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Blue Jackets bet big on Cam Atkinson

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Carrying a $3.5 million cap hit, Cam Atkinson ranked as one of the better bargains in the NHL, especially considering his trip to the 2017 NHL All-Star Game. It sounds like the Columbus Blue Jackets rewarded him for that hard work on Thursday.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports (sub required) that the Blue Jackets signed Atkinson to a seven-year, $40.25 million extension, which translates to a $5.75M cap hit starting in 2018-19. (Confirmed by the team Friday morning.)

Atkinson will turn 29 in June, so his extension will kick in before he turns 30. Portzline explains that Atkinson sacrificed some short-term cash for the security of a longer deal.

Interesting.

PHT broke down the Blue Jacket’s salary cap structure after they signed Alexander Wennberg to a six-year deal that carries a $4.9M cap hit. Atkinson was singled out as one of the big forks in the road for Blue Jackets management, so they made a big commitment to him tonight.

(Note: the Blue Jackets haven’t confirmed the extension, but multiple outlets back up the news Portzline broke.)

It seems like Atkinson checks out pretty nicely from a fancy stats perspective, although the $5.75M question will be: how long will this count as a bargain?

The Blue Jackets are committed to Atkinson for more term than any other player now. That said, they do have some other guys under contracts for three years or more: Wennberg, Seth Jones, David Savard, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno, Josh Anderson, and Pierre-Luc Dubois (granted, the latter is a cheat since he’s on his rookie deal).

Columbus still has some questions to answer. Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin both only have two years remaining on their deals (counting this season). They need to figure out where Boone Jenner fits in the picture, as he’ll be an RFA next summer. Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson are both on expiring contracts, as well.

Overall, there’s definitely some risk involved in this Atkinson extension, yet we’re talking about a player in his prime who’s riding four consecutive 20+ goal seasons. If he can flirt with his breakthrough of 37 goals in 2016-17 fairly often, the Blue Jackets will be very happy with their decision.

Atkinson had been off to a somewhat slow start in 2017-18 (four goals, two assists in 15 games coming into Thursday), so maybe this extension will ease his mind, too?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Josh Anderson steps forward, emerges as offensive threat for Blue Jackets

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As Josh Anderson picked himself up off the ice and turned to drop his gloves and scrap with the opposing player who put him into the boards, that’s when it hit him who he was about to fight.

At 6-foot-3, 221 lbs., the Columbus Blue Jackets forward is a pretty big boy, but now he was preparing to fight a behemoth on skates in 6-foot-9, 250 lbs. Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins.

“When I dropped my gloves, I finally realized who I’m dropping them with,” Anderson told PHT this week. “You could just see the height difference. I just said to myself be patient and try to get as punches as you can in there.”

“It was a short fight, it wasn’t a long fight, which was probably a good thing in my favor,” Anderson added.

When Anderson isn’t using the physical part of his game, he’s providing plenty of production for a Blue Jackets team that’s off to another strong start at 9-6-1. After a 17-goal campaign last season, he’s followed that up with six goals in his first 14 games of the season.

A slow start would have been expected given that Anderson missed all of training camp as he and the Blue Jackets sorted out a new three-year, $5.55 million contract. So while he was in contact with his agent every day during the standoff, the 23-year-old Burlington, Ontario native did two-a-days to keep in shape as best he could. In between the workouts, he was receiving plenty of support from teammates, including Brandon Dubinsky, who went through his own tough negotiation with the New York Rangers in 2009.

“He just said hang in there, all your teammates are with you, so that made it easier,” Anderson said. “But it’s definitely tough going through it when you see your teammates at camp and all together and you see them bonding and you’re just at home. It’s not fun. But at the same time you have a life. You don’t play in the NHL for many years.”

After a deal was agreed to, Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella expressed his frustrations regarding Anderson missing camp, and just how much that hurts a young player’s development. “I just think young guys need to understand the (arc) of their career, what they need to do,” he said via The Athletic. “Not pull these shenanigans because you have a good 60-70 games. I think you have to do it again, and then you start saying, ‘you know what? I want this, I want that.’ I think you need to wait your turn, I guess is what I’m saying.”

