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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.

Flames healthy scratch slumping Bennett

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Sam Bennett #93 of the Calgary Flames in action against the Buffalo Sabres during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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The tough times just got tougher for Sam Bennett.

Bennett, the fourth overall pick in 2014, will be a healthy scratch tonight when the Flames host the Preds at the Saddledome, head coach Glen Gulutzan announced.

The 20-year-old is in the midst of an awful slump. Bennett hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 27 and is pointless in his last 10 games — not the kind of production the team was anticipating, especially after he scored 18 goals and 36 points in his rookie campaign last season.

“It’s frustrating when you’re not producing,” Bennett said earlier this week, per the Calgary Sun. “I want to contribute offensively. But just playing the right way is my main focus. Hopefully, I keep getting chances and eventually one has gotta go in.”

Micheal Ferland will move into the lineup to replace Bennett, and veteran Matt Stajan will be bumped up to the third-line center spot as a result.

Given his pedigree and draft position, expectations for Bennett are pretty high. Calgary anticipated he’d be part of the young, talented forward group that carries the load offensively, alongside the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk.

And to be fair, Bennett did have a decent start to the year, with 12 points through his first 24 games.

But it’s been tough sledding ever since.

The Kings need more from their ‘top guys’

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22:  Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings reacts to a missed chance during a preseason game against the Arizona Coyotes at Staples Center on September 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Darryl Sutter wants more from his “top guys.”

In the wake of last night’s 3-2 loss to the Sharks, the Kings’ head coach was no doubt referring to the likes of Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, each of whom has just four goals this season.

Though Gaborik did manage to score last night, Kopitar didn’t. The captain has just one goal in his last 16 games. And for $10 million a season, it’s not enough to be good defensively.

“You need those top guys to make a difference,” said Sutter, per LA Kings Insider. “You’re going to be in one-goal games, lots of ‘em. How many have we had this year? I mean, how many times? I bet I’ve already pulled the goalie more times ever than I have ever, so that means you’re one goal down. It means that you need your top guys to make a difference there.”

Jeff Carter (23 goals) and Tanner Pearson (14) are the only Kings with double-digit goal totals this season. And with no Tyler Toffoli, it’s even more important that Kopitar and Gaborik start chipping in more regularly.

Gaborik’s produced lately, with three goals in his last six games. That needs to continue, and Kopitar needs to find his scoring touch.

The Kings (22-19-4) kick off a five-game road trip Saturday in Brooklyn. After 45 games, they’re barely hanging on to a wild-card spot, with Vancouver, Nashville, Dallas, and Winnipeg all within striking distance.

It’s worth noting that only four teams have fewer regulation victories than the Kings have (12). If not for their 9-1 record in overtime, they might really be in trouble.

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Seth Griffith is on waivers….again

SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29:  Seth Griffith #24 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot on Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens during a game  at BB&T Center on December 29, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Seth Griffith is on waivers again.

The 24-year-old forward has only managed five assists in 21 games for the Florida Panthers since being claimed off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Leafs had claimed Griffith off waivers from Boston at the beginning of the season.

A prolific scorer at the AHL level (he had 77 points in 57 games for Providence last season), Griffith has just six goals and 10 assists in 58 career NHL games.

Griffith has been a healthy scratch the past three games for the Panthers.

Rowe says no timeline on Barkov, who could be out a while longer

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 17:  Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers celebrtaes his goal at 1:11 of the second period against the New York Islanders during Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Barclays Center on April 17, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Aleksander Barkov was only supposed to miss 2-3 weeks with a then-undisclosed injury.

That timeline was provided almost three weeks ago, and Barkov still isn’t back playing for the Florida Panthers.

Today, interim coach Tom Rowe provided an update, and it wasn’t good news. Rowe told reporters on a conference call that there’s no timeline for Barkov’s return. He then dropped an even bigger bomb, admitting there’s concern that both Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau could have season-ending injuries.

The Panthers are still hopeful that Huberdeau will be back by early March. The 23-year-old hasn’t played at all this season after suffering a skate laceration in the preseason. His original timeline was 3-4 months.

The Panthers’ frustrating season continued last night in Edmonton, where they lost 4-3 in overtime on a Connor McDavid goal with 2.6 seconds remaining. Though they’re only one point back of a playoff spot, the closest two teams they’re chasing, Toronto and Ottawa, each have five games in hand.

It’s estimated that Florida (20-18-9) will need to go in the neighborhood of 20-10-5 down the stretch in order to make the playoffs. And that will obviously be a lot tougher to accomplish without two of the team’s best forwards — if, indeed, Barkov and Huberdeau are sidelined for much, or even all, of the remaining schedule.