Blue Jackets have closed door meeting after shutout loss to Coyotes

It’s no secret the Columbus Blue Jackets are struggling. They’ve won only twice in their last 14 games and have been shut out three times in their last 5. After competing for a playoff spot for the first 50-55 games of the season, the Blue Jackets’ season dropped off the proverbial cliff to the point that they’re battling to hold onto the 12th spot in the Western Conference. Obviously, that’s not as exciting as battling for the 8th.

After the Blue Jackets’ shutout loss in Phoenix, the team leaders had enough. According to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline, the leaders on the team held a players-only meeting after the game to explain that quitting on the season was not an option.  It’s about time someone said something.

“…veterans hold players-only meeting after 3-0 loss [to] Coyotes. R.J. Umberger and Rick Nash did the talking, but Umberger had last word.

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CBJ captain Rick Nash: “Anybody who thinks we don’t have a lot to play for over these last eight games … that’s a pretty bad attitude.”

This brings up a difficult situation that teams go through every year. The Blue Jackets were a competitive team earlier this season and had visions of returning to the playoffs after a one-year hiatus. The organization hoped that last year was simply an aberration; hoping the team would bounce back stronger after an off year. If last year was a step back, this year would be two steps forward.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way.

Instead, the single season in the playoffs looks like the outlier. Columbus has struggled greatly down the stretch and has looked like a team without a clear direction. That’s understandable for an expansion team—but the Blue Jackets are now in their 10th season. Ten full seasons and they’re still looking for their first ever playoff win. Clearly that isn’t happening this year.

Aside from the porous play that led to the players-only meeting, it’s good to see the leaders stepping up and doing something about the team’s downward spiral. The coach can tell the players that they’re playing for their jobs next season. He can tell them that they’re playing to set the tone for the offseason and the 2011-12 season. But when it comes from the leaders in the locker room, there’s a better chance it will reach receptive ears and make an impression.

The truth is the Blue Jackets are the staring at a tough offseason filled with some tougher questions. Scottie Upshall, Ethan Moreau, Jan Hejda, and Craig Rivet are all unrestricted free agents at the end of the season that the team will need to decide on. More importantly, big-time contributors Jakub Voracek, Grant Clitsome, Marc Methot, Sami Lepisto, and Anton Stralman are all restricted free agents who will all receive raises on their next contracts. With that many players up in the air for next season, GM Scott Howson will need to make some hard decisions on the future of the team.

Do the Blue Jackets want to continue with the current group they have in the locker room or do they want to shake things up and turn the roster over? The last few games will go a long way towards making Howson’s decision. If the team shows some heart, it makes it easier for the GM to keep the core players together and make a few peripheral changes to help improve the team. If they continue to lay down for the rest of the season, it will be a tough sell to the fans that this group will ever be able to win on a consistent basis.

For their part, Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger are showing the leadership every team would want. Now we’ll see if they have the type of team that is willing to follow their leaders. If they aren’t willing over the last few weeks of the season, there’s no reason to think they will next season.

Flyers experiment with Claude Giroux at LW, Sean Couturier as his center

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Last season, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier were on the ice at the same time during even-strength situations for just a bit more than five minutes. Depending upon how a Philadelphia Flyers’ pre-season experiment goes, they could line up together a whole lot more often.

Of course, if you missed this post’s headline, you might be asking: “But how? They’re both centers.”

Well, under this experiment, Giroux would move to left wing, Couturier would play center, and Jakub Voracek would assume his familiar role at RW.

Giroux came into the NHL primarily as a right-winger before moving to center, so he’s clearly versatile enough to theoretically work out on a wing. It also might allow the Flyers to try to duplicate some of their mad science from the power play to even-strength, as that’s often the role he finds himself in on that locomotive of a man-advantage unit.

As Dave Isaac of the Courier-Post reports, Giroux doesn’t seem against it, really.

“It was actually a lot of fun,” Giroux said. “It’s not like I’m against it or I’m not happy with it. If it makes the team better, we have a lot of centermen and I’m up for it for sure.”

Giroux is right. The Flyers have a glut of pivots, especially if head coach Dave Hakstol views additions Nolan Patrick and Jori Lehtera (or fairly recent addition Valtteri Filppula) as better fits down the middle.

NHL.com’s Bill Meltzer reports that Hakstol is impressed by Giroux’s willingness to move around as need be.

“When your captain is as selfless as ‘G’ is, he [goes] all in,” Hakstol said. “Whatever the role is, he’s going to attack it… It’s early, but he’s had a very high-level camp.”

Giroux’s been, at times, a bit more dependent on the PP to get his numbers. In 2016-17, five of his 14 goals and 26 of his assists (31 of 58 points) came on the power play.

Perhaps Couturier could do the “dirty work” associated with a center while two gifted wingers exploit their chemistry and get to have the fun? It’s the sort of hypothesis that can make sense in a hockey laboratory, and it would be entertaining to see if it works out in reality.

Assuming such a scientific method even makes it to October.

Brad Marchand: NHL crackdown on face-off cheating is ‘absolute joke’

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Earlier today, PHT’s own Cam Tucker discussed the early returns on the NHL’s plan to increase penalties for slashing and to cut down on cheating during face-offs.

(The video above this post’s headline provides a helpful primer on how officials plan on policing draws.)

So far, the face-off tweaks have one especially vocal critic in Boston Bruins agitator-star Brad Marchand, as CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty reports.

“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” Marchand said. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.”

Gotta love the line “Basically you have to be a statue.”

