Mike Halford

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 31:  Seth Jones #3 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center on March 31, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City. The Islanders defeated the Blkue Jackets 4-3.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Jackets ‘will have enough cap space to sign Seth Jones’


It doesn’t seem that anything — offer sheets, the salary cap, bridge deals — will get in the way of Columbus re-signing prized defenseman Seth Jones.

“I don’t anticipate any problems,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said on Monday, per the Dispatch. “We’ll find a deal that works for us and a deal that works for Seth Jones.”

Jones, acquired in a midseason swap with Nashville for Ryan Johansen, is in the final year of his entry-level contract. Columbus immediately thrust him into a major role and Jones performed well, averaging 24:27 TOI per game while finishing with 20 points in 41 games.

Along the way, Jones was one of just four defensemen named to Team North America for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

Jones — along with Hampus Lindholm, Jacob Trouba and Rasmus Ristolainen — makes up this summer’s marquee class of RFA blueliners coming off their entry-level deals.

The group appears to be on the verge of some major paydays.

Trouba, expected to meet with agent Kurt Overhardt this week to “strategize” contract negotiations with the Jets, was earlier reported to be asking for a contract that pays $7M annually.

That would be more than what another ex-member of this defenseman class — Toronto’s Morgan Rielly — received with his extension last week. Rielly, who like Jones and Trouba was a pending RFA, signed a six-year, $30 million deal with a $5M average annual cap hit.

Kekalainen told the Dispatch he and the Jackets aren’t “insistent on signing bridge deals,” which is what they did earlier this season with blueliner Ryan Murray (who signed a two-year, $5.65 million extension) and forward Boone Jenner (two years, $5.9 million).

In fact, Kekalainen’s words suggested the club could be ready to pony up big for Jones, skipping the bridge process entirely.

“We will have plenty of different options this summer come July 1,” Kekalainen said. “We will have enough cap space to sign Seth Jones.”

Seeking spark, Wild give tough guy Gabriel his playoff debut

Winnipeg Jets right wing Chris Thorburn (22) and Minnesota Wild right wing Kurtis Gabriel, right, fight during the second period of an NHL hockey game in St. Paul, Minn., Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

Minnesota will have a new look against Dallas tonight as it looks to avoid falling behind three games to none.

A big, physical look.

Kurtis Gabriel — who, at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, was one of the AHL’s most active fighters this year — will draw into the Wild lineup as the series shifts to Xcel. It’ll be the first-ever Stanley Cup playoff game for the 22-year-old, who made his NHL debut earlier this year, appearing in three games.

“Hard-working kid, good on the walls, physical, likes to fight,” is how Wild head coach John Torchetti described Gabriel, per the Star-Tribune. “The kind of player you like.”

Gabriel’s numbers with AHL Iowa this year give a good idea of what to expect tonight. He had six goals and 137 PIM in 66 games, to go along with 15 fights.

In his three games with the Wild, he scrapped twice.

Gabriel isn’t the only lineup change for Minnesota tonight. Zac Dalpe, who sat Game 2 after playing over 10 minutes in Game 1, is back in as well. Looks as though Jarret Stoll and Ryan Carter are coming out of the lineup.

Related: Seguin ‘irritated something’ in Game 2, stayed in Dallas, won’t play tonight

Will the Pens healthy scratch Maatta?

Olli Maatta

After being sidelined for nearly three weeks, Olli Maatta returned from a lower-body injury to play in the first two games of Pittsburgh’s opening-round playoff series against the Rangers.

The return hasn’t gone so well.

In Saturday’s 4-2 loss, Maatta was minus-2 despite being held to less than 17 minutes of ice time, finishing with ugly possession metrics (43.5 Corsi).

At Monday’s practice, there were signs Maatta might’ve played himself out of the blueline mix. The young Finn was skating on the spare d-man pair with Derrick Pouliot, who’s been a healthy scratch for the first two games of this series.

Then there was this, from Pens head coach Mike Sullivan:

Maatta has dealt with a lifetime’s worth of health issues over the last few years — thyroid cancer, major shoulder surgery, the mumps — and only appeared in 67 games this year. So, it’s not entirely surprising to see him struggle with the increased pace and intensity of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Of course, this doesn’t make the development any easier for Pittsburgh to handle.

The club wasn’t overwhelmingly deep on the blueline with Maaata, and now? A top six of Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, Ben Lovejoy, Ian Cole, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin is serviceable, but doesn’t exactly inspire.

Game 3 of this series goes Tuesday night, at MSG.

Seguin ‘irritated something’ in Game 2, stayed in Dallas, won’t play tonight

Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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As the Stars-Wild series shifts to Minnesota for tonight’s pivotal Game 3, Dallas will once again be without Tyler Seguin.

But this time, the absence might not be related to his lacerated Achilles.

Seguin, who didn’t travel with the club to Minnesota for tonight’s game, “irritated something that rendered him not effective” in Saturday’s Game 2 win, per Stars head coach Lindy Ruff.

“He’s day-to-day,” Ruff went on to explain. “It’s related to his injury. Not his injury, but it is kind of related. Might be kind of a fallout of all of a sudden playing at a high pace.”

Seguin, who missed significant time at the end of the regular season and Game 1 of this series with the aforementioned Achilles issue, had a limited role in Saturday’s win — no points and just one shot on goal in 15:40 of ice time.

With Seguin out, the Stars look like they’ll ice a top line of Jamie Benn, Cody Eakin and Patrick Sharp this evening.

In related lineup news, defenseman Kris Russell is unlikely to play tonight, due to illness. If he can’t go, look for Jordie Benn to draw in.

More changes in Ottawa as Luke Richardson departs

Luke Richardson 3

The Senators continued to shake things up on Monday, announcing that veteran AHL Binghamton bench boss Luke Richardson would be leaving the organization “to pursue a new opportunity.”

Richardson, 47, has been with Ottawa for nearly a decade. He spent the final two years (2007-09) of his playing career there, then quickly transitioned to coaching, serving as an assistant for three years, under both Cory Clouston and Paul MacLean.

In 2012, Richardson moved to AHL Binghamton, embarking on a four-year stretch in which he was widely praised for helping players transition to the big league level.

As today’s release notes, 13 players were recalled from Binghamton this season — and, prior to that, Richardson received accolades for his work with the likes of Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

The most interesting this about today’s announcement is that Richardson won’t be in line for Ottawa’s vacant head coaching gig.

Part of that could be due to a general housecleaning, as the club has already changed GMs (from Bryan Murray to Pierre Dorion) and cleaned house behind the bench, turfing Dave Cameron, assistants Jason Smith and Andre Jourigny, and goalie coach Rick Wamsley.

But still, Richardson has been considered an NHL coach in the making. At one point, he was believed to be the frontrunner for the Buffalo job that eventually went to Dan Bylsma.

Related: Cameron on ‘hurtful’ Melnyk remarks — ‘it felt like I was fired for three weeks’