Jeff Carter

2011-2012 season preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

2010-2011 record: 34-35-13, 81 points; 5th in Central, 13th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

After another last-place finish in the Central Division and losing a ton of money last season, the Blue Jackets management knew they needed to do something to shake things up this offseason. Mission accomplished. They went out and acquired a bona fide top-line center in Jeff Carter and signed pending unrestricted free agent James Wisniewski to help bring points and mobility from the back-end. The good news is that there’s much more buzz around the team than your average 13th-place team. The bad news, of course, is that they were the 13th-place team in the West last season.


Offense should be the strength in Ohio’s capital this season. Jeff Carter joining Rick Nash gives the Blue Jackets one of the best pure scoring duos in the entire league. In fact, over the last four seasons, Carter and Nash are among the league leaders in goals (5th and 6th respectively). Any right wing the team chooses to put on the top line with the pair should instantly become one of the more feared lines in the league.

It’s not just the top line either. The center situation in Columbus is better than ever with the Carter addition, Derick Brassard possibly making the permanent move to center, and Ryan Johansen making the jump to the NHL. Youngsters Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson will join veterans Kristian Huselius, Antoine Vermette, and R.J. Umberger to give the Blue Jackets some decent forward depth this season.


The Blue Jackets think they answered their defensive questions for the next few seasons by bringing in James Wisniewski and Radek Martinek to man the blue line. They also were able to sign Marc Methot to a four-year extension in the offseason to keep the puck out of their own net as well. As long as the Jackets understand that Wisniewski is not a shutdown defenseman and put him in the position to succeed as an offensive blueliner, they should be happy with what he brings to the table. They haven’t had an offensive blueliner with Wisniewski’s skill set to take care of the point on the power play in a while — maybe ever; Wisniewski will join Grant Clitsome to create offense. The major question at this point is whether the stay-at-home defensemen will be able to hold their own throughout the season. Methot and Fedor Tyutin will be key to the Blue Jackets success.


This is the biggest question mark in Columbus — maybe the biggest question mark in the entire Central Division. Steve Mason was once again handed the keys to the car this offseason. With Mathieu Garon leaving town via free agency, it’s the former Calder Trophy winning goaltenders team to lead. Since the Blue Jackets went out and signed unproven Mark Dekanich to a one-way contract as their back-up, it’s clear that it is Mason’s job to lose.

Everyone will be happy in Columbus if Mason can rediscover the form that showed he was a legit No. 1 goaltender in the league. His 2.29 goals against average is almost a full goal lower than his 3.02 goals against average he’s posted in the two seasons since. Simply put: the difference between the 2008-09 goaltender and the last two years, is the difference between a team fighting for a playoff spot and one fighting for a top draft pick.


Scott Arniel wasn’t the most successful guy in his first season with the Blue Jackets, but most around the team will tell you that it wasn’t his fault. He’s been able to get the team to buy into his system and play hard on a nightly basis. The problem was that last season the team simply didn’t have the talent or consistent goaltending to win on a nightly basis. As most people will tell you: a coach is only as good as the players he has on the ice. With the high-profile acquisitions and increased expectations, Arniel must find a way to put more wins on the board.

Breakout candidate

The boom-or-bust candidate is unquestionably Johansen. The No. 4 overall pick has made the team out of training camp and will be in the lineup on opening night. The coaching staff has also said that Johansen’s training camp is ongoing and they haven’t closed to door to sending him back to the Portland Winterhawks (WHL) for another season in juniors. If he sticks with the big club, he could push for a role on a scoring line before the end of the season. He’s a big, rangy center with spectacular vision that has impressed just about everyone who has seen him play. With the talent the Blue Jackets should have on the wing this season, Johansen could be racking up the points in no time.

Best-case scenario

If everything falls right for the Blue Jackets, they could fight for a playoff spot. Carter and Nash will have to prove their styles can work together (both shoot a ton) and Wisniewski will have to prove that he can be responsible on both ends of the ice while playing big time minutes. If the newcomers produce to the level management expects and Mason can find the game he’s lost the last two seasons, the Blue Jackets will have a shot at one of the final playoff spots.


The Blue Jackets have a lot of questions they need to answer before we can call them playoff contenders. Martinek needs to figure out a way to be health, Brassard needs to take advantage of the opportunity as second-line center, and Clitsome and Methot need to prove that they can be top-four defensemen for an entire season. Even if all of those questions are answered, the season still will hinge on Mason’s ability to stop the puck. If he can’t, there is no safety net to speak of. Those are a lot of questions for a team playing in one of the most difficult divisions in the NHL. They should do better than last season, but the playoffs still look like they could be out of reach.

Kane, Holtby, Duchene named NHL’s three stars for November

Patrick Kane
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A winger, a goalie and a center were the NHL’s three stars for October.

And now a winger, a goalie and a center are the NHL’s three stars for November, too.

On Tuesday, the league announced that Chicago’s Patrick Kane, Washington’s Braden Holtby and Colorado’s Matt Duchene were the first, second and third stars for the month, this after naming Dallas’ Jamie Benn, Montreal’s Carey Price and Boston’s David Krejci as the three stars last month.


Kane led the NHL with 15 assists and 23 points, registering at least one point in all 13 November games to guide the Blackhawks (13-8-3, 29 points) to a 7-3-3 month and third place in the Central Division.

Holtby went 9-2-0 with a 1.99 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and one shutout to pace the NHL in wins and backstop the Capitals (17-5-1, 35 points) to a 9-3-1 month and second place in the Metropolitan Division.

Duchene paced the NHL with 11 goals and ranked second with 20 points in 14 games to power the Avalanche (9-14-1, 19 points) to a 6-8-0 November. In doing so, he became the first Avalanche player to score 11 or more goals in one calendar month since February 2003 (Milan Hejduk: 12).

