Is it time to blow up the Blue Jackets?

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Two seasons ago it seemed like a corner was being turned in Columbus. The team was playing hard, they were involved in every game, Steve Mason was stunning opposing scorers while Rick Nash was tearing apart their defenses. The Blue Jackets had arrived on the scene and were in the playoffs.

Ever since being swept out in the first round by their hated rivals from Detroit, things have taken a turn for the worse in Ohio. The Jackets fired Ken Hitchcock and now have Scott Arniel in charge. Last season, the Blue Jackets weren’t very competitive all year long and found themselves on the wrong side of blowouts a bit too often.

This year, the Jackets showed some hope early on but have fallen back on old habits. Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon are getting lit up in goal, the offense is having a hard time scoring, and the defense is lacking quite a bit. Even defensive stalwart Mike Commodore isn’t welcome any more and wants out of town. In short, it’s ugly in Columbus and it’s looking like the roster needs a drastic shakeup. Is it time to break things up in Columbus? Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch ponders the thought.

It’s believed Howson is desperately trying to make trades. This time it can’t be for a Chris Clark. The Jackets need significant changes and that means breaking up the club’s core.

The general manager should not hesitate.

Howson is going to have to move a Brassard or Voracek or Vermette or Russell or a top prospect to get anything of value. It might require a combination. The general manager should at least listen to offers for his captain and four-time All Star. I could not have imagined typing that sentence a year ago. Trading Nash would not be my first option — he’s far and away the organization’s best player — but right now everything has to be considered.

Ominously, Reed throws out Rick Nash’s name. If Rick Nash is out there and available at all, and I seriously doubt the Blue Jackets would be looking to deal their only star and marketable player, the interest from around the NHL would likely be staggering as picking up a #1 left wing who can fill the net at will would be attractive to anyone. Unless the trade offer was so overwhelming it’d be crazy to say, “No,” to there’s no way Nash will go. On a team without other stars, however, he’s always going to be the most attractive player to lust for your roster.

That said, giving up a guy like Derick Brassard or Jakub Voracek would certainly make the ears of opposing GMs perk up around the league. Brassard is a bit small but has shown the knack to be a solid, second line playmaker (hello Washington!) while Voracek is a big-bodied forward that can score a little bit. In new situations, either of these guys could be breakout candidates.

Vermette could bring interest from teams looking for solid center depth and a guy to anchor the third line. Kris Russell would be a nice offensive defenseman for a team looking to add something to their back line. They’re not game breakers, but they’d be useful cogs in other teams looking to get deeper for their eventual playoff run.

As for the depth in Columbus’ system, it’s severely lacking. 2010 first round pick forward Ryan Johansen is the shining star. Nikita Filatov has had a tumultuous time since being picked in the first round in 2008 and 2009 first rounder defenseman John Moore is getting his feet wet in the AHL this season.

Cam Atkinson is making a name for himself in college hockey as is goalie prospect Allen York but they’re a ways away. With Filatov teetering close to being labeled a bust, the pressure is on Johansen and Moore to blossom and give Columbus something to hope for. In short, things are a mess in Columbus and breaking up this current band of NHLers that isn’t working might be their lone salvation.

What is Alex Galchenyuk’s future in Montreal?

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Alex Galchenyuk is already a good player.

The question for the Montreal Canadiens is, can he be great?

Galchenyuk, the third overall draft pick in 2012, is coming off a decent regular season with 17 goals and 27 assists in 61 games. However, it wasn’t as good as last year’s 30-goal campaign, and he didn’t score a single goal in the playoffs.

“Hopefully he took a step back this year so he can take two forward next year,” GM Marc Bergevin said Monday at the Canadiens’ season-ending press conference.

Three assists were all Galchenyuk could manage in six games against the Rangers. More importantly, after more than 300 NHL games of experience, the 23-year-old is still not an everyday center, on a team where center depth is by far the biggest concern.

Habs defenseman Shea Weber thinks Galchenyuk still has a ton of potential.

“I think we’ve seen glimpses of it,” Weber said, per NHL.com’s Arpon Basu, “but I don’t think he’s tapped into how good he can be. One day he’s going to realize it, like all young guys do, he’s going to get it.”

Of course, not all young guys do get it. And at times, there have been questions about Galchenyuk’s competitiveness.

