Brandon Saad

It’s Columbus Blue Jackets day at PHT


After a stellar regular season and inspired playoff appearance in ’13-14, Columbus took a step backwards last year by finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference, and missing the postseason.

Though there were extenuating circumstances.

The Blue Jackets led the league in man games lost to injury, with 502. Nathan Horton, once the organization’s biggest free agent acquisition, didn’t play a single game before being traded to Toronto while Ryan Murray, the No. 2 overall pick in 2012, missed 70 of 82 games while dealing with a myriad of injuries.

Other key players, like Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Sergei Bobrovsky all missed extensive time as well. Despite that, there were bright spots — Ryan Johansen continued to post solid numbers, with a career-high 71 points, while Nick Foligno earned himself the club’s captaincy with a 73-point effort, tops on the team.

In the end, though, missing the playoffs proved a damaging blow to the momentum gained by their impressive run the year prior.

Offseason recap

Few teams made a bigger splash this summer. GM Jarmo Kekalainen stunned the league by acquiring budding Chicago star Brandon Saad, the 22-year-old power forward that won two Stanley Cups in his first three NHL seasons.

The Saad deal reverberated throughout the league. With him in the fold, Columbus created one of the youngest and most dangerous top lines in the NHL with Johansen (who only turned 23 in July) and whoever their running mate will be, be it Foligno or Scott Hartnell (or, possibly, 22-year-old Boone Jenner).

Elsewhere, the club added some veteran experience and leadership in the form of ex-Bruins forward Gregory Campbell. Kekalainen also re-upped with the likes of Matt Calvert, backup goalie Curtis McElhinney and depth d-men Justin Falk and Cody Goboulef.

At the draft, Columbus was a major player with three top-40 picks, and used them to select Michigan d-man Zach Werenski (eighth overall), Swedish blueliner Gabriel Carlsson (29th) and WHL Portland product Paul Bittner (38th).

Poll: Are the Lightning the favorites to win the Stanley Cup?


Standing still can be better than the alternative. While any improvement the Tampa Bay Lightning see will have to come from within after their quiet summer, they also haven’t endured any major losses.

Chicago was the oddsmaker’s favorites to repeat in mid-June, but since then the Blackhawks have parted ways with Patrick Sharp, Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, Brandon Saad, and Johnny Oduya. To be fair, Chicago has also gotten some noteworthy additions like Artem Anisimov and they have some promising youngsters that might help fill the gaps like Artemy Panarin and Marko Dano.

Still, that doesn’t change the fact that the Blackhawks have made some considerable sacrifices this summer in the name of cap compliance and that’s without talking about the elephant in the room.

Tampa Bay finished two wins shy of Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final, so has the uncertainty created by Chicago’s turnover at least made the Blackhawks not quite as good of a bet as the Lightning?

Of course, even if you’re inclined to say that Tampa Bay is now in a better position than Chicago, that’s not the end of the debate. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens have strong teams led by elite goaltenders and either one is capable of having a standout season. Then there’s the Anaheim Ducks, which came closer to eliminating Chicago than Tampa Bay and the St. Louis Blues, which has fielded a great team for years, but hasn’t been able to put it all together once the playoffs start — yet.

You could bet on a Los Angeles Kings comeback or the Pittsburgh Penguins’ overwhelming squads with Phil Kessel joining Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Even then we haven’t covered all the teams that can legitimately claim to be serious contenders going into the season.

But this isn’t about who could win the Cup, it’s who has the best chance of doing so, even if it is by a narrow margin in a large field. Is Tampa Bay that team?

PHT Morning Skate: Quick details strengths of league’s top scorers


PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Jonathan Quick wrote a great piece on the strengths of some of the league’s biggest offensive threats. (The Players’ Tribune)

Columbus Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno feels the Brandon Saad acquisition is “a big statement.” (

Speaking of Saad, he used his day with the Stanley Cup to bring it to the 911th Airlift Wing. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

The upcoming 2016 Winter Classic will be particularly special for Mass. natives Brian Flynn and Jimmy Hayes. (

By signing Sean Couturier to a six-year, $26 million, the Philadelphia Flyers are betting that he’ll grow his game offensively. (CSN Philly)

Can the Blue Jackets justify their big spending?


Much of the narrative surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets revolves around what this team can do with even a reasonably clean bill of health. It overshadows a key question, though: can they live up to the hype?

The Columbus Dispatch’s Michael Arace shines a light on this situation, as the market isn’t accustomed to the Blue Jackets coming into a season with such aspirations.

So, Jackets fans ought to doff their cap to majority owner John P. McConnell. Whatever else one might say about the man, he has been willing to spend on talent. That is all one can ask of an owner. The rest is on management and on the players.

The first and last time the Jackets were a “cap team” was in 2011-12, after the big-ticket acquisitions of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski. That team was a chic midsummer pick, too. Carter was a dog and begged out of town, but not before he poisoned the locker room. Then, Rick Nash asked for a trade for the (cough, cough) betterment of the franchise. That season was a disaster.

Interesting stuff, and it really does spotlight something many haven’t considered: the stakes are pretty high for this edition of the Blue Jackets.

Married to some pricey players

The Blue Jackets are under pressure to show that this roster will be competitive both in 2015-16 and in the future, as a ton of their contracts are hefty and long-term.

Brandon Saad ($6 million), Brandon Dubinsky ($5.8M), Nick Foligno ($5.5M), David Clarkson ($5.25M) and Scott Hartnell ($4.75M) all boast contracts that run through 2018-19 or later. Sergei Bobrovsky ranks as one of the NHL’s most expensive goalies with his $7.425 million cap hit. Ryan Johansen’s a huge steal right now at a $4 million mark, but a big upgrade is looming as his deal expires after the 2016-17 campaign.


Long story short, the picture is pretty clear. The injury angle screams “plenty of room to improve,” yet the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly in a place where they have nothing to lose.

In fact, the franchise might not be able to afford another disappointing season, lucky or not.

Toews: With new contracts there’s ‘more pressure than ever’


Expectations are nothing new to Chicago Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but even for them next season might be different.

In all likelihood, they will enter the campaign as the top two players from a salary cap perspective thanks to their matching eight-year, $84 million contracts kicking in. That pay raise from their previous five-year, $31.5 million deals combined with a smaller cap increase than expected has squeezed the defending Stanley Cup champions, leading to them parting ways with Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Brandon Saad over the summer.

None of that is to suggest that Kane and Toews aren’t worth top dollar after leading Chicago to three Stanley Cup champions, but they are aware that the expectations thrust upon them will only increase with their salary.

“As soon as the next season starts everyone tends to forget about what happened last year and it’s time to go to work again,” Toews told the Chicago Tribune. “We’ve shown we can do that and we know given the fact we just lost … important teammates and the focus is on us and our contract that there is more pressure than ever.”

Kane has thought about it a bit this summer too and realizes that that he will be expected to “live up to that contract.”

The good news from Chicago’s perspective is that the duo has been able to step up in the past under pressure, so it’s not unreasonable to believe that they will be able to rise to the occasion again. That being said, they’ve never single handily won anything for Chicago nor can they do so going forward. A big part of the Blackhawks’ strength has been their superb supporting cast and with some key members of it now gone, the pressure will be on others to step up and fill the void as much as it will be on Kane and Toews to continue to lead the charge.