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

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.

Defense

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.

Goalies

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.

Coaching

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.

Reality

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.

Mumps outbreak hits Canucks, five players to miss Sharks game

BOSTON, MA - FEBRUARY 11: Troy Stecher #51 of the Vancouver Canucks skates against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden on February 11, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The mumps are back.

Three years after a league-wide outbreak sidelined a slew of players, the Canucks have announced that d-man Troy Stecher has been diagnosed with mumps, while four other players — Chris Tanev, Nikita Tryamkin, Mike Chaput and Markus Granlund — have presented symptoms.

More, from the club:

The team has worked from the outset with the Vancouver Health Authority, NHL, NHLPA and BC Centre for Disease Control to minimize transmission of the illness.

In keeping with BC Centre of Disease Control and Vancouver Coastal Health guidelines, players presenting symptoms are immediately being tested and quarantined in isolation for a five-day period from the onset of symptoms or until test results prove negative.

Vaccines are also being administered to minimize further risk of contraction along with universal preventative hygiene measures as recommended by Vancouver Coastal Health including disinfecting all dressing room areas.

Vancouver’s in the midst of its bye week. Saturday’s home date against the Sharks will be its first since a 3-2 loss to Philly on Sunday.

Given that Stecher’s out and the other four are being quarantined, the Canucks project to be severely undermanned tomorrow. There was no immediate announcement for AHL recall plans, or emergency roster replacements.

Following Saturday’s game, Vancouver is back in action again on Tuesday, when it hosts Detroit.

Stars trade Patrick Eaves to Ducks

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 17: Patrick Eaves #18 of the Dallas Stars skates against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on January 17, 2017 in New York City. The Stars defeated the Rangers 7-6.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks have acquired winger Patrick Eaves in a trade with the Dallas Stars. The cost was a conditional second-round draft pick in 2017.

Eaves, 32, is enjoying a career year with 21 goals in 59 games. A pending unrestricted free agent, his cap hit is just $1 million. It was expected that he’d be traded prior to next week’s deadline.

Eaves join a Ducks team that could use a few more goals. Of note, Corey Perry has struggled offensively, scoring just 11 times in 62 games.

Below is the condition on the draft pick, which could turn into a first-round selection.

Based on draft position, Dallas will receive the middle pick of Ottawa, San Jose or Toronto’s second-round selections in 2017 per the conditions in which Anaheim acquired the pick from Toronto in a previous trade. Should Anaheim advance to the third round of the postseason and Eaves plays in 50% or more of their games in the first two rounds, the selection becomes the Ducks first-round selection in the 2017 NHL Draft.

Related: The Wild have options in search for forward depth

Bickell to play first game since MS diagnosis

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 13: Paul Postma #4 of the Winnipeg Jets and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Carolina Hurricanes head to the Carolina zone during NHL action on October 22, 2016 at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell is expected to skate in his first hockey game since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

The Hurricanes assigned Bickell to their AHL affiliate in Charlotte on Friday and say he’s expected to play for the Checkers on Saturday night.

The move came a day after he was placed on waivers in a procedural move that allowed the team to send him to the minors.

Bickell, 30, has been out since October, was diagnosed with MS in November and was placed on injured reserve on Nov. 11.

The three-time Stanley Cup winner with Chicago has been practicing with the Hurricanes for the past month.

Rutherford says Schultz extension ‘definitely a priority’ this summer

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 06:  Justin Schultz #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on before a face off against the New Jersey Devils on March 6, 2016 at Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Justin Schultz‘s career has done a virtual 180 since joining Pittsburgh at last year’s trade deadline, and the Pens have made it clear they’d like to keep him around beyond this season.

“We have not [discussed an extension with Schultz],” GM Jim Rutherford said, per the Post-Gazette. “But he will definitely be a priority for us in the offseason.”

Acquired for a third-round pick last February, Schultz proved to be one of Rutherford’s best moves (part of the reason why Rutherford captured NHL GM of the Year). The former Oilers rearguard had seven points through 18 regular-season games and then thrived once getting into the playoff mix, helping Pittsburgh win the Stanley Cup.

He was signed to a modest one-year, $1.4 million extension last summer, which has turned out to be another Rutherford masterstroke.

Schultz has been vitally important for a Pittsburgh defense decimated by injury. His TOI is way up — 19:15 per game — and his offensive contributions have been outstanding. The 26-year-old has nine goals and 39 points through 56 games, putting him tops among all Pens d-men (and tied for seventh among all NHL blueliners).

Schultz is a pending RFA, and in line for a pretty big raise. The Post-Gazette suggested it could cost Pittsburgh $4-$5 million annually to keep him around, meaning Rutherford will have his work cut out. Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Trevor Daley are all pending UFAs, while fellow d-man Brian Dumoulin is also restricted come July 1.

Rutherford will also need to deal with the Marc-Andre Fleury issue, specifically how to mitigate Fleury’s $5.75 million cap hit.