To play center in the NHL, you have to compete all over the ice.

“Ideally, we would love to have him play center,” head coach Claude Julien said. “But I think he realizes the same thing we realize right now. As a centerman, it’s one of the toughest jobs there is because you have to be all over the ice, and you’ve got to be able to skate. As a centerman, you have to be good at both ends of the ice, and you have to be responsible. Right now, he’s not at that stage.”

The kicker in all this is that Galchenyuk can become a restricted free agent this summer. He’s already signed one bridge deal, and he’s at the age now where many young stars sign for big money and a long term.

So, does he want to sign long term in Montreal?

He ducked the question today.

“My season just ended a couple of days ago,” Galchenyuk told reporters. “I honestly didn’t give it too much of a thought yet.”

Kunitz cleared for contact, available for start of Caps series

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The Pens may get back one of their most veteran skaters for their second-round series against Washington.

Chris Kunitz, who missed the last five regular season games and all of Pittsburgh’s Round 1 win over Columbus, has been cleared for contact (per the Tribune-Review) and could return from his lower-body ailment for Thursday’s opener at Verizon.

Kunitz, 37, finished the year with nine goals and 29 points in 71 games, averaging 15:31 TOI per night. It was a down season offensively, but the Pens are hopeful he can reclaim some of the form shown last spring, when he racked up 12 points in 24 games en route to the title.

A three-time Cup winner, Kunitz skated on the fourth line at today’s practice with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl.

In other health news, the Pens also declared d-man Chad Ruhwedel a game-time decision for Thursday, after he was sidelined with an upper-body injury. Carl Hagelin, out with a lower-body ailment, has continued skating and head coach Mike Sullivan said the team is hopeful Hagelin can play at some point against Washington.

DeBoer praises ‘courageous’ Thornton for playing with torn ACL, MCL (Updated)

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In a fairly stunning admission on Monday, Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer told reporters that Joe Thornton played in four of San Jose’s six playoff games versus Edmonton with a significant knee injury.

Thornton, who was hurt against Vancouver late in the regular season, suffered tears to both his left MCL and ACL.

“I’ve never seen a guy play with a torn MCL and ACL,” DeBoer said, per the club’s Twitter account. “It’s a courageous effort as I’ve ever seen.”

Thornton, 37, missed the first two games of the series to rest his knee, before suiting up for the final four. He averaged 18:50 TOI per night and finished with a pair of assists, numbers that are pretty remarkable given the severity of his ailment.

Jumbo wasn’t the only unhealthy Shark during the first-round playoff ouster. Logan Couture‘s face/mouth injury was well-documented and, today, DeBoer also revealed that Tomas Hertl was playing with a broken foot, and Patrick Marleau with a broken thumb.

Looking ahead, Thornton’s knee injury might cloud what’s an already murky future. He’s a pending UFA, and there have been no clear signals from the organization on how they’ll address his potential return. ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reported in January the Thornton camp was looking for a three-year deal.

If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that Sharks GM Doug Wilson has time on his side. It’s understood the club probably wouldn’t act on an extension for Thornton until after the June expansion draft, which could give the Sharks enough time to better gauge his health.

Update:

Per NBC Sports California, Wilson confirmed Thornton is undergoing surgery today to repair the ligaments.

 

 

Online bookmaker: Caps are Stanley Cup favorites

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The Washington Capitals got a bit of a scare in the first round, but they’ll go into the second round as the Stanley Cup favorites.

Per online bookmaker Bovada, here is the full list of Stanley Cup odds for the eight remaining teams:

Washington Capitals   7/2
Pittsburgh Penguins    17/4
Anaheim Ducks             11/2
Edmonton Oilers          11/2
St. Louis Blues              13/2
Nashville Predators     7/1
New York Rangers       8/1
Ottawa Senators           10/1

The Chicago Blackhawks entered the postseason as 4/1 Cup favorites at Bovada. Of course, the ‘Hawks were then swept by the Preds, who’ve gone from 25/1 long shots to 7/1 heading into their series with the Blues.

The Caps’ odds actually dropped to 13/2 after they fell behind the Toronto Maple Leafs, 2-1. But three straight wins, two in overtime, clinched them a spot against the Penguins in the second round.

The Ottawa Senators are the long shots of the bunch now, despite having home-ice advantage over the Rangers in the second round.