-Francois Berube, D Adam Clendening, D Tommy Cross, LW Anthony Duclair, C Liam Foudy (’18 1st round pick, signed ELC), C Ryan MacInnis, C Riley Nash, D Dillon Simpson

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)

Re-signed: RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (3-year, $2.5M), LW Boone Jenner (4-year, $3.75M), D Ryan Murray (1 year, $2.825M)

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.

Cryptic.

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.

Colorado Avalanche 2018-19 Season Preview

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Colorado Avalanche

43-30-9, 95 points, 4th in the Central Division

2nd Wild Card in the West, lost in First Round to NSH 4-2

Additions: F Cody Bass (signed to a PTO), F Matt Calvert, D Ian Cole, G Philipp Grubauer (acquired from WSH), F Scott Kosmachuk, F Logan O’Connor

Subtractions: G Jonathan Bernier (signed with DET), F Blake Comeau (signed with DAL), F Felix Girard (signed with the Manitoba Moose, AHL), D Jesse Graham (signed with Utica Comets, AHL), F Rocco Grimaldi (signed with NSH), G Andrew Hammond (signed with MIN), D Brooks Orpik (acquired from WSH, bought out, then signed with WSH), F Nail Yakupov (signed, KHL)

Still Unsigned: F Joe Colborne, F Reid Petryk, D Duncan Siemens, F Trent Vogelhuber

Re-signed: G Joe Cannata, D Ryan Graves, D Mason Geertsen, G Spencer Martin, D Patrik Nemeth, D Matt Nieto

Offseason Analysis: Now that Erik Karlsson has been traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks, Colorado Avalanche General Manager Joe Sakic has had one of the best offseasons. Kidding aside, the Senators lottery protected their 2018 1st round pick in the three-team Matt Duchene trade, meaning the Avalanche have Ottawa’s 2019 1st round pick in addition to their own.

The #LoseForHughes watch has begun.

But as for Colorado’s offseason, things have gone swimmingly as Sakic’s roster made the playoffs last season for the first time since 2014. Blake Comeau’s 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in 79 games in 2017-18 have departed for Dallas. In his top-nine forward role, Sakic replaced the 32-year-old Comeau with 28-year-old, Matt Calvert.

Calvert had 9-15–24 totals in 69 games with the Columbus Blue Jackets last season and is looking to turn things around in health and in offensive production as a top-nine forward.

While Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen look to continue leading the team in production, Alexander Kerfoot seeks to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump on the second line.

On defense, Sakic knows time is on his side.

Nikita Zadorov and Tyson Barrie have made an effective pairing with Samuel Girard and Erik Johnson contesting for more ice time. Girard had an impressive rookie debut with three goals and 17 assists (20 points) in 68 games played, while Barrie and Johnson played veteran roles– anchoring the blue line for the Avs.

Patrik Nemeth proved to be a smart pickup off waivers from the Stars last season as a bottom-pair defender, so it was an easy decision to re-sign with the NHL’s hottest up-and-coming team from a 48-point season in 2016-17 to a 95-point effort (and playoff berth) in 2017-18.

To complete his top-six defensemen on the depth chart, Sakic signed 29-year-old durable defender, Ian Cole, to a three-year contract worth a friendly $4.250 million per season.

Cole had 20 points in 67 games with the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins last season and is looking to prove that he’s more than just a flash in the pan at this point in his career.

A two-time Cup winner with the Penguins, Cole is in the midst of his prime and brings a competitive edge to the Avs in his quiet stability.

In goal, Semyon Varlamov has some competition for the starting job– if he can stay healthy– as Philipp Grubauer was acquired at the draft in June and signed to a three-year extension at a cap friendly $3.333 million per season.

Grubauer, 26, dropped the first two games of the Washington Capitals postseason run in April while Braden Holtby was figuring himself out, but managed a 15-10-3 record in 35 games played in the 2017-18 regular season as Washington’s backup. He also had a 2.35 goals against average and .923 save percentage in his most games played in a season since reaching the NHL during the 2012-13 season.

Varlamov, 30, managed to play in 51 games last season, despite injuries, and amassed a 24-16-6 record to go along with a 2.68 GAA and .916 SV%. Last season was much better than his 6-17-0 record in 24 games played in 2016-17, in which Varlamov had a career-worst 3.38 GAA and .898 SV%.

With one-year remaining on his contract at $5.900 million a season, Varlamov’s reached a make-or-break point in his career, let alone his time in the Mile High City. Grubauer is the way of the foreseeable future and a little healthy competition never hurt anyone for the starting job.

Sure Jonathan Bernier’s moved on to the Detroit Red Wings, but Colorado has one of the most sought after goalies that was on the slim trade market among options in the crease.

Offseason Grade: B-

The Avalanche had some needs and they filled them. In accordance with hockey logic, Colorado shouldn’t be as good as they were last season this season, but for the first time in at least a few years it appears they’ve found a reliable goaltender.

As MacKinnon continues to emerge and the kids grow into their own, Sakic’s roster looks set to make some waves in the coming years– at least as a spoiler (they took Nashville to six games before being eliminated after all), if not something more.

Despite acquiring Brooks Orpik only to buy him out as some sort of larger scheme the Capitals secretly wanted all along to sign him to a one-year, $1.000 million contract, Colorado didn’t make a bad choice this offseason. It’s just the beginning of making themselves an attractive free agent destination once again.

Down the Frozen River Podcast #113- We’re Still UFAs for the Record

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.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) and/or on Stitcher.

2018 NHL Free Agency– July 1 Signings Recap

This post will be updated throughout the day as signings are officially announced. Be sure to check our Twitter account (@DtFrozenRiver) for all of the latest signings, news, and analysis throughout the day.

Free agency begins at noon (technically 12:01 PM ET) on July 1st. All that is known is shown and will be updated throughout the day. More analysis will come later as the day wraps up.

Reported free agent signings

These are reported agreements in place leftover from the interview period/yet to be confirmed and/or announced by a playing club.

F Zac Rinaldo and the Nashville Predators have come to terms on a two-way contract. Confirmed– announced by club on July 2nd.

Free agent signings

These are confirmed/announced signings.

F Ilya Kovalchuk officially signed his three-year, $6.250 million AAV, deal with the Los Angeles Kings.

D Mike Green signed a two-year contract extension with the Detroit Red Wings worth $5.375 million per season.

D Martin Fehervary signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Washington Capitals.

F Paul Stastny agreed to a three-year contract with the Vegas Golden Knights worth $6.500 million per season.

The Philadelphia Flyers and F James van Riemsdyk agreed top a five-year contract worth $7.000 million per season.

D Thomas Hickey and the New York Islanders have agreed on a four-year, $2.500 million per season, contract extension.

