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Panarin, Blue Jackets seem destined for disappointing split

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In his first season with the Columbus Blue Jackets Artemi Panarin turned out to be everything the team could have possibly hoped for him to be. If anything, he may have exceeded their expectations. After two outstanding years riding shotgun alongside Patrick Kane in Chicago, Panarin arrived in Columbus and proved that he could be an impact player while carrying his own line and not only matched his production from Chicago, he managed to improve on it almost across the board.

He set a new career in total points. He averaged more shots on goal per game. His possession numbers jumped to an elite level. He was Columbus’ best and most impactful player for the entire season. When he was on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Blue Jackets controlled 57 percent of the total shot attempts. They outscored teams by a 61-37 margin. Without him on the ice the Blue Jackets were outshot (49 percent shot attempt) and outscored (108-111).

(Data via Natural Stat Trick)

He gave them the exact type of player they had been lacking for years: an All-Star level forward still in the prime of his career that could be command the attention of every team in the league the second he jumped over the boards.

After all of that Columbus now seems like it could be on the precipice of losing him entirely, a development that would be yet another disappointing blow to an organization that has known nothing but disappointment throughout its existence.

Entering the final year of his contract, Panarin is now eligible to sign a long-term deal with the Blue Jackets, something the team would no doubt have an interest in doing. As already noted, Panarin is one of the best offensive players in the league and at age 26 is still at a point in his career where he should still have several highly productive years ahead of him. Signing to a long-term deal and making him one of your cornerstone players would be a totally logical and sensible thing to do.

The problem for the Blue Jackets is that both sides have to be willing to make that happen, and Panarin does not seem willing to sign a long-term deal with Columbus at this time. To the point where he does not want to even enter into contract negotiations with the team at this moment.

Over the weekend Panarin’s agent, Daniel Milstein, spoke with The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline regarding the current situation and none of it sounds terribly promising for Blue Jackets fans. While Milstein paints a great picture of Panarin loving Columbus, the team, and the coach, the entire thing boils down to this line: “It’s about, does he want to spend the next eight years in Columbus? That’s the only thing at stake right now. If it was a two-year deal we probably would have done it. But it isn’t a two-year deal. It’s gonna have to be an extended, seven- or eight-year deal put in place.”

Milstein also pointed out that while Columbus is trying to find a trade partner, he has not provided Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen with a list of teams he would go to and he has not asked for permission to speak to potential teams when it comes to working out a contract.

You can read the full interview here (subscription required).

This leaves the Blue Jackets in a less than ideal spot.

On one hand, they still have Panarin for at least one more season and while he is not willing to negotiate a new contract at this time, there is always a chance he could change his mind at any moment and decide that, yes, Columbus is a place he would like to commit eight years to. That would be the ideal result.

But if you are the Blue Jackets are you willing to take that chance and risk putting yourself in a position to get Tavares’d next July and lose your best player for nothing as a free agent? If you think you are one or two moves away from winning a Stanley Cup — or seriously competing for one — this season maybe you ride it out and hope for the best. But in a division that has the past three Stanley Cup champions, and in a conference where Toronto and Tampa Bay are going toe-to-toe in an arms race — and oh let’s not forget that Boston is pretty damn good, too — the odds seem remarkably stacked against Columbus in this one year.

As painful as it might be for Blue Jackets fans, a trade might be the most sensible option here.

And that would stink. For one, it is nearly impossible to trade a player like Panarin and end up coming out ahead when it comes to value (just ask the Chicago Blackhawks).

That still might be better than losing him for nothing.

Then there is the hit Columbus would take in terms of its reputation.

Despite back-to-back postseason appearances this is still a team that is fighting for an identity. After 17 seasons they have still yet to actually win a postseason series, while the few star players that have played for the organization have all moved on without much team success. They were never able to build a contender around Rick Nash, while Jeff Carter spent his half season in Columbus as a mostly empty uniform before being traded for Jack Johnson.

There has not been a lot of good here.

Last week Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella felt compelled to passionately (and profanely!) defend the organization after a perceived slight from Johnson after joining the Pittsburgh Penguins — Tortorella’s long-time arch-nemesis — and talking about wanting to be a part of a winning culture.

“This is the Columbus Blue Jackets and we’re fighting our ass off to gain respect in this league, and we’re getting there,” Tortorella told Portzline (subscription required). “We’re getting there.”

And they are! They really, truly are.

Over the past two years the Blue Jackets’ 95 wins are the fourth-most in the NHL behind only Washington, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay. Given the success of those three teams (Pittsburgh and Washington won the Stanley Cup those two years while Tampa Bay was in the Eastern Conference Final this past year) that is strong company to be in.

