Columbus Blue Jackets

Chris Phillips (back surgery) questionable for training camp

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Ottawa Senators defenseman Chris Phillips hasn’t played since Feb. 5 due to a back injury that led to surgery. Since then he’s been rehabbing, but with training camp just around the corner, it appears that process hasn’t been completed yet.

“He’s hurting a little bit still,” Senators GM Bryan Murray told CTV Ottawa. “He hasn’t been able to do the fitness level that he wanted to get to. There are some other issues that are going on. It appears right now that his back may delay him being able to even attend camp, but we hope and think that if he can get healthy, certainly in the second half of the year his experience should help us.”

Phillips celebrated his 37th birthday on March 9. He’s spent his entire career with the Ottawa Senators and is their franchise leader with 1,179 games played.

This is the final season of his two-year, $5 million deal.

Trade target Cowen says Sens’ support has been ‘awesome’

It’s safe to say Jared Cowen knows he hasn’t lived up to expectations in Ottawa.

And it’s safe to say he appreciates the Sens sticking with him — even though teams have called about a potential trade.

“It’s awesome to have that support and I feel that same way about myself,” Cowen said this week, per the Ottawa Sun. “I know that it’s not just me that feels I can be a lot better and be the player that I know I’m going to be and I want to be.”

Cowen, taken ninth overall in 2009, has struggled to replicate the success he found during his rookie year in 2011-12, when he scored 17 points in 82 games, averaged nearly 19 minutes a night and received a handful of Calder votes — pretty impressive for a 21-year-old defenseman.

Injuries have played a role in Cowen’s declide — hip and abdominal issues sidelined him for extensive periods — and that’s led to teams inquiring about potential availability, given his size (6-foot-5, 228 pounds) and the fact Cowen only turned 24 in January.

Doesn’t sound like Ottawa is willing to make a move, however.

From the Sun:

Senators GM Bryan Murray along with assistants Pierre Dorion and Randy Lee have received a lot of calls from teams interested in Cowen but dealing him wasn’t an option because it’s difficult for any organization to give up on a young defenceman who still has upside potential.

With two years left at $3.1 million per-season, the Senators want to see what they’ve got in Cowen and that’s why he hasn’t been dealt. He’s looking forward to a big year under coach Dave Cameron and wants to show he can return to the form.

One would assume Cowen’s in the group of seven defensemen Ottawa will mostly rely on this year, along with Erik Karlsson, Marc Methot, Cody Ceci, Patrick Wiercioch, Mark Borowiecki and Chris Phillips.

That said, there are other blueliners knocking on the door, including Chris Wideman, a minor-league standout that won last year’s Eddie Shore Award as the AHL’s top defenseman.

Poll: Will Seabrook re-sign?

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In Chicago, conversation about the cost of keeping the team together never really ends.

Having just come off a summer in which Brandon Saad, Brad Richards, Johnny Oduya and Patrick Sharp all exited due to financial constraints, the ‘Hawks can now begin looking ahead to next July, when another prized player could go unrestricted:

Brent Seabrook.

Seabrook, 30, is heading into the last of a five-year, $29 million deal with a $5.8M cap hit. His resume is loaded — three Stanley Cups, Olympic gold, a ’15 All-Star Game appearance — and he’s coming off a postseason in which he led all defensemen in goals (seven), the same number that Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos potted.

So needless to say, he’d be coveted on the open market.

There are two sides to this discussion. The first is why Seabrook would want to stay in Chicago, and it’s a fairly easy sell — it’s the only team he’s ever known, having been drafted by the ‘Hawks in the first round in ’03. He’s since appeared in over 800 games in a ‘Hawks sweater during his 10-year career, and developed a dynamic pairing with fellow blueliner (and one of his best friends) Duncan Keith.

Seabrook also has, as mentioned above, achieved a boatload of success with the ‘Hawks.

But there are reasons why he’d leave.

Well, one big reason — the money.

Per war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks already have close to $60 million committed to 16 players after this season. While there aren’t many other noteworthy contracts on the horizon — Andrew Shaw will require a new deal in ’16-17, Teuvo Teravainen and Marko Dano the year after — there is a question of how much Chicago can pay Seabrook.

Do consider that, a few weeks ago, Calgary gave Mark Giordano — who’s a year older than Seabrook — a six year, $40.5 million extension that carries a $6.75M cap hit. Earlier this summer, TSN speculated that Seabrook “is due to earn at least Dion Phaneuf-type money, in the neighborhood of seven years and $49 million.”

