Columbus Blue Jackets Press Conference Introducing New Players Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski

Blue Jackets hope that casino money will help keep team in Columbus

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One thing we’ve gotten accustomed to being NHL fans is hearing about teams that could be in trouble. We’ve seen the Phoenix Coyotes come close to being moved multiple times, we’ve seen the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, and we’ve had the Islanders and their fight for a new, revenue generating arena.

Another team that’s dealing with major money-losing issues are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Earlier this summer we heard about how the Blue Jackets lost more $25 million last season and over $80 million the last six seasons. With that kind of situation and a team that’s made the playoffs just once in their history, that situation will quickly grow to be untenable if things don’t change fast for the Jackets.

While building a winning team will help things out, the Jackets are hoping for another revenue stream thanks to a casino coming to Columbus. Aaron Portzline of The Columbus Dispatch reports on how the Hollywood Casino Columbus could help save the Blue Jackets.

It is likely, sources toldThe Dispatch, that a portion of the revenues generated by the Hollywood Casino Columbus on the West Side will be used to help the Blue Jackets. No exact dollar figures have been decided.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman said he is “considering casino revenues. Having said that, there is no fix yet. That’s as far as I can go right now, but it’s high on my agenda to deal with it. There should be an urgency to this issue.”

City Council President Andrew Ginther agreed that “failure is not an option. We will figure this out. We will find a resolution.”

Offsetting the horrendous losses the Jackets have suffered by using casino money is a smart way to try and do things. It doesn’t dig into the public money through taxes nor is it trying to find loopholes otherwise to get access to such civic funds. If they can do this, then all is well and it’s on the team to also win to make sure the losses don’t continue to be as staggering as they’ve been.

Of course, if the plan to use casino money falls through, what’s the next step? Jackets owner John P. McConnell tells Portzline that the outlook won’t be so pretty for the franchise.

“I am not looking to sell (the Blue Jackets),” McConnell said. “If this doesn’t work … you know, I really don’t have any options other than staying the owner as the team is moved. I’m hopeful that’s not going to occur. We’re going forward as if it’s not.

“From the (Blue Jackets) front office down to everybody else (in the organization), they know that if this does not get solved, the team is likely to move. More and more doubt creeps in the longer this goes on. ‘Is it going to happen? Is it not going to happen?’ For us to continue building the organization we want, we’d like to get rid of that doubt.”

In other words, the Jackets are as good as gone if the casino plan doesn’t work. Welcome to the Quebec/Kansas City/Southern Ontario/Seattle discussion Blue Jackets fans.

Obviously losing as much money as the Jackets have lost over the last six years is a terrible situation for any team to be in, but unlike in Phoenix, at least McConnell isn’t looking to sneak out of town leaving the fans holding the bag the way Jerry Moyes did with the Coyotes. Still, this is a potentially ugly scenario in Ohio and one that puts the Blue Jackets squarely on the relocation radar.

As we’ve seen in the Islanders arena fight, these situations can get very political and Portzline notes that there’s Republican opposition to giving any of the casino monies to the Blue Jackets to keep them afloat. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman says that they’ll do whatever they can to help out in Columbus but says that this scenario is unlike other situations and feels good about things in Ohio. We’ll see if that’s just lip service.

The last thing the league needs is more trouble with franchises, but while things about the Blue Jackets have been quiet about their financial woes, there are big problems that must be solved there and soon.

Khudobin delivered an encouraging performance for the Bruins

Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) and left wing Brad Marchand (63) celebrate with goalie Anton Khudobin after he blocked a shot by Carolina Hurricanes left wing Jeff Skinner to win the game, 2-1, in a shootout during an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
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Anton Khudobin gave the Boston Bruins a much-needed win last night.

He also gave Tuukka Rask a much-welcomed night off.

The Bruins beat the Hurricanes, 2-1, in a shootout at TD Garden. Khudobin made 29 saves, plus two more in the shootout, including the game-decider on Jeff Skinner.

It was an encouraging performance by Khudobin, who returned to the Bruins net for the second time since a conditioning stint in the AHL. It was the first time this season that a Boston goalie other than Rask was credited with a win.

“Very good,” head coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin’s play. “He deserves a lot of accolades tonight, for the way he played, the way he responded after being out such a long time. I think the fact that he went to Providence and played some games there really helped him get back on track. Tonight, he showed that he was ready to play.”

Julien added, “No doubt, there’s a lot of confidence that grew in that dressing room by watching his play and knowing that we’ve got two goaltenders that can play extremely well for us.”

The Bruins did not feel they had good enough backup goaltending the past two seasons, both of which ended outside the playoff picture. And so they bid adieu to Niklas Svedberg and Jonas Gustavsson, bringing Khudobin back into the fold on a two-year contract.