Panarin was a big part of that regular season success this past year and would ideally be a part of the first Blue Jackets team to actually make some serious noise in the postseason. He is that type of player and could be that type of building block alongside Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

At this point, though, that just does not seem like something that is destined to happen and that one way or another his future seems to be in another city with another team.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Devils host Rangers on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After both teams missed the playoffs last season (first time that’s happened since 1976-77), the Devils and Rangers scored big in the Draft Lottery by winning the 1st and 2nd picks, respectively, following their regular-season finish as bottom-dwellers of the Metro Division. New Jersey selected the consensus top prospect Jack Hughes, a Florida native whose brother was selected seventh overall by Vancouver in the 2018 Draft, while New York went with Finnish-born Kaapo Kakko.

The Rangers opened the season with wins in their first two games before falling to Edmonton on Saturday, 4-1. New York plays a back-to-back with a game at Washington on Friday night. New Jersey has started the season winless through six games, having been outscored 27-13 (not including shootout goals). The Devils are the 11th team in the last 12 seasons to go winless through its first six games. Only one of those clubs made the playoffs.

Against Florida on Monday, New Jersey blew a three-goal lead midway through the game and lost 6-4. The Devils are the only team in the NHL without a win. Along with Monday’s meltdown, the Devils also lost a 4-0 lead in their season-opening shootout loss to the Winnipeg Jets. Chants of “Fire Hynes” echoed through the arena during the loss to the Panthers.

The biggest question mark standing in the way of the Rangers rebuilding plan is 37-year-old Henrik Lundqvist. He has already cemented himself as one of the greatest Rangers ever. But there remains some question as to whether he will be their goaltender if/when the time comes to compete for a Cup once again. He is still their guy for now, but he will have to bounce back from a disappointing season.

[COVERAGE OF DEVILS-RANGERS BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

WHAT: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers
WHERE: Prudential Center
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 17, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Devils-Rangers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

DEVILS
Taylor Hall – Jack Hughes – Kyle Palmieri
Blake ColemanTravis ZajacWayne Simmonds
Nikita GusevPavel ZachaJesper Bratt
Miles WoodKevin RooneyJohn Hayden

Damon SeversonP.K. Subban
Will ButcherSami Vatanen
Mirco Mueller – Matt Tennyson

Starting goalie: Mackenzie Blackwood

RANGERS
Artemi PanarinMika ZibanejadPavel Buchnevich
Chris KreiderBrett Howden – Kaapo Kakko
Brendan SmithRyan StromeJesper Fast
Brendan LemieuxLias AnderssonGreg McKegg

Brady SkjeiTony DeAngelo
Libor HajekJacob Trouba
Marc StaalAdam Fox

Starting goalie: Alexandar Georgiev

Kathryn Tappen will host NHL Live on Thursday with analysts Patrick Sharp and Keith Jones. Kenny Albert, Mike Milbury and Pierre McGuire will have the call from Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.

Stunning Numbers: Connor McDavid edition

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Throughout the 2019-20 NHL season will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers around the NHL. Today we look at Connor McDavid‘s incredible start for the Edmonton Oilers. 

Connor McDavid single handedly destroyed the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday night, tallying five points in the Oilers’ 6-3 win to continue their surprising start, improving their record to 6-1-0.

It is one of the best starts in franchise history and, to the surprise of exactly no one, is being almost completely driven by the team’s two-headed monster of McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.

Both players are great, but McDavid is the one we are going to focus on here because, well, he just continues to be a real life cheat code on the ice when it comes to producing offense.

Just seven games into the season he is already well on his way to a fourth consecutive 100-point season, something that only 13 players in the history of the league have done. No one has done it since 1993, and the majority of the instances came during the 1980s. McDavid, truly, is a player from another time.

With his five points on Wednesday (in only 18 minutes of ice time!) he is already up to 17 points in the Oilers’ first seven games of the season. The only player in the league within two points of him is Draisaitl as the two continue to dunk all over their opponents.

Let’s put this start into some perspective with some stunning numbers.

[Related: Another 100-point season would put McDavid in exclusive club]

• He is the first player since Mario Lemieux during the 1995-96 season to record at least 17 points in the first seven games of a season. Before that, you have to go back to Wayne Gretzky during the 1993-94 season. The only players to do it dating back to the 1979-80 season are McDavid, Lemieux, Gretzky, Bernie Nicholls (while playing alongside Gretzky), Kevin Stevens, Rob Brown (the latter two while playing next to Lemieux), Peter Stastny, Marcel Dionne, Brent Sutter, and Mike Bossy.

To add to that, just look at how this start compares to some of Gretzky’s best seasons in Edmonton…

When you are doing something in 2019 that Gretzky used to do in the 80s you are doing something truly spectacular.

