Mike Halford

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Erik Johnson had a very sobering analysis of Colorado’s horrific year

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The Colorado Avalanche lost last night.

This is nothing new. It was the 49th time it happened this season, the 52nd if you count OT and shootout losses. There have been plenty of defeats in Denver, which makes you wonder if they have even an effect anymore.

Individually? Hard to say. But cumulatively? Yeah, it’s starting to take a toll.

With just 10 games left until the season is (mercifully) done, the reality of the situation seems to have hit the Avs. They’re about to become one of the least successful teams in recent history.

Or, as veteran d-man Erik Johnson so bluntly put it to the Denver Post — “We’re the worst team in 20 years.”

More:

Johnson noted the statistical points: The Avalanche has pulled off the difficult feat of being last in the league in goals scored (1.94 per game) and goals allowed (3.31). He could have added, but didn’t, that it goes hand in hand with managing to have the worst record in the league, by far, while scraping the league’s salary-cap ceiling.

“If I had an answer, I’d love to give it to you,” Johnson said. “It’s tough to put into words the way this season has gone.

“I was thinking about it the other day. From last year, we’re missing only (Brad) Stuart, (Nick) Holden and (Nate) Guenin that were regulars, so realistically it’s the same team, maybe with some added pieces, and we had 90 points. We probably should have made the playoffs if we didn’t go on a skid the last six games. So I don’t know how there can be such a faceplant from last year. I don’t understand it, but it’s happened and it’ll be interesting to see what happens over the course of the next six months.”

Colorado currently has 43 points and, at its current pace, will finish the year with 48. That would make the Avs the worst team of the salary cap era, rivaling some truly horrific squads all time.

The most staggering aspect is, as mentioned above, that the Avs weren’t actively tanking this season. They have six players making at least $5.5 million annually, and three — Johnson, Nathan MacKinnon and Matt Duchene — earning $6M per.

There’s also a tremendous amount of term committed to certain players. MacKinnon and Johnson are locked in through 2023, captain Gabriel Landeskog through 2021, and d-man Tyson Barrie through 2020. Those lengthy contracts reflect a front office and ownership group that figured it had the core of its team, and wanted to keep it around long term.

That same core has put forth one of the worst efforts the league has seen in a long time.

Career back on track, Bernier hopes he can re-sign in Anaheim

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One of the better stories in Anaheim this season has been the revival of goalie Jonathan Bernier.

Bernier, a once-ballyhooed prospect that fell on hard times over the last few years, has a 1.78 goals-against and .943 save percentage in his last 10 starts. He’s been the Ducks’ life preserver while No. 1 netminder John Gibson deals with a lingering injury — Gibson’s played just once over the last 30 days — and, on Mar. 13, Bernier’s cap received a nice feather as the NHL named him its second star of the week.

It’s a dramatic turnaround from a guy that, in January, went 23 days between starts and admitted he was in a difficult situation.

But things have certainly turned around, which has kickstarted conversations about Bernier’s playing future.

From the L.A. Daily News:

A potential unrestricted free agent this summer, Bernier faces an uncertain future in a typically fickle goalie market. The number of openings among the 30 teams fluctuates from year to year. And there is now a 31st – the Vegas Golden Knights – to factor in.

It is a given the Ducks will choose Gibson as the one goalie they can protect from the expansion draft, which will leave Bernier available for the Golden Knights to pluck away if they so choose. And even if he isn’t grabbed, Bernier could choose to seek the best contract he can find.

“I think it’s been a tough year for a lot of teams and a lot of GMs, just with the Vegas team,” Bernier said. “There are a lot of decisions that are going to have to be made after the season. And especially for me, right? I’m a free agent. I really don’t know what’s going to happen.”

But playing in Anaheim is working and Bernier had a one-word response for possibly staying.

“Hopefully.”

Anaheim appears set in goal with regards to the expansion draft. Gibson will be protected, and AHL San Diego ‘tender Dustin Tokarski was re-signed a couple months ago, presumably as the goalie to be made available.

(The Ducks also have Jhonas Enroth in the fold, currently serving as Bernier’s backup. But Enroth hasn’t seen a second of game action for the Ducks since coming over from Toronto.)

Add it all up, and Bernier seems destined to hit free agency on July 1. That said, don’t rule out a return to the Ducks to work in tandem with Gibson next year. Head coach Randy Carlyle is a fan and, as Bernier’s above quotes illustrate, he’d be happy for another stint in Orange County.

