Despite missing playoffs, Blue Jackets see bright future

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets wrapped up their season earlier than they may have hoped, but the team is going into the offseason with a feeling that it has many of the pieces needed to move toward a more successful future.

Columbus finished with a record of 37-38-7, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

The theme from coach and players alike, however, was of a team that experienced significant growth during a season where most experts picked it to finish last in the division. Instead, the Blue Jackets battled for a playoff spot until March and ended up sixth with first-year coach Brad Larsen leading the youngest team in the NHL with an average age of 25.71.

Its goal now is to refine the roster, building off a core of players and a philosophy of unity.

“Obviously, you can’t be happy not making the playoffs, but we felt that we were competitive and we were going to be close,” general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen said. “In that sense, thinking that going into the season, we can be fairly satisfied that we took the right steps from a year ago to where we are now.

“I think that we’re going to take the next steps here fairly quickly, as well, because there’s going to be a lot of internal growth with the guys that we have, the age structure that we have with our young, very talented players.”

The Blue Jackets started the season being viewed as a team that needed a reset after losing key veterans, including captain Nick Foligno, now with Boston, Seth Jones to Chicago, and Cam Atkinson, who spent 10 seasons in Columbus before being dealt to Philadelphia for Jacub Voracek.

Instead, the team used a combination of veteran experience and youthful enthusiasm to set a franchise record with 262 goals, led by Oliver Bjorkstrand with 28 and Patrik Laine with 26.

Voracek led the team in points with 62 off six goals and 56 assists, becoming the first player in NHL history to contribute more than 60 points despite scoring so infrequently.

“We won some big games, we played in a lot of good games,” Voracek said. “Sometimes we ended up losing but … we were in those games pretty much all season. That’s what you want from a young group, and a lot of guys got better throughout the year.”

Columbus’ grit was evident as it came from behind in 23 of its 37 wins, a single-season franchise record and sixth-most in the NHL.

The team also set a more dubious record, giving up 297 goals, the most in franchise history and fifth most in the NHL this season.

Among the questions to be answered this offseason is the status of restricted free agents like Laine, who had 26 goals and 30 assists in 56 games, and Jack Roslovic, who had a career year with 22 goals and 23 assists.

Backup goalie Joonas Korpisalo, fresh off surgery to his right hip, is an unrestricted free agent with an uncertain future with the club.

“You look at the teams that are in (the playoffs) this year — we have to get better,” Larsen said. “That might mean losing some of these real key core guys. I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m not going to play GM. I’m going to coach the team that they give me. They ask questions, I’m going to give my honest opinion, and we’ll see where that ends up.”

Unlike some recent superstars who have rented space in Ohio’s capital city, Laine continues to state his support for staying with the Blue Jackets.

“They have expressed they want me here,” Laine said. “I’ve said the same thing. So you know, the feeling is mutual. Just figure out the term and the money and all that and I think we should be fine.”

WELCOME TO THE NHL

The Blue Jackets signed winger Kirill Marchenko to a two-year, entry-level contract. The forward was selected in the second round in the 2018 NHL draft. Marchenko, 21, has registered 34 goals and 30 assists with 33 penalty minutes, seven power play goals, five-game-winning goals in 114 career games with Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk and SKA St. Petersburg since making his debut in the Kontinental Hockey League in 2017-18.

Scroll Down For:

    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
    Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

    austonmatthews
    Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

    caufield surgery
    David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

    matty beniers
    Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.