Edmonton Oilers center Mark Letestu backed up Marchand in the “we can’t play all year like that” stance, asserting that he doubts a penalty like that would get whistled during a high-stakes game, as Sportsnet noted.

Here’s another perspective, via Edmonton Oilers head coach Todd McLellan.

Now, the new face-off rule might not have that huge of a direct impact on Marchand’s daily hockey life.

In 2016-17, Marchand went 13-23 in the dot.

It may, however, affect his fantastic center, Patrice Bergeron. The dynamic two-way center has been one of the best volume winners of draws over the years. Smarts, strength, studying tape and other factors go into winning as many as 60-percent of one’s face-offs, yet Bergeron and other top centers know how to “bend the rules,” too.

As much as analytics-minded people grumble about excessive attention being paid to face-offs, they’re events that can set up rare opportunities for set plays and other advantageous moments.

One can imagine that Marchand wouldn’t be pumped about the idea that, maybe, Bergeron’s dominance in the circle could be blunted, even ever-so-slightly or briefly.

Naturally, potential self-interest doesn’t disqualify Marchand and others from being correct.

At the same time, this is the pre-season, an opportunity for the NHL to work out its own kinks, which in this case means trying to manage rule tweaks while not disrupting the flow of games. Marchand is merely the loudest to say that … it sounds like the league might have some work to do.

Despite cancer diagnosis, Devils’ Brian Boyle doesn’t want to miss games

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New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle shared frightening news on Tuesday, yet he’s showing resounding courage and optimism in also plotting his “plan of attack.”

Boye, 32, announced that he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia on Tuesday.

Chronic myeloid luekemia (or CML) is a type of bone marrow cancer. Here’s an explanation of the disease via the American Cancer Society:

Chronic myeloid leukemia (CML), also known as chronic myelogenous leukemia, is a type of cancer that starts in certain blood-forming cells of the bone marrow. In CML, a genetic change takes place in an early (immature) version of myeloid cells – the cells that make red blood cells, platelets, and most types of white blood cells (except lymphocytes). This change forms an abnormal gene called BCR-ABL, which turns the cell into a CML cell. The leukemia cells grow and divide, building up in the bone marrow and spilling over into the blood. In time, the cells can also settle in other parts of the body, including the spleen. CML is a fairly slow growing leukemia, but it can also change into a fast-growing acute leukemia that is hard to treat.

Despite that scary news, Boyle is very positive about his chances; in fact, he hopes to live a “normal life,” right down to playing in the Devils’ season-opener on Oct. 7.

Back in 2014, Boyle discussed his father’s battle with cancer to ESPN. It’s quite an inspiring read.

We’ve seen multiple instances of hockey players showing resilience while fighting cancer during the active career. Mario Lemieux and Saku Koivu stand as some of the most memorable examples, while Phil Kessel also comes to mind.

Jason Blake bounced back from CML, specifically:

The number one thing isn’t playing hockey, of course. It’s most important that Boyle emphasizes his overall health, even if that means taking some time off.

The Devils seem to be very supportive of Boyle as his fight begins. Here’s hoping he wins this one.

Contenders should keep an eye on Jaroslav Halak

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Here’s a gut reaction regarding the 2017-18 season: there aren’t a ton of teams with unclear goalie situations, at least as far as who their top guy is.

Clear number ones

The Frederik AndersenJohn Gibson battle ended last summer. Promising backups like Cam Talbot, Scott Darling, and Antti Raanta got their shots or will be getting their chances to be No. 1 guys this year. Marc-Andre Fleury generously accepted becoming the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It doesn’t exactly make for a sellers’ market for the few teams who might want to part ways with goalies.

Petr Mrazek‘s mess with the Detroit Red Wings is the most pressing example, and considering the fact that he’s only 25, acquiring him could be a boon for another team, at least in a scenario (injuries and/or poor play) would call for such an acquisition.

What if the Red Wings would ask for too much? What if a team would, instead, like to monitor a diamond in the rough for the summer of 2018?

Halak could still be very viable

Jaroslav Halak should be on plenty of radars, especially if he gets his wish for a fresh start with the New York Islanders in 2017-18, as NHL.com’s Brian Compton reports.

“Obviously, last season was kind of a strange season, not only for me but for a lot of guys,” Halak said. “Now it’s a fresh start for everybody. But ultimately, it’s going to come down to our start too. Last season, we all know we had a bad start. We just need to make sure that we pick up points at the beginning of the season because that hurt us at the end.”

The Islanders have incentive to give Halak a chance, whether it would be to pump up his trade value or if Thomas Greiss struggles/gets hurt.

It would also be foolish to worry too much about Halak’s time in the AHL, especially considering how well he played for the Islanders late last season. Check out his split stats in March and April; Halak gave the Isles at least some hope to make an unlikely playoff push.

At 32, Halak doesn’t boast the same dreamy potential of Mrazek, yet he’s only a year older than Greiss.

The price could be right

With a nice .917 career save percentage and some playoff heroics in his past, Halak is the sort of goalie a team could call upon if their top guy falters or gets hurt. If a move were to happen around the trade deadline, his $4.5 million cap hit would be less of a problem.

On the other hand, if a team needed Halak earlier, the Islanders could conceivably retain some of his salary, especially if it allowed them to add a piece that might improve their team in other areas (and maybe help keep John Tavares happy?).

The goalie market could be interesting in the summer of 2018 if Mrazek and even Craig Anderson join the UFA ranks. Halak stands as a sneaky-interesting prospect then, but possibly sooner, for a team that might want to spend less (in assets via a trade or in actual money in free agency).