COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — So what’s going on with ”Bob” and ”Bread”?
That question dominated the off-season discussion around the Columbus Blue Jackets, overshadowing everything else surrounding a team coming off consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history.
A legitimate inquiry for sure, considering Bob and Bread – otherwise known as goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin – are major pieces of a team that should be a solid playoff contender again this season.
The two Russians are playing out the final year of their contracts, and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s primary goal this summer was to lock up both superstars with multiyear deals. Neither of the deals got done.
Panarin has said he isn’t sure he wants to commit to Columbus for the long haul. Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets haven’t been able to get together on numbers.
”They’re our best players, no question about it,” veteran forward Cam Atkinson said. ”We’re going to treat it as business as usual. I’m not going to look at them any differently, because at the end of the day it’s their decision. There’s only so many times in your career where you’re in the driver’s seat.”
WINDOW IS OPEN
If Panarin and Bobrovsky play to their capabilities, and some other Blue Jackets who battled injuries or otherwise struggled last year can bounce back, the team should be playoff contenders again. Columbus was eliminated in the opening round by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the past two years.
”I think we’ve crossed the bridge as a team hoping to win,” said coach John Tortorella, who signed a two-year contract extension before camp opened.
”I think we crossed that bridge, I think we know we can win,” he said. ”The players’ mindset, I think they know they can win. I think we showed that the past couple years. We’ve stumbled in the playoffs, and that’s what we have to take note of here.”
Panarin set a franchise record with 27 goals and 55 assists (82 points) in 81 games. The second-highest scorer among forwards was rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who had 20 goals and 28 assists (48 points).
The Blue Jackets grabbed the first wildcard in the rugged Metropolitan Division despite subpar years from usually reliable forwards Atkinson (46 points), Alexander Wennberg (37 points), Boone Jenner (32 points) and Nick Foligno (33 points). Injuries definitely played a part.
THS STATE OF ZACH
Defenseman Zach Werenski is getting healthy again after playing much of last season with a bum shoulder. He started hitting last week and is hoping to be ready to go by the Oct. 4 opener in Detroit.
Werenski suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the 12th game last season. The rest of the way he wore a cumbersome brace that wrapped around his chest and arm to keep his shoulder from separating. His movement was restricted, which affected his defensive skills, but he still managed to finish with 16 goals.
”It’s awful hard for a defenseman to play all those games that he played and put up the numbers he put up and do some of the things he did with that shoulder the way it was,” Tortorella said. ”He’s one that we’re certainly going to watch very closely.”
COMINGS AND GOINGS
The Blue Jackets added some help at center by signing center Riley Nash, the 29-year-old former Boston Bruin who put up career numbers last year. Nash had 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 76 games, besting his previous high by 16 points.
The team also signed 22-year-old forward Anthony Duclair, who had 11 goals and 12 assists in 56 games with the Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes last season,
The Blue Jackets bid farewell to longtime players Jack Johnson (Pittsburgh) and Matt Calvert (Colorado), as well as to Ian Cole (Colorado), a defenseman who played valuable minutes down the stretch after being acquired at the trade deadline last season.
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BOSTON (AP) — How much longer can Zdeno Chara keep this up?
The Boston Bruins defenseman – and leader in ice time – will turn 42 this season, and sooner or later the window will close on his opportunity to skate around the ice again with the Stanley Cup. For his teammates, that means focusing on this season as their best and possibly last chance to win with him.
”The older you get, it’s just about winning,” said David Krejci, one of five holdovers from the franchise’s last title, in 2011. ”We know that we’re not going to be playing in the league for 10 more years, but we have maybe three, four, five years left, who knows, but this is it. We worked really, really hard this summer to get the job done this year.”
Chara was already an eight-year veteran and two-time All-Star when he signed with Boston a dozen years ago, and the Bruins built a contender around him that went to the Stanley Cup finals twice in three years. (They lost to Chicago in 2013.)
Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask, Brad Marchand and David Krejci are the only other players remaining from the 2011 champs. Bergeron is 33, Rask and Krejci will turn 32 during the playoffs, and Marchand will turn 31. (Steven Kampfer was traded away in 2012 and rejoined the Bruins this summer; he just turned 30.)
Charlie McAvoy, the 20-year-old defenseman paired with Chara for most of his career, has seen players come and go and values the stability brought by the core.
”As long as we have those veteran guys the culture will always be the same, I really believe that,” he said. ”I really think it could be another special year. You bring back all these guys, the veterans, it could be an awesome year and I’m really excited to get it going.”
Here are some other things to look for from the Bruins this season:
Helping to take some of the pressure off the aging core is a group with about one year of experience, led by McAvoy. Also among the sophomores are Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, Matt Grzelcyk, and Sean Kuraly.
”None of us are forecasting a setback, I call tell you that,” McAvoy said. ”Something about the experience of having a full season, playing a few playoff series now, seeing that element. I can use all those things to allow me to come in and play great hockey from the start. That’s my goal.”
Those five combined to score 151 points (48 goals, 103 assists) last season.
