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.

Banged up Blue Jackets add Jussi Jokinen off waivers

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The Columbus Blue Jackets are dealing with a number of injuries up front with Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson and rookie Sonny Milano all currently sidelined for at least a few more weeks due to injury.

Atkinson is on long-term injured reserve due to a foot injury, while Dubinsky is out due to an orbital bone fracture.

The team also announced on Wednesday that Milano will now be sidelined for 4-to-6 weeks due to an oblique tear.

All of that has put a pretty significant dent in their depth and no doubt played a role in their recent slump that has seen them go 3-6-0 over their past nine games, a stretch that has seen them score just 18 goals (only two per game).

They attempted to address that in some way on Wednesday when they announced that they have claimed veteran forward Jussi Jokinen off waivers from the Los Angeles Kings.

“Jussi Jokinen is a player we know very well. He can line up at center or either wing, is good in the faceoff circle and can play on the power play and kill penalties,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement released by the team.

“He has been a very good player in the National Hockey League for many years and we believe he will add great experience and versatility to our lineup.”

It’s been a difficult season for Jokinen as he now joins his third team of the season. He started the season with the Edmonton Oilers after signing a one-year, $1.1 million contract in free agency. But after just 14 games and zero goals with the team he was traded to the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for Mike Cammalleri. He played 18 games with the Kings, scoring one goal and adding four assists, before being placed on waivers.

Jokinen has been an underrated player for much of his career and had always been good for around 15 goals and 50 points over 82 games. Now that he is in his age 34 season that production has obviously declined.

But with the injury situation up front with Atkinson, Dubinsky and now Milano all sidelined the Blue Jackets were in desperate need of adding some additional depth. Given the low cost it is worth a shot to see if Jokinen can still provide something.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Matt Murray to miss ‘indefinite period of time’ following passing of his father

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Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray has missed the past two games and was briefly away from the team due to what was described as a personal matter. The team would not go into any details and asked everyone to respect his privacy.

On Wednesday, the Penguins announced that Murray’s father, James Murray, passed away on Tuesday in Ontario.

Murray had briefly returned to the Penguins over the weekend and even accompanied the team on its current west coast road trip but his status remained listed as “day-to-day.”

The Penguins announced that Murray will be traveling back from the west coast to return to Ontario.

He will miss an indefinite period of time according to the team..

In his absence the Penguins will turn to rookies Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith in net. Jarry has played well in his opportunities this season posting a .923 save percentage and a 9-2-3 record. He has won each of his past four decisions.

The Penguins are in Anaheim on Wednesday before traveling to Los Angeles on Thursday to play the Kings and then going to San Jose on Saturday night.

 

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Claude Julien only has ‘good things to say’ about his time in Boston

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Claude Julien spent a lot of time in Boston, but in this business all good things eventually come to an end.

Julien, who coached the Bruins from 2007 to 2017, was fired in February after a difficult stretch. He didn’t remain unemployed long, as he ended up being hired by the Canadiens just seven days after being let go by Boston.

Now, he’ll head to Boston for the first time since being fired by the Bruins. Don’t forget, you can watch tonight’s game on NBCSN or you can stream it live by clicking here.

Even though things didn’t end particularly well for him with the B’s, Julien has nothing negative to say about the organization and the city.

“When you spend that much time with an organization and a city, you have to cherish the opportunity to go back. I had great years there, I was treated well,” Julien said after practice on Tuesday.

“As much as there’s a rivalry on the ice (between Montreal and Boston), off the ice, I only have good things to say about Boston, the organization, the city and the fans, everything. I really enjoyed my time there, but in this business you need to move on so I’m going to move on tomorrow and go to Boston and work the best way I can to come away with two points.”

During his time with the Bruins, Julien led the team to a 419-246-94 record. In 2011, he helped lead their team to their first Stanley Cup title since 1972. They also made a second appearance in the Stanley Cup final under Julien in 2013, but they lost that series to the Chicago Blackhawks.

On top of the success they had as a team under his watch, the 57-year-old also helped certain guys develop into dominant players. It’s no secret that Julien is a defense-first kind of coach. That doesn’t always make for the most entertaining hockey, but it certainly worked out pretty well for Patrice Bergeron, who became of the great two-way players in the NHL while Julien was his head coach.

The Bruins will surely put up a video tribute on the scoreboard that will likely stir up some old emotions, just don’t expect those emotions to come from netminder Tuukka Rask.

“He was not playing a shift on the ice, so it doesn’t really matter. He was coaching, so it was nothing special,” said Rask, per NBC Sports Boston.

