Scott Hartnell

Risk Factors: Columbus Blue Jackets edition

1 Comment

From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Columbus Blue Jackets

1. Nathan Horton’s extended health nightmare – As much as the Blue Jackets wore down their opponents with a relentless mentality, one feels that the team needs some more “high-level” talent to truly take the next step. Horton was supposed to be a legitimate top-line winger for Columbus after signing what’s looking like an increasingly disastrous deal, but that obviously hasn’t happened just yet.

While the team is providing semi-optimistic updates about his degenerative back condition, it all sounds awfully ominous.

Really, even when Horton was able to suit up in 2013-14, it was difficult to believe that he was a) healthy and b) comfortable in a new setting. He managed only four goals and 18 points in 35 games and logged his lowest amount of ice time (15:54) since averaged 13:20 minutes per game as a rookie with the Florida Panthers in 2003-04.

Such problems could really put a lot of extra pressure on the next guys in line, such as Scott Hartnell. Considering the significant parity in the NHL, it can be a cruel jump from receiving cushy zone starts and easier matchups to shouldering tougher minutes and strenuous defensive assignments.

2. Bob or Nothing – The Blue Jackets learned some painful lessons about life without Sergei Bobrovsky when he dealt with some injury issues in December 2013.

Curtis McElhinney went 10-11-1 in 28 appearances last season – a considerably larger number than Columbus probably hoped – and while he wasn’t an outright disaster, the drop-off between Bobrovsky and McElhinney was significant.

The Blue Jackets opted against getting more accomplished backup for “Bob” this summer, leaving the gig to McElhinney and/or prospects like Oscar Dansk. Back in July, team president John Davidson said he believed that the team won’t need to lean on Bobrovsky quite as much going forward:

“It’s about knowing you have a chance to do some damage. This isn’t on a wing and a prayer anymore,” Davidson said, via “This isn’t hoping [Bobrovsky] stops 55 shots. This is a team that has capabilities of winning at home, winning on the road, and doing some damage.”

For all those bold words, it’s hard to deny the notion that this team’s outlook could become pretty grim if Bob goes down for an extended amount of time.

Heck, things could even get a little tense if he’s not so happy about the idea of playing out his contract year …

Report: Flyers, Jets were ‘close’ to making Evander Kane trade


While discussing Evander Kane’s oft-noted uncertain future with the Winnipeg Jets, TSN’s Bob McKenzie provided an interesting nugget: the Philadelphia Flyers came “close” to landing the talented winger.

McKenzie didn’t provide any details regarding who (or what set of assets) the Flyers dangled in this alleged near-trade for Kane, which makes the mind wander even more since offensive firepower is maybe the sole unanimous strength of this Philly team. Would such a hypothetical trade meant a swap for one of Philly’s talented forwards? Perhaps Kane’s name came up when the Flyers decided that they needed to get rid of Scott Hartnell’s contract?

It all seems odd, except it does fit the Flyers restless need to shake things up from year to year, even if still-new GM Ron Hextall is apparently quite a bit more interested in stability over annual 180’s.

Setting aside the perplexing particulars, the 23-year-old would make some sense in a Flyers uniform.

He’s willing to throw his body around and drop the gloves; just consider his boxing-inspired name. Kane combines dazzling offensive potential with that rugged side. Oh yeah, he also makes his fair share of headlines via social media (which might be a double-edged sword in a market like Philly).

If nothing else, it’s a fun scenario to imagine … and maybe a situation people will revisit if Kane’s isn’t happy in Winnipeg, after all.

Simmonds expected to wear the ‘A’ in Philly


Ever since he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers heading into the 2011-12 season, Wayne Simmonds has fit in seamlessly, jumping a level or three among the league’s brightest power forwards. It only makes sense that he’s likely to be named one of the team’s alternate captains, then, as the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac reports.