“Obviously he was really disappointed in me missing camp,” said Anderson, “but I knew that when I got back into Columbus I had to be in the best shape because I’d be one step behind everybody knowing that they’ve been at camp for a couple of weeks, on the ice every single day.”

Anderson was given a regular opportunity to stick in the NHL last season. After two years of playing mostly in the AHL with the Blue Jackets’ affiliates in Springfield and Lake Erie, he changed his mentality to that of believing he could find a role.

“I was just trying to play every game thinking that I don’t want to be sent down,” he said. “John Tortorella wants you to play every game and be really consistent. [I] just wanted to play my game, every game, whether that’s hitting or scoring or making a difference to the lineup.”

So far, Anderson is backing up his talk and making a difference. He leads the Blue Jackets in goals with six and is tied for this on the team with nine points. It’s a balanced attack that’s also playing well defensively.

After all of the positives that came out of the 2016-17 regular season, the ending — a five-game exit at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins — was one to forget. But according to Anderson, the Blue Jackets haven’t erased their memories of how early their off-seasons began last spring.

“I think there’s an unfinished business mentality going through our room right now,” he said. “We played only 10 days in the playoffs last year. Obviously you want to play longer than that, but I think this year we got younger and we got faster and more skilled.

“Going through some stuff like that last year helps our team this year, and I think we’ve got to do the same thing we did last year and treat every day with a business-like style. If we keep doing that and getting better each day I think we’ll be fine.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Why the Columbus Blue Jackets are not going away

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At the start of the 2016-17 season expectations for the Columbus Blue Jackets were, to say the least, low.

They were coming off of a disastrous season the year before, had a roster that was full of what looked to be questionable to perhaps even bad contracts and a coach that nobody really believed in (or wanted to believe in). After losing four of their first six games it seemed as if they were on a path to fulfilling the only expectation anyone had for them — to be a very bad hockey team.

Then a funny thing started to happen. They started to win. A lot. After that initial six-game stretch to start the year they went on an 8-2-2 run over the following 12 games, then ripped off an 18-game point streak that included a 16-game winning streak. They ran into a terrible goal-scoring slump at the end of the regular season, and were then shut down by Marc-Andre Fleury in a first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that was much closer than the five-game result would seem to indicate.

Usually when a team like Columbus comes flying out of nowhere and is driven by some of the same high shooting percentage and save percentage numbers that the Blue Jackets were there is an expectation that they might come back down to earth. So far this season that has not quite happened, even if you include their recent three-game skid.

As of Wednesday the Blue Jackets are still right in the thick of a heated and incredibly tight Metropolitan Division race, and they have probably played even better than their 9-6-1 record would indicate.

They are one of the top teams in the league when it comes to shot attempt percentage, indicating they are pushing the pace of play and dictating where it is played, while three of their seven losses have come with backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo in net (he has a .896 save percentage in those starts).

Do not expect them to regress too far from that spot over the next few months.

Or in the foreseeable future.

While the Blue Jackets might still have a contract or two that could end up looking ugly on their salary cap (Brandon Dubinsky and maybe Nick Foligno in a couple of years) they have assembled a rock solid roster that really does not have many weaknesses. Their forward lines go four lines deep and over the summer they added a true front-line player in Artemi Panarin from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Brandon Saad trade. His goal-scoring has not quite been there yet, but his playmaking is still superb and he is driving play at an elite level, currently owning a near 60 percent Corsi mark.

Given his shot generation (a career 3.06 per game) it is only a matter of time until he breaks out from a goal scoring perspective.

The same is true for quite a few players on the roster.

Panarin, Foligno, Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson (a 35-goal scorer a year ago) have combined for just 10 goals this season (on a combined shooting percentage of just 6.7 percent) and the team is still a top-five team in the league in goals and just one point out of first-place in the Metropolitan Division. Add Alexander Wennberg to that list and that quintet has combined for only 11 goals (on just 6.3 percent shooting).

There is a lot of bad shooting luck there that is destined to change at some point. That group of players is too good to be kept off the board for that long.

The fact the team is still winning is a testament to how deep the roster is.

But what is perhaps most encouraging for the Blue Jackets is how young a significant part of it is.

If you look at the Blue Jackets’ top-eight scorers right now only one of them of is older than 23. That player is the 26-year-old Panarin.

