Is it time to blow up the Blue Jackets?

4 Comments

Two seasons ago it seemed like a corner was being turned in Columbus. The team was playing hard, they were involved in every game, Steve Mason was stunning opposing scorers while Rick Nash was tearing apart their defenses. The Blue Jackets had arrived on the scene and were in the playoffs.

Ever since being swept out in the first round by their hated rivals from Detroit, things have taken a turn for the worse in Ohio. The Jackets fired Ken Hitchcock and now have Scott Arniel in charge. Last season, the Blue Jackets weren’t very competitive all year long and found themselves on the wrong side of blowouts a bit too often.

This year, the Jackets showed some hope early on but have fallen back on old habits. Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon are getting lit up in goal, the offense is having a hard time scoring, and the defense is lacking quite a bit. Even defensive stalwart Mike Commodore isn’t welcome any more and wants out of town. In short, it’s ugly in Columbus and it’s looking like the roster needs a drastic shakeup. Is it time to break things up in Columbus? Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch ponders the thought.

It’s believed Howson is desperately trying to make trades. This time it can’t be for a Chris Clark. The Jackets need significant changes and that means breaking up the club’s core.

The general manager should not hesitate.

Howson is going to have to move a Brassard or Voracek or Vermette or Russell or a top prospect to get anything of value. It might require a combination. The general manager should at least listen to offers for his captain and four-time All Star. I could not have imagined typing that sentence a year ago. Trading Nash would not be my first option — he’s far and away the organization’s best player — but right now everything has to be considered.

Ominously, Reed throws out Rick Nash’s name. If Rick Nash is out there and available at all, and I seriously doubt the Blue Jackets would be looking to deal their only star and marketable player, the interest from around the NHL would likely be staggering as picking up a #1 left wing who can fill the net at will would be attractive to anyone. Unless the trade offer was so overwhelming it’d be crazy to say, “No,” to there’s no way Nash will go. On a team without other stars, however, he’s always going to be the most attractive player to lust for your roster.

That said, giving up a guy like Derick Brassard or Jakub Voracek would certainly make the ears of opposing GMs perk up around the league. Brassard is a bit small but has shown the knack to be a solid, second line playmaker (hello Washington!) while Voracek is a big-bodied forward that can score a little bit. In new situations, either of these guys could be breakout candidates.

Vermette could bring interest from teams looking for solid center depth and a guy to anchor the third line. Kris Russell would be a nice offensive defenseman for a team looking to add something to their back line. They’re not game breakers, but they’d be useful cogs in other teams looking to get deeper for their eventual playoff run.

As for the depth in Columbus’ system, it’s severely lacking. 2010 first round pick forward Ryan Johansen is the shining star. Nikita Filatov has had a tumultuous time since being picked in the first round in 2008 and 2009 first rounder defenseman John Moore is getting his feet wet in the AHL this season.

Cam Atkinson is making a name for himself in college hockey as is goalie prospect Allen York but they’re a ways away. With Filatov teetering close to being labeled a bust, the pressure is on Johansen and Moore to blossom and give Columbus something to hope for. In short, things are a mess in Columbus and breaking up this current band of NHLers that isn’t working might be their lone salvation.

Darryl Sutter has retired from coaching

Getty
Leave a comment

Afters spending nearly two decades behind an NHL bench as a head coach Darryl Sutter is officially calling it a career.

That is what he recently told Sportsnet’s Eric Francis when the subject of the Washington Capitals’ suddenly vacant coaching spot was brought up.

Combined with his playing career that started in 1978 that is four decades in the NHL, and in Sutter’s mind that is enough.

Via Sportsnet:

“Forty years, that’s enough,” said Sutter, 59, when asked if he’d consider the Washington gig that became vacant when Barry Trotz resigned following this month’s Stanley Cup win.

“No way, I’d be too far away from the grandkids.”

During his coaching career Sutter spent time behind the bench with the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames and Los Angeles Kings, taking the latter two to the Stanley Cup Final. His most successful tenure was definitely his time with the Kings where the team won the Stanley Cup in both 2011-12 and 2013-14.