The 26-year-old has scored at right under a 30-goal pace in every season with Philly (his 15 goals from the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season would translate to about 27 tallies) while bringing the sort of physical game that endears himself to Philly fans.

(The Score’s Justin Bourne provides a fascinating view on how deft Simmonds is at the unappreciated role of being a net-front presence on the power play, too.)

With Scott Hartnell in Columbus and Kimmo Timonen’s health in serious doubt, one might believe that the Flyers are experiencing a leadership void, yet players like Simmonds could very well pick up the slack. Isaacs notes that it’s unclear who may be the other player to wear an “A,” but some believe a veteran like Mark Streit would fit the bill.

There are more than a few people who wonder if the Flyers can “out-score their problems” next season. If they manage that, Simmons will be one of the players (literally and figuratively) leading the way.

Poll: Who should be Columbus’ next captain?


The Columbus Blue Jackets have gone two seasons without a captain since they traded Rick Nash.

“I’m comfortable (without a captain),” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards told the Columbus Dispatch in October. He didn’t want to conform to a timetable when it came to making his choice, instead saying that he would hand out the ‘C’ only “when the time is right and if you’ve got the right player and he’s ready at that time.”

In other words, either the timing wasn’t right last season or they didn’t have any player that was ready for the responsibility. Perhaps that’s changed.

Brandon Dubinsky, who came to Columbus in the Nash trade, has emerged as one of the team’s leaders and has made a long-term commitment to the franchise by agreeing to a six-year, $35.1 million contract over the summer.

“Everybody’s anxious to have a captain, but we have a lot of guys who lead,” Dubinsky argued after signing that deal. “Everybody leads in their own way, but collectively we play hard for each other and find a way to get it done. It’s a big honor to be in this position and have this role with this team, but there’s a lot of guys on this team, and it’s much bigger than myself.”

Defenseman Jack Johnson is another contender for the role. He’s got two-plus seasons under his belt with Columbus now and is signed through 2017-18. He’s also one of the biggest workhorses in the league as he ranked 13th in minutes per game in 2013-14.

The Blue Jackets have some other noteworthy veteran leaders locked up to long-term deals like forwards Scott Hartnell and Nathan Horton, but Hartnell is a new addition and Horton has only played in 35 games thus far.

There’s also a chance that the Blue Jackets might go with rising star Ryan Johansen to put an emphasis on their young core, although his contract situation needs to be dealt with first.

So who do you think will be the Blue Jackets’ next captain? Did your preferred choice go unmentioned? Do you think they’ll go through another season without naming a captain?

After first playoff win, the bar’s been raised in Columbus


It was a long and often painful journey, but Columbus has finally joined the 28 other teams that have won a playoff game (leaving the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets’ franchise in the cold). That accomplishment shouldn’t be belittled given how far the Blue Jackets had to come over the last couple of seasons to reach this point, but it’s also not cause for contentment.

Making the playoffs is great, but players don’t grow up dreaming about winning a first round game and fans don’t long for the day their team will last six contests before bowing out of the postseason.

“The goal isn’t just to make the playoffs here,” Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson asserted, per the team’s website. “Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. There were good intentions here in the past, but we go into every game now with the expectation to win. We expect to play well, and we expect to achieve success.”

Blue Jackets president John Davidson was equally optimistic during an interview in July. He pointed to Nathan Horton as a potential difference maker after the former Boston Bruins playoff hero was forced to miss most of the 2013-14 campaign and all of the postseason because of shoulder and abdominal problems.

More importantly, Columbus has a promising young core that’s led by forward Ryan Johansen and blueliner Ryan Murray. They also have a solid defense and a strong goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky.

Their offense was nothing special last season, but if Horton and their primary new addition, Scott Hartnell, have solid seasons and 21-year-old Boone Jenner is able to step up in his sophomore campaign, then that might change.

Clearly the Blue Jackets still have some significant question marks and on paper they don’t look like a Stanley Cup contender yet, but the bar has been raised. We’ll find out soon enough how they respond.