Columbus reacts to Horton (back) being out indefinitely


Piggybacking off of last night’s ominous news, it appears that the Columbus Blue Jackets consider Nathan Horton “out indefinitely” because of his back issues, according to the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

Functionally speaking, the reading is the same as Wednesday: he might miss the beginning of the regular season or perhaps a significant chunk of it. Things seem pretty cloudy for a 29-year-old forward who just can’t seem to get healthy with his still-fairly-new team.

On the bright side, Portzline passes along word from Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen that surgery is unlikely in this case.

Another bright side: the team’s website seems to give a more optimistic reading, with Rob Mixer noting that there’s a feeling he might not miss the beginning of the season.

With Ryan Johansen stuck in awkward negotiation limbo and Horton out indefinitely, it’s difficult not to feel like the Blue Jackets’ considerable momentum might be slowing down (even if Jack Johnson says the team’s known about Horton’s issues for a while now). Portzline outlines how the team might deal with Horton’s absence, including this:

One consideration is to move Boone Jenner from left wing to center, his natural position. That would give the club Dubinsky, Jenner, Artem Anisimov and Mark Letestu down the middle.

Or, the Blue Jackets could keep Jenner on the wing and simply move each of Dubinsky, Anisimov and Letestu up a line. In that scenario, they’d probably look at Alexander Wennberg, Marko Dano or Michael Chaput as the fourth line center.

Those constellations don’t exactly strike fear in the heart of opponents (on paper, at least), but the Blue Jackets believed that they succeeded by taking a “rat-like” mentality in 2013-14. Those foul rodents are known for being resilient, if nothing else, right?

Oh, and speaking of Johansen, Portzline reports that his camp passed along a new proposal for a two-year deal to the team, so perhaps there could be a light at the end of that tunnel?

Blue Jackets say Horton may miss start of 2014-15 season


All the talk about Ryan Johansen seems to have obscured another headache for the Columbus Blue Jackets: Nathan Horton clearly doesn’t seem fully healthy yet.

The Columbus Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell reports that GM Jarmo Kekalainen is “unsure” if Horton will be able to play in the team’s season-opening game on Oct. 9. While the team doesn’t expect his issues to be long-term, the 29-year-old forward continues to deal with lingering back pain.

That’s unsettling news considering the injury-ravaged season Horton just went through in his first year with the Blue Jackets. He was limited to five goals and 19 points in 36 games and was unable to participate in the team’s playoff run.

It’s far too early to dismiss Horton’s chances of living up to the seven-year, $37.1 million contract he signed last summer, yet carrying that $5.3 million cap hit through 2019-20 doesn’t seem very pleasant at this moment.

B’s Lucic admits his wrist isn’t fully healed


Some might argue that the Boston Bruins took a half-step (or more) backward this offseason due to salary cap challenges, but the team still looks formidable on paper. They might not be able to pencil Milan Lucic in at full force to start the season, though.

The hulking forward admitted to that his surgically repaired left wrist isn’t quite back to 100 percent just yet.

“I feel like I’ve turned the corner in the last week or week-and-a-half, so that’s a positive. But I’m still working to get it up to 100 percent,” Lucic said. “I’m just excited to be back with everyone, and to get things going. You don’t want to do anything to have any setbacks, so you have to be smart about it. It’s turned the corner for the better as far as rehab has gone.”

The 26-year-old wore a hard cast that extended from his elbow to his hand for most of this summer, greatly limiting his ability to work out his upper-body this summer, as he told While he has time to build back up – again, he seems positive about the last couple weeks of progress – there’s at least some concern that he’ll take awhile to rebound to his usual intimidating form.

(Don’t expect him to resemble a “string bean” anytime soon, though.)

Should Lucic shoot more often once he’s healthy?

Lucic spoke about the “mental part to get over when it comes to shooting, and everything else on the ice” as well, which brings up an interesting point: the B’s might want to ask Lucic to fire the puck more often, at least long-term.

The big winger only fired 153 shots on goal last season, meaning he averaged fewer than two shots on net per game. His career average (811 in 485 regular season contests), is well off the two-per-game mark, too.

Considering his power, ability to fight through checks and impressive accuracy (his career shooting percentage is an outstanding 14.9), Boston might want to start whispering in his ear to maybe be just a touch less selective.

That might come naturally, though. After skating alongside obvious finishers in Jarome Iginla and Nathan Horton, David Krejci seemed excited by the prospect of Loui Eriksson bumping up his goal totals, so one can only imagine what kind of impact that might have on Lucic’s approach. Again, it may be wise to push for higher shot volumes when he feels comfortable, though.

This is not to say that Lucic should just fire the puck away without any thought regarding context, but more shots from that talented forward seems like it could only be a good thing.

Blue Jackets GM to Johansen: It’s about the team, not ‘one guy’


The funny thing about contract negotiations is that they’re often contentious … until they’re not. At least, that’s what often happens when teams and players do a good job of keeping whatever’s personal private and play it safe with “all-business” public comments. Things get a little dicier when some of that venom spews into newspaper stories and blog posts.

At this point, the Columbus Blue Jackets seem like they’re struggling to contain their frustrations regarding negotiations with rising star forward Ryan Johansen. One can almost imagine steam coming out of GM Jarmo Kekalainen’s ears when reading his comments to the Columbus Dispatch:

“Maybe it’s because I’m European, I don’t know, but I want everybody there to start getting together and working together, and I want it to be about the team,” Kekalainen said on Sunday. “That’s how we were successful last year and the year before – it was about the team, not about one guy.”

When pressed after implying that he’d close off negotiations with Johansen’s agent Kurt Overhardt once training camp started, Kekalainen’s response was curt and maybe even worrisome:

“Draw your own conclusions.”

Before Blue Jackets fans get too concerned about seeing the 21-year-old sit out a big chunk of time if a deal isn’t reached, it appears that Kekalainen might let cooler heads prevail:

One cannot help but note that Kekalainen is still new to the GM gig, as he was hired back in February 2013. As shrewd as he’s been so far, is it possible he’s allowing his emotions to get the best of him here? Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes that threatening to sit out games is one of the few bargaining chips high-profile RFA’s really hold.

It is believed that Columbus is willing to go a touch over $4 million at the highest, while the player ask is $6 million-ish, down from where things started. It sounds like the Blue Jackets talked to the Coyotes about what they went through with Kyle Turris, another Kurt Overhardt client. The agent took a tough line with Arizona, as he did with Vancouver while the Canucks tried to trade Ryan Kesler. Johansen’s strongest leverage is missing games. Is he willing to do that? It would be an unpopular stance, not always an easy thing for a young player.

The sticking point, again, is track record versus perceived potential.

“We’ve shown it many times, that our ownership is committed,” Kekalainen said. “Look at Brandon Dubinsky. We paid him (this summer). Look at Nathan Horton in free agency (two summers ago). They are willing to make the commitment when it’s earned. We have no problem paying the dollars when it’s earned, but the key word there is ‘earned.’ While we believe in his future, we want to see him do it a little bit longer than just one year.”

It’s easy to see where each side is coming from, but it doesn’t sound like the word “compromise” is on the tip of any tongues. Perhaps that will change before things get even messier in the form of missed regular season games and/or hurt feelings?

Detroit bringing Rome to camp on PTO


The Detroit Red Wings will have veteran defenseman Aaron Rome in training camp on a professional try out, GM Ken Holland confirmed on Monday.

Rome, 30, was bought out his contract by Dallas this summer after spending the last two seasons with the Stars. His time with the club was marked by upper- and lower-body injuries — all told, he played in just 52 games (and another eight with AHL Texas).

A physical, stay-at-home defenseman, Rome’s best years came with Vancouver from 2010-12, though he’ll be forever tied to this infamous hit on Nathan Horton during the ’11 Stanley Cup Final:

That hit netted Rome a four-game suspension — the longest in Cup Final history — though he did return the following year to score a career-high four goals and 10 points in 43 games for the Canucks.

It’s unclear how good a shot Rome has of cracking the Detroit roster. He could be training camp insurance if the Wings can’t get a deal done with RFA blueliner Danny DeKeyser, and wasn’t the club’s first option for a PTO — last week, Swiss defenseman Raphael Diaz turned down Detroit’s invite to attend Flames camp.

Rome is also a lefty, and Mike Babcock has repeatedly stressed his desire to bring in a right-handed shot on defense.