James O'Brien

Columbus Blue Jackets defenceman Seth Jones (3) battles for the puck against Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner (51) during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto, Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
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At least one positive for Blue Jackets: Seth Jones looks legit

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You know how a significant chunk of people felt like the Seth JonesRyan Johansen could benefit everyone involved? So far … that seems pretty much dead-on.

Now, one could split hairs about who benefits their team more, but honestly? We’ll likely have a decade-plus to fuss about that.

The bottom line is that things are rough for the Columbus Blue Jackets – even John Tortorella can’t stay healthy – so maybe Jones’ fantastic work is flying under the radar for most. He’s been impressive enough that he might even make some Blue Jackets fans feel optimistic.

The fancy stats argue at much.

In case you’re brain shut down for a second there, the 21-year-old’s strong play is showing in more traditional ways, too.

He just saw a four-game point streak (five assists) end on Saturday, giving him five points in his eight games with Columbus. He only had 11 in 40 with Nashville, so it’s clear that he’s thriving with almost five extra minutes of ice time per game.

This hasn’t been the season the Blue Jackets were hoping for, but so far, Jones has been as promising as advertised.

Milan Lucic suspended one game for ‘sucker punch’

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The Los Angeles Kings won’t have Milan Lucic in the lineup tonight, as the NHL handed him a one-game suspension on Sunday.

In case you missed it, Lucic delivered a “sucker punch” (the Department of Player Safety’s own words) to Kevin Connuaton of the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. Lucic needed to be restrained by officials.

As you can see from the video explanation for the suspension, there were three factors in the decision:

  • Lucic delivered the blow “on an unsuspecting opponent.”
  • His disciplinary history did not help his cause.
  • The lack of injury for Connuaton, however, did help limit Lucic’s punishment.

While this brings up memories of Lucic losing his cool against San Jose Sharks forward Logan Couture to start the season, at least one person believes that the power forward had largely been keeping his rage under control.

Is this punishment fair, excessive or merely a slap on the wrist?

Should the Blues trade David Backes?

David Backes
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Both David Backes and the St. Louis Blues are saying all the right things about avoiding a trade and getting a deal done, although there’s some doubt undercutting certain comments.

Yes, GM Doug Armstrong told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that trading his captain would be the “least likely scenario,” noting that a “first-round pick does us no good when we’re going to this year’s playoffs.”

Still, he also ends that comment with an important disclaimer: “We’ve got now until March to find out where we’re at.”

March stands out since, you know, the trade deadline is on Feb. 29.

Is that Armstrong’s way of saying “We need to get him re-signed by the trade deadline” or is it more about mapping out a gameplan?

That’s a key consideration, as Backes’ rep Wade Arnott said that the two sides weren’t close to a deal last summer. Everyone’s talking about “business,” sanitizing the painful truth that something has to happen one way or another.

This brings up plenty of questions, including: what really is a reasonable price for Backes, who’s been a bargain at his $4.5 million cap hit, and may want max money and term after being a steal for all these years?

Backes is currently 31, and will turn 32 in May. One has to wonder about the wear and tear he’s accumulated as he enters his 700th game, considering his physical, agitating style.

The Blues’ overall salary structure doesn’t make the choice much easier.

On one hand, this team is clearly built to win now. Key players such as Kevin Shattenkirk and Alexander Steen (not to mention goalies Brian Elliott and Jake Allen) only have a year or two reamining on their contracts, and it’s conceivable that they all will demand signiicant raises.

Chances are, someone needs to go, and it would be easier to sell Backes as a “rental” now rather than trying to unload a tougher contract like Paul Stastny ($7 million per season through 2017-18) or Jay Bouwmeester ($5.4 million through 2018-19).

It’s not an easy choice by any means, and a lot of this revolves around how far the Blues truly expect to go.

So, how should the Blues handle this situation?

Goalie nods: Jones, Sharks try to take bite out of Kings’ lead

Martin Jones, Brent Burns
AP
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Martin Jones has accomplished quite a bit – albeit quietly – as the San Jose Sharks’ starting goalie. Beating the team he backed up for (and the guy he watched most nights) once more would add a nice bullet point to that list.

Jones is in for the Sharks, while aforementioned Los Angeles Kings starter Jonathan Quick is not necessarily the guy who will face him.

Either way, the Kings will face a red-hot Jones and a Sharks team that hopes to chip away at Los Angeles’ considerable lead in the Pacific.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer signaled as much earlier today.

Jones is on a personal six-game winning streak, grabbing a shutout and two additional wins in which he’s allowed a single goal. During off nights, the Sharks have had his back lately.

This stands as a useful barometer for Jones’ progress, as well as how hot the Sharks really are, so it should be an interesting game to follow.

Elsewhere …

Rangers at Senators: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Craig Anderson

Flames at Hurricanes: Karri Ramo vs. (maybe) Eddie Lack

Blues at Blackhawks: Brian Elliott vs. Corey Crawford

Kreider in, Nash out for Rangers on Sunday

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 25:  Chris Kreider #20 of the New York Rangers talks with Rick Nash #61 during Game Four of the Eastern Conference Final against the Montreal Canadiens in the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on May 25, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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It’s one power forward in, one out for the New York Rangers on Sunday, but the overall picture is positive.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: Rick Nash cannot play against the Ottawa Senators today. He’s day-to-day with what sounds like a lower-body injury after blocking a shot.

Even the bad Nash news is mostly OK: he’s likely to play on Monday.

Chris Kreider went on a hot streak (five points in four games up from Jan. 14-19) before dealing with neck spasms, and now he’s back in the lineup for this match against the Sens.

Here’s how the Rangers line will likely look: