Sam Gagner

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Eriksson looks to bounce back after ‘tough start’ with Canucks

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The Canucks signed Loui Eriksson last summer, with the hopes he’d help give them a boost in scoring.

It didn’t quite turn out that way — at least not during Eriksson’s first year of a lucrative six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks.

He scored only 11 times with 24 points in 65 games. The previous season in Boston, he scored 30 goals and 63 points in 82 games, so, yeah, it was a drastic drop in production in one year for the veteran winger, who started the year with a 13-game scoring drought.

“It was a tough start,” said Eriksson, per The Canadian Press. “I had to work uphill through the whole season.”

Read more: Under pressure: Loui Eriksson

That’s a difficult start for any player, but especially for one at the beginning of an expensive new deal in a new market.

“I’m anxious to see Loui. I’m confident that he’ll have a good season. We’ve talked about that … about the transition from Boston to Vancouver,” coach Travis Green said at the start of training camp. “He knows he has to have a better year than he had last year. I think he’s more than capable of it.”

The Canucks were active this summer, too, signing a number of free agents. Again, the hope is the additions they made heading into the new season — Sam GagnerThomas Vanek and Michael Del Zotto among them — could help give them a spark offensively, particularly on the power play.

Eriksson’s season ended in early March because of a lower-body injury. Now he’ll look to rebound from a disappointing season at the age of 32.

Report: Upshall to attend Canucks training camp on PTO

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Scottie Upshall has been searching for his latest NHL opportunity, and it sounds like he’s found one.

According to Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy, Upshall has accepted a professional tryout from the Vancouver Canucks.

The 33-year-old spent the last two seasons with the St. Louis Blues. Last year, he had 10 goals, eight assists and 45 penalty minutes in 73 games.

“There’s a hunger with staying in the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup, helping a team get to the next level. I’ve done that my whole career,” Upshall told the Toronto Sun in August.

“I had a great year last year. It was my best year in five years. I played every game in the playoffs and had a lot of success playing a two-way game and being a penalty killer.”

You’d think that he’d have a decent chance of coming away with a contract on a rebuilding Vancouver team, but the Canucks currently have a lot of forwards on the roster. The Sedin twins, Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter, Sam Gagner, Sam Gagner, Derek Dorsett, Thomas Vanek, Sven Baertschi, Brock Boeser, Markus Granlund, Alexander Burmistrov, Brendan Gaunce, Anton Rodin, Reid Boucher, Michael Chaput and Jayson Megna all already have contracts going into training camp. That list doesn’t even include Bo Horvat, who is a restricted free agent right now.

A lot of those players can be sent to the minors with no cap repercussions, but that’s still a lot of players Upshall will have to beat out just to earn a contract.

Sam Gagner’s strange path to Vancouver Canucks

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This post is part of Canucks Day on PHT…

Plenty of free agents take winding paths, particularly when it comes to joining struggling teams like the Vancouver Canucks. Even by those standards, Sam Gagner‘s traveled a strange path.

His NHL career started off strong as the Edmonton Oilers made him the sixth pick of the 2007 NHL Draft. Gagner made an immediate impact, scoring 13 goals and 49 points as a rookie in 2007-08.

The high point of his Oilers run came in February 2012 when he became the first player since Mario Lemieux to generate an eight-point night. He also broke a Wayne Gretzky record during that stretch.

That’s not to say that it was all good times for Gagner in Edmonton. There were some freakish injuries and, naturally, the Oilers struggled on the ice.

2014-15

Things started to get weird when Gagner was traded twice on the same day on June 29, 2014. Gagner was sent to the Lightning and then to the Arizona Coyotes, with Tampa Bay essentially laundering $1.6 million of Gagner’s cap hit.

After some “tough years,” Gagner was hoping that he could take advantage of a clean slate with Arizona. That fresh start didn’t go too well, with a healthy scratch included.

2015-16

The Coyotes decided that Gagner just wasn’t working as a center and then decided to trade him to the Philadelphia Flyers in that odd trade that sent Chris Pronger’s contract to Arizona. Once again, Gagner was involved in teams dealing with odd salary cap machinations.

Once again, Gagner hoped to prove something, but he didn’t pull it off to the Flyers’ liking.

Along the way, there always seemed to be questions about his status, from buyout talk to AHL demotions. Gagner was also placed on waivers. He was occasionally bloodied and generally disregarded in Philly.

2016-17

Here’s how low his status dropped by last summer: he signed a bargain-basement one-year contract with a Columbus Blue Jackets team that came off an awful 2015-16 season. Gagner accepted a $650K “prove-it” salary.

And he did indeed prove it as the trigger on a shockingly effective Blue Jackets power play. His resurgence became one of the feel-good stories of last season.

In scoring 18 goals and 50 points, Gagner resurrected his career, earning a three-year, $9.45 million contract with the Canucks in the process.

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Rarely will you see such a combination of great bounces and lousy luck as Gagner’s experienced. He began as a high draft pick, broke some records in Edmonton, and eventually fell out of favor/was often a scapegoat with the Oilers. He was tossed around in trades and struggled to stick with teams. There was also a lockout run in Austria, a fight with Olli Jokinen, and some tough-luck injuries.

And now, after those twists and turns, Gagner finds what looks like stability in Vancouver.

Then again, it doesn’t look like Gagner has a no-trade clause, so who knows …

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.

Johnson ‘chomping at the bit’ after Blue Jackets’ franchise-record regular season

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The accolades came rolling in for the Columbus Blue Jackets last season.

Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie, after his sensational 2016-17 campaign that included a .931 save percentage in 63 starts, which was a big reason for his team’s overall success.

— John Tortorella went from being the coach favored to be fired first to the coach of the year.

Individual awards were the result of a franchise record-setting season with 50 wins and 108 points, as the Blue Jackets qualified for the playoffs in a hyper competitive Metropolitan Division. But a great regular season gave way to a quick postseason appearance as Columbus was dispatched by the Penguins in the opening round, which doesn’t sit well with veteran defenseman Jack Johnson.

“Success is a relative term too, because we had a great regular season, no question, but we still lost in game five of the first round, so it’s not enough,” Johnson said in a Q&A on the club’s website.

“I want to win. I just finished my 10th year, and my 11th year I want to win. I hope every guy is taking the summer seriously, training and getting ready because whether you finished first in the regular season or snuck into the playoffs, if you lose in game five of the first round that’s just not enough. So I’m definitely chomping at the bit, excited for next season because I’m excited every year.”

His comments echo a message from Tortorella earlier this summer. In the coach’s words, the Blue Jackets were able to set a foundation. Now, it’s about taking that next step in contending for the Eastern Conference.

Gone from the Blue Jackets lineup is Sam Gagner, who had a nice bounce-back season with 18 goals and 50 points — 18 of which were on the power play — while playing on a one-year deal at a very affordable $650,000. He then turned last season’s production into a three-year contract, worth a total of $9.45 million, with the Canucks.

The Blue Jackets also bid farewell to Brandon Saad, who was traded back to Chicago in exchange for Artemi Panarin.