Included among that group are two of the biggest core pieces of the roster, defensemen Seth Jones (currently the team’s leading scorer) and Zach Werenski. They are going to be the foundation of the Blue Jackets’ defense for the next decade and are already impact players. They are the type of modern day NHL defensemen that can skate, move the puck and help drive the offense all over the ice.

They not only have a strong roster, but a significant portion of it — especially the core — is still at a point where it is either in the prime of its career (Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky) or has yet to reach it (Wennberg, Werenski, Jones, etc.).

Meaning there is still room for them to grow and get better.

The wild card in all of this is probably the player that is the best one on the team — goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Since arriving in Columbus Bobrovsky has been one of the best goalies in the league, having already won two Vezina Trophies. He was a significant part of the Blue Jackets’ success a year ago.

He was also a significant part of their early exit in  the playoffs thanks to a miserable performance (especially when in comparison to the goalie at the other end of the ice) against the Penguins.

For as great as Bobrovsky has been in the regular season during his time in Columbus he has been equally bad in his two postseason appearances.

If the Blue Jackets are going to take the next step in their development as a team and go on a deep playoff run that is going to have to change. There is still reason to believe that if it can. If it does happen there is no limit for what this team is capable of given the way the rest of the roster is constructed and the way they have played this season. They are for real. They are not going away.

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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.

Tortorella roasts ‘dumb’ Blue Jackets after penalty-filled loss

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Classic John Tortorella quotes have been lacking lately. The Columbus Blue Jackets are off to a good start this year, so there hasn’t been much for Tortorella to complain about…until now.

The Jackets had 2-0 and 3-2 leads against the Rangers at Madison Square Garden last night, but they ended up dropping a 5-3 decision.

Tortorella’s frustration came from his team’s inability to stay out of the penalty box in the third period. Columbus allowed New York to score the first game-tying goal (2-2), the second game-tying goal (3-3) and the go-ahead goal/game-winner (4-3) on the man-advantage.

“Stupid,” Tortorella said after the game, per the Columbus Dispatch. “We don’t deserve to win.

“When you take stupid penalties, you don’t kill them off. We were a dumb hockey team tonight.”

Some people will roll their eyes at the above quotes because it’s just “Torts being Torts,” but the fact that he’s frustrated is justified. He could probably go about it in a different way, but that’s just the way he is.

Tortorella is trying to take the Jackets from being a nice story last season to being one of the legitimate Stanley Cup contenders in the Eastern Conference and in the entire NHL. He needs to set the bar high for his hockey club that’s now 9-5-1 on the season.

The truth is that a great team finds a way to close out that game on the road. Of course, it’s a long season and weird things happen over 82 games, but the Rangers are a divisional rival. Letting those two points slip through their fingers is less than ideal.

Columbus is sitting pretty in second place in the Metropolitan Division right now, but the Devils haven’t slowed down, the Penguins will continue to stick around, the Capitals will string some victories together at some point, and the Flyers and both New York teams won’t go away quietly.

Let’s see how the team responds to their coach’s strong criticism.

The Blue Jackets host the Predators tonight.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Sergei Bobrovsky’s 34 saves help Blue Jackets top Sabres

A second period outburst that saw three goals in a span of 2:59 powered the Columbus Blue Jackets by the Buffalo Sabres 5-1 Wednesday night.

Sergei Bobrovsky stood tall, stopping 34 shots to record his first win since Oct. 14 and thirteen Blue Jackets recorded a point. Seth Jones, Nick Foligno and Matt Calvert all scored in the middle frame to blow things open and help sink the Sabres to their sixth defeat of the season.

Columbus took advantage of their first power play of the game when Oliver Bjorkstrand wristed a shot by Chad Johnson midway through the first period:

While staving off the Sabres’ attack, Seth Jones gave the Blue Jackets a little breathing room late in the second as they capitalized on a 4-on-3 break:

It was the fourth time this season that the Blue Jackets have scored three goals in a single period.

According to the NHL, the win helped Columbus (6-3-0) match their best nine-game start to a season in franchise history. It also snaps a two-game slide as they prepare for three games in four nights beginning Friday against the Winnipeg Jets.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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