R.J. Umberger

Blue Jackets give R.J. Umberger a surprising five-year, $23M extension

For a franchise with zero playoff wins and one postseason appearance in its history, the Columbus Blue Jackets are showing a lot of urgency in keeping the band together. If GM Scott Howson’s job depends on this season’s results as many expect, then his current run of moves would handcuff a hypothetical incoming general manager anyway.

R.J. Umberger is the latest example of keeping more than just the core together, as Howson handed him a surprising five-year, $23 million extension today. The former Philadelphia Flyers forward will register a $4.6 million annual cap hit starting next season. Aaron Portzline reports that the first two seasons (2012-13 and 13-14) include a no-trade clause while the final three carry a modified one.

The salary breakdown is simple:

2012-13: $5 million
Four other seasons: $4.5 million

The Blue Jackets’ roster is now riddled with long-term contracts – and it’s not just obvious players such as franchise winger Rick Nash and newly acquired center Jeff Carter. Here’s a quick look at the team’s big commitments, with their salary cap hits and the season that their contracts expire.

Nash: $7.8 million cap hit, expires 2017-18
Carter: $5.27M, 21-22
Umberger: $4.7M, 16-17
Antoine Vermette: $3.75M, 14-15
James Wisniewski: $5.5M, 16-17
Marc Methot: $3M, 14-15
Fedor Tyutin: $2.84M, 17-18

There are some reasonable values in that grouping – and it’s not as if there is nothing to like about Umberger’s game – but it’s still a risky plan for a team that hasn’t proven anything. On the bright side, the 29-year-old forward is a consistent producer (three straight seasons of 23 goals or more, with two consecutive campaigns of 55+ points) and he can play at both center and wing.

The thing is, when you hand a guy a lengthy deal (and no-trade clause) at that price, there’s probably an expectation for even better things. I’m not sure how much more the Blue Jackets can expect from Umberger, so why couldn’t they get a better bargain for him in exchange for the considerable amount of security he just gained?

Honestly, it’s a head-scratching decision, but it at least accomplishes the task of showing the team’s confidence in their current setup. We’ll find out soon enough if that confidence is justified or ill-advised.

Rangers’ Klein exits with muscle strain, won’t return

Kevin Klein

The New York Rangers lost versatile d-man Kevin Klein early in the first period of their game against Carolina and, shortly after, announced he was done for the night.

Klein played just 2:22 before leaving with a muscle strain. The injury forced the Blueshirts to use just five defensemen for the remainder of the evening — Ryan McDonagh, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and Dan Girardi.

While it’s unclear how the injury occurred or how significant it is, Klein’s absence could be costly if it’s long-term. The 30-year-old was having a good year, with six points in 24 games, and saw his ice time go up to 21:03 per game from 18:29 last year.

If Klein is out moving forward, it would present an opportunity for Dylan McIlrath to take up a bigger role on the New York defense.


‘It was a scary incident’: Colaiacovo returns to Sabres practice after dented trachea

Carlo Colaiacovo
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Carlo Colaiacovo‘s remarkably quick recovery from what appeared to be a serious injury continued on Monday, as he returned to practice roughly 48 hours after suffering a dented trachea.

Colaicovo, who was hospitalized after taking a Viktor Arvidsson cross-check to the throat on Saturday, skated with his Buffalo teammates on Monday in advance of tomorrow’s game against Detroit.

“I feel good,” Colaiacovo said, per the Sabres’ website. “Obviously it was a scary incident and at the time it was pretty painful but it is what it is.

“Right now, it’s not really stopping me from doing much.”

Though he said he’s still feeling pain in and around his throat, Colaiacovo is eligible to return to the Sabres’ lineup tomorrow.

The 32-year-old, who has appeared in 15 games this season, would no doubt like to play tomorrow. It’d put him up against the same Detroit team that employed him during the lockout-shortened ’13 campaign, only to buy out his contract at the end of the year.

Couture (fractured fibula) continues skating with Sharks, says return is on schedule

Logan Couture
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Some good news at Sharks practice today — Logan Couture continued to skate with teammates, just one week after returning to the ice from a broken leg suffered on Oct. 17.

What’s more, Couture says he’s on schedule to meet the 4-6 week timetable for return.

“[I’m] where I thought I would be at this point in time,” Couture said, per CSN Bay Area.

While the 26-year-old wouldn’t put an exact date on his return, it’s clear both he and the Sharks are anxious for him to get back in the lineup — especially with the club surging, and Couture having only played in three regular-season contests this year.

Looking ahead, there are some dates worth circling on the ol’ calendar.

The Sharks have a relatively light week. After beating Calgary 5-2 on Saturday, they play just once in five days — Tuesday’s home tilt against the Penguins — before a weekend back-to-back set against the Ducks on Friday and Lightning on Saturday.

The Ducks game is in Anaheim, but the following night’s contest against the Bolts is at the friendly confines of SAP. So that could be a potential date to watch for — but it is worth noting Couture said he’s still hesitant about getting into game action until his first step is back.

“Until then, I’m not going to force my way out there and put myself in a bad spot,” he explained.

Kesler believes Ducks are ‘too good to not be in the playoffs’

Shane Doan, Ryan Kesler

It’s been 24 games for the Anaheim Ducks, more than a quarter of the season, and still they’re having trouble winning.

Friday against Chicago, they surrendered two goals in the last two minutes of regulation and lost in overtime.

Currently, the Ducks sit five points out of a playoff spot with a record of 8-11-5.

Still, forward Ryan Kesler is confident they’ll find a way into the postseason.

“If we keep playing like we are, we’re going to get into the playoffs — this team is too good to not be in the playoffs,” Kesler told The Province ahead of tonight’s home game versus Vancouver.

“We had a bad start and, to be honest, some guys weren’t ready to start the season. There’s a lot of hockey to be played and we’re ready for the challenge.”

To match the 45-30-7 record the Flames squeaked into the playoffs with last year, the Ducks would need to go 37-19-2 over their next 58 games.




Depends who you ask.

Anaheim’s playoff chances will depend a lot on how Pacific Division teams like San Jose, Arizona, and Vancouver finish. The Ducks may need to leapfrog two of those three to get in.

Yes, there’s always the chance four teams from the Pacific qualify, because it’s not like Colorado, Winnipeg, and Minnesota don’t have their problems. Even Nashville you have to wonder about lately. Heck, even Chicago isn’t assured of anything yet.

Bottom line, though, the Ducks have dug themselves a hole, and it’s starting to look a lot like the one the Kings dug last year.

In the NHL, even good teams don’t always climb out.

Related: Boudreau does the playoff math, and it’s no ‘easy task’ for Ducks