F Ryan Reaves signed a two-year, $2.775 million per season, contract extension with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Minnesota Wild re-signed D Nick Seeler to a three-year contract worth $2.175 million ($725,000 cap hit).

The Boston Bruins signed G Jaroslav Halak to a two-year contract worth $2.750 million per season.

F Chris Kunitz signed a one-year, $1.000 million, contract with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Chicago also signed G Cam Ward to a one-year deal and D Brandon Manning to a two-year contract.

G Jonathan Bernier signed a three-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Detroit also signed F Thomas Vanek to a one-year contract worth $3.000 million.

D Roman Polak agreed to terms with the Dallas Stars on a one-year, $1.300 million contract.

The Montreal Canadiens signed F Tomas Plekanec to a one-year deal worth $2.250 million.

D Eric Gryba signed a one-year contract with the New Jersey Devils worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

D Xavier Ouellet signed a one-year, two-way, $700,000 contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

F Brian Flynn signed a one-year, two-way, deal with the St. Louis Blues worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Joakim Nordstrom agreed to a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.000 million per season.

F Valeri Nichushkin signed a two-year contract ($2.950 million cap hit) with the Dallas Stars.

The Tampa Bay Lightning re-signed D Ryan McDonagh to a seven-year contract extension worth $47.250 million ($6.750 million AAV).

F Matthew Peca signed a two-year, $1.300 million per season, contract with the Montreal Canadiens.

F Jared McCann signed a two-year extension with the Florida Panthers.

D Oliver Ekman-Larsson signed an eight-year extension with the Arizona Coyotes.

F Josh Jooris signed a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

F Adam Cracknell (one-year, $650,000) and D Jordan Subban (one-year, two-way, $650,000 at the NHL level) signed deals with Toronto as well. The Leafs also re-signed D Martin Marincin (one-year, $800,000).

D Nick Holden signed a two-year contract worth $2.200 million per season with the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Arizona Coyotes signed F Michael Grabner to a three-year deal worth $3.350 million per season.

G Petr Mrazek signed a one-year, $1.500 million contract with the Carolina Hurricanes.

G Harri Sateri signed a one-year deal with the Detroit Red Wings.

Dallas signed G Colton Point to a three-year, entry-level contract.

F Tyler Bozak agreed to terms on a three-year contract worth $5.000 million per season with the St. Louis Blues.

The Chicago Blackhawks signed 2018 first round pick, D Adam Boqvist, to a three-year entry-level contract.

F Jesperi Kotkaniemi signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Montreal Canadiens.

G Chad Johnson signed a one-year, $1.750 million contract with the St. Louis Blues.

F J.T. Brown signed a two-year, $1.375 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

F David Perron agreed to a four-year, $16.000 million ($4.000 million AAV) deal with the St. Louis Blues.

D Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year, two-way, contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with Minnesota.

The Washington Capitals signed F Nic Dowd to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

D Tommy Cross signed a two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

G Carter Hutton signed a three-year contract ($2.750 million cap hit) with the Buffalo Sabres.

The Capitals re-signed F Travis Boyd to a two-year contract with an $8000,0000 cap hit.

Montreal signed F Kenny Agostino to a one-year, two-way contract worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

The Canadiens also agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way deal with F Michael Chaput.

F John Tavares signed a seven-year, $77 million ($11.000 million AAV) contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Minnesota Wild signed F Mike Liambas to a two-year, two-way contract.

G Andrew Hammond signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Minnesota Wild.

G Michael Hutchinson signed a one-year, $1.300 million deal with the Florida Panthers.

D John Moore signed a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins.

D Ian Cole agreed to terms on a three-year, $4.250 million per season, contract with the Colorado Avalanche.

D Jack Johnson signed a five-year contract worth $3.25 million per season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh also signed F Matt Cullen to a one-year contract worth $650,000.

Buffalo signed D Brandon Hickey to a two-year entry-level deal.

Detroit signed F Wade Megan and D Jake Chelios to one-year contracts and F Chris Terry to a two-year contract.

The Vancouver Canucks agreed to terms with F Jay Beagle on a four-year contract worth $3.000 million per season.

G Anton Khudobin and the Dallas Stars agreed on a two-year deal worth $2.500 AAV.

The Stars also signed F Michael Mersch to a two-year, two-way deal and D Joel Hanley to a one-year, two-way contract.

G Scott Wedgewood signed a one-year, two-way deal with the Buffalo Sabres.

F Antoine Roussel and the Vancouver Canucks agreed on a four-year deal worth $3.000 million per season.

The Tampa Bay Lightning signed D Cameron Gaunce to a one-year, two-way contract.

The Columbus Blue Jackets signed D Adam Clendening to a one-year, two-way contract.

F Logan Couture signed an eight-year extension with the San Jose Sharks.

F Eric Fehr signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Minnesota Wild.

F Matt Calvert signed a three-year contract with the Colorado Avalanche with a $2.800 million cap hit.

G Maxime Lagace re-signed with the Vegas Golden Knights to a one-year, two-way contract. Vegas also signed G Zachary Fucale to a one-year deal.

F Tobias Rieder signed a deal with the Edmonton Oilers.

D Dillon Simpson signed a two-year, two-way deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

F Daniel Carr signed a one-year, $750,000 contract with the Vegas Golden Knights.

F Derek Ryan signed a three-year deal with the Calgary Flames worth $3.125 million per season.

Calgary also signed F Austin Czarnik to a two-year contract worth $1.250 million per season.

The Flames re-signed D Dalton Prout to a one-year, $800,000 deal.

The Winnipeg Jets signed G Laurent Brossoit to a one-year, $650,000 contract.

F Matt Hendricks signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the Minnesota Wild.

D Tyler Wotherspoon signed a one-year, two-way contract with the St. Louis Blues worth $700,000 at the NHL level.

Edmonton signed D Kevin Gravel to a one-year contract.

D Stefan Elliott signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Dallas Stars agreed to terms with F Blake Comeau on a three-year, $2.400 million AAV, deal.

F Tim Schaller signed a two-year, $1.900 million cap hit, deal with the Vancouver Canucks.

D Fredrik Claesson signed a one-year, $700,000 contract with the New York Rangers.

The Rangers also re-signed F Vladislav Namestnikov to a two-year deal worth $4.000 AAV.

F Erik Condra signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Dallas Stars.

Pittsburgh signed F Jimmy HayesD Zach Trotman and G John Muse to one-year contracts. All three deals are worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Ottawa Senators signed G Mike McKenna to a one-year, two-way contract.

F Riley Nash signed a three-year, $2.750 million AAV contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

F Kyle Brodziak agreed to a two-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers.

F Paul Carey signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Ottawa Senators.

