Cam Atkinson

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‘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.”

 Related:

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.

Blue Jackets need Bobrovsky at his best to take the next step

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

When it came time for the annual NHL Awards, Sergei Bobrovsky‘s rebound season was, deservedly so, recognized with a Vezina Trophy.

(He was also a finalist for the Hart Trophy but that went to phenom forward Connor McDavid.)

At the heart of the Columbus Blue Jackets’ franchise record-setting season, which saw them win 50 games and post 108 points while competing for the Metropolitan Division, was the performance of Bobrovsky. He was brilliant, particularly after his previous season didn’t go according to plan, in large part because of injuries.

He posted 41 wins over 63 starts, the most in a single season for him, and a .931 save percentage. That last stat technically isn’t an individual career best for Bobrovsky, although the one time he achieved a better save percentage was over 38 games during the lockout-shortened season.

Critical to his play was the fact he was able to remain healthy — a priority for Columbus heading into last season, and something that will need to continue once again in 2017-18. He was able to gain confidence in his own game and help propel his teammates to a different level, as the Blue Jackets competed with Pittsburgh and Washington through a good portion of the season for the division lead.

“When Bob’s at his game and feeling good, it brings a whole different kind of confidence into that room,” team captain Nick Foligno told the Associated Press last season.

Where Bobrovsky has struggled is in the playoffs. That continued again this past spring. In five games against a talented Penguins roster in the opening round, he allowed 20 goals against with an .882 save percentage, and is reportedly open to the idea of seeing a sports psychologist to help get over that hurdle.

With a good young roster, the Blue Jackets took quite a step forward last season. There was another productive year from Cam Atkinson. Zach Werenski impressed as a rookie defenseman. The biggest difference, however, was the goaltending Bobrovsky provided.

It’s difficult to believe April’s playoff struggles will have much, if any, impact on Bobrovsky heading into the new season. After all, he was able to prove in the weeks before that he can bounce back from disappointing times.

And he was able to prove that, when at his best, the Blue Jackets could be a dangerous team.

After another productive season, Cam Atkinson enters contract year with Blue Jackets

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This post is part of Blue Jackets Day on PHT…

Cam Atkinson had already proven himself to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL. It was a mark he hit three consecutive times prior to last season.

And that’s when the former sixth-round pick from 2008 really broke out.

Atkinson, now 28 years old, led the Blue Jackets in scoring with 62 points. What highlighted his point totals was the fact he scored 35 goals — leading the team in that category, as well — in a year when only seven other players in the entire league were able to best his total, Sidney Crosby leading the way with 44.

Despite his output at the time, Atkinson was originally a snub from the 2017 All-Star Game before getting added to the event when Evgeni Malkin couldn’t participate because of injury.

Another area where Atkinson has been so valuable for the Blue Jackets has been on the power play. Of the 62 points he recorded last season, 21 of those were with the man advantage. He finished in a three-way tie for second on the team in that category.

It is worth pointing out that with the addition of Artemi Panarin, the Columbus coaching staff may have an adjustment in mind for Atkinson, according to assistant coach Brad Larsen.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

Larsen said plans can change – prospects are still a month away from leaving for Traverse City – but his first thought is to play Panarin at his familiar spot and slide Atkinson to the middle slot, one open with the free-agent defection of Sam Gagner.

“Panarin has had a ton of success on that off side with his one-timer,” Larsen said. “If I was going to say right now, I would say he’s going to start there. Cam has done an outstanding job there and we might shift him into the middle. Again, there are going to be discussions and we haven’t really gotten into it.”

While the Blue Jackets enter the season looking to build on a franchise record-setting 2016-17 campaign, Atkinson enters the final year of his current contract, which has a cap hit of $3.5 million and a total salary of $4.5 million, according to CapFriendly.

Aaron Portzline of The Athletic recently suggested market value on a long-term contract for Atkinson — who turns 29 years old next June, only a few weeks before free agency opens — may be between $5 million to “maybe” $6 million annually.

That’s a nice raise. Not bad for a player taken 157th overall in 2008. He now sits fourth among players from that draft class in career goals, behind only Steven Stamkos, Jordan Eberle and Derek Stepan.

Atkinson is now eligible to sign an extension, but for right now, the Blue Jackets still need to get restricted free agents Josh Anderson and Alexander Wennberg under contract for the upcoming season.

Connor McDavid captures the Hart Trophy (video)

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Only one player in the National Hockey League scored 100 points this season. That would be Connor McDavid.

He accomplished the feat at the age of 20.

On Wednesday, after such a terrific sophomore season in which he was fully healthy throughout, he was recognized with the Hart Trophy , given to the player deemed the most valuable to his team.

McDavid scored 30 goals, many in spectacular fashion, and 100 points to win the Art Ross, often showing a dominant display of speed and hands quick enough to keep up.

The Oilers made the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 2006, making it to Game 7 of the second round against the Anaheim Ducks..

McDavid beats out Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who has been perhaps the best player in the world over the last two years with Stanley Cups, Conn Smythe trophies and a Rocket Richard Trophy to show for it, and Columbus Blue Jackets Vezina-winning netminder Sergei Bobrovsky for the award.

McDavid also captured the Ted Lindsay Award earlier in the evening.

Here is the Hart Trophy voting:

Points: (1st-2nd-3rd-4th-5th)

1. Connor McDavid, EDM 1604 (147-17-3-0-0)
2. Sidney Crosby, PIT 1104 (14-119-19-11-3)
3. Sergei Bobrovsky, CBJ 469 (4-17-40-29-23)
4. Brent Burns, SJS 273 (1-3-25-29-30)
5. Erik Karlsson, OTT 258 (0-5-28-23-14)
6. Patrick Kane, CHI 206 (0-3-20-20-25)
7. Brad Marchand, BOS 184 (1-1-14-22-31)
8. Nikita Kucherov, TBL 119 (0-0-11-15-19)
9. Nicklas Backstrom, WSH 60 (0-0-3-11-12)
10. Braden Holtby, WSH 19 (0-0-2-3-0)
11. Auston Matthews, TOR 17 (0-0-2-1-4)
12. Alex Ovechkin, WSH 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
Ryan Suter, MIN 7 (0-1-0-0-0)
14. Victor Hedman, TBL 5 (0-0-0-1-2)
15. Devan Dubnyk, MIN 4 (0-0-0-1-1)
Vladimir Tarasenko, STL 4 (0-0-0-1-1)
17. Cam Atkinson, CBJ 1 (0-0-0-0-1)
Cam Talbot, EDM 1 (0-0-0-0-1)