• McDavid has 17 points. The Oilers have 29 goals. That means McDavid has scored or assisted on 59 percent of the team’s goals, an absurd number even for McDavid (who is usually around 50 percent for the Oilers throughout his career). He has also been on the ice for 21 of the team’s goals (72 percent!) while the Oilers have only surrendered seven (all situations). When he is NOT on the ice the Oilers have been outscored 12-8 by their opponents. The only game he did not record a point in so far this season was the Oilers’ only loss (3-1 in against Chicago on Tuesday night).

• Just for reference, here is how McDavid has started each season in his career through seven games.

2015-16: 6 points — finished with 48 points in 45 games
2016-17: 12 points — finished with 100 points in 82 games
2017-18: 8 points — finished with 108 points in 82 games
2018-19: 13 points — finished with 116 points in 78 games

• He is currently on a 199-point pace for the season, a mark that only Gretzky and Lemieux and have ever reached in NHL history. Let’s be honest, he is not going to maintain that pace over a full season, simply because this isn’t 1985 anymore and the NHL just isn’t built for those sort of numbers. But with 17 points in seven games, if he simply maintained a 1.32 point per game average over the remaining 75 games that would still put him at 116 points again. If he scored at the 1.48 pace he played at a year ago that would put him at 128 points this season. Assuming he stays healthy, somewhere in the neighborhood of 116 and 128 points seems like a realistic possibility.

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.

Maple Leafs’ Tavares out at least two weeks with broken finger

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It has been a bit of a slow start for the Toronto Maple Leafs and they received a bit of bad news on Thursday afternoon that won’t make things any easier.

The team announced that captain John Tavares will be sidelined for at least the next two weeks due to a broken finger that he suffered during the team’s 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night.

Tavares will be re-evaluated by the team in two weeks when a more definitive timetable on his return will be known.

He was injured when he was struck by a Morgan Rielly slap shot during Wednesday’s game.

In eight games this season Tavares has three goals (including one goal on Wednesday) and four assists. He scored 47 goals for the Maple Leafs a year ago in his first season with the team.

Following Wednesday’s loss the Maple Leafs are 4-3-1 through their first eight games and are still struggling defensively, showing all of the flaws that have slowed them down in recent years. Now they will be without one of their best offensive players for what will probably at least the next six games, if not more. During this upcoming stretch the Maple Leafs play Boston two times, including their next game on Saturday night, and will also play Columbus, San Jose, Washington, Montreal, Philadelphia twice, Los Angeles, and Vegas. Not the most daunting schedule, but not exactly the easiest, either.

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.

Golden Knights’ Zykov suspended 20 games for PED violation

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The NHL announced on Thursday afternoon that Vegas Golden Knights forward Valentin Zykov has been suspended 20 games without pay for violating the league’s performance enhancing substance program.

Along with the suspension, Zykov is now subject to mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health for evaluation and possible treatment.

The 24-year-old Zykov has appeared in seven games this season, recording two assists while averaging 11 minutes of ice-time per game.

The Golden Knights released a statement in support of the league’s decision.

“We were notified by the NHL and NHLPA that Valentin has violated the terms of the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program. We monitor the nutrition, supplement intake, and overall diet of our athletes on a continual basis throughout our entire season. Valentin knowingly used a banned substance without the consent, recommendation or knowledge of our team. We support the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program and respect the decision here.”

Zykov also issued a statement via the NHLPA.

“I’ve been informed that I am being suspended for 20 games under the NHL/NHLPA Performance Enhancing Substances Program.  While I haven’t been able to discover how I tested positive, I understand that I am responsible for what is in my body and will accept this penalty.  I want to apologize to my family, my teammates, and the Golden Knights organization and fans.  I will work hard during my suspension to ensure that I put myself in the best possible position to contribute to my team when my suspension is over.”

This is the second time in as many years that a Golden Knights player has been suspended for a PED violation after defenseman Nate Schmidt also missed 20 games a year ago.

In that instance, the Golden Knights strongly disagreed with the results and the suspension. It was reported back in September that Schmidt has been working with the NHLPA to help reform the NHL’s current drug testing program in an effort to raise the minimum standard for suspension. Regarding his suspension, Schmidt argued that an “environmental contamination” was the reason for his failed test, and that the amount that was found was the equivalent of a pinch of a salt in an Olympic sized swimming pool.

Schmidt appealed his suspension only to have it be upheld.

The fact the Golden Knights were so strong in their statement of support for Zykov’s suspension is a strong sign that Zykov does not have the same argument that Schmidt did, and that any appeal would be unlikely to be won.

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.