Boston signed D Cody Goloubef and F Mark McNeill to one-year, two-way contracts worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

The Bruins also announced the signing of their 2018 second round pick, D Axel Andersson to a three-year entry-level contract with an annual cap hit of $825,833.

F Chris Wagner signed a two-year contract with the Boston Bruins worth $1.250 million per season.

F Leo Komarov signed a four-year, $12 million ($3.000 million per season) deal with the New York Islanders.

F Sven Baertschi re-signed with the Vancouver Canucks on a three-year deal ($3.367 AAV).

Vegas signed F Brandon PirriF Alex GallantF Curtis McKenzie, and D Jimmy Oligny.

The Winnipeg Jets signed F Dennis EverbergF Seth Griffith and re-signed D Cameron Schilling to one-year, two-way, $650,000 contracts.

In their first official signing of the day, the Nashville Predators and F Connor Brickley came to an agreement on a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Rocco Grimaldi signed a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 with the Nashville Predators.

The Calgary Flames signed F Tyler Graovac and F Alan Quine to one-year, two-way contracts. Graovac’s cap hit is $650,000 and Quine’s is $700,000 at the NHL level.

Nashville signed D Jarred Tinordi to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

New Jersey signed D John Ramage to a one-year, two-way contract worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Joel L’Esperance signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Dallas Stars.

G Jared Coreau signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Anaheim Ducks worth $650,000 at the NHL level.

F Valtteri Filppula signed a deal with the New York Islanders.

It’s July 1st… Here’s some UFAs*

*Technically speaking, these players cannot sign until noon on Sunday, but thanks to a week long interview period with all the other teams, they might already have agreements in place.

With that in mind, let’s try to weigh the options in front of the best options in the market this summer, keeping in mind these rankings are completely arbitrary and ultimately meaningless– like everything in the postmodern world (that was for you, Islanders fans, in case You-Know-Who doesn’t re-sign).

First, let’s get this out of the way– signing Ryan Reaves for two-years at $2.775 million per season is… bad. Yeah, not great. That’s over half of what James Neal was making (at least according to his $5.000 million cap hit in Vegas) in 2017-18 and, well, Reaves is a fourth liner.

Neal can still reach the 30-goal plateau.

Granted, his stock will undoubtedly rise too, given a remarkable Golden Knights inaugural season run all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Anyway, on with the show, eh (Happy Canada Day, Canadian readers).

Five of the best UFA forwards:

1) John Tavares, 27, 36-47–83 totals in 82 games played, $5.500 million cap hit (2017-18)

Tavares may leave the New York Islanders, then again he may stick around. Also at play (at the time of this writing around 1:30 a.m. ET and in no particular order), the Toronto Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks, Boston Bruins and Dallas Stars.

He can only sign for a maximum of seven years and will likely cost around $10 million per season. For contending teams, his decision means everything for the rest of the dominoes to fall in place.

For those outside the playoff picture looking to get back into the swing of things, well, expect those small deals to be announced right away at noon.

2) James van Riemsdyk, 29, 36-18–54 totals in 81 games played, $4.250 million cap hit (2017-18)

van Riemsdyk shouldn’t be in the $9.000 million range, but stranger things always happen on July 1st every offseason. All indications thus far point to a reunion with the team that drafted him 2nd overall in 2007– the Philadelphia Flyers.

Will it be a smart deal? Yes and no.

Assuming Philadelphia rids themselves of Jori Lehtera‘s $4.700 million per season on the books next summer and finds a way to keep Wayne Simmonds around, this is a lateral move that fills what could become a hole in their top-six forwards. Then again, perhaps the Flyers are already thinking of moving on from Simmonds via a trade? Time will tell.

Meanwhile van Riemsdyk is a two-time 30-goal scorer, so that should offset Philadelphia’s lackluster goaltending, right?

3) James Neal, 30, 25-19–44 totals in 71 games played, $5.000 million cap hit (2017-18)

Neal is two years younger than the next guy on this list, but he’s been more consistent as a glue-guy that can slide up on your second line when necessary. Will he be overpaid? For sure. Will he score more than 30 goals in 2018-19? It’s possible. Neal tends to have two or three seasons under 30 goals before a “breakout” year like in 2011-12 (40 goals) and 2015-16 (31 goals).

Anything longer than five years is a bad deal in the long run (not for Neal though). Even five years is pushing it as he’ll be well past his prime by then.

4) Paul Stastny, 32, 16-37–53 totals in 82 games played, $7.000 million cap hit (2017-18)

Stastny is one of the best playmakers in the league that doesn’t always get enough recognition. Unfortunately for one general manager, that’ll mean a lot of money packed into too long of a deal this summer.

Oft injured and not quite the dominant force he was when he broke into the league in 2006-07, Stastny doesn’t come with any receipts or refunds, but rather a “buyer beware” tag. In the right role, he’ll elevate your team to the Western Conference Final, a la his run down the stretch with the Winnipeg Jets.

Otherwise, paying him more than $7.000 million and expecting different results as a first or second line center without support is insane.

5) Tyler Bozak, 32, 11-32–43 totals in 81 games played, $4.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

Bozak had one season past the 50-point plateau (he had 55 points in 2016-17), but he consistently manages upper-40s from season to season. That’s points, not goals alone, mind you.

Something in the $6.000 million range sounds perfect. Especially if you’re putting Bozak on the second line on your roster. Similar to Stastny, though, the right support around him can elevate his production. Unlike Stastny, however, Bozak is less injury prone.

If you can’t sign one of these five forwards, take a pamphlet on David Perron (66 points), Thomas Vanek (56 points), Riley Nash (41 points), Patrick Maroon (40 points) or Michael Grabner (36 points).

Five of the best UFA defenders:

1) Thomas Hickey, 29, 5-19–24 totals in 69 games played, $2.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

Hickey didn’t play a full season in any of the three seasons of his most recent contract with the Islanders. Baring any setbacks, he should be due for a raise and an increased role as a top-4 defender looking for a fresh start (assuming he leaves New York).

Look, there are no surefire 30 or 40-point scorer defenders available on the market this summer unless you take a gander at some RFA blueliners like Matt Dumba (49 points), Colin Miller (41), Brandon Montour (32), Noah Hanifin (31) and Ryan Pulock (30).

If you’re simply trying to fill a need and have done enough scouting, Hickey could be your guy. Just saying.

2) Ian Cole, 29, 5-15–20 totals in 67 games played, $2.100 million cap hit (2017-18)

Buy low, sell (potentially) high is what one can expect from Cole.

Considering how the Pittsburgh Penguins traded him to the Ottawa Senators as part of the Derick Brassard trade, then was flipped to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Nick Moutrey and a 2020 third round pick, Cole at least brings interested eyes from playoff hopeful general managers looking to add to the blueline.

