Columbus Blue Jackets 2021-22 NHL Season Preview

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The 2021-22 NHL season is coming and it’s time to take a look at all 32 teams. Over the next month we’ll be examining best- and worst-case scenarios, looking at the biggest questions, breakout candidates, and more for each franchise. Today, we preview the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2020-21 Season Review

• Record: 18-26-12 (48 points); seventh place in Central Division
• Postseason: Did not qualify for playoffs; drafted Kent Johnson No. 5 overall
• Offensive leader: Oliver Bjorkstrand (56 games, 18 goals, 26 assists, 44 points)

• Free Agent Additions: Jakub Voracek (trade with Flyers), Adam Boqvist (trade with Blackhawks), Zac Rinaldo, Jake Bean (trade with Hurricanes), Sean Kuraly
• Free Agent Subtractions: Seth Jones (trade with Blackhawks), Cam Atkinson (trade with Flyers), Michael Del Zotto

Biggest Question Facing the Blue Jackets

• What is going to happen with Patrik Laine?

This is a two-part question, really. The first part is the most pressing for this season and is simply, can he bounce back from what was a lousy 2021-22 season?

When he arrived in Columbus there was some obvious excitement because of the type of player he is and the impact he can make as a goal scorer when he is at his best. But there was also the question of how his style would fit with former coach John Tortorella. The answer turned out to be not well. Laine was benched on more than one occasion under Tortorella and never seemed to find his game after the trade, finishing the season with the worst offensive numbers of his career. It was tough to watch at times.

[Related: Every free agent signing by all 32 NHL teams]

But the 2021-22 season represents a fresh start, a more normal season, a new coach, and hopefully the return of the 35-40 goal player the Blue Jackets thought they would be getting.

The second question is what exactly is his future going to be with the Blue Jackets? That, too, was an important question when the Blue Jackets initially acquired him in the Pierre-Luc Dubois trade. He signed a one-year deal this offseason and will again be a restricted free agent after this season. We know the Blue Jackets’ history with retaining higher profile players (it is not great) and at some point they are going to have to make a long-term decision on how to keep him. If they want to keep him.

What’s the salary cap situation?

It is not a bad situation. The two most significant long-term contracts on the roster are the recently acquired Voracek (three more years at more than $8 million) and Zach Werenski‘s brand new, massive contract that will pay him more than $9.5 million per season for six years. That contract begins during the 2022-23 season. Werenski’s deal was seen as maybe a slight overpay, but he is a fantastic player and it was important for the Blue Jackets to retain one of their star players. If you are going to have a slight overpay under the salary cap, that is the type of guy to overpay.

The Blue Jackets have some salary cap flexibility, but they do have the Laine situation to deal with, as well as pending unrestricted free agents Max Domi and both goalies, Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins after this season.

Breakout Candidate

• Adam Boqvist

Boqvist is one of the key parts of the Seth Jones trade to Chicago, and he could help make this a big win for the Blue Jackets. While his name may not yet carry the same clout as Jones’ around the league, he does have a chance to be an impact player for the Blue Jackets right now.

He has shown flashes of that over his first two years in the league, and had some of the best underlying numbers of any Blackhawks defender a year ago in terms of shot attempt differential, scoring chances, and expected goals. Entering his third season in the league he should be ready for a step forward and become a key long-term part of the Blue Jackets’ blue line.

Best-Case Scenario

Expectations might be low for the Blue Jackets this season but there is some talent here, and it is a team that has at times over the past few years overachieved. Werenski is a legit top-pairing defender, and with Laine, Voracek, Domi, Oliver Bjorkstrand, the return of a healthy Gustav Nyquist, and some intriguing young players (Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom, Eric Robinson) there is some talent here. They also have the potential for a strong goalie duo with Korpisalo and Merzlikins. They are not going to be an easy team to beat on most nights and if the goaltending excels there is a chance they could hang around in the playoff race. The biggest problem is going to be the fact they play in the Metropolitan Division where pretty much everybody is good and competitive. So the best case is Laine scores 40 goals, Nyquist has 60 points, Werenski keeps being a star, Boqvist becomes a star, and the goalies help keep them competitive.

Worst-Case Scenario

The other side of the equation here is if Laine does not bounce back, Boqvist does not take a step forward, and the goaltenders are either average or below average. The latter point and Laine, though, are the keys here. They do not have much of a chance to compete if Korpisalo and Merzlikins are not good, and they need Laine to be the player they thought they were acquiring for a variety of reasons. Ranging from the fact they need an impact goal scorer, to the fact they used their most significant trade chip at the time (Dubois) to acquire him. All of that would not only put them in the draft lottery, but also with some of the best odds.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.