Granted, one win isn’t enough to conclude that Khudobin will be fine. He’s now 1-3-0 with a .902 save percentage, and those numbers could still be much better.

But he’ll be back in there soon enough. The Bruins have 15 more games in December, and Rask isn’t going to play them all.

Blues ‘need more’ from Lehtera, who could be healthy scratched

Jori Lehtera
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Jori Lehtera received one of his lowest ice times of the season in Thursday’s win over Tampa Bay — just 11:21 — and was demoted to the fourth line at Friday’s practice.

If that didn’t send a message, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered it shortly thereafter.

“We’re going to need more from him,” Hitchcock said, per NHL.com’s Lou Korac. “The position we have him in, we need more from that position.”

Lehtera was signed to a three-year, $14.1 million extension after a solid ’14-15 campaign, in which he scored 14 goals and 44 points in 75 games. His offensive production sagged a bit last year (nine goals, 34 points in 79 games) and he’s gone through some difficult stretches this year.

The 28-year-old Finn had just three points through his first 15 games of the year, but did look as though he’d turned the corner recently. Prior to the Bolts game he had four points in four contests, including his first multi-goal effort of the season (potting a pair in a 4-2 win over Boston).

Clearly, though, Hitchcock thinks there’s more to give.

Per the Post-Dispatch, Hitch said he’s unsure if Lehtera will play on Saturday, when the Blues host the Jets. Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie both sat out against Tampa Bay, and either one could draw into the lineup.

The Lehtera development comes with the Blues playing some of their best hockey of the year. They’ve won seven of their last eight, and are just four points back of Chicago for top spot in the Western Conference.

Pre-game reading: Some advice for Nolan Patrick

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— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones discuss the Penguins’ two-goalie situation, which GM Jim Rutherford recently admitted was not working as well as he’d hoped.

Nolan Patrick, the likely first overall pick in the 2017 NHL draft, is currently out with an injury. Tyler Benson, a top draft prospect last year who battled injuries, has some advice for Patrick: “I don’t think he should be worrying about the draft. People know what kind of player he can be. He’s played two years in this league already and he’s dominated. I think he should worry about making sure he’s 100 per cent when he comes back.” Benson was eventually selected 32nd overall by the Oilers. (The Province)

— A couple of weeks ago, Senators owner Eugene Melnyk got mad at the Ottawa Citizen newspaper after an editorial called on him to push for an outdoor game at TD Place. Yada, yada, yada, Melynk is now pushing for an outdoor game at TD Place. (Ottawa Sun)

Hampus Lindholm has been good defensively in his return to the Anaheim Ducks, but with only two assists in his first 11 games, you have to think he’ll want to start contributing more to the offense soon. Lindholm is now the highest-paid defenseman on his team, with a cap hit just over $5 million. And if the Ducks have to trade Cam Fowler at any point, they’ll need Lindholm’s offense even more. That’s just the pressure that comes with a big contract. We’ll see how he fares. (OC Register)

— In 2015-16, no Canadian teams made the NHL playoffs for the first time since 1969-70. So, how are things looking this season? Long story short, quite a bit better. Three of the seven Canadian teams are currently in a playoff spot, and the other four aren’t out of it yet. (TSN)

— What a surprise, the Winnipeg Jets hurt themselves with too many penalties last night against Edmonton. “Those early penalties and how much time we spent in the box early on killed us,” said Bryan Little. “Our PK couldn’t get it done.” This has been a problem for way too long now. Over the last three seasons combined, the Jets have gone shorthanded 686 times, the most in the NHL. Clearly, they aren’t good enough to play with such poor discipline, so perhaps they should figure it out. (Winnipeg Sun)

Enjoy the games!

Goalie nods: It’s Chad Johnson’s net in Calgary

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Chad Johnson #31 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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Chad Johnson, the Flames’ goalie of record in eight of their last 10 games, will once again be in goal when Calgary hosts Minnesota on Friday night.

Johnson, as we’ve written about on numerous occasions, was terrific for the Flames in November, going 7-3-0 with a 1.80 GAA and .939 save percentage. He essentially wrestled the No. 1 gig away from Brian Elliott, and closed out the month in style by posting a 39-save shutout against Toronto on Wednesday.

As a result, Calgary has clawed back from a disappointing start to draw within one point of Nashville for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference (granted, the Flames have played four more games than the Preds).

For the Wild, Devan Dubnyk‘s in goal.

Elsewhere…

— Just one other game this evening, as Montreal takes on the Sharks in San Jose. It promises to be a quality matchup as both teams are rolling with their No. 1s: Carey Price for the Habs, Martin Jones for the Sharks.