He could be a big steal or expendable. The choice is yours.

3) Dylan DeMelo, 25, 0-20–20 totals in 62 games played, $650,000 cap hit (2017-18)

DeMelo is a top-6 blueliner that for some reason, wasn’t in the plans for the San Jose Sharks and their latest attempt at the “Cup or bust” mantra (hey, it worked for Washington finally– despite abandoning the “Cup or bust” mentality thanks, in part, to the salary cap).

Yes, he didn’t score a goal in 2017-18, but 20 assists is still something as a defenseman. Also, not every defenseman is counted on to score. That’s offense and they’re defensemen after all.

4) Calvin de Haan, 27, 1-11–12 totals in 33 games played, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)

Injuries and surgery kept de Haan from playing a full season. Otherwise, yes, the production of optimal defenders to attract this offseason really does fall off in the UFA category.

de Haan is only 27, so he’s still in his playing prime and ripe as a defender (blueliners really tapper off around 33-years-old if you use the eye test– there are always exceptions, however). If the Islanders can’t keep him around, there’s a good chance he’ll do better elsewhere in a legitimate role.

5) Andrej Sustr, 27, 2-5–7 totals in 44 games played, $1.950 million cap hit (2017-18)

Being 6-foot-7 and 220-pounds should be good enough to prevent other players that are (on average) half-a-foot shorter from breaking into the offensive zone.

Sustr was the odd man out in Tampa as the Lightning exploded with youth on the blueline this season. He could lock up a $3.000-$4.000 million AAV deal easily this summer and do well in a top-4 role for a team needing a right shot defender to make the difference.

If you can’t sign one of these five defensemen, perhaps take a chance on John Moore (18 points), Nick Holden (17), Luca Sbisa (14), Roman Polak (12) or yes, Brooks Orpik (10) for his rough-and-tough qualities.

Five of the best UFA goaltenders:

1) Carter Hutton, 32, .931 save percentage and 2.09 goals against average in 32 GP, $1.125 million cap hit (2017-18)

Hutton realistically has three solid years left as a goaltender and will likely end up with the Buffalo Sabres as they plan to transition the rights to tending the net from Hutton to Linus Ullmark, theoretically, right?

At least Hutton’s been above average as a backup for the last three seasons with a 2.33 GAA and .918 SV% in 17 games for the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, 2.39 GAA and .913 SV% in 30 games for St. Louis in 2016-17 and his 2.09 and .931 this season for the Blues.

If he’s signed for more than three years that’s not great. Considering he’s about to cash in on $4.000 million per season, probably.

2) Kari Lehtonen, 34, .912 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 37 GP, $5.900 million cap hit (2017-18)

Any team looking to add a backup on a one or two-year deal while they’re waiting for a prospect to make the full-time backup role would be smart to land Lehtonen in net for that transition period.

Especially if that team has a solid defense in front of him and an offense to steal a game or two. While Lehtonen was 15-14-3 this season in 37 games for the Dallas Stars, that’s still only three games below .500.

Think about that. He played more games than usual for a backup– appearing in almost half of the season for Dallas– and the net result was only a few points out of the postseason. A nice two-year deal gives Lehtonen some job security as he joins the 35-year-old club in November.

Another plus, for those interested, he won’t be at a $5.900 million cap hit on his next deal.

3) Anton Khudobin, 32, .913 SV% and 2.56 GAA in 31 GP, $1.200 million cap hit (2017-18)

In his two-year reunion with the Boston Bruins, Khudobin went from a 2.64 GAA and .904 SV% in 2016-17 (16 games played) to a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 2017-18 (31 games played).

The last time he played over 30 games was for the Carolina Hurricanes in 2013-14, when he went on to suit up for 34 appearances and yielded a 2.72 GAA and .900 SV%. Ouch.

Khudobin will be overpaid simply because he’s a “durable” backup, but mostly because he’s younger than Lehtonen (34), Cam Ward (34) and Jaroslav Halak (33).

Sample size is everything. Was 2017-18 a lucky fluke or a product of having a good team in front of him? His next team in 2018-19 will be more telling (and it just might be the Dallas Stars). Approach with caution.

4) Cam Ward, 34, .906 SV% and 2.73 GAA in 43 GP, $3.300 million cap hit (2017-18)

Ward is no longer a starting goaltender and was over-relied on in Carolina this season thanks to Scott Darling‘s vanishing act as a starter (albeit in his first season as a starting goaltender).

At 34, Ward isn’t getting any younger, but signs are pointing to the Chicago Blackhawks, where, at least they have Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith on the blueline to limit shots against.

Oh and a healthy Corey Crawford, hopefully, to really limit Ward’s workload. This is going to be like that time Marty Turco was Chicago’s backup, isn’t it?

5) Jonathan Bernier, 29, .913 SV% and 2.85 GAA in 37 GP, $2.750 million cap hit (2017-18)

Bernier literally saved Colorado’s season when Semyon Varlamov went down with yet another injury. Now Philipp Grubauer is manning the pipes for the Avalanche with Varlamov moving into a refined role unless General Manager Joe Sakic can find a trading partner and keep Bernier from going where he is expected to go on Sunday.

The Detroit Red Wings are calling Bernier’s number as the next backup to Jimmy Howard and it’s a lateral move from Petr Mrazek‘s 2.89 GAA and .910 SV% in 22 games in 2017-18 with Detroit before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers.

Seriously, Bernier’s only saving grace was that the 2017-18 Avalanche were a lot better than the 2016-17 Avalanche had they been in front of the netminder (Bernier was with the Anaheim Ducks in 2016-17).

Regardless, the Red Wings are rebuilding, so it makes sense (somehow).

If you can’t sign one of these UFA goalies, hopefully you’re not looking to sign a starter from the market this offseason, much less a backup. Start working those phonelines for a trade, because Halak, Robin Lehner and others are your UFA options. *shudders*

2018 Offseason Preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

Our offseason previews for all 31 National Hockey League teams continues with the Columbus Blue Jackets and their outlook for the summer.

The Jackets finished the 2017-18 season with a record of 45-30-7, capping a strong (albeit inconsistent) campaign with 97 points, earning them fourth place in the Metropolitan Division and a playoff birth as the first wild card in the East.

After taking two dramatic overtime victories in Washington to start the playoffs, the soldiers in Union Blue fell on their bayonets by dropping four-straight games (including three within the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena) to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals and were once again eliminated from contention in the opening round of the playoffs.

I mean, would they really be the Blue Jackets if they didn’t get your hopes up before firing them out of that cannon?