Ristolainen to have hearing for hit that concussed Guentzel

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Buffalo blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen will have a disciplinary hearing following Tuesday night’s interference major on Pens forward Jake Guentzel, the NHL’s Department of Player Safety has announced.

Ristolainen was given a five-minute interference major and game misconduct for the hit, which left Guentzel bloodied and, as we later learned, with a concussion. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Sullivan confirmed the diagnosis in his postgame presser.

Ristolainen, 22, doesn’t have any history with the NHL’s DoPS, so that should be reflected in any potential punishment. At the same time, Guentzel was injured on the play, and it could be argued he was in a prone position.

“I thought it was bad,” Penguins forward Chris Kunitz said of the hit, per the Buffalo News. “The puck doesn’t get to him. He’s looking to get the puck to get into the play, and the guy holds up a second and then he still goes through him.”

Pre-game reading: ‘Assume we are not going’ to Olympics, says Bettman

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— In what might be his most definitive statement on Olympic participation to date, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman on Tuesday told Reuters people shouldn’t expect players to participate in the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang.

“There are no negotiations ongoing,” Bettman said, while at the Sport Business Summit in New York. “We were open to having discussions on a variety of things that might mitigate the damage to our season but that had no resonance.

“As things stand now people should assume we are not going.”

These remarks come after Bettman’s comments during All-Star weekend in Los Angeles, when he was sharply critical of the IOC’s decision to stop covering out-of-pocket expenses for NHLers to attend the Games.

“What I think has happened…you know, there were probably some owners over time who always thought the Olympics were a good idea, there were some owners who always hated it,” said Bettman, “and there were probably a bunch of clubs that really didn’t give it much thought until the IOC said we weren’t going to pay the expenses. And then I think it caused a number of clubs to say, ‘Well, wait a minute, if that’s how they value our participation, why are we knocking ourselves out?’”

Today, Bettman re-iterated Olympic participation was terribly disruptive for NHL business, adding “we have been unable to quantify any benefit from it.”

For more from Reuters, including info on which sponsors are trying to help broker a deal, click here.

Meanwhile, here’s what NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly had to say on the matter:

— In what’s been a disappointing year for the Sabres, sophomore sensation Jack Eichel is playing exceptionally well. He rebounded from a severe high ankle sprain, one that cost him the first 21 games of the year, and was one of the league’s highest-scoring players over the last few months.

From NHL.com:

Since making his season debut, Eichel is tied for eighth in the NHL in scoring with 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) in 52 games and is first in shots on goal with 207. Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid, the player selected ahead of Eichel in the 2015 draft and the League’s leading scorer, has 53 points (15 goals, 38 assists) in that time.

Since Feb. 1, Eichel is second in the NHL with 29 points (nine goals, 20 assists) in 24 games, one point behind Chicago Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane, who won the Hart Trophy as most valuable player and the Art Ross Trophy as scoring champion last season.

Yet to hear Eichel explain it, the personal achievements don’t mean much.

“Frustrating more than anything,” Eichel said of this season. “Want to be a playoff team. Want to play in the playoffs, get a taste of it. It’s tough when you don’t get there.”

Over at ESPN, Craig Custance, Scott Burnside, Pierre LeBrun and more discuss who’s the best current fighter in the league. About the only thing the writers agreed on is that it’s a difficult question to answer, which is a testament to today’s NHL.

Signing spree! Jackets ink Sedlak, Hannikainen, Harrington to two-year extensions

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Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was a busy man on Tuesday.

The Blue Jackets announced a trio of two-year extensions today — one for center Lukas Sedlak, one for left winger Markus Hannikainen and one for blueliner Scott Harrington.

Of the three, Sedlak has made the biggest impact at the NHL level this season. He has seven goals and 13 points in 56 games, emerging as a good fourth-liner, often alongside Scott Hartnell and Sam Gagner. The 23-year-old really turned heads during Lake Erie’s Calder Cup championship last year, when he scored nine goals in 17 playoff games.

Hannikainen, also 23, has been up and down between Columbus and AHL Cleveland this season, appearing in 10 games for the Jackets. He’s been a good scorer at the American League level, with 24 points through 43 games.

Harrington, 24, was acquired in the Kerby Rychel trade and like Hannikainen, has split his time between Cleveland and Columbus. In 16 games with Columbus, he’s scored a goal and three points.

Update: The Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline breaks down the salaries as such:

Sedlak, Hannikainen and Harrington were pending restricted free agents with arbitration rights this summer and per the Dispatch, all three extensions are of the one-way variety.

Sedlak is currently carrying a $600,000 cap hit, Harrington $632,500, and Hannikainen $717,500.