He most recently coached the Kings during the 2016-17 season, after which he was let go as the organization attempted to retool following its second non-playoff season in a three-year stretch.

Sutter told Francis that he would have listened had the Flames called regarding their coaching vacancy when Glen Gulutzan was recently let go and replaced by former Carolina Hurricanes coach Bill Peters.

At this point, though, he is happy with the life he now has.

Again, from Francis

He now insists following a winter of contemplation there’s no situation that could tempt him to leave his ranch to relocate once again with his wife, Wanda, and son, Chris.

“I love my schedule now – that’s the best way to put it,” he said.

“I enjoy watching the game on TV and I pull for certain players and I’m totally at peace with not coaching.

That’s for sure.”

With 634 wins during his coaching career Sutter ranks 14th on the NHL’s all-time wins list and is one of just 18 coaches to have won the Stanley Cup at least two times. Aside from Sutter, the only coaches with multiple Stanley Cup wins that are not currently in the Hall of Fame are Mike Sullivan and Joel Quenneville (both still active as NHL coaches) and Pete Green and Cecil Ivan, both of whom coached in the 1920s.

As a player, Sutter spent eight seasons as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks, scoring 161 goals and 279 points in 406 career games.

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.

Capitals will open 2018 season, raise banner against Bruins on Oct. 3

Getty
3 Comments

Given the rivalry between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, the fact they have met in the playoffs three years in a row, and the way the Capitals were scheduled for the Penguins’ banner raising game at the start of the 2016-17 season it seemed like a natural fit to have the two teams meet in Washington to open the 2018-19 season.

After all, the Capitals finally conquered their postseason demons to win their first Stanley Cup and went through their long-time rivals to make it happen. What better way for them to celebrate than to raise their banner with their long-time rivals in the house?

Nice thought for Capitals fans, but it will not be happening.

On Wednesday, the NHL announced all of the home openers for the 2018-19 season, and while they probably had the right color scheme for the Capitals’ opponent, they ended up picking a different team.

The Capitals announced that their banner raising home opener will take place on Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins.

 

Just 24 hours later the Capitals will be in Pittsburgh for the second half of a back-to-back to open the Penguins’ season.

The complete NHL schedule will be released on Thursday.

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.

Rasmus Dahlin could provide Buffalo with much-needed boost

Getty
1 Comment

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Former defenseman Mike Weber is all too familiar with the Sabres’ lean years while spending a majority of his eight NHL seasons in Buffalo.

There were high-priced free agents who failed to pan out and one draft-pick bust after another. Weber made the playoffs just twice, with Buffalo eliminated in the first round both times.

And then there was the so-called “tank season” in 2014-15, when Sabres fans openly rooted for the team to finish last for the right to draft either now-Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, or Buffalo’s eventual pick, Jack Eichel.

As it happens, Weber also enjoyed a glimpse into what could well be the Sabres’ more promising future following an eight-week stint with Frolunda, Sweden, last fall. Weber had an opportunity to play alongside defenseman Rasmus Dahlin , the highly touted 18-year-old projected to be selected by Buffalo with the No. 1 pick in the NHL draft on Friday night.

Perhaps, Weber said, things might finally be looking up in Buffalo.

“I really, truly believe you guys are going to be getting a once-in-a-lifetime kind of talent,” said Weber, now an assistant coach with Windsor of the Ontario Hockey League.

“This first overall pick puts a stamp on it, put whatever happened in the past in the past,” he added. “Hopefully, it’s something you guys can look back on at the suffering and rebuilding and tanking and all of this stuff where you can sit there and kind of laugh about it.”

Though “suffering” might be overly dramatic, it resonates in Buffalo because that’s the word former general manager Darcy Regier repeated numerous times during an end-of-season news conference in April 2013 where he braced fans for a top-to-bottom roster overhaul.

Five years, two GMs, four coaches and three last-place finishes later, the Sabres remain stagnant while in the midst of a franchise-worst seven-year playoff drought.

The team has not topped 35 wins in each of the past five years. And forward Ryan O'Reilly closed last season by suggesting a losing culture has crept into the locker room.