Kane, of course, is also currently riding a 19-game point streak, the longest by an American-born player in NHL history and the longest by any player since Sidney Crosby had a point in 25 straight games during the ’10-11 campaign.

Kane will look to extend his streak tonight, when the ‘Hawks take on the Wild (NBCSN, 8 p.m. ET).

Strome, Marner highlight Team Canada’s World Junior roster

Connor McDavid
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Hockey Canada announced its roster for the World Junior selection camp on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, the list is filled with first-round picks.

Chief among them? Dylan Strome and Mitch Marner, taken third and fourth overall at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Strome, property of the Arizona Coyotes and Marner, property of the Maple Leafs, are just two of nine first-rounders from this June’s draft heading to camp; the roster also includes five first-rounders from the ’14 draft.

Thirty players in total were invited. That means there’ll be some stiff competition for roster spots, though not in goal, where only Calgary and New Jersey prospects Mason McDonald and Mackenzie Blackwood will attend.

The full list of invitees:



As for the fate of two WJC-eligible NHLers — Vancouver’s Jake Virtanen and Jared McCann — Hockey Canada head scout Ryan Jankowski said his organization is holding out hope both will be available for selection.

Another brief post on the unpredictable nature of goaltending

Michal Neuvirth
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We did this last year at around this time. Let’s do it again. Among goalies that have started at least 10 games, know who’s number one in save percentage?

It’s not Henrik Lundqvist, though he’s up there at .935.

It’s not Carey Price either (.934).

It’s Philadelphia’s Michal Neuvirth, at .939. Anyone see that coming? Sure, Neuvirth played reasonably well last year for Buffalo, but this is a guy who’s started more than 40 games just once in his career. The Flyers signed him this summer to be Steve Mason‘s backup. His cap hit is a measly $1.625 million. The point is, any goalie that’s good enough to play in the NHL is good enough to have a hot streak in the NHL. It’s very hard to differentiate which of them have staying power and which don’t.

Another name among the current save percentage leaders is Toronto’s James Reimer. So to recap: Reimer had a good rookie year in 2010-11, and the Leafs were confident they’d found their guy. Then the next season he suffered a concussion in October and when he got back he struggled to regain his form. But he bounced back in 2013! Alas, it all came crashing down in the playoffs during the Great Choke in Boston. So the Leafs went out and got Jonathan Bernier, who’s a whole other story that we could delve into here. Where were we with Reimer? Right. The Great Choke. The next two seasons, Reimer was Bernier’s backup. He wasn’t particularly good. Until this year. When he’s good again.

Now let’s look at a few names at the bottom of the list. Keep in mind that .915 is the league average for save percentage.

—- Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov is last at .887, Cam Ward is down there at .898, and Tuukka Rask is just barely better at .899. Combined cap hit? Almost $20 million.

Cam Talbot at .889. Good last year for the Rangers, not so good this year for the Oilers. So…is it him? Or, is it the team in front of him? Because if it’s the latter — gasp! — what does that say about Lundqvist? He’s never played for another team. What would The King’s numbers be like for Edmonton? You know, there are people who believe that Martin Brodeur wasn’t actually that great. But let’s move on before we go down that wormhole.

— Sergei Bobrovsky at .907. Hey, didn’t that guy win the Vezina a couple of years ago?

Devan Dubnyk at .909. Remember when he salvaged his career and saved the Wild? You should. It happened less than a year ago. Earned him a nice $26 million contract through 2021. This is exactly why we didn’t envy Chuck Fletcher. What was he going to do — let Dubnyk walk? And hey, it could still turn out to be a great signing. Only time will tell. That’s the whole point of this post.

Bottom line: goaltending is an extremely tough position for general managers to address. On the one hand, we know that teams can win Stanley Cups with guys who are making peanuts. (See: Jonathan Quick in 2012 and Corey Crawford in 2013.) But at the same time, no team can survive bad goaltending. Which is to say, a GM that gambles on an inexpensive option is a GM that could look really bad down the line. Of course, you know who else can look really bad? A GM that locks up a goalie long term, only for that goalie to become a bad goalie.

This is why GMs don’t sleep well and get fired a lot.

Related: Avs ‘need, expect more’ from Varlamov

Detroit’s Larkin wins rookie of the month for November

Teemu Pulkkinen, Dylan Larkin
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One of the youngest players in the NHL has been rewarded for his outstanding play last month.

On Tuesday, Red Wings forward Dylan Larkin was named rookie of the month for November, after leading all first-year players in goals (seven in 13 games).

From the league:

Larkin edged Chicago Blackhawks left wing Artemi Panarin (5-8—13 in 13 GP), New York Rangers center Oscar Lindberg (4-5—9 in 14 GP), Arizona Coyotes left wing Max Domi (3-6—9 in 12 GP), Calgary Flames center Sam Bennett (4-4—8 in 12 GP) and Buffalo Sabres center Jack Eichel (4-4—8 in 13 GP) for the honor.

Larkin, the 15th overall selection in the 2014 NHL Draft, recorded six of his seven goals in the final seven contests of the month (6-1—7), including a four-game goal streak Nov. 16-21 (4-0—4). In doing so, the 19-year-old Waterford, Mich., native became the first teenager to post a four-game goal streak for the Red Wings since 1984-85, when Steve Yzerman had a pair of four-game runs.

Needless to say it’s been a banner campaign for Larkin, the first teenager to play for the Red Wings since Jiri Hudler (also 19 years old) in 2003-04. He’s also in some elite company by winning rookie of the month, joining Oilers freshman sensation Connor McDavid, who captured the honors for October.