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.

IOC resistant to NHL’s demand to be treated like Olympic sponsor

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In order for the NHL to keep sending its players to the Olympics, Gary Bettman wants the IOC to treat his league more like an Olympic sponsor gets treated.

“We don’t even get the opportunity to promote the fact that we’re at the Olympics,” Bettman lamented earlier this month. “We don’t get to use the rings. I’ve said to the IOC, you know, Coca-Cola is a sponsor, they get to promote their association and say ‘proud sponsor of the Olympics.’ They won’t let us do that.”

It’s not a wholly unfair request by the commissioner. The NHL has to disrupt its season to send players to the Games, and the owners have to risk the health of their stars.

That said, it doesn’t sound like the IOC is going to budge.

“Obviously, this time the owners of the NHL clubs are putting more commercial conditions to the IOC and the Olympic movement,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams told Reuters.

“The IOC knows that the NHL understands that the Olympic movement cannot treat the owners of a commercial franchise of a national league better than an international sports federation or other professional leagues with regard to the Olympic Games.”

Translation: The IOC isn’t about to open a can of worms. (See: Mark Cuban, NBA participation)

Recently, NHLPA chief Donald Fehr summed up the NHL’s desire to get compensated for Olympic participation.

“Based on the proposals to us and the suggestions to the IOC, they don’t care who pays them,” Fehr told Postmedia. “They just want somebody to.”

And according to Fehr, it won’t be the players who pay the NHL.

So if the players aren’t going to give the NHL anything, and the IOC isn’t going to give the NHL anything, well, you see the problem.

Bylsma calls Reinhart’s rule violation, subsequent benching ‘disappointing’

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There was a strange sight during Buffalo’s 3-1 loss to Columbus on Tuesday night: Sabres forward Sam Reinhart, fully dressed, sitting on the end of the bench.

And not moving.

At all.

Reinhart was parked for the entire 60 minutes last night, which the Sabres later revealed to be punishment for violating team policy. According to a Buffalo News source, the 21-year-old showed up late to a meeting in the team hotel.

Suffice to say, Sabres head coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t happy with the situation, or the outcome.

“We’re going to move forward from here,” Bylsma said. “Disappointing, but it happened and we dealt with it. We’re going to move on from here.

“We’re part of a team. We do things as a team. That’s hopefully the lesson.”

This isn’t the first time Reinhart’s run afoul of Bylsma this season.

In late October — and with Reinhart failing to find the back of the net — Bylsma said the club needed to get more out of the sophomore forward, who had 23 goals and 42 points as a rookie last season.

That said, Reinhart has exceeded his point total from last year, currently on 46, and has been a steady lineup presence (well, aside from last night). He’s one of just a handful of Sabres to appear in 70-plus games this season, and saw his TOI jump up to 17:15 per night.

NHL on NBCSN: Injury-riddled Pens look to snap three-game skid against slumping Blackhawks

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Chicago Blackhawks at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

Since the All-Star break, the Blackhawks have been one of the better teams in the NHL. Their terrific run over the last few weeks has not only allowed them to jump ahead of Minnesota for top spot in the Central, but it’s also enabled them to build a seven-point lead over their division rival.

But it’s not all perfect in Chicago right now. Despite the fact that they’re in a good spot in the standings, the ‘Hawks had a rough ride through Florida in the last few days.

On Saturday night, they were thumped 7-0 by the Panthers, and on Monday, they blew a 4-1 lead to the Tampa Bay Lightning before losing in overtime.

Their effort may have been better on Monday than it was on Saturday, but it still wasn’t enough to propel them to victory.

“I thought we were 100 percent better than we were last game,” head coach Joel Quenneville said after the loss to the Bolts, per the Chicago Tribune. “I know we had everything going our way there and we started getting cute in the neutral zone and had turnovers in that area, gave them rush chances.”

The performances in their last two games led defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson to suggest that his team was “too comfortable” this late into the season.

The ‘Hawks have dropped three of their last four games (their only win came in a shootout victory over Dallas).

Now, they’ll have an opportunity to get back on track against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The Penguins are having issues of their own, and it’s mostly injury-related.

Pittsburgh has been without Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin, Jake Guentzel, Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Olli Maatta and Ron Hainsey, and it’s clearly affected their play.

There’s a bit of good news on the injury front. Conor Sheary, who suffered a lower-body injury on Sunday, is expected to play tonight.

Malkin was able to skate on his own on Tuesday, and head coach Mike Sullivan hopes to get him back soon.

“Our medical staff has a good handle on it,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “He’s going through a process both on and off the ice. He skated this morning, and he’s making progress, so we’re encouraged and we’re hopeful we’ll get him back sooner than later.”

Coming into tonight’s game, the Penguins have dropped three in a row to the Senators (shootout), Islanders (shootout) and Flyers.

The Pens aren’t in any danger of missing the playoffs, but they’re still battling for home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Columbus’ win over Buffalo pushed them two points ahead of the Penguins (both have played 75 games). The Jackets also have four more regulation/overtime wins.

The Capitals, who beat Minnesota last night, are three points up on Columbus and five points up on Pittsburgh.

PHT Morning Skate: Joel Armia scored an amazing shorthanded goal you’ll have to see to believe

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Joel Armia has developed into a very useful player for the Winnipeg Jets, and on Tuesday night, he scored an incredible end-to-end goal that you won’t want to miss. He fought off one New Jersey Devil then got around two others before scoring this beautiful shorthanded goal. (Top)

–The Score breaks down the best “bang for your buck” contracts on each Canadian team. It’s not shocking to see Senators goalie Mike Condon on this list. The second-year netminder has been with three teams this season, but he’s come through in a big way for the Senators, and he only makes $575,000. (The Score)

–The ESPN Hockey writers put together a list of what they think the Vegas Golden Knights roster is going to look like after the expansion draft. Some well-known names like Andrew Cogliano, Jonas Brodin, Mikkel Boedker, Tomas Plekanec, Jonathan Marchessault, Carl Hagelin and Jakob Silfverberg all made the list. (ESPN)

–Elliotte Friedman’s “30 Thoughts” blog touched on some advice David Poile had for the Golden Knights now that the Oakland Raiders will be moving to Vegas. “You have to do your own thing. We created our ‘Predator Way.’ The Smashville idea and name. In-game entertainment fitting the market. Those things worked.” Friedman also wrote about Ken Hitchcock possibly returning to Dallas, and much more. (Sportsnet)

–Brampton Thunder forward Laura Stacey is the great-granddaughter of hall-of-fame defenseman King Clancy. Recently, Stacey decided she wanted to do a little digging into her great-grandfather’s career, and it really allowed her to get an appreciation for everything he accomplished. “Now I understand how hard he worked, how passionate and determined he was to be the best. Yes, it was a different era, but I can only imagine how hard he had to work to get where he was. As I get older, it makes it more special in that I know more the kind of guy he was.” (Canadian Press)

–The Montreal Canadiens have had some incredible defensemen come through their organization, but last night, Andrei Markov was able to reach an impressive milestone. By picking up an assist in a 4-1 win over Dallas, he tied Guy Lapointe for second in points by a defenseman in franchise history. Larry Robinson’s mark is pretty safe.