Author: James O'Brien

Florida Panthers v Columbus Blue Jackets

What happens in Columbus if Horton’s out long-term?


The Columbus Blue Jackets have dealt with a lot of headaches lately – Brandon Dubinsky is IR bound, Ryan Johansen may not play in Thursday’s opener – yet the uncertainty regarding Nathan Horton’s back lingers.

We know one thing for sure: the 29-year-old is on Columbus’ IR because of those back problems. The rest is fuzzy and at least one outlook is downright grim.

HNIC’s Elliotte Friedman shared a discouraging (but, importantly, by no means confirmed) outlook on Horton with Sportsnet 960 on Tuesday. Here’s an excerpt from Chris Nicholls’ transcription:

” … The word I’m getting is he’s there in Columbus and they met with him yesterday and he’s committed to rehab. They don’t want to have surgery on his back, but he’s committed to going through rehab. But there’s no guarantees here, I think is what we’re kind of learning. That this is potentially a long-term thing. It’s a pretty serious back injury. They’re hoping that working on his core strength will make him better, but there is the potential that this is a much more serious long-term injury than we realize.

“And I can find nobody who is willing to tell me that his career is in jeopardy, but it does sound like this is a pretty significant injury that if they can’t solve this simply through rehab, the surgical options might not be that good. So it sounds like we’re not talking about a short time thing here. We’re talking about something that could be pretty long-term.”

The first sentence of the second paragraph is key there: no one said that Horton’s career is in “jeopardy.” It’s best not to jump to conclusions here, even if such phrasing obviously raises eyebrows. Even the long-term talk is far from confirmed.

That said, it sounds like the Blue Jackets have at least pondered a contingency plan if Horton’s back doesn’t heal anytime soon. The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline passed along this interesting nugget on that subject:

“A big ticket, top-six winger,” eh? That’s interesting. It’s difficult to avoid pondering Evander Kane and Johansen menacing opponents with their size and skill for at least a moment, even if there are plenty of other interesting candidates that could fit the bill.

The Blue Jackets certainly have the cap space (if not the budget) to land a big fish, too. In fact, they’d likely have room to make a significant upgrade even if Horton’s $5.33 million cap hit remains.

A wave of injuries (Horton, Dubinsky, Boone Jenner), a change of scenery for Scott Hartnell and potential rustiness for Johansen could shape up to provide some serious challenges for the Blue Jackets’ high-end forwards. The organization is likely tired of “waiting until next year,” so if Horton’s back issues cannot be solved by rehabbing, it wouldn’t be shocking if management decided to make waves.

Obviously, nothing’s set in stone, so there’s the risk of possible overreactions. That said, it appears that plenty is riding on Horton’s aching back.

Malkin did not see the Neal trade coming

Evgeni Malkin, James Neal

However Evgeni Malkin feels about the Pittsburgh Penguins’ decision to trade James Neal, it sounds like he didn’t have a say in it.

In fact, he was just as surprised as the rest of the hockey world when the Pens sent his best friend to Nashville for a package that included Patric Hornqvist. The 28-year-old told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette “I was surprised my buddy Nealer was traded.”

“They did not talk to me (about the trade),” Malkin said. “I read about it in the paper. Nealer texted me the whole summer that he didn’t know what was going on or why he was traded. But it’s a new GM. It’s his job. He never asked me.”

Obviously, GM Jim Rutherford is in no way required to run a trade by players, even ones as crucial and talented as Malkin. That said, if Neal resumes his work as one of the leading power forwards in the NHL while Hornqvist struggles and the Penguins sputter, hindsight will not smile upon Rutherford’s bold move. The mixed reaction for Malkin likely won’t help matters, either.

After all, Malkin won his lone Hart Trophy running roughshod over the NHL alongside Neal in 2011-12, scoring 50 goals and 109 points in 75 games. Combine that production with their personal connection and it’s understandable that “Geno” was displeased with the swap.

On the bright side, Malkin’s first impression with new head coach Mike Johnston seems far more positive. The Penguins star said he was surprised that Johnston visited him in Russia, and it certainly sounds like it was a deft move.

Really, if a player can only enjoy strong communication with a head coach or a general manager, being closer with the bench boss is likely the best choice, right? Maybe?

