Seth Jones

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This is why the Blue Jackets traded for Artemi Panarin

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The Columbus Blue Jackets needed a game-breaker.

Their stunning turnaround during the 2016-17 season was made possible by a Vezina Trophy performance from goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, a couple of young stars on defense (Zach Werenski and Seth Jones), and a deep group of forwards. While that group of forwards did not really contain any real weakness and consisted of four lines that could all contribute, they lacked that one player that could take over a game at any moment and be a go-to force for the offense.

When they traded Brandon Saad back to the Chicago Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin, they may have found that player.

Panarin has already made a pretty big impact in a couple of games this season, including their season-opening win against the New York Islanders where he recorded three assists.

On Friday night against the New York Rangers he contributed to the goal scoring for the first time with an absolutely beautiful play in the third period to break a 1-1 tie.

Watch as he dances through the Rangers’ defense to score his first goal as a member of the Blue Jackets, scoring what would be the eventual game-winning goal.

That is a beauty.

The biggest question regarding Panarin is how he would produce away from Patrick Kane. With four points in his first four games with the Blue Jackets, and single-handedly impacting two of those games and helping lead his new team to wins, he is off to a pretty good start.

Panarin has been one of the top-10 point producers in the league since entering the NHL at the start of the 2015-16 season. If he can maintain that pace with the Blue Jackets they could be a fierce team to have to face in the playoffs.

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.

Donald Trump tweets about Penguins’ White House visit

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Earlier today, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they would accept an invitation to visit the White House. You can read all about that here, including the Penguins’ brief statement on the matter.

On a day in which NFL teams are drawing attention for how players (and owners) are acting during the national anthem, Donald Trump took a moment to confirm the Penguins’ visit, and also to praise them on Twitter.

Trump issued this tweet on the matter:

This came about four minutes after he addressed the NFL once again, finishing with this tweet:

While NHL players haven’t been as outspoken as athletes in other sports, there have been some reactions to Colin Kaepernick and the situation as a whole.

A year ago, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said he would bench a player who sits during the anthem, something Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones stated was not a problem. Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown, however, did have an issue with Tortorella’s stance.

Of course, those comments surfaced about a year ago, so it’s plausible one or more of those opinions might be different, in either large or small ways, as of today.

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler (one of the standouts of the 2010 U.S. Olympic men’s team) criticized Trump on Twitter last night:

The 2017-18 regular season kicks off on Oct. 4, so we’ll see if there are any larger protests or statements from teams and/or players.

For more on how this situation is playing out with other sports, check Pro Football Talk (including this post), Pro Basketball Talk (Mark Cuban’s comments are the latest there), Hardball Talk (noting that Bruce Maxwell became the first MLB player to kneel during the anthem), and other sites under the NBC umbrella.

‘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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Backed by the Pope: Hockey organizations unveil ‘Declaration of Principles’

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NEW YORK (AP) Seventeen hockey organizations teamed up to unveil a “Declaration of Principles” that NHL players hope will boost the game at all levels, particularly among young children and the parents who decide what sports to have them play.

Going beyond the “Hockey is For Everyone” campaign and a partnership with You Can Play that promotes inclusiveness, the league and NHL Players’ Association took the unconventional step to list eight guiding principles for hockey culture. USA Hockey, the International Ice Hockey Federation and others joined in on the initiative, which earned praise from Pope Francis and garnered optimism from top players about the impact it could make.

“Hopefully it makes more kids want to play the game, more parents maybe push their kids into playing hockey or starting it at a young age,” Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said. “The things I’ve learned as a kid just growing up playing – discipline, the love and the passion for the game, commitment – these are all things that you need in life outside of hockey, and that’s what the principles are about.”

At a news conference on Wednesday attended by leaders from all over the sport, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called it an “important day” for hockey. Hockey Hall of Famer Pat LaFontaine, now the league’s vice president of hockey development, spearheaded the process.

The declaration says hockey’s greatest value is in the development of character and life skills, and it also noted there are significant benefits to kids playing multiple sports. Among other things, it said programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families “regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.”

Asked to evaluate the initiative, Saint Joseph’s University sports marketing professor Amie Sheridan said she considers it an effort to grow hockey’s footprint and show it’s not a cost-prohibitive sport. Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson said he wanted parents and kids to know that.

“I think hockey these days is a much cheaper sport than what it used to be,” Karlsson said. “I think that that’s something that’s important to get out there – that it doesn’t actually cost you that much if you just want to play for fun.”

Second-hand equipment and ice time aren’t available in some parts of the U.S. like in Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby‘s hometown of Lloydminster, Saskatchewan, one reason why hockey struggles to attract young players who could more easily pick up a basketball or a soccer ball.

Data from the National Federation of State High School Associations shows high school boys hockey participation has been largely stagnant over the past four years, though USA Hockey reported an increase of about 6.5 percent among all youth players over that time. USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said “enormous progress” has been made, but this is another effort.

“At a time when sport is under pressure from issues ranging from violence to doping to corruption, it is helpful for an organization to set principles that guide their behavior,” University of Oregon marketing professor T. Bettina Cornwell said. “In terms of marketing, and financial support from sponsors, they want to know what sport stands for and this statement goes some distance in describing a culture that should be appealing to a marketer or sponsor.”

The NHL and its teams have already taken stands on topics of inclusion, including the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars coming out against what they called “discriminatory” state legislation aimed at restricting restrooms for transgender people.

In a letter written to the Archbishop of New York, Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin said the pope was pleased by the initiative and “trusts that this significant gesture will inspire greater appreciation of the pivotal role played by sports and sportsmanship.”

“To be able to hammer these principles – not into the kids, but into the coaches and into the organizations so they bleed it into the kids, that’s what’s going to draw more people into hockey,” New York Rangers defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. It could “draw more parents to say: `You know what, I like what they’re doing over there. Maybe they’re not going to play baseball or football and I’m going to get my kids involved in something that’s really going to mean a lot for them in their life.”‘

 

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.