Cam Atkinson

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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.

Why the Columbus Blue Jackets are not going away

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At the start of the 2016-17 season expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets were, to say the least, low.

They were coming off of a disastrous season the year before, had a roster that was full of what looked to be questionable to perhaps even bad contracts and a coach that nobody really believed in (or wanted to believe in). After losing four of their first six games it seemed as if they were on a path to fulfilling the only expectation anyone had for them — to be a very bad hockey team.

Then a funny thing started to happen. They started to win. A lot. After that initial six-game stretch to start the year they went on an 8-2-2 run over the following 12 games, then ripped off an 18-game point streak that included a 16-game winning streak. They ran into a terrible goal-scoring slump at the end of the regular season, and were then shut down by Marc-Andre Fleury in a first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that was much closer than the five-game result would seem to indicate.

Usually when a team like Columbus comes flying out of nowhere and is driven by some of the same high shooting percentage and save percentage numbers that the Blue Jackets were there is an expectation that they might come back down to earth. So far this season that has not quite happened, even if you include their recent three-game skid.

As of Wednesday the Blue Jackets are still right in the thick of a heated and incredibly tight Metropolitan Division race, and they have probably played even better than their 9-6-1 record would indicate.

They are one of the top teams in the league when it comes to shot attempt percentage, indicating they are pushing the pace of play and dictating where it is played, while three of their seven losses have come with backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo in net (he has a .896 save percentage in those starts).

Do not expect them to regress too far from that spot over the next few months.

Or in the foreseeable future.

While the Blue Jackets might still have a contract or two that could end up looking ugly on their salary cap (Brandon Dubinsky and maybe Nick Foligno in a couple of years) they have assembled a rock solid roster that really does not have many weaknesses. Their forward lines go four lines deep and over the summer they added a true front-line player in Artemi Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Brandon Saad trade. His goal-scoring has not quite been there yet, but his playmaking is still superb and he is driving play at an elite level, currently owning a near 60 percent Corsi mark.

Given his shot generation (a career 3.06 per game) it is only a matter of time until he breaks out from a goal scoring perspective.

The same is true for quite a few players on the roster.

Panarin, Foligno, Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson (a 35-goal scorer a year ago) have combined for just 10 goals this season (on a combined shooting percentage of just 6.7 percent) and the team is still a top-five team in the league in goals and just one point out of first-place in the Metropolitan Division. Add Alexander Wennberg to that list and that quintet has combined for only 11 goals (on just 6.3 percent shooting).

There is a lot of bad shooting luck there that is destined to change at some point. That group of players is too good to be kept off the board for that long.

The fact the team is still winning is a testament to how deep the roster is.

But what is perhaps most encouraging for the Blue Jackets is how young a significant part of it is.

If you look at the Blue Jackets’ top-eight scorers right now only one of them of is older than 23. That player is the 26-year-old Panarin.

Included among that group are two of the biggest core pieces of the roster, defensemen Seth Jones (currently the team’s leading scorer) and Zach Werenski. They are going to be the foundation of the Blue Jackets’ defense for the next decade and are already impact players. They are the type of modern day NHL defensemen that can skate, move the puck and help drive the offense all over the ice.

They not only have a strong roster, but a significant portion of it — especially the core — is still at a point where it is either in the prime of its career (Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky) or has yet to reach it (Wennberg, Werenski, Jones, etc.).

Meaning there is still room for them to grow and get better.

The wild card in all of this is probably the player that is the best one on the team — goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Since arriving in Columbus Bobrovsky has been one of the best goalies in the league, having already won two Vezina Trophies. He was a significant part of the Blue Jackets’ success a year ago.

He was also a significant part of their early exit in  the playoffs thanks to a miserable performance (especially when in comparison to the goalie at the other end of the ice) against the Penguins.

For as great as Bobrovsky has been in the regular season during his time in Columbus he has been equally bad in his two postseason appearances.

