Carrying a $3.5 million cap hit, Cam Atkinson ranked as one of the better bargains in the NHL, especially considering his trip to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game. It sounds like the Columbus Blue Jackets rewarded him for that hard work on Thursday.
Overall, there’s definitely some risk involved in this Atkinson extension, yet we’re talking about a player in his prime who’s riding four consecutive 20+ goal seasons. If he can flirt with his breakthrough of 37 goals in 2016-17 fairly often, the Blue Jackets will be very happy with their decision.
Atkinson had been off to a somewhat slow start in 2017-18 (four goals, two assists in 15 games coming into Thursday), so maybe this extension will ease his mind, too?
NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2017-18 campaign tonight when the Columbus Blue Jackets host the Buffalo Sabres at 8:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do sohere.
After dropping seven of their first eight games of the season, the Sabres have won back-to-back contests over Boston and Detroit.
Both victories were far from easy, as they had to complete a huge comeback in Boston on Saturday night before beating the Wings by a slim 1-0 margin last night.
Whenever a new coach takes over behind the bench, there’s always an adjustment that needs to be made. The Sabres are still trying to figure master Phil Housley’s system, so a slow start wasn’t totally unexpected. Now, the focus will be on how much they can improve over the next few weeks and months.
“When you play the right way you’re not always going to get what you want,” Housley told the Buffalo News. “You’re just going to have to take what’s given, and sometimes you’re going to have to defend. We all want to play offense. We all want to play in the offensive zone, but when it’s your shift to come back and play solid defense and it requires that, you have to do it.”
As of right now, it seems like they’re heading in a positive direction, but getting rid of the losing mentality that’s set in over the last few years won’t be easy. Overcoming their awful start is going to be a huge challenge. At least they’ve found some positive momentum.
“It just gives us a little confidence and a little mojo going forward,” defenseman Jake McCabe said. “We’ve put two good games together in how we want to play. I think going forward to Columbus, now is the time to make up for our slow start. Hopefully, we continue this.”
The Blue Jackets’ four-game home stand didn’t exactly get off to a roaring start. On Thursday night, they dropped a 2-0 decision to the Tampa Bay Lightning and on Saturday, they lost, 6-4, to the Los Angeles Kings.
They have a chance to salvage this string of home games against the Sabres tonight and against Winnipeg on Friday.
One thing is for sure, their lines will look a whole lot different going into tonight’s game, as head coach John Tortorella’s “line blender” has been doing overtime.
“I thought that was probably (the Wennberg line’s) worst period of the game when we needed it to be their best period,” Tortorella said of that trio’s performance against the Kings, per the Dispatch . “I had to take them off of (the ice). I don’t like doing that. Top players should play against top lines. … I had to do that because of the way they were playing.”
The Metropolitan Division hasn’t just produced the last two Stanley Cup winners (Pittsburgh Penguins) and last two Presidents’ Trophy winners (Washington Capitals).
It’s also a division that runs deep. The Columbus Blue Jackets took the league by storm in 2016-17, and while Sergei Bobrovsky might not be sensational again, many still believe they’re legit. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders still boast significant strengths, while the Carolina Hurricanes are dark horse candidates once more.
Even the New Jersey Devils keep adding promising talent.
Let’s preview what might once again be the best division in the NHL.
So, to reiterate, it could be quite a while before the Avalanche trade Duchene. It’s really difficult to tell, especially since moves can come together quickly after laying dormant for what seems like ages.
So, again, this isn’t to say a trade is coming. With training camp nearing, it’s fun to break down the facets of a possible move, anyway.
Let’s explore the logic of a possible move, though.
A game-breaker for Columbus?
The Hurricanes and Blue Jackets have at least two things in common that could make a Duchene trade more feasible and palatable: each franchise boasts a nice prospect stockpile and lack a true top center.
Now, you can argue that Duchene isn’t an “elite” No. 1 pivot, but he could really flesh out Columbus’ group (and take some pressure off, say, Alex Wennberg).
It’s easy to fixate on Duchene’s rough 2016-17 season, but at age 26, it’s fair to argue that last season was an anomaly. The Avalanche were a borderline historic disaster, and even if Duchene could have played better, it’s absurd to pin too much on the speedy scorer.
Look at his previous four sesaons and you’ll see evidence of a gamebreaker, especially in the low-scoring, modern NHL.
Duchene generated at least 20 goals in three straight seasons from 2013-14 to 2015-16, and he almost hit 20 (scoring 17) during the 48-game lockout season of 2012-13.
The Blue Jackets, to some extent, score by committee. Adding a little more dynamic skill could really help Columbus find that “extra gear.”
Portzline indicates that a package involving Murray and Jenner could move the needle more, so let’s ponder Murray for a moment.
Considering that the Avalanche are shooting high for a Duchene return, they’d have to figure that Murray, 23, needs a fresh start. Management might even see the potential for a high-draft-pick turnaround that parallels how Erik Johnson‘s enjoyed a nice run with the Avs.
Yep, that would require a leap of faith … or the Avalanche would really need to be smitten by Boone Jenner.
Jenner is an interesting test case in perception.
Yes, he scored 30 goals in 2015-16, but nine of them came on the power play. Jenner was limited to 18 goals in 2016-17, with none coming on Columbus’ locomotive man-advantage. Realistic expectations probably place him at 20 goals with modest playmaking.
Jenner brings nice size and is only 24, so there are selling points.
Jenner ($2.9M, RFA after 2017-18) and Murray ($2.825M, RFA after 2017-18) and Duchene ($6M, UFA after 2018-19) all have their strengths and weaknesses. They’re all at or approaching a fork in the road in their careers with little time on their current contracts.
A Jenner + Murray combo could make some sense for the Avalanche, especially with both being at prime ages. You’d think that the Blue Jackets might need to sweeten the deal with a prospect, at least considering how big Sakic is seemingly dreaming.
Personally, from a Blue Jackets perspective, this seems like a great deal.
It would set the stage for a potentially fascinating summer of 2019, as Duchene, Artemi Panarin, and Sergei Bobrovsky would all be eligible for unrestricted free agency. On the other hand, that would allow Columbus to assess where the franchise is at over a season or two, and pivot if they feel that this group just can’t get it done.
One understands the lure of hoarding prospects, especially with how fans can sometimes get attached to the daydream of production that may never come. Sometimes you have to swing for the fences, though, and the Blue Jackets might want to do that with Duchene.
You know, if they can actually convince Sakic to accept a reasonable deal.
‘We want to win the Stanley Cup right now’: Seth Jones believes Jackets can make a run
“We’ve come a long way, I’ll say that. When I got to Columbus you knew it was in the room. You knew the core. You knew the values of the team. You knew the leadership and you knew it was there. But last year, we definitely translated it to the ice.”