Though the core of a solid-if-not-spectacular team is likely to remain through the summer, the front office is now feeling the pressure of raising a team that they drug out of the trenches by the bootstraps to the next level. The fanbase will no longer accept ‘just making the playoffs’, and though there’s still plenty of promising youth onboard, some key players like captain Nick Foligno are sliding into the back half of their careers. This is a team that needs to win, and needs to do it soon.

How can they do that? I’m glad you asked. (If you didn’t actually ask, I’m still going to tell you.)

2018 NHL Entry Draft

The Jackets are decently well-stocked to try and score some talent in this year’s draft, with a pick in each of the first three rounds, along with another in both the sixth and seventh. It will be those early-round picks that are likely to mean the most to GM Jarmo Kekalainen and his staff, as this year’s extremely deep draft class means that you’re likely to nab some serious quality (or perhaps have a bigger bargaining chip should you decide to trade picks for another asset) deeper in than usual.

It’s not overly likely that the CBJ will look to acquire further picks, though they could perhaps look to trade up from their 18th spot in line. With Jack Johnson a pending UFA who looks very likely to be on the move (his recent time in Columbus has been tumultuous, and a change of scenery could be the spark he needs to reignite his career) come July 1, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that we could see a deal made to send his negotiating rights and that 18th pick to a team further up the draft order.

As for likely selections with whatever first round pick they happen to have (we’ll pretend that if they trade up, it will be a small swing, maybe in the 12-15 position at most), a few names stand out to me as filling potential needs.

Serron Noel, a 6-foot-5, 205-pound right winger out of the OHL (Oshawa Generals) could be a fit on a team with few natural right wingers. A solid, if not outstanding scorer in juniors, Noel is still filling out his large frame and is likely to continue improving his burgeoning offensive game, drawing comparisons to power forwards like Wayne Simmonds. An eventual perhaps third-and-fourth line RW tandem of Noel and Josh Anderson would be a lot of meat to throw at opposing defenses.

Bode Wilde, a 6-foot-2, 196-pound right shooting defenseman from the United States National Team Development Program, is a very good possibility. Regarded as one of the better all-round defenders in a draft that is not lacking them, Wilde could eventually complete a defense corps that boasts himself along with David Savard and Seth Jones down the right side. Not a bad lineup there. In particular, his booming slap shot would be a welcome addition on a power play unit that hasn’t had a true cannon since James Wisniewski‘s departure. Also, he has a sick hockey name.

My personal pick for the most likely selection comes in the form of Swedish Elite League center Isac Lundestrom. At 6-feet and 185 pounds, he’s not far off from good NHL size, and with the additional polish his defensive game could use, he’d likely have plenty of time to hit the weight room before reaching the Jackets lineup. But his elite offensive capabilities and, in particular, blinding speed address two of the club’s biggest shortcomings. He also provides versatility, having proven himself capable of playing the left wing well. Regarded by some scouts as having potentially the highest ceiling of any center in the draft, he could be a mid-round steal for Columbus.

Pending Free Agents

The UFA list for Columbus isn’t huge, but it does contain a few potentially interesting names. NHL regulars Johnson (who’s possible fate has already been discussed, so we’ll skip over him in this section), Thomas Vanek, Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, and Mark Letestu are the most notable names (no offense to Jeff Zatkoff, Taylor Chorney, Andre Benoit, Cameron Gaunce, and Alex Broadhurst).

Vanek’s stint in Columbus started off very well, gelling quickly with linemates Alexander Wennberg and Boone Jenner to put up great numbers in early games following his acquisition at the deadline. But the magic wore off and he was all-but-invisible during the playoffs, often looking far too slow to keep up with the game. Acquired for an absolute steal (Jussi Jokinen, a waiver wire pickup, and Tyler Motte, a throw-in on the Artemi Panarin trade that had bounced around between the AHL and the Jackets’ fourth line all year), it doesn’t hurt the organization at all to simply let him walk.

Calvert was protected from the expansion draft in place of 2017-18 40-goal scorer William Karlsson. That isn’t necessarily relevant information, but I enjoy pain. Anyway, Calvert enjoyed a so-so year, producing nine goals and a career-high (tied) 24 points in 69 (nice) games played. A solid contributor on the penalty kill, and a constant spark plug on the fourth line, his never-quit playing style has endeared him to Columbus fans, but he may have to take a hometown discount if he wants to stay.

Cole played extremely well down the stretch for Columbus after his acquisition from Pitt…Otta…it was weird, but you get the point. He basically made Jack Johnson expendable, and he has said many times that he absolutely loves the city and his new teammates. It’s of course always a matter of numbers, but don’t be surprised to see Cole back in Union Blue next year.

Letestu loves Columbus, lives in Columbus (his family never left when he went to Edmonton), and has said he would like to finish his career there. Still a more-than-serviceable fourth line center that can help your special teams units, it’s likely he’ll take a hometown discount and remain with the organization.

The RFA list is smaller, but contains three major names in Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ryan Murray.

Jenner is a fan favorite, and one of the hardest-working 30-goal scorers you’ll ever find. But after a breakout 30-goal, 49-point 2015-16 campaign, he’s tallied just 31 goals and 65 points in 157 games since. If not for a late-season hot streak when paired with Wennberg and Vanek this season, his numbers would have been significantly lower. At times the game just seems too fast for his skating abilities, and even at just 24 years of age you wonder if he can improve it enough to stay useful. I’d expect him to get a bridge extension on a pay level similar to his current $2.9M, but Boone has a lot to prove going forward.

Bjorkstrand is coming off of his entry level contract, and I’d expect a bridge-style deal similar to what I listed for Jenner. Posting 11 goals and 29 assists for 40 points this season, ‘Olli’ showed flashes of his potential, but still needs to get a little more confident in himself, and particularly in his laser beam wrist shot.

Murray is a very intriguing topic. Though ever-dependable, the former WHL standout and second-overall pick has never really hit the stride he was projected to, particularly in the offensive department. Derailed time and time again by injuries (often to his legs, which are probably the silky-smooth skating defender’s greatest weapons), Murray has played all 82 games just once in 5 NHL seasons, and has missed no less than 19 games in any other campaign.

At 24-years-old, he’s definitely still young enough to sell as ‘Still coming into his own’ and his potential ceiling should be alluring to many teams. With other good young left handed defenders waiting in the wings (Markus Nutivaara, Gabriel Carlsson, Dean Kukan, Vladislav Gavrikov), the time could be right to try and swing a sign-and-trade type of deal to send Murray out in exchange for some offensive power. The Senators come to mind as a potential trade partner, as a spoil of offensive firepower up front is countered by a defense corps that is suspect at best, especially with the likely departure of Erik Karlsson. Mike Hoffman‘s name was already tied to Columbus around the trade deadline last year, but former Ohio State standout Ryan Dzingel could be a potential fit, as well.