If the Blue Jackets are going to take the next step in their development as a team and go on a deep playoff run that is going to have to change. There is still reason to believe that if it can. If it does happen there is no limit for what this team is capable of given the way the rest of the roster is constructed and the way they have played this season. They are for real. They are not going away.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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.

The Buzzer: Malkin paces Penguins, Vegas keeps on winning

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Player of the night: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin helped get things started for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and then he finished the game off with the overtime winner to send the New York Rangers to a fourth consecutive loss.

Malkin scored once, added three assists and even dropped the gloves in a 5-4 overtime victory, as the Penguins came back with a late — and crafty — third period goal from Sidney Crosby.

Talk about the Penguins being opportunistic on the winner. Off a defensive zone faceoff win for the Rangers, Ryan McDonagh made a terrible giveaway right beside his own net, giving the puck to Phil Kessel, who slipped it over to Malkin for the quick one-timer.

Highlight of the night:

There were a few candidates for this tonight. Phil Kessel once again showed off that tremendous wrist shot. Thomas Vanek decided to blast a slap shot on a breakaway, going post and in against the Senators. Nikita Kucherov had a perfect shot against Cory Schneider after previously setting up teammate Vladislav Namestnikov for a pretty goal versus the Devils. Yes, there were a few options.

But, we’ll go back to Winnipeg for this one. Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson not only protects the puck from Jacob Trouba on the breakaway, but then dekes out Steve Mason with the move to the forehand.

Factoid of the night:

The Vegas Golden Knights won again, giving them a 5-1 record to begin their inaugural season. That puts them in elite company.

Scores:

New Jersey 5, Tampa Bay 4 (SO)

San Jose 5, Montreal 2

Pittsburgh 5, New York 4 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Florida 1

Toronto 2, Washington 0

Vancouver 3, Ottawa 0

Nashville 4, Colorado 1

Columbus 5, Winnipeg 2

Dallas 3, Arizona 1

Vegas 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Carolina 5, Edmonton 3

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Panarin sets franchise record in Blue Jackets debut

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One day after his former team put 10 goals on the board versus Pittsburgh, Artemi Panarin had a memorable game of his own in his regular season debut for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It wasn’t a hat trick of goals like the one Brandon Saad recorded on Thursday. Instead, Panarin had three assists, his first a nifty set up on Cam Atkinson‘s first goal of the season. The Blue Jackets jumped out to a big lead over the New York Islanders and cruised from there to a 5-0 win.

The victory also included Sonny Milano and Pierre-Luc Dubois scoring their first career NHL goals.

The Blue Jackets already had a group of young players that took a step forward last season by contending for the Metropolitan Division against Pittsburgh and the Washington Capitals. They set a new standard for the organization, setting franchise records in wins and points. The play of Sergei Bobrovsky in net played a significant role, too.

They added to their group this summer by acquiring Panarin from Chicago in a blockbuster that sent Saad back to the Blackhawks. In acquiring Panarin, Columbus received a 25-year-old forward with two impressive NHL seasons under his belt, as he reached at least 30 goals in each of those years with the Blackhawks.

He did so playing alongside Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane, who has been a dangerous offensive player throughout junior and throughout his NHL career. That said, there seems to be suggestions that Panarin’s production was boosted by the fact he played as Kane’s linemate.

It’s a point that he has expressed anger toward. Who can blame him? After all, he scored 102 points combined over two seasons in the KHL before joining the Blackhawks and continued to put up good numbers in the NHL.

His time in Columbus is off to a good start. He showed chemistry with Atkinson, a 35-goal scorer last season, on the second goal. Breaking into the zone with speed, Panarin put a beautiful pass across the ice for Atkinson, who re-directed the puck in off his skate.

We’ve seen four hat tricks through the first two days of the new season, marking NHL history in the process.

No hat trick tonight for Panarin, but his three assists in his debut were enough to make Blue Jackets history. On the third night of the new NHL season, no less.