Pluses and minuses of tonight’s preseason action

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Four games and just six teams taking part in action today as the NHL preseason began including a split-squad doubleheader between Nashville and Florida. What do they think this is, spring training for baseball? Here’s some stuff we’re taking away from today’s games. Don’t worry, we’ll officially fire up the hype machine on any of the rookies that shine next week.

Game 1: Nashville 5 – Florida 3

Game 2: Florida 4 – Nashville 3

Pluses: 2011 first round pick Jonathan Huberdeau shined in Game 2 scoring a goal and adding an assist. The Sun Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov is already calling out for Huberdeau to make life hard on the Panthers should they want to send him back to juniors.

Panthers coach Kevin Dineen has the team working with a lot more jump and aggressiveness in camp. If he can liven things up with the Panthers, they could be entertaining to watch for the first time in a while.

The Predators defense competition got it’s first salvo fired with Teemu Laakso scoring for the Preds.

Minuses: Relying on tweets and recaps for a preseason game is a bit of an inconvenience so we’ll hold off on being too critical of anyone just yet.

Buffalo 3 – Carolina 1

Pluses: Seeing Nathan Gerbe do his thing once again to start off the preseason is great for Buffalo. Being a pest, tipping shots, and buzzing the net are what makes him so good for the Sabres.

Paul Gaustad doing some work offensively is nice to see for Buffalo as well. Should Tyler Ennis or Ville Leino not work out well at center on the Sabres second line, Gaustad could get slotted in there to stabilize things. He’s not offensive in nature, but doing dirty work around the net is his thing. Getting  a goal and an assist helps show off a little something extra.

Brandon Sutter scoring for Carolina is what they’ll hope to see a lot more of in the regular season from him as he should set up as the Hurricanes’ second line center.

Minuses: It’s not a minus so much as it’s a sign of it being a preseason game. Sabres agitator Patrick Kaleta’s scoring line on the night: A goal and  two assists. If this were a regular season game, we’d have to set off some alarms.

Toronto 4 – Ottawa 2

Pluses: Leafs center Tyler Bozak scoring two goals is great to see for the Leafs. It’s a bit unsure what Bozak will be doing this year or what line he could end up on, but a couple of goals helps make a good starting argument that he should get more time on a scoring line. To do that, however, he’d likely have to switch to wing and really impress coach Ron Wilson. Bozak’s work with Colby Armstrong and Nazem Kadri has the Leafs faithful impressed.

Senators rookie defenseman Jared Cowen looked more like a man than a kid tonight. Cowen scored both Sens goals, played a physical game, and even fought Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf. Not a bad way to show the team you can hang at the NHL level.

Leafs rookie Jake Gardiner played a strong game and looked fast. He could make things uncomfortable for Wilson in making choices on the blue line.

Guy who secretly played really well for Ottawa in the loss? Former Blue Jackets first round pick Nikita Filatov. We’ll see if he keeps it up all camp and into the season.

Minuses: Judging by one preseason game that didn’t feature many of the regulars is bad to do, but boy is Ottawa going to be bad this year. Their top line tonight with Peter Regin centering Filatov and Bobby Butler could be their starting second line this year. Yikes.

Milan Michalek went down after appearing to be hit by a puck. He left the ice holding his knee however. After all the time he’s missed with a myriad of injuries, another one would be a miserable and foreboding start to the Sens season.

Cowen played solid tonight for Ottawa, but him jumping Dion Phaneuf after Phaneuf laid a clean hit on Sens player Tim Conboy was just dumb. No need for a fight there and Cowen was rightfully assessed an instigator penalty for doing so. Hopefully the handing out of the instigator in situations like that will happen every time fights like these break out.

Report: Red Wings RFA Athanasiou could sign in Russia

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With training camp approaching, Andreas Athanasiou is still without a contract for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old forward and restricted free agent posted 18 goals and 29 points in 64 games for the Detroit Red Wings last season in the final year of his entry-level contract with an annual average value of $902,500.

Based on a report Tuesday afternoon, traveling overseas to play next season could be an option for Athanasiou, one of the bright young forwards in the Red Wings organization.

Earlier this month, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said the organization has made a “number of offers” to Athanasiou.

One of the issues facing Detroit right now is the salary cap, which the Red Wings are currently over by almost $4 million, according to CapFriendly.

Report: ‘We … are not dealing with this issue as of now,’ says Iginla’s agent of Olympics

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National Hockey League players will not be going to the 2018 Olympics. However, it appears Team Canada has taken another step in expressing interest in a pair of unrestricted free agents — Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.

That’s according to the Canadian Press on Tuesday, as it reported Team Canada general manager Sean Burke contacted representatives for both Doan and Iginla, inquiring about possible availability.

Both players are 40 years old and have represented Canada at previous Olympics when NHL players participated. Iginla set up Sidney Crosby‘s famous overtime winning goal during the 2010 Games in Vancouver.

From the Canadian Press:

Burke, who’s building the first Canadian Olympic roster without NHL players since 1994, suggested that both former Olympians would have to be playing somewhere if they were to be considered. He reached out to their representatives on Tuesday morning.

“We want to look at all possibilities, but there has to be a long-term plan because it’s going to very intense (at the Olympics) and it’s going to be great hockey and guys are going to have to have a plan for the year,” Burke said on a conference call, which also included the team’s head coach Willie Desjardins.

Whether or not the two veterans would be interested is another question.

“We really are not dealing with this issue as of now,” Don Meehan, Iginla’s agent, said in an email to The Canadian Press.

The report also indicated that Team Canada’s roster should become more clear by November.

Doan played his entire career with one franchise until this June, when Coyotes management informed the veteran forward that they would not be bringing him back for another season. He’s appeared in 1,540 NHL games throughout his career, but scored only six goals and 27 points in 74 games this past season.

Iginla, a two-time Olympic champion for Canada, split this season between Colorado and L.A. He had only eight goals and 18 points in 61 games with the Avalanche before getting dealt to the Kings. He then posted six goals and nine points in 19 games with L.A., although that club missed the playoffs.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

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.