Dahlin has the potential of injecting hope in Buffalo with his exceptional skating and play-making abilities. Weber compares Dahlin’s speed to that of Senators captain Erik Karlsson, and shiftiness to former Red Wings star forward Pavel Datsyuk.

“I still bleed blue and gold,” Weber said, referring to Sabres colors. “And the possibility of him being a cornerstone going forward and helping the organization and the city win a championship is pretty special.”

Hall of Fame coach Scotty Bowman, who maintains a home in suburban Buffalo, can sense the buzz Dahlin has generated.

“Buffalo needs a boost, and the fans have been waiting a long time for it,” Bowman said. “People I know that have had tickets for a long time are excited.”

The Sabres have been in freefall since losing Game 7 of the 2007 Eastern Conference finals to eventual champion Carolina. Some of Buffalo’s bleakest moments:

BLACK SUNDAY

That’s what Sabres fans refer to July 1, 2007, when Buffalo lost co-captains Chris Drury and Daniel Briere in free agency. Days later, rather than losing yet another star, the Sabres matched the Oilers’ qualifying offer to Thomas Vanek by re-signing the forward to a seven-year, $50 million contract. Buffalo has not won a playoff series since.

MONEY FOR NOTHING

In 2011, the Sabres made splashes by acquiring defenseman Robyn Regehr in a trade with Calgary, and signing defenseman Christian Ehrhoff to a 10-year, $40 million contract and forward Ville Leino to a six-year, $27 million deal. Regehr played just 105 games in Buffalo before being traded to Los Angeles. Leino and Ehrhoff played three seasons before the Sabres bought out their contacts.

TRADE WINDS

Former GM Tim Murray’s most significant trade in his rebuilding plan came on Feb. 11, 2015. He dealt defenseman Tyler Myers, forwards Drew Stafford, Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux and a first-round pick to Winnipeg to acquire forward Evander Kane, defenseman Zach Bogosian and prospect goalie Jason Kasdorf. Kane is now in San Jose. Kasdorf played just one game in Buffalo. Bogosian has combined to miss 108 games due to an assortment of injuries over the past three seasons.

POOR DRAFTS

Of the 15 players selected by Buffalo in the 2010 and `11 drafts, only four made the NHL and combined to play 144 career games for Buffalo. Of the 23 players Buffalo drafted from 2005-’07, only nine played in the NHL and none topped 400 games.

BAD BREAKS

Aside from losing the NHL draft lottery after finishing last in both 2014 and `15, the Sabres lost out to Toronto in the Mike Babcock coaching sweepstakes in May 2015. The Sabres thought they were closing in on a deal before Babcock announced he was going to take an extra day to reconsider. Babcock signed with Toronto and the Sabres hired Dan Bylsma, who was fired after two seasons.

FRANCHISE LOWS

In finishing last in 2013-14, Buffalo scored 150 goals, the fewest in the NHL’s post-expansion era. The following season, the Sabres scored 153 goals and were shut out a franchise-worst 14 times. This past year, the Sabres won 11 home games, matching their fewest in any season.

AP Hockey Writer Larry Lage contributed to this report.

Predators’ Austin Watson charged with domestic assault

Getty
3 Comments

Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson has been charged with domestic assault, according to the Tennessean.

He was arrested on Saturday night in Franklin, Tennessee, but he was released on a $4,500 bond. Watson is due to appear in court on June 28th.

Last year, Watson was one of four Preds players that took part in the “Unsilence the Violence” campaign that was launched by the team to end “violence against women through education”. In January of 2017, the organization pledged $500,000 to the YWCA’s violence prevention program.

The 26-year-old was drafted 18th overall by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. He’s been playing for Nashville since the 2012-13 season.

Here’s the Predators’ statement:

“We are aware of the incident involving Austin Watson on Saturday night.  We are still gathering facts and it is not appropriate for us to comment further at this time, but this is a matter that we are taking very seriously and will cooperate fully with the investigation by law enforcement. The Nashville Predators have and will continue to stand side by side with AMEND (sic) in the fight to end violence against women.”

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.