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Blue Jackets face big cap decisions after Wennberg signing

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Aside from some concerns about his numbers being inflated by a robust Blue Jackets power play, the majority of the reviews were very positive for Alex Wennberg‘s new deal with Columbus.

(Read more about his six-year deal with a $4.9 million cap hit here.)

Locking up the intriguing 22-year-old talent settles a big question for the Blue Jackets, but after looking at their salary structure, some agonizing decisions remain. Let’s look at some of those situations and their cap future overall, with help from Cap Friendly’s always-helpful listings.

Commitments

Wennberg is signed through 2022-23, making his deal the longest-standing contract on the Blue Jackets’ roster right now. There are other significant deals, though.

The best one, for my money, is Seth Jones: his $5.4M cap hit runs through 2021-22. The 22-year-old is already starting to put together the numbers (career-high 12 goals and 42 points last season) that make him more than what he already was: a developing star. Even if he bounces somewhere between “very good” and “legit star,” just about any team would fork over $5.4M per year for Jones.

David Savard isn’t too shabby at $4.25M through 2019-20, standing as the only other blueliner with a lengthy deal for CBJ.

Wennberg’s deal stands along with two other forwards as far as lengthier contracts go. Nick Foligno ($5.5M through 2020-21) really improved his standing in the league last season, while Brandon Dubinsky ($5.85M through 2020-21) poses some concerns considering his rougher style and the fact that he’s already 31.

(Then again, you can have worse things on your resume than “Premium Sidney Crosby Disturber.”)

Contract years

Several Blue Jackets face especially fascinating fork-in-the-road seasons.

Cam Atkinson exploded with an All-Star output last season, finishing with career-highs in goals (35), assists (27), and points (62). Ten of his goals and 21 of those points came on that power play, and being that he’s already 28, Columbus might be right to see if he slips a bit before making a big investment.

That said, Atkinson probably ranks as an underrated player, or at least he once did. This marks four straight seasons with at least 21 goals and 40 points.

The question isn’t about Atkinson getting a raise, but instead the keys are “How much of a raise?” and “For how long?” Atkinson carries a $2.9M AAV and would be an unrestricted free agent.

(More on Atkinson’s contract year here.)

After a surprising 30-goal season in 2015-16, Boone Jenner went to 18 goals and 34 points last season. At 24, he’s in an interesting spot as an RFA carrying a $2.2M cap hit.

Ryan Murray ($2.825M) and Jack Johnson ($4.357M) round out the headliners among the contract years, with all due respect to Matt Calvert and Oliver Bjorkstrand.*

Both defensemen are intriguing. Murray, 23, has experienced a frustratingly stilted development thanks to injuries. Johnson, 30, draws plenty of criticism for his defensive play, and one would guess that Columbus would prefer to get a discount on another deal if they bring him back.

(Here’s hoping Johnson sticks around the NHL one way or another, considering his financial/familial mess.)

Huge decisions

As significant as those expiring deals are, the two-year contracts stand as the biggest choices.

A year after injuries and inconsistency made Sergei Bobrovsky‘s $7.425M cap hit look questionable, a brilliant Vezina year (albeit somewhat tainted by playoff struggles) make that price look like a borderline bargain. Still, “Bob” is 28, so he’ll be 30 at the end of his current contract. If he wants a significant raise on a fairly significant clip, will Columbus be on board?

There’s some room for intrigue, as Joonas Korisalo’s $900K deal goes away after two years, as well.

“Cost certainty” was a theme of the Blackhawks’ explanations for their sometimes-shocking summer swaps, and that thought stands out in what Columbus got back in trading Brandon Saad, whose $6M cap hit expires in 2020-21. Artemi Panarin, meanwhile, is only covered through 2018-19 at the same $6M clip.

If Panarin proves that he can generate a ton of offense without Patrick Kane, his price tag could be significant; he’d only be 27 and is slated for UFA status. *Gulp*

The good news is that Zach Werenski (or Zachary?) stands as a tremendous rookie-deal-steal at $925K for two more seasons. The bad part is that Werenski would be in line for a big raise in 2019-20 and beyond.

With Bobrovsky, Panarin, and Werenski all having two years remaining on their contracts, it’s clear that Columbus has some decisions to make, whether they hand out extensions in the summer of 2018 or wait until deals expire.

***

Considering how dour things seemed for Columbus just a summer ago, the outlook is a lot sunnier today.

Even so, GM Jarmo Kekalainen faces some crucial choices in the next year or two. Which ways would you lean?

* – Some Blue Jackets execs might root for a Bjorkstrand breakout in 2018-19.

NHL suspends Desjardins two preseason games for illegal check to the head

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has issued another two-game preseason suspension, this time to Andrew Desjardins of the New York Rangers.

The incident occurred during the first period of Saturday’s game between the Rangers and New Jersey Devils, as Desjardins delivered a hit to the head of Miles Wood.

Desjardins received a match penalty for an illegal check to the head, and a two-game preseason ban on Monday.

“Desjardins, looking to prevent Wood from cutting to the front of the net, steps in front of Wood and delivers a high hit, which makes the head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” stated the Department of Player Safety in a video explanation.

