Boone Jenner

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Blue Jackets bet big on Cam Atkinson

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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.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports (sub required) that the Blue Jackets signed Atkinson to a seven-year, $40.25 million extension, which translates to a $5.75M cap hit starting in 2018-19. (Confirmed by the team Friday morning.)

Atkinson will turn 29 in June, so his extension will kick in before he turns 30. Portzline explains that Atkinson sacrificed some short-term cash for the security of a longer deal.

Interesting.

PHT broke down the Blue Jacket’s salary cap structure after they signed Alexander Wennberg to a six-year deal that carries a $4.9M cap hit. Atkinson was singled out as one of the big forks in the road for Blue Jackets management, so they made a big commitment to him tonight.

(Note: the Blue Jackets haven’t confirmed the extension, but multiple outlets back up the news Portzline broke.)

It seems like Atkinson checks out pretty nicely from a fancy stats perspective, although the $5.75M question will be: how long will this count as a bargain?

The Blue Jackets are committed to Atkinson for more term than any other player now. That said, they do have some other guys under contracts for three years or more: Wennberg, Seth Jones, David Savard, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (granted, the latter is a cheat since he’s on his rookie deal).

Columbus still has some questions to answer. Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin both only have two years remaining on their deals (counting this season). They need to figure out where Boone Jenner fits in the picture, as he’ll be an RFA next summer. Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson are both on expiring contracts, as well.

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?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Sabres look to keep rolling against Blue Jackets

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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 so here.

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.

Nick Foligno, not Alexander Wennberg, will play between Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson. Wennberg found himself on the second line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner.

“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.”

Enjoy the hockey!

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Penguins, Rangers, Capitals headline PHT’s mighty Metro Division preview

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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.

Also, check out these other previews: Atlantic Division, Central Division, PHT’s picks and predictions.

Carolina Hurricanes

Poll/looking to make the leap

Columbus Blue Jackets

Poll/looking to make the leap

New Jersey Devils

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Islanders

Poll/looking to make the leap

New York Rangers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Philadelphia Flyers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Pittsburgh Penguins

Poll/looking to make the leap

Something noteworthy from today:

Washington Capitals

Poll/looking to make the leap

Would Duchene for Murray, Jenner trade make sense for Avs, Blue Jackets?

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With Colorado Avalanche training camp looming on Thursday, the urge to trade Matt Duchene might rise. For some Avs fans, it could be as much about getting some closure as anything else.

Now, it’s important to note that there’s no word on a trade being close.

Really, there are plenty of reports that indicate that Avalanche GM Joe Sakic continues to hold out for a great deal, whether you believe his aims are reasonable or not.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in “31 Thoughts” that the Avalanche may have at least discussed P.K. Subban with the Nashville Predators, and updates back up the notion that Sakic is shooting high:

Wow.

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.

On Tuesday, PHT pondered the Hurricanes giving up Noah Hanifin for Duchene. Such an idea didn’t seem particularly well-received by Carolina fans.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that the Columbus Blue Jackets have not offered up the combination of Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray to try to nab Duchene, but in a Wednesday newsletter, Portzline reported that such a combination could possibly meet the Avalanche’s needs.

Even beyond this post’s earlier disclaimer, it’s important to note that Portzline reports Jenner is a little banged up, so that would likely hold up a move even if Sakic would bite:

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.”

Murray, the mystery

Reports have already surfaced that Ryan Murray wouldn’t be enough of a showpiece to pry Duchene away from Colorado.

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.

Because, yikes, it’s been a bumpy ride. Injuries derailed his early development, and Murray seemed generally overwhelmed in 2016-17:

via Domenic Galamini

Yep, that would require a leap of faith … or the Avalanche would really need to be smitten by Boone Jenner.

On 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.

Still, it’s possible that Blue Jackets management views his strengths as redundant. He averaged less than 30 seconds of power-play time last season after logging about two minutes per night in 2015-16, for instance,

Some conclusions

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

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After finishing with the second-to-worst record in the Eastern Conference in 2015-16, the Columbus Blue Jackets stunned the hockey world by accumulating 108 points last season.

Unfortunately for Columbus, they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Penguins, but that doesn’t mean expectations aren’t sky-high for them.

“We want to win the Stanley Cup right now,” defenseman Seth Jones said, per NHL.com.

“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.”

The Jackets were led by last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky. With Bobrovsky between the pipes, a group of talented defensemen like Jones and Zach Werenski, and forwards like Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner, Columbus was able to be competitive all year.

This off-season, they sent Saad to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, who is less imposing physically but more dynamic offensively.

Even with the addition of Panarin, the Blue Jackets are aware that they’ll need to bring their best effort forward every night if they want to be in the hunt for the Metropolitan Division.

“We’re not catching any teams off guard this year and we all know that,” Jones said.

“We came a long way from the year before. But it wasn’t good enough. We have to be that much better to be at the top of the league, where we want to be.”

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