Brian Burke “deeply offended” by Toronto columnist criticizing his visit with troops in Afghanistan

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There’s a saying that goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” Apparently for Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke it’s one he’s gotten to be acquainted with recently. During TSN’s free agency frenzy broadcast this past Friday, Toronto Sun columnist Steve Simmons took Burke to task for being out of the country while the madness of free agency began at noon that day. Simmons took issue with Burke being in Afghanistan visiting Canadian troops (video).

While you’d think that those guys taking time out, especially when there’s business to be done back at home, to pay respect to those serving abroad and trying to lift their spirits would win Burke points with anyone and everyone, Simmons complained on the air and in print about Burke not being in Toronto to do Leafs business. At heart of his argument was Burke not being in town to negotiate with and convince Brad Richards to be a Maple Leaf. Richards, of course, signed with the New York Rangers and made Leafs fans disappointed they weren’t landing a #1 center.

Burke upon returning to Toronto had a few comments for Simmons criticisms of how he handled business from thousands of miles away. Michael Traikos of The National Post heard from a very upset Brian Burke.

Insults, taunts, slurs — he takes them all with a grain of salt. But when a Toronto columnist criticized the GM’s decision to visit the Canadian troops in Afghanistan on the same day that NHL free agency began last week, Burke said Monday he was “deeply offended.”

“They ask you to go,” said Burke, who was joined on the trip by Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn. “It’s not like you call them and say, ‘Hey, it would be good PR if I went to Afghanistan.’ I didn’t tell anyone I went and I didn’t talk to anyone when I got back. I did it because it was the right thing to do.”

Doing things because it’s the right thing to do is something Burke’s gotten very good at of late. Upon returning to Toronto this weekend, he marched in the city’s gay pride parade to pay respect to his son, Brendan, who died in a car accident and fought stereotypes by coming out of the closet while working as an assistant coach at Miami University.

While Simmons has a point to be made about Burke not being there on one of the biggest days of the year for a team in the NHL, choosing to pick an argument and raise hell with Burke over this situation is pathetic. If he wants to criticize Burke for not landing Richards, fine. Taking issue with him doing a goodwill mission to lift the spirits of the troops fighting abroad is ridiculous. It’s not as if the Canadian government will bend to Burke’s schedule, they tell him when he can go and then he has to make it work.

As for Simmons, he stands by what he says.

“I don’t regret anything,” Simmons said in an interview. “I made a point that a lot of people thought and weren’t willing to go forward on. I think that’s something that needed to be done.

“To me, it’s like you go to court and you hire Eddie Greenspan to defend you and then when it comes to the closing arguments of the trial he hands it off to someone else. Well, that wasn’t what you bargained for. Why didn’t Brian Burke make the pitch for Brad Richards?”

With the amount of stupid money thrown around on Friday and the insane offer Richards accepted from the Rangers, perhaps the Leafs were better served staying out of that fight. As it was, Burke’s assistants including Dave Nonis had everything locked down and even had Burke available by teleconference from Afghanistan should they need to call him in. It’s not as if Burke left the office and didn’t do his job.

In the end, Burke comes out smelling like a rose because he’s doing the right thing as a human being and Simmons comes off looking like a rather petty man with poor timing trying to brown nose with Leafs fans who might be upset about losing out on Richards. We know that it’s the job of a columnist to generate discussion and to push buttons on occasion, but taking potshots at a guy that’s doing a lot of good in the world isn’t the way to go about it. Pick on a failed trade or a bad signing, not when he’s helping people.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.

Looking to make the leap: Pierre-Luc Dubois

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Columbus surprised people when they took Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi with the third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. Now Dubois is tasked with showing that they made the right call.

While Puljujarvi did get his first taste of the NHL last season with Edmonton, Dubois spent the full campaign in the QMJHL. However, Dubois is entering training camp with a real shot of landing a job with Columbus.

His versatility should work in his favor throughout his battle for a roster spot. Dubois is capable of serving as a winger or center and while he’s offensively gifted, he’s also a physical force.

It doesn’t hurt that he took his additional season at the junior level as a learning experience. He was able to play a full campaign at center and work on his positioning. He was also dealt from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada during the season, which gave him the benefit of experiencing a different system.

“It was a little more of a defensive (style),” Dubois said of Blainville-Boisbriand’s system, per NHL.com. “That’s how we won our games, by scores of 2-1. It was a more pro-style game. I learned a lot from that.”

All that being said, he still has an uphill battle ahead of him. There’s a potential opening for him, but it’s not a given that he’ll secure that job and even if he does get a chance with Columbus, he’ll have to work hard to make his stint with them be more than just a nine-game trial.

The 19-year-old can’t play in the AHL yet either, so if he doesn’t find a role with the Blue Jackets then he’ll have to play in the QMJHL again. By contrast, Puljujarvi was able to be sent to the AHL last season and if he doesn’t play for Edmonton in 207-18 then he’ll at least be able to get ice time against men in the minors.

When PHT asked the question last year if the Blue Jackets were right in selecting Dubois over Puljujarvi roughly two-thirds of voters said no. Perhaps Dubois will be able to change some minds this season.

Related: Getting sent to junior made Blue Jackets prospect Dubois a ‘more mature’ player

Callahan (hip) will be fine for start of training camp

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Ryan Callahan could only play in 18 games last season and underwent two hip surgeries, but perhaps 2017-18 will be different. The news is certainly good so far.

“I’m full go, right from Day One,” Callahan told the NHL.com. “It’s going to be nice to be able to do a hard training camp this year.”

His statement was reinforced by the fact that he participated in the first day of voluntary workouts on Monday.

Tampa Bay signed him to a six-year, $34.8 million contract in the summer of 2014 and while he was great for the first year of the deal, he declined in 2015-16 and then of course barely played last season. That’s led to concerns that the 32-year-old’s contract might prove to be disastrous in its back half.

“I know there’s chatter and people doubt me — if I can come back and what I’ll be like when I come back,” Callahan said. “I’ve always tried to use it as motivation. That’s how they propelled me to the place I am right now in my career. I’m looking at this the same way. I’m excited to get going this year. I think it’s going to be one of the best years I’ve ever had.”

Tampa Bay could certainly use the help. The Lightning fell short of the playoffs last season, but also missed Steven Stamkos for much of the campaign as well as Callahan. If those two stay healthy and if Callahan bounces back then Tampa Bay could be one of the major contenders in 2017-18.

Report: Flames might have interest in Jagr

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We’re mere weeks away from the start of training camp, but Jaromir Jagr remains unsigned. Even at the age of 45 he can still contribute as he did last season with Florida, but is there a team out there that ultimately will pay the future Hall of Famer to extend his NHL career?

That remains to be seen, but it sounds like there is some interest out there for his services.

“I know some teams that have kind of talked and taken a look at it,” said Elliotte Friedman on the NHL Network (H/T to FanRag Sports). “I think Calgary has been one that has kind of looked at it. One of his former coaches, Glen Gulutzan, is coaching up there.”

Friedman also heard teams suggesting that Anaheim might be interested in Jagr, but based on his own investigation that doesn’t appear to be the case. Ultimately Jagr might end up starting the season in the Czech Republic and would have the option of playing in the Olympics if that happens, but even if he does begin the year in Europe, he could still re-sign with an NHL squad later on in the 2017-18 campaign.

Jagr is the second all-time player in terms of total points and third in goals behind Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky. If he did play another season, the main statistical achievement that he could chase would be fourth place on the assists list as he’s 20 behind Ray Bourque.

He finished the 2016-17 campaign with 16 goals and 46 points in 82 contests.

Related: The case for Hurricanes signing Jaromir Jagr