Julien admitted he hasn’t necessarily thought about the reaction he’ll get from Boston fans once he returns to TD Garden, but he hopes it’s a positive one. Even if he gets booed out of the building, he said that it won’t change the positive view he has of the city of its fans.

As much fun as it is to look back at his decade in Boston, Julien has to focus on his current job because he certainly seems to have his hands full with the Canadiens.

Things haven’t been easy for him since he took over behind the bench last year. Not only were the Habs bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year, it also looks like they won’t be anywhere near the postseason this spring. The Canadiens are currently nine points behind Pittsburgh for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. Unless there’s a drastic change in their play, they could become sellers at the trade deadline.

No matter what happens in Montreal this season, it’s hard to envision them parting ways with their head coach, who has four years remaining on a contract that reportedly pays him around $5 million per season.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

NHL on NBCSN doubleheader: Canadiens vs. Bruins; Penguins vs. Ducks

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with a doubleheader on Wednesday night. In the early game, the Boston Bruins will host the Montreal Canadiens at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch that game online by clicking here

The Bruins and Canadiens didn’t play in October, November or December, but this will be the second time they’ll go head-to-head in four days. What makes the schedule even weirder, is that they’ll play each other again on Saturday night in Montreal. That’s three games in eight days. Very strange scheduling. Anyway, Brad Marchand scored the game-winning goal in the shootout during the first meeting between these two teams.

As entertaining as the first matchup was, it will be remember for the scary injury to Phillip Danault that occurred in the second period when he took a Zdeno Chara shot to the head.

Thankfully, Danault is back home after spending Saturday evening in the hospital, but he’s out of the lineup with concussion-like symptoms for now.

“I obviously spoke to Phillip a number of times. I talked to him right after the game and wanted to make sure he was okay, and he texted me back that he’s doing fine. He’s been released [from the hospital] and that’s very positive, good news,” said Chara, per NBC Sports Boston. “It’s obviously very unfortunate that it’s something that happens quite often, but it’s something you never want to see with somebody getting hit and hurt. I’m very happy he’s going to recover fully and hopefully he’s back on the ice and playing hockey [soon] like we all do.”

Putting that scary news aside, the B’s have been rolling for a while now. Even though they dropped an OT decision to the Stars on Monday afternoon, They haven’t dropped a game in regulation in their last 13 contests (9-0-4). They’re last defeat in regulation came against the Washington Capitals back on Dec. 14.

They’re currently second in the Atlantic Division. Boston is two points ahead of Toronto (Bruins have four games in hand) and nine points back of the Lightning (Bruins have two games in hand).

Meanwhile, in Montreal, things haven’t been going smoothly at all in 2017-18. A team that’s already thin down the middle is without Danault, and they’ve decided to move a struggling Jonathan Drouin back to the wing. All that means is that Jacob De La Rose, who’s known as more of a defense-first center, is on an offensive line with Drouin and Alex Galchenyuk.

Yea, the Canadiens are that desperate.

This will also mark the first time that Claude Julien returns to Boston since he was fired by the Bruins last February. You can read all about Julien’s return by clicking here.

They’re currently nine points behind Pittsburgh for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. It sure looks like they’ll be sellers at the trade deadline.

Speaking of the Pens, they’ll head to Anaheim to take on the Ducks in the late game. Puck-drop in that one is set for 10:00 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

Don’t look now, but the two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions seem to have woken up from their slumber. After being inconsistent throughout the first half of the season, they’ve now rattled off four consecutive wins over the Islanders, Bruins, Red Wings and Rangers.

“I think we’ve been more of a threat off the rush and I think our offensive zone play has been very strong,” head coach Mike Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “As I’ve said on a number of occasions since I’ve taken this team over, if we’re going to be the team that we want to become, we have to be able to generate offense different ways . . . whether it be on the power play, whether it be off the rush or whether it be off our own puck-pursuit game by playing behind teams’ defensemen. That’s what I see.”

Pittsburgh’s captain, Sidney Crosby, has been lighting it up during the winning streak. Crosby has registered at least two points in every game. He’s accumulated 11 points in his last four contests. Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel both have eight points during that time frame.

The Ducks are coming off a 3-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday, but this next stretch will be key if they want to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture. Starting tonight, they’ll play their next five games at home. After their matchups with the Pens, they’ll take on the Kings, Sharks, Rangers and Jets at the Honda Center.

Anaheim had been playing better hockey of late, but they’ve now dropped three of their last four games coming into a tough clash against the Penguins.

These home games are huge because the Ducks are four points back of the Kings for the last Wild Card spot.

This will also be the second and final game of Andrew Cogliano‘s suspension that put an end to his 830-game iron man streak. He’ll be eligible to return to the lineup for Friday night’s game against Los Angeles.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.