Related: Despite feeling good, Malkin’s a toss-up for the Penguins’ season-opener

Lupul says Leafs are no longer a ‘three-line team’

St. Louis Blues v Toronto Maple Leafs

It’s no secret that Toronto Maple Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul isn’t a fan of the type of stats that his team is now embracing, whether you call them “advanced” or “fancy.” His comments to the Globe & Mail’s James Mirtle still emphasize the changes the Buds are making, even if there’s an undercurrent of resistance running through some of the quotes.

Lupul said that no one’s really throwing Corsi and Fenwick around on a day-to-day basis, yet the points of emphasis argue that the culture is changing, semantics or not.

“We’ve talked a lot about puck possession,” Lupul said. “That’s the one thing we’re going to try and change. Not to turn over pucks. And there’s been a change in [that] we’re going to try and hold onto the puck in our end as well.

“Obviously you want to do that in the opposition’s end. But in our end, it’s not that old mentality of the defenceman gets it, and it’s just get it out of your end. Off the glass and out of the zone. We’re going to try and possess the puck in our own zone and exit as a unit and go with speed.”

(If you hearing weeping, it might actually be the joyful sobbing of long-frustrated, stat-leaning Maple Leafs fans. Just act natural.)

The 31-year-old also spotlighted another potential area of improvement: trotting out better depth players.

That’s promising, but one wonders if key members of the organization might waver if there aren’t big overnight changes.

Frankly, it’s not exactly a guarded secret that NHL teams are waking up to the importance of puck possession, suiting up as many useful players as possible and reducing the amount of times they needlessly dump the puck. It’s debatable if the Maple Leafs boast the kind of players who can drive play even if head coach Randy Carlyle bows to altered organizational pressures.

Lupul’s own numbers are up and down in that area, although the expanded emphasis on a variety of contextual factors – such as noting his rather high amount of defensive zone starts last season – implies that a guy like Lupul (and maybe a team like Toronto) can turn the corner.

If nothing else, the Maple Leafs remain an expensive and fascinating “lab experiment” for many of these stats-based arguments, even if guys like Lupul probably just roll their eyes when they overhear such slap-fights.

‘Not our party’ – Sharks plan to skip Kings’ banner ceremony

Todd McLellan

When you give up a 3-0 series lead against hated rivals, you’re bound to hear about it over and over again.

The San Jose Sharks are pretty much certain to absorb questions and barbs about their first-round collapse against the Los Angeles Kings well beyond the point of sickness. There is one painful ritual the Sharks will opt to skip, however; San Jose will stay in the visitors locker room while the Kings raise their 2014 Stanley Cup banner, according to the Mercury News’ David Pollak.

“It’s not our party, it’s theirs,” Head coach Todd McLellan said.

That’s … probably for the best.

That said, while cameras won’t capture their awkward on-ice reactions to a ceremony that will likely pour salt in still-fresh wounds, San Jose won’t be able to avoid memories of a series that slipped away. depicts what’s likely to be a repetitive stream of recollections regarding the Sharks’ agonizing defeat and the very awkward offseason that followed:

Wednesday won’t be the last time the Sharks are reminded of what happened, as the NHL has firmly recognized that their rivalry with Los Angeles is one of the best going right now. A behind-the-scenes reality show will lead into the Sharks-Kings outdoor game at Levi’s Stadium on Feb. 21, and all five meetings between the clubs will be broadcast nationally in the United States.

Even NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a press conference last Thursday that the Sharks and Kings meeting on opening night in front of a national audience was no accident.

Naturally, the Sharks are putting a “make the best of it” spin on the situation, and it’s not as if there’s zero precedent to a team bouncing back from such a crushing failure. The Boston Bruins memorably bounced back from coughing up a 3-0 series lead against Philadelphia in 2010 to win the 2011 Stanley Cup.

It’s obviously easier said than done, but it sounds like the Sharks are eager to prove that the Kings didn’t break their spirits.

“You just have to go out and prove it,” Logan Couture told “There’s nothing you can sit here and say. Your actions speak louder than words and we just have to go out and prove people wrong.”

Here’s some more from Joe Pavelski:

Quick Hits: Heatley, Franson among notable IR placements

Anaheim Ducks v Los Angeles Kings

PHT already made note of some significant (and smaller) IR moves on Tuesday, but in a quest to graciously save you some clicks, here’s a collection of some of the other injured reserve placements of note. Some could be a pretty big deal, too.

(Note: this is a good spot to mention other IR assignments in the comments section if there are any important omissions.)

(Note: Rotoworld’s a helpful resource for injury updates small and large. If you ever need a quick look at league-wide injuries, this page is a great resource.)