MORE NEW BLOOD
”You need those young guys,” Krejci said. ”And our young guys are fast, they’re good, they’re smart, they make plays. They deserved to make the team last year and I’m looking forward to what they’ll bring again this year, one year under their belts.”
Rask returns for his 12th season but he has a new backup.
Jaroslav Halak signed a two-year contract to come to Boston from the Islanders, where he started 49 games last season and had a 3.19 goals-against average. He replaces Anton Khudobin, who had been the backup for two years and started last season 7-0-2 filling in while Rask had a concussion.
The fast start led fans to call for him to replace Rask, when he won just three of his first 13 games. But the 2014 Vezina Trophy winner did not lose a game in regulation from Nov. 26 until Feb. 10, finishing with a 34-14-15 record and a GAA of 2.36.
The Bruins played two exhibition games in China against the Calgary Flames, with Cassidy and half the squad heading over to Shenzhen and Beijing for a week while the rest of the team stayed back in Boston. The split squad wasn’t ideal, but the Bruins started the 2010-11 regular season with two games in Prague and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Cassidy said that would be a nice precedent to follow.
”Well if it’s a repeat of ’11, yes,” he said. ”I’d love that to happen, trust me.”
AP freelancer Matt Kalman contributed to this report.
NBCSN’s coverage of the the 2018 Kraft Hockeyville USA game in Clinton, N.Y. between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres begins at 7 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.
Goalies: Scott Wedgewood, Jonas Johansson
Anthony Duclair – Alexander Wennberg – Kevin Stenlund
Artemi Panarin – Liam Foudy – Jonathan Davidsson
Boone Jenner – Brandon Dubinsky – Josh Anderson
Lukas Sedlak – Sam Vigneault – Eric Robinson
Goalies: Joonas Korpisalo, J.F. Berube
DALLAS (AP) — This is the third season in a row the Dallas Stars have a different coach and a different style. They’re ready to have some fun with the guy fresh out of college.
After the differing approaches of grizzled veterans Lindy Ruff and then Ken Hitchcock in a one-season return of their Stanley Cup-winning coach from two decades ago, there is more of an emphasis on relentless offense with new coach Jim Montgomery in his transition from the college ranks to first-time NHL head coach.
”It’s going to be a lot of fun,” captain Jamie Benn said. ”We’re going to work hard and it’ll be a high-flying Stars team with a lot of pressure on the ice.”
The 49-year-old Montgomery said he’s sure the team has the speed and depth to play his style.
Montgomery spent the past five years at the University of Denver, where he had a 125-57-26 record and won a national title two seasons ago. He won two championships as a head coach and general manager in the United States Hockey League before that. He was part of a college national championship as a player at Maine in 1993, and did play 122 NHL games – his last was with Dallas in December 2002.
”We’ve had some great coaches in here,” Tyler Seguin said. ”But at the end of the day, we haven’t had this kind of coach, a younger guy, a player’s coach if you want to call it that, someone that’s won pretty much everywhere he’s gone and is going to change things up. I think everyone’s excited for that and looking forward to a fresh new year.”
SEGUIN AND THE TOP LINE
Seguin, the 26-year-old five-time All-Star with a career-high 40 goals last season, could have become an unrestricted free agent after this season. But he signed a nearly $80 million, eight-year contract extension through 2026-27 just before training camp. Seguin is on the front line with 29-year-old two-time All-Star Benn and Alexander Radulov, who had 27 goals and 45 assists last season. Only Benn had more total points than Seguin’s 78, with Benn at 79 (36 goals, 43 assists) after eight goals and two assists in the last five games.
ON THE DEFENSE
John Klingberg led NHL defensemen with 59 assists last season, when Marc Methot was limited to 36 games in his Stars debut because of knee issues. A healthy Methot should be a boost to the Stars defense.
”If you look at the lineup, we know we have star power. We have everything on paper. It looks good,” Klingberg said. ”We’re just going to have to find those pieces blending into each other.”
Dallas missed the playoffs for the eighth time in the past 10 seasons after an eight-game losing streak last March. They finished 42-32-8 for 92 points, which was a 13-point increase from 2016-17 but three points out of the Western Conference’s eighth playoff spot.
”I think we’ve got to stop, I guess, wasting the good talent that we have here and take advantage of it,” Benn said. ”Ten years later, goes by fast. You’ve got to take advantage of the good teams that you have. We have a good team here. So we’ve got to make a good run here.”
TOP 10 BACK IN BIG D
Right wing Valeri Nichushkin played 166 games in three seasons for the Stars by time he was 21 before returning home to Russia and playing the past two seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. The 10th overall pick by the Stars in the 2013 draft is back after signing a $5.9 million, two-year contract with Dallas at the start of free agency over the summer.
STARTING AT HOME
The Stars open the season Oct. 4 against Arizona, the first of four consecutive home games in 10 days before their first road game.
”I don’t think I could have picked a better schedule to start the season in my first year because everything’s new,” Montgomery said. ”Being at home, having those three days of practice in between home games, is going to be instrumental in us getting off to a good start.”
The Stars have now been in Dallas for 25 years.
AP Sports Writer Schuyler Dixon contributed to this report.