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Another Blue Jackets trade deadline riddle involves Duchene, Wennberg

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The Columbus Blue Jackets face the sort of conundrums that would stump “Good Will Hunting,” and that messy blackboard isn’t just filled with equations about Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Although, come to think of it, maybe the Blue Jackets might find a solution for this Panarin proof in an indirect way.

In discussing Columbus possibly going after Matt Duchene in the latest edition of 31 Thoughts, Elliotte Friedman brought up a name many of us haven’t really pondered in a while: Alexander Wennberg. Specifically, Friedman wrote that he believes “Columbus’s offer for Duchene screams Alexander Wennberg as part of it.”

That’s a fascinating observation. Also fascinating, if frustrating, is the question: “What is going on with Wennberg?”

The 24-year-old is suffering through a downright disastrous 2018-19 season.

Yes, Wennberg’s clearly more of a passer, but two goals (none at even-strength) is still troubling, and totaling 23 points in 58 games is disappointing. After averaging at least 18:08 TOI during the past two seasons, Wennberg’s slipped to third-line center in Columbus, logging just 15:46 minutes per night, the second-worst average of his career.

The telltale sign of a miserable season is seen in his atrocious 3.6 shooting percentage, more than anything else.

It’s becoming almost a rule to wave NHL GMs off with the motto: “Simply don’t move prominent young players when their shooting percentages are way down,” but Wennberg’s situation is especially confounding. Allow me to rummage through the many ins and outs.

  • It’s not just bad puck luck.

For a passer such as Wennberg, it can be helpful to consider on-ice shooting percentage, not just his personal shooting luck. While Wennberg’ 8.3 on-ice shooting percentage is a big drop from last year’s career-high of 10.6, it’s not that far off from his career average of 8.9 percent.

When considering bounces, it’s tougher to let a player off the hook when they’re not creating a ton of them.

Wennberg hasn’t even generated a shot on goal per game this season, only managing 55 in 58 games, marking a career-low of .95 SOG per contest. He’s never been a volume-shooter, yet perhaps opposing defenders are so convinced that he won’t shoot, that it may also affect his ability to set up linemates? On Feb. 3, The Athletic’s Tom Reed wondered how much longer Columbus could wait through Wennberg’s offensive struggles (sub required), featuring this bummer of a quote from Wennberg.

“You gotta create your own luck and right now I don’t have any,” Wennberg said.

  • Opportunities

On one hand, Wennberg’s ice time is down. If John Tortorella has permanently soured on the Swede, then that’s a big concern.

Yet, it’s not as though Wennberg’s totally buried in the lineup. While he’s generally slotting in at 3C, Wennberg’s most frequent even-strength wingers have been Anthony Duclair and Oliver Bjorkstrand, according to Natural Stat Trick. Duclair’s speed and Bjorkstrand’s goal-scoring potential give Wennberg something to work with, if nothing else.

He’s also been on the second power-play unit, and it’s a group with reasonable talent, considering its secondary stature. You could do worse than lining up with the likes of Seth Jones, Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner, and Josh Andersen, as Wennberg is currently slated to do.

It’s not a perfect situation, but Wennberg’s also not being healthy scratched and glued to the bench, either.

  • A few other notes

This in-depth breakdown from Jackets Cannon compares Wennberg to some other players like Max Domi, Dylan Larkin, and Jonathan Drouin, pointing to a potential future turnaround. At the same time, that profile also brings into question one area where Wennberg may still shine: his two-way game.

A few days ago, The Athletic’s Alison Lukan did point out ($) that Wennberg does bring decent under-the-radar attributes to the table, such as his ability to initiate an effective forecheck, and his acumen when it comes to exiting the defensive zone.

Columbus has seen better days from Wennberg, after all. He managed 40 points in just 69 games in 2015-16, then rattled off career-highs of 13 goals, 46 assists, and 59 points in 80 games in 2016-17 (the only season he’s exceeded 69 GP so far in an NHL season). There was a time when it seemed like Wennberg was on an upward trajectory, although those feelings have faded.

  • The Matt Duchene solution?

Trading for Duchene becomes immensely fascinating in at least one scenario: what if Columbus moves on from Panarin, but trades and then extends Duchene, instead?

On one hand, Panarin makes a bigger impact than Duchene by various measures, particularly if you zoom out beyond what’s been a fairly hot contract year for Duchene. On the other, it seems clear that Panarin is unlikely to return, so Columbus could avoid losing Panarin for nothing (except $6M in cap space) by pivoting to Duchene. Instead of the giant collapse that would be going from losing Panarin for nothing but that cap space, they could instead take the more palatable step back to Duchene, likely at a substantial increase from that $6M per year.

If Duchene was on board to sign an extension with Columbus, trading away Wennberg and his $4.9M cap hit through 2022-23 would make sense even if Wennberg does bounce back considerably from this slump. The Blue Jackets could also recoup some of the costs in landing Duchene if they decided to move on from Panarin.

Interestingly, there are quite a few ways that could work out. Maybe the Blue Jackets find a way to keep both Panarin and Duchene for a big push in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Perhaps they decide that renting Duchene and moving on from Wennberg would be the best move?

***

Consider one other amusing wrinkle to this situation. Reports indicate that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen wasn’t on board with potential trade partners discussing possible extensions with Artemi Panarin (at least earlier, such as during the offseason, and before the trade deadline heated up). Now, it’s tougher to gauge the value of a potential Duchene-to-Columbus trade without knowing if the speedy center would sign an extension.

