How James Wisniewski and the Blue Jackets might look next season

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There aren’t many people out there (especially without the last name Wisniewski) who would dispute the notion that the Columbus Blue Jackets gave James Wisniewski more than his market value would dictate this off-season. It’s true that Wisniewski can be an asset as an offensive defenseman with more than a little snarl, but a six-year, $33 million deal is more than just about anyone was expecting him to make this summer.

That being said, the Blue Jackets clearly decided to push the envelope by paying big to acquire Jeff Carter and Wisniewski. The consensus is that The Blue Jackets hope that each player will improve two areas of traditional weakness for Columbus: a top-line center (Carter) and a defenseman who can help generate goals (Wisniewski).

While the general feeling is that Carter will probably be a No. 1 center for Columbus (or at least receive the type of minutes that a top pivot would), it isn’t quite as obvious where Wisniewski might fit into the puzzle. Wisniewski produced nice scoring numbers in his stops around the NHL but was rarely leaned on as a top defenseman. Aaron Portzline laid out some of the lineup scenarios that might play out during Blue Jackets training camp and beyond.

On defense, the Blue Jackets are planning to pair veteran Fedor Tyutin with Wisniewski and Marc Methot with newcomer Radek Martinek on the top two pairs.

The third pairing figures to include Grant Clitsome, but the competition for the Nos. 6 and 7 jobs will be intense. Incumbent Kris Russell will have to hold off Aaron Johnson, Nick Holden, John Moore and David Savard.

“As far as who is going to play with whom you know it’s going to change as the year goes on,” Howson said. “There’s going to be a time when (Arniel) is going to mix it up and give it a different look. Boston won the Stanley Cup and they didn’t have the same lines static throughout the season.

“But we’re a different team in terms of skill. That’s what we wanted and needed to change.”

The question is: will it be enough change to propel them to a playoff berth?

That’s tough to say at this time. The Blue Jackets’ defense still seems a bit short on overall talent, even if Wisniewski helps in that regard. There are also some serious questions about how much they can expect from their should-be franchise goalie Steve Mason. That means the goalie position could be a problem area, especially after solid 2010-11 backup Mathieu Garon left for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Columbus could be pretty strong at the forward position though, at least compared to previous seasons. They scored just 215 goals last season but Carter should probably score at least 30 goals if he enjoys reasonable health in 2011-12. Rick Nash is the obvious superstar of the incumbent group, but the team sports solid lesser-known talent in Derick Brassard and two interesting veterans who are in contract years in R.J. Umberger and Kristian Huselius.

On paper, there still might not be enough overall talent to make Columbus a “true contender.” Blue Jackets fans should be heartened by the franchise’s attempts to gain relevance, however, even if they needed to overpay to get there.

What do you think of this Blue Jackets team, though? Do you think they’re far off, heading in the right direction or maybe they are already there? Let us know in the comments.

Penguins re-sign Ruhwedel to a two-year deal

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The depth of the Pittsburgh Penguins defense faced the ultimate test this spring, winning a Stanley Cup despite the absence of Kris Letang.

Among those depth blueliners asked to come in and help fill the void left by injuries on defense was Chad Ruhwedel. And on Thursday, Ruhwedel re-signed with the Penguins to a two-year deal.

The Penguins announced that this new deal has an average annual value of $650,000 — a modest raise from his one-year, $575,000 deal for last season, but still certainly affordable for a Pittsburgh team that needs to get restricted free agents Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz and Conor Sheary under contract.

In his first season with the Penguins, Ruhwedel split his time between Pittsburgh and the AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He scored twice with 10 points in 34 games with Pittsburgh, and then appeared in six postseason games as injuries continued to mount on the blue line.

His last game of the postseason came on May 19 versus Ottawa. He was diagnosed with a concussion, which was the result of a hit from Bobby Ryan in Game 4.

 

NHL announces 2017-18 regular season schedule

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The NHL released next year’s schedule on Thursday — one that cemented the league wouldn’t be participating in the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Games are scheduled right through the Olympic window, which runs from Feb. 9-25. You can view the entire schedule here.