I don’t expect a particularly busy or flashy offseason in Columbus, but Kekalainen and company can’t just rest on their laurels, either. They have a very good group that really needs just a few things to get them over the hump. Add another solid offensive threat or two to compliment the dynamic Panarin/Pierre-Luc Dubois line, sprinkle in a reliable veteran depth blueliner, and hinge your bets on a new goaltending coach for Sergei Bobrovsky (longtime man Ian Clark is departing the team this summer) helping him get past his playoff struggles, and you might be on to something.

Oh, and you may want to figure out what to do with that abysmal Brandon Dubinsky contract…

The Washington Capitals break Tortorella’s promise

Led by Captain Alex Ovechkin‘s two-goal game, the Washington Capitals beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 6 by the score of 6-3. The Capitals closed out the first round series 4-2, winning four-straight games after losing the first two at home.

The first period was pretty even. The Blue Jackets saw a lot of the puck and seemed to get into the Caps’ zone, but couldn’t get many clear-cut chances. It was a full-team effort for Columbus, as even the Jackets’ defensemen were getting deep into the zone, looking to get the attack going. However, Braden Holtby was having none of that early.

As a result, the Caps were forced counter Columbus’ lengthy possessions with fast outbreaks until they grew into the match and got their own cycle game up and running. Unfair to the game, Washington got the contest’s opening goal with Dmitry Orlov getting to the slot and beating Sergei Bobrovsky with 7:48 remaining in the frame.

The second period saw Columbus find an answer as they tied the game at one just before the halfway point of the period. Nick Foligno beat Holtby with a nice wrister to the far post, with Ryan Murray and Ian Cole picking up the assists on the fast rush.

The tie didn’t last long though, as four minutes later Ovechkin took over.

His first goal came in the slot off a rebound. He collected the puck and scored backhanded to restore the Capitals’ one-goal lead.

He wasn’t done there though. After a bad holding penalty on Seth Jones (against Ovechkin, no less), Ovi doubled the lead and his goal total in the game with a power play goal from his usual spot in the left face-off circle. This time, it was John Carlson who set him up for his patented one-timer bomb past Bob.

After the second intermission, the 3-1 score lasted only 2:25 into the third period as Columbus came out on a mission to live up to John Tortorella’s promise of a Game 7. Pierre-Luc Dubois takes credit for the goal that cut the Caps’ lead to 3-2.

Washington had an answer though, as Devante Smith-Pelly sniped one past Bob for his second marker in the playoffs. The Capitals continued to bury the Blue Jackets as Chandler Stephenson scored a shorthanded breakaway just a minute and a half later, giving Washington a 5-2 advantage.

The Jackets didn’t give up though, most notably at the 8:22 mark when Foligno was in the right place at the right time to deflect a pass from Boone Jenner into the net for his second on the night.

And Foligno’s goal wasn’t the last offering Columbus tried either. The Jackets kept right on firing, but Holtby stayed strong. The Capitals also had some vital penalty kills during the third period that saw players blocking big shots at the right time.

Finally, with only 14 seconds left in the game, Lars Eller put the final nail in Columbus’ coffin by sealing the game at 6-3 with a long-range empty-netter.

For the third-consecutive year, the Capitals will play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Dates, times and broadcast information have yet to be determined for any of those contests, but Washington’s third-straight Metropolitan Division title has earned it home ice for the series.

Caps OT Win Puts Jackets On Brink

With an overtime-winning goal from Nicklas Backstrom, the Caps became the first team to win a game on home ice in this series as they moved within a win of the second round.  The Jackets have now lost three straight after starting the series with a 2-0 advantage.

The Jackets had played a solid first period, but the Caps got a power play that felt like it could shift momentum.  Instead, Matt Calvert scored a short-handed goal to give the Jackets their first 1-0 lead of the series off of some nice board work by Seth Jones.  The lead wouldn’t last long as Backstrom got a lucky break on a shot that went off of David Savard‘s skate, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s mask and into the goal.

As the second period started, it felt like the Caps were the hungrier team.  Dmitry Orlov sent a long stretch pass to Evgeny Kuznetsov that he buried to give the Caps their first lead of the game at 2-1.  It was one of several poor line changes by Columbus and Washington took advantage.  Despite continued pressure from the Caps, the Jackets would even it up when Calvert got his second of the game on a breakaway after initially whiffing on a shot and then making a spin move to put it in the net.  With 3:18 left in the 2nd period T.J. Oshie redirected a point shot from John Carlson to put the Caps ahead 3-2. Once again, it felt like maybe the Caps were going to take control of the game.

However, Oliver Bjorkstrand had other thoughts.  Ian Cole took a shot from the point that Bjorkstrand tipped to knot the game at three early in the third period.  Bjorkstrand had seen little time throughout the game (and the series), but he seemed to gain confidence in this game and John Tortorella rewarded him with additional time in the third period and overtime.  All of the momentum was with Columbus in the third period, but they couldn’t solve Braden Holtby.  The Caps were outshot 16-1 in the final frame of regulation.

Once again, the long change seemed to cause problems for the Jackets as momentum again shifted to the Caps in overtime.  The Jackets have struggled with the long change throughout the season and this trend seems to have carried into the playoffs.  The Jackets best chance in overtime was with Bjorkstrand and Jenner on the ice together.  It is a pairing that work at times in the early part of the season and which made some sense here given the game Bjorkstrand had played to that point and the series that Jenner has had.  But it wasn’t to be and the game-winning goal came on a shift in which the Caps managed to sustain pressure and, again, re-direct a point shot past Bobrovsky.

There were some encouraging signs for the Blue Jackets and John Tortorella was emphatic in the press conference that his team would be ready for Game 6 and that they would force a Game 7, but they are running out of chances and now they have their backs against the wall.  Getting Bjorkstrand involved in the game is definitely a positive as the Jackets have been over-relying on their top line.  Cam Atkinson finished the game with 28:25 time on ice and Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois weren’t far behind.

There are also some things to be concerned about.  Bobrovsky’s subpar save percentage in this game is probably not as big of a concern given that more than one of those goals was off a redirection.  What is more of a concern is that Panarin seemed less dynamic than usual after a slash to his knee.  While his 80 percent is still better than most players at 100 percent, his line has also been a big driver in this series and, as noted above, spends a lot of time on the ice.  The Jackets also need to make a decision about Brandon Dubinsky with Alexander Wennberg back on the ice.  Dubinsky’s struggles have been a story line this season, sometimes to the point of being tabloid material.  His struggles as this series have progressed are real and time on ice of just 7:28 (despite getting time on penalty kill) suggests the coaching staff is well aware of the issue.  Mark Letestu looked to be the better option as this game progressed.