Those are both pretty steep AAVs but, given the dearth of quality UFA defensemen that usually hit the market, they could be in Seabrook’s wheelhouse. Remember that Mike Green got $6M per from Detroit this summer, while Andrej Sekera got $33 million over five years from the Oilers.

If Seabrook doesn’t sign an extension prior to the season starting, you can expect this conversation to pick up steam as the year progresses.

But why wait for that? Let’s vote and discuss now.

Under Pressure: Stan Bowman

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Stan Bowman knew there’d be much change to his hockey club this summer and, as a result, much work to be done.

Wonder if he thought there’d be this much, though.

To recap…

Out: Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, Brad Richards, Antoine Vermette, Antti Raanta, Kimmo Timonen.

In: Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, Trevor Daley, Ryan Garbutt, Corey Tropp, Jeremy Morin, Artemi Panarin, Viktor Tikhonov.

And Bowman isn’t even done yet.

According to war-on-ice.com, the ‘Hawks are nearly $400K over the $71.4 million salary cap, with the likes of ace penalty killer Marcus Kruger and fellow depth checker Joakim Nordstrom still requiring new deals. Kruger’s said he’s willing to sit and wait for an extension and Bowman suggested he’d like to get it signed before training camp, which means the ‘Hawks will have to shed some bucks within the next three weeks or so.

So, how will they do it?

Bryan Bickell, he of the $4 million average annual cap hit — and multiple healthy scratches during the playoffs — has been bandied about as potential trade bait. The club could also try and do something with Kris Versteeg ($2.2M cap hit).

Or maybe Bowman makes a move he doesn’t want to make.

That was the situation earlier this summer with Saad, when the ‘Hawks were forced to move their promising young power forward to Columbus because the dollars didn’t make sense. Remember, Bowman was at one point very adamant he’d get a deal done with Saad — vowing to keep him in Chicago “for years to come” — only to later realize it wasn’t going to work within the budget.

Bowman’s financial pressure isn’t solely about getting under the cap to start the year, either. The ‘Hawks are built to contend, which means there should be some room for potential acquisitions during the season, most notably at the deadline.

Then, there’s the biggest wildcard of all — the Patrick Kane situation.

Unlike the other dilemmas he’s faced, Bowman has virtually zero control over how this one plays out; there’s no timeline for the ongoing police investigation and no clear picture on what would happen should Kane be charged.

All of which makes for a stressful lead-up to the season. Bowman’s got his hands full.

Blackhawks ’15-16 Outlook

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Despite the plethora of changes made to their roster this summer, the Chicago Blackhawks should once again be contenders in this season. Immediately following their third Stanley Cup victory in six years, oddsmakers chose Chicago as the favorite to win the cup again.

Chicago’s success this season will depend on how newcomers fair. The Blackhawks lost four key pieces of their team in the offseason with Brandon Saad, Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Brad Richards all finding new homes.

Salary cap constraints will force the Blackhawks to rely on younger players such as Teuvo Teravainen this season. The 20-year-old appeared in 34 games with the ‘Hawks last season, scoring four goals and nine points.

Artem Anisimov, acquired in the Saad deal, will likely slot in behind Jonathan Toews as the ‘Hawks second line center. Newcomers Ryan Garbutt and Marko Dano will also fill holes in the Blackhawks roster this season.

Rookies Kyle Baun, Ryan Hartman and Artemi Panarin could also challenge for roster spots.

“I think change is good, and I think we’ve embraced that in the past and been able to bring in some players that now are household names … but at one point they were new,” GM Stan Bowman told NHL.com. “It’s going to be the same thing for some of the new guys that are part of this group next year. They might be new to the fans and media, but as you’ll see in time, I think we’re really going to fall in love with some of these guys.”

Chicago will also have new regulars on the blue line with the likes of Trevor van Riemsdyk and David Rundblad vying for roster spots behind Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Trevor Daley. Erik Gustafsson and Ville Pokka will also battle for spots on the back end.

In goal, Corey Crawford is the clear cut No. 1 while Scott Darling beat out Antti Raanta for the backup role. Raanta was dealt to the New York Rangers during the offseason.

One wild card for the Blackhawks is, of course, Patrick Kane. The 26-year-old is currently the subject of a police investigation. Kane would’ve challenged for the scoring title last season, if a shoulder injury hadn’t forced him to miss the final 21 games of the regular season.

Chicago will once again be a threat in the Western Conference, but how deep they go will depend on how well the newcomers fit.