“It is important to note that Wood is eligible to be hit on this play, provided it is done in a legal manner. However, rather than taking an angle of approach that results in a legal, full-bodied check, Desjardins takes an angle of approach that picks Wood’s head, making it the main point of contact.”

The Rangers are in action right now versus the Philadelphia Flyers. They have one game remaining on their preseason schedule after tonight, as they take on the Flyers again tomorrow.

Desjardins was attending Rangers camp on a professional tryout.

 

Devils score early and often, opening up seven-goal lead vs. Senators

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Tough night for the Ottawa Senators and, specifically, goaltender Mike Condon on Monday.

Playing the New Jersey Devils in the Kraft Hockeyville showcase in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Condon allowed seven goals on 17 shots before the midway point of the second period.

Andrew Hammond then entered into the game for Ottawa, with the Senators down 7-0.

Marcus Johansson started the scoring onslaught for New Jersey. Nico Hischier gave the Devils a three-goal lead before the eight-minute mark of the opening period, and John Quenneville scored twice in less than 30 seconds to put New Jersey up by seven in the second period.

Golden Knights embed season ticket members’ names in T-Mobile Arena ice

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The Vegas Golden Knights have chosen an interesting way to honor their season ticket members, as the organization inches closer to starting its inaugural NHL regular season.

The Golden Knights will, for the first time, play on their home ice at T-Mobile Arena on Tuesday against the L.A. Kings in preseason action. To commemorate this historic season, the organization will embed the names of its season ticket members into the ice surface at their home arena.

(You can check out the video here. Very cool.)

“That it was feasible, if we wanted to do something special on the ice, that we had the ability to put texture to something on the ice, before the laid the last round of it,” said Todd Pollock, Golden Knights vice-president of ticketing and suites.

“It’s in the thousands, the number of names out there. Many thousands.”

The Golden Knights have played four preseason games so far — all on the road. They open the regular season with two games in two nights on the road, on Oct. 6 versus the Dallas Stars and the following night versus the Arizona Coyotes. They return to Vegas for their home opener against the Coyotes on Oct. 10.

NHL players weigh in on national anthem protests, divisive President Trump comments

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A number of National Hockey League players and coaches on Monday expressed their opinions about the national anthem protests and the divisive comments of President Donald Trump during a rally on Friday and on Twitter this weekend.

At a rally on Friday, Trump urged NFL team owners to fire players that take a knee during the National Anthem. He reiterated those remarks on Twitter the following day.

On Sunday, almost every NFL team took part in a form of protest against racial inequality and injustice during the anthem. Some players took a knee. Other players linked arms with fellow players, coaches and even team owners in a show of solidarity. Some teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Tennessee Titans did not take the field during the anthem.

On Monday, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews, who is 20 years old and from Scottsdale, AZ., said he would not take part in protest during the anthem.

“My great uncle served, I have friends and family who’ve served, there’s men and women who have risked their lives for the United States, people who have died for the United States,” Matthews said, per Sportsnet.

“I don’t know if kneeling, sitting, stretching is something I’d really look into doing because to me it’s like a dishonour to the men and women that fight for that flag, fight for the U.S. I don’t think I’d be one of the people to take part in that.”

Boston Bruins forward David Backes, who is from Minneapolis, MN., said he will continue to stand during the Star Spangled Banner.

“My opinion is that I’m American and I love my country and I love my flag,” said Backes, per CSNNE.com.

“I’ve got great buddies that have been in the military and they’ve sacrificed for my freedom, so I’d never want to do anything to disrespect that. My standpoint is that I’m standing for every national anthem with my hand over my heart and I’m staring at that flag recognizing those sacrifices. If I’ve got beef with a social justice issue or something else-wise, I’m going to find different avenues that are not disrespectful, especially to those that are military men and women that give me the freedom to do what I do.”

Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk told the Edmonton Journal that players have the right to protest, while his head coach Bill Peters does not believe that kneeling during the National Anthem is a sign of disrespect.

“I understand both sides. I don’t think anyone is truly trying to disrespect the flag, to be honest with you,” Peters told the Raleigh News & Observer. “I think people have too much pride in what’s going on in their countries, and they just want to make it better and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler is believed to be the first NHL player to publicly speak out against the comments of President Trump, doing so from his verified Twitter account on Saturday. His comments followed scathing criticism of the President from a number of athletes, including NBA stars LeBron James and Stephen Curry, in the wake of what Trump said at the rally. Following Sunday’s schedule of games, a number of NFL players spoke about the protests.

“I’m absolutely for the first amendment,” said Wheeler, when asked if he would support a teammate if they decide to take a knee during the National Anthem.

“I’m a big believer that what makes America a special place is you’re allowed to stand up for what you believe in. With just cause, if someone were electing to do that they would 100 percent have my support. Even if I don’t necessarily agree with why they do it it is their right to feel that way, it is their right to behave that way. If I didn’t agree with it, I would absolutely sit down, have a coffee, talk about it, try to understand why they feel that way and maybe you become a little more sympathetic.”