The Caps will have the chance to finish the series off in Columbus on Monday and will have confidence having beaten the Jackets twice on the road.  Should they lose, however, the old doubts might start to creep back in, so the series still isn’t over yet and could have some surprises in store.

Costly penalties abound; Jackets win 4-3 in overtime

 

In a contest filled with a combined 29 penalty minutes and four power play goals, the Columbus Blue Jackets earned a 4-3 overtime victory to beat the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena in Game 1 of their first round matchup.

With the exception of this being the first overtime match of the 2018 postseason, easily the biggest story coming out of this game is RW Josh Anderson‘s boarding penalty against D Michal Kempny with 2:37 remaining in the first period. Kempny struggled to return to his skates after the hit and never returned to the game, earning Anderson a match penalty (and a probable call from the Department of Player Safety if D Drew Doughty‘s one-game suspension is any indication) and the Capitals a five-minute power play.

Having managed only four shots on goal in their first two power plays against Columbus’ (t)fifth-worst regular season penalty kill, Second Star of the Game F Evgeny Kuznetsov took matters into his own hands to score two goals in the first 58 seconds of Anderson’s infraction. Both markers, which set the score at 2-0, were a result of primary apples from C Nicklas Backstrom and hockey assists by Third Star D John Carlson.

However, the man-advantage didn’t just favor the hosts, as the Blue Jackets also earned themselves a pair of power play markers in the third period – including the tally that forced overtime.

RW Tom Wilson was caught charging D Ryan Murray 1:18 into the third period, and W Thomas Vanek (F Pierre-Luc Dubois and First Star LW Artemi Panarin) needed only 13 seconds of the man-advantage to tie the game at 2-2 with a wrist shot (C Alexander Wennberg [F Boone Jenner and Vanek] got the Jackets on the board with a second period even-strength goal).

Even though Washington regained a one-goal lead at the 5:12 mark when W Devante Smith-Pelly (LW Jakub Vrana and Carlson) scored a wrister, another Capitals penalty – this one an W Andre Burakovsky tripping infraction against D Seth Jones – proved to really send the hosts off the rails.

Burakovsky was sent to the sin bin with 5:05 remaining in regulation with a two-minute sentence, but Jones (Panarin and RW Cam Atkinson) – the very man he tripped – found it in him to post his bail after serving only 39 seconds of confinement by scoring a wrister.

Forgiveness is a fickle thing in the NHL, isn’t it?

Speaking of forgiveness, the Capitals will be begging for it from Head Coach Barry Trotz before too long considering how easily Panarin (D Ian Cole and Dubois) was able to get into position to rip his overtime wrister over G Philipp Grubauer‘s left shoulder.

Upon receiving Cole’s falling pass from Columbus’ zone, Panarin sped along the left boards – dodging D Dmitry Orlov in the process – to end up on Grubauer’s front porch. Instead of being patient and attempting to drag the play across the crease, Panarin elected to elevate his wrister from the slot to beat the netminder to the far post.

G Sergei Bobrovsky earned the victory after saving 27-of-30 shots faced (.9 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Grubauer, who saved 23-of-27 (.852).

With the obvious goal of limiting penalties in Game 2, the energy levels of both teams – specifically Columbus’ offense and Washington’s defense – will be of much interest. Playing almost the entire game short a skater can be extremely taxing, and everyone involved will surely be grateful for the extra day off before returning to Capital One Arena.

Speaking of Game 2,  it’s scheduled for Sunday, April 15 at 7:30 p.m. Eastern. For those that can’t make it to Capital One Arena, the tilt will be broadcast on NBCSN, SN360 and TVAS2.

March 6 – Day 146 – Colorful adjectives

Nine games are on today’s schedule, so let’s jump right in!

Like most nights, the action finds its start at 7 p.m. with a quartet of games (Detroit at Boston [NBCSN/SN/TVAS], Montréal at New Jersey [RDS/TSN2], Winnipeg at the New York Rangers and Vegas at Columbus), followed half an hour later by the Governor’s Cup featuring Florida at Tampa Bay. A pair of tilts drop the puck at 8 p.m. (Dallas at Nashville and Carolina at Minnesota), with Colorado at Chicago waiting 30 minutes before getting underway. Finally, Washington at Anaheim (NBCSN) closes out the evening’s schedule at 10 p.m. All times Eastern.

Some of the games I circled before the start of the season include…

  • Detroit at Boston: Original Six matchup, anyone?
  • Vegas at Columbus: Remember that C William Karlsson guy the Blue Jackets left exposed for the expansion draft? Turns out he’s pretty good at hockey.
  • Florida at Tampa Bay: Given the Panthers’ recent surge, this season’s Governor’s Cup is turning out to be a big deal.

Of those three, the game in Ohio looks like it will be the most competitive. Off to Nationwide Arena!

 

 

 

 

 

Though selected by the Ducks in the second round of the 2011 Entry Draft, Karlsson played only 18 NHL games with Anaheim before it shipped him, RW Rene Bourque and a 2015 second round pick to Columbus (the Jackets used to select C Kevin Stenlund, if you’re wondering) at the 2015 trade deadline for D James Wisniewski and Detroit’s 2015 third round pick (the Ducks chose F Brent Gates, for those keeping score at home).

Though it seems hard to believe in light of this season, Wild Bill was far from the main attraction in this transaction. The Ducks were rolling as the Western Conference’s top seed, and they brought in the experienced 30-year-old Wisniewski to shore up their defensive end. Ultimately, Anaheim fell in the Western Finals in seven games to Chicago, even though it rolled through the first two rounds by suffering only one loss.

But this isn’t about those Ducks. It’s about Karlsson.

After only one offseason in the Columbus system, Karlsson earned a permanent spot on the NHL roster for the 2015-’16 season. He improved nominally on his 3-2-5 totals in 21 games during the 2014-’15 season, managing 9-11-20 marks in 81 games played in what was technically his rookie campaign. Of note, Karlsson also earned 10 votes for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy that season, finishing 32nd behind award-winner and former rival C Anze Kopitar.

We started to get glimpses of Karlsson’s new normal last season, as he improved his season marks to 6-19-25 in 81 regular season games played. Though far from exemplary, Karlsson was still showing growth and reason for optimism.

Then the postseason started, and Karlsson officially earned his “Wild Bill” nickname.

The Blue Jackets lasted only five games in last season’s playoffs against the Penguins, but boy was the Swede impressive. He posted dominant 2-1-3 totals (tying RW Cam Atkinson and F Boone Jenner for most goals and forcing a four-way tie for most points [W Brandon Saad]) in his five showings, while also tying W Matt Calvert for a team-leading +4 goal-differential.

This is the return General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen was hoping for when he traded Wisniewski!

Well… maybe not.