Some dates of note:

• The Penguins will raise their Stanley Cup banner on opening night, Oct. 4, prior to their home date against the Blues.

• The league’s newest team, the Vegas Golden Knights, will play their first game on Oct. 6 in Dallas, and their first home game on Oct. 10 against the Coyotes.

• Detroit will play its first game in Little Caesar’s Arena on Oct. 5, against the Wild.

• Ottawa and Colorado will play a pair of games in Stockholm, Sweden on Nov. 10 and 11.

• Ottawa and Montreal will play the Scotiabank NHL100 Classic outdoors, at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, on Dec. 16.

• The Rangers and Sabres will participate in the annual Winter Classic on Jan. 1 at Citi Field.

• From Jan. 26-29, Tampa Bay will host the NHL All-Star weekend.

• On Mar. 3, Washington will host Toronto in an outdoor game at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Marc-Andre Fleury, now a Golden Knight, will make his return to Pittsburgh on Feb. 6.

Jonathan Drouin, now a Montreal Canadien, will make his return to Tampa Bay on Dec. 28.

Jordan Eberle, now a New York Islander, will make his return to Edmonton on Mar. 8.

Eberle hopes to re-establish chemistry with John Tavares

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Jordan Eberle believes the trade to the New York Islanders will provide him with a fresh start — and possibly the opportunity to play alongside John Tavares.

In a blockbuster Thursday morning, the Oilers dealt Eberle to the Islanders for Ryan Strome.

There is a history between the two talented forwards that famously dates back to the 2009 World Juniors.

Back then, the draft-eligible Tavares was expected to go No. 1 overall in a few months time. Eberle was a first-round pick from the year before. It was Tavares shoveling a backhand shot toward the net and Eberle scooping up the puck and putting it behind the Russian goalie in the final seconds of regulation to send the semifinal game into overtime.

It’s one of the iconic moments in Canadian World Juniors history.

They will be reunited with the Islanders, and potentially on the same line, in order to give Tavares a scoring winger.

“From me, you have to be confident in your ability and confident that you can be in a top-six role. I think I’ve shown in the past that I can score in this league and I’ve had previous chemistry with John,” said Eberle, who scored 20 goals and 51 points for the Oilers this past season.

“Obviously, he’s a very intelligent player and the way that he plays suits my game. Maybe, if that’s where I end up, our games suit each other well.”

Eberle goes from a team that had Connor McDavid, the 2017 Hart Trophy winner, to Tavares, the first overall pick in 2009, an Olympian, and a player with two 80-plus point seasons under his belt.

They are both, as Eberle said, generational players. But with two totally different styles on the ice.

“I think you look at their attributes as players. I think Connor, the first one that sticks out to mind, is his speed. He’s maybe one of the fastest guys with the puck and you have to be able to keep up with that,” said Eberle. “John thinks the game, maybe, better than any other player in the league.

“Each does his thing in their own way, but gets the job done. For me, it’s more of, in my mind, to get ready to the best ability that I can to get into camp and hopefully fit in.”

Welcome Jason Demers to the trade rumor mill

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Florida’s season ended on April 9. Since then, the Panthers:

— Made a coaching change from Tom Rowe to Bob Boughner

Re-instilled Dale Tallon as GM

Lost leading goalscorer Jonathan Marchessault in the expansion draft

Traded Reilly Smith to Las Vegas.

And they might not be done shaking things up.

Per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, defenseman Jason Demers — who was left unprotected at the expansion draft — is now available for trade. The news comes just one year after Demers signed a five-year, $22.5 million deal with Florida in free agency, one of the biggest moves in the club’s defensive overhaul from the season prior.

The 29-year-old was a lineup fixture in Florida last year. He appeared in 81 of 82 games, scoring nine goals and 28 points while averaging 19:37 TOI.

If anything, today’s news suggests Tallon might be trying to undo the work Rowe did during his stint as GM. It was Rowe, don’t forget, that inked Smith to his five-year, $25 million deal last July. Smith went on to have a subpar year — just 15 goals and 37 points — and, in one of his final noteworthy acts as head coach, Rowe called Smith out for his lacklustre play towards the end of the season.