Not only was Karlsson left exposed to the Golden Knights for the expansion draft, but Kekalainen also traded a 2017 first round pick (Vegas flipped that pick to Winnipeg, who selected W Kristian Vesalainen) and a 2019 second round pick to General Manager George McPhee to ensure Karlsson was the Jacket selected to relocate to Sin City.

There’s no telling if McPhee and Head Coach Gerard Gallant always had their eye on Karlsson or if they considered him at Kekalainen’s request, but considering how everything has gone their way this season, I wouldn’t doubt it. I’m sure they saw Wild Bill’s coming out party in April and dreamed of playing him on their top line with much success.

Of course, even with his playoff performance, who could have expected this explosion? Karlsson has played in every game this season for the Golden Knights, posting 35-24-59 totals in 65 showings. His 35 goals are (t)fourth-most in the league, and he’s only five short of Richard Trophy-leader W Alex Ovechkin. Additionally, his +39 goal differential on the season is far and away the best in the NHL, as he has a +5 advantage on linemate W Reilly Smith.

Karlsson is slated to become a restricted free agent this summer, but I have an inkling he’ll be a Golden Knight for the considerable future considering Vegas has almost $28.5 million in cap space next season.

Even though they’re still leading the Pacific Division by 10 points, the 42-18-5 Golden Knights don’t necessarily come to Columbus in top form. A win against the Devils Sunday snapped a three-game losing skid that saw Vegas earn only one point.

Vegas’ biggest struggle right now seems to be on the defensive end. Since February 26, the Knights have allowed 36.75 shots against per game, the fourth-most of any team in the league in that time. That mark is well off the 30.6 shots the Golden Knights have allowed per game all season, which is sixth-best in the NHL.

However, unlike a couple teams in the Metropolitan Division, Vegas’ defense isn’t poor due to a lack of effort. D Brayden McNabb in particular has been leaving everything on the ice lately, as his five hits-per-game and 2.5 blocks per game over the past week are both the best marks on the team in that time.

Of course, additional shots have made life a bit more difficult for 22-8-3 G Marc-Andre Fleury. Though he’s managed a decent enough .914 save percentage in his last three starts, the added shots mean that he’s posted a rather unattractive 3.31 GAA. For the season, Fleury has now earned a .928 save percentage and 2.24 GAA.

Tonight’s tilt will be 33-28-5 Columbus’ first since getting back from a three-game Californian road trip that saw the Jackets earn only two points (a 4-2 win in San Jose).

While away from home, the Jackets’ usually solid defense failed them miserably. With 28-21-5 G Sergei Bobrovsky accustomed to facing only 31.3 shots per game (the [t]eighth-best mark in the league), Columbus’ defense has allowed 34.67 in its past three games – the ninth-worst mark in the NHL since March 1.

Just like McNabb has been doing all he can to keep the Knights’ defense together, D Jack Johnson has been doing the same for the Ohioans. Johnson’s 2.7 hits per game and two blocks per game since March 1 are both tied for the team leads (F Brandon Dubinsky and D Ian Cole, respectively) as he is making his presence known all over the ice.

If you’ve reached this paragraph expecting talk about Bobrovsky, you have another think coming as the Russian will be unavailable tonight due to illness. Instead, that forces 5-7-0 G Joonas Korpisalo into the spotlight with his .899 season save percentage and corresponding 3.3 GAA, as he’ll be tonight’s starter. Korpisalo’s last showing was in Los Angeles on March 1, where he saved 29-of-34 shots faced (.853 save percentage) for five goals against.

When the Blue Jackets made their inaugural trip to Vegas on January 23, they joined the long list of teams that have suffered at the hands of the Golden Knights. With a two-goal night from none other than Karlsson, Vegas dominated Columbus to a 6-3 victory.

As for which of these teams needs the points in the standings more, the answer has to be Columbus. Currently occupying the Eastern Conference’s second wild card, the Jackets are in a dog fight with at least three other teams for two playoff spots, meaning every point is important. In fact, if Columbus does not win tonight, it runs the risk of dropping behind the Panthers if they can best the Lightning.

Playoff qualification is all but assured for the Golden Knights at this point, and the same might be able to be said for a Pacific Division banner soon enough. However, they’ve fallen behind the Predators for the conference’s top seed, meaning a potential Game 7 in the Western Finals is currently slated to be played at Bridgestone Arena. Trailing by four points with the same number of games played, this will be a very tight race to keep an eye on.

With two defenses struggling, there’s a big chance this game can turn into a barn burner. If that proves to be the case, there’s no doubt the Golden Knights will earn the victory, as their offense easily outclasses that of the Blue Jackets and should definitely be able to take care of Korpisalo.


The Calgary Flames had an answer for almost everything the Pittsburgh Penguins could throw at them, but it was the hosts that won 4-3 in overtime in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at PPG Paints Arena.

Only 3:05 into the first period, the Penguins had already earned a two-goal advantage. D Chad Ruhwedel (RW Phil Kessel) provided Pittsburgh’s first tally at the 2:10 mark, followed only 55 seconds later by an unassisted wrist shot by F Evgeni Malkin. However, Calgary wasn’t going to let this game get away that easily, as D Mark Giordano (Third Star of the Game W Troy Brouwer and C Matt Stajan) buried a wrister at the 6:14 mark, followed by a C Mikael Backlund (F Michael Frolik and D Travis Hamonic) backhanded shot to level the game at 2-2 – the score that would hold into the first intermission.

The second period would also end with a tied score, but not without a flurry of goals in the final three minutes. Second Star D Kris Letang (Malkin and LW Carl Hagelin) returned a one-goal advantage to Pittsburgh with 2:59 remaining in the frame, but Brouwer (D T.J. Brodie and LW Johnny Gaudreau) buried a wrister with only three seconds remaining before the break to pull the Flames back even at three goals apiece.

With no goals being struck in the third period, that set up a five minute three-on-three overtime period, but First Star D Justin Schultz (Kessel and Malkin) needed only 2:36 of that to provide the Pens’ game-winner.

By removing four players from action, there’s a lot of free space on the ice to execute some deadly passes. That’s exactly what happened in this situation, as Kessel drove towards G Jon Gillies‘ net from the right face-off circle to draw the netminder’s attention – as well as that of Backlund and Frolik. That left Schultz with exactly zero people paying attention to him, leaving the defenseman with more than enough time to bury his snap shot into the gaping cage.

G Tristan Jarry earned the victory after saving 35-of-38 shots faced (.921 save percentage), leaving the overtime loss to Gillies, who saved 28-of-32 (.875).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series have been unstoppable this week, as they’re currently riding a six-game winning streak. With that success, the 80-47-19 hosts have earned a 29-point advantage over the series’ roadies.