Whether a Duchene trade is likely or not, the Blue Jackets need to really dig to find out if Wennberg’s really worth keeping around, or if it’s best for everyone if he has a “change of scenery” — if some other team would even be on board with buying low on the playmaker.

“When or if to move Wennberg?” is not the toughest question Kekalainen faces, but it’s consistent with the Panarin and Bob conundrums in that it’s pretty complicated.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Paul Maurice not impressed with Jets’ effort in Montreal

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The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best teams in the NHL for the better part of the last two seasons. This year, many expected them to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, and they have been, but Thursday’s performance in Montreal left a lot to be desired.

“We don’t have it happen very often,” said head coach Paul Maurice said after the 5-2 loss. “It’s almost in some ways easier to process this and to get ready for Ottawa, because it’s not like a guy let you down or you played your a– off and the goalie let you down. When I said we were no good, the coach is in on that too. We were all horse—t tonight. Big time.

“The coach was no good, the players were no good, the food was no good. We just hope that the plane works.”

That last line is especially terrific.

Maurice’s assessment of the game is very accurate. If netminder Connor Hellebuyck didn’t make five or six outstanding saves, the final score would have been way uglier than what it was. The Jets were simply the second best team on the ice all night.

The Jets bench boss didn’t single anyone out, but there’s two things that jump off the page if you’re a Winnipeg fan.

The top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler was severely outplayed by the Canadiens’ first line, which consists of Phillip Danault, Brendan Gallagher and Jonathan Drouin. The Jets clearly have the more talented line, but they were outworked and hemmed into their own end from the start of the game until the very end.

Each member of the Scheifele line finished with a CF% between 39 percent and 42 percent. They were on the ice for one high-danger scoring chance for and seven against. Like we said, they were totally dominated from top to bottom. Connor managed to score the game’s first goal, but that was partly because of a terrible line changes from Montreal.

They should be able to bounce back in Ottawa on Saturday.

Anyway, moving on.

The other thing that is far too noticeable regarding the Jets, is how invisible Patrik Laine has been.

Here’s how Canadiens play-by-play voice Dan Robertson described Laine’s game last night:

Robertson’s points are all accurate. Nothing Laine did worked and it appears as though this has been the case for a while now. Let’s be clear, nobody should be worried about the way he’s playing, but the Jets have to find a way to get his season back on the rails.

He’s on pace to score 38 goals, which is still awesome. They just need him to step up his production, especially when the first line has an off night.

Sure, the Jets can wait it out with Laine. That will probably work. But they might just have to go out and get him a new linemate via trade. Can they squeeze Matt Duchene or Mark Stone out of Ottawa? Would they be willing to land Artemi Panarin as a pure rental? We’ll find out before the end of the month.

Even though they’re 3-3-1 dating back to Jan. 19, no one in Winnipeg should be panicking about this team. They’re still in top spot in the Central Division and they have the assets to make a significant deal before Feb. 25. They’ll be fine, but they have to move passed Thursday night’s ugly performance as soon as possible.

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.

The Buzzer: Boudreau fumes; Are Blackhawks for real?

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Three Stars

1. Jonathan Drouin / Phillip Danault

These two Montreal Canadiens forwards were Thursday’s two four-point producers. Drouin scored two goals and two assists, while Danault generated a goal and three helpers.

If you had to pick one for the top spot, it would probably be Drouin, as it really stands out how emphatic and confident he was. The once-maligned forward fired a whopping nine shot on goal, helping Montreal overwhelm Winnipeg.

(The Jets were not happy.)

There were a ton of very strong three-point performances on Thursday, but for the next two spots, goalies win out.

2. Anders Nilsson

Yes, the Ducks are terrible right now. On many nights, Anaheim’s been out-shot, even when the Ducks have fallen behind by quite a bit early on. Teams likely eased off the gas a bit, and the Ducks still didn’t put much pressure on opponents.

Thursday was a little different.

Nilsson needed to make 45 saves in this one, including a 1-0 first period where the Ducks generated a 17-8 SOG advantage. That’s quite the shutout, even against a team that’s basically in crisis mode.

3. Jordan Binnington

Hey, when you beat Andrei Vasilevskiy in a goalie duel, you’re doing something right.

OK, Vasilevskiy had this save and made 38 overall, but Binnington generated a 32-save shutout. The Blues needed every one of those in a 1-0 OT win, and Binnington delivered.

It’s also something of a “week-time” achievement award. Binnington’s been a huge part of the Blues’ bold surge back into the West postseason picture, and this win really highlighted that. Binnington’s only allowed four goals during a four-game winning streak, and his save percentage is now at .931 over 12 games.

Feel free to make other arguments in the comments, as Thursday was just brimming with great performances.

One not-so-great performance, though:

Boudreau’s had it

The Wild lost Mikko Koivu for the season, have lost four in a row, and should probably be sellers at the trade deadline.

Things are tense, and Bruce Boudreau has already been trying to squeeze every point out of a so-so roster. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that he’s losing his cool, but he really let players like Mikael Granlund have it after Minnesota fell 4-1 to the also-struggling Edmonton Oilers.

” … There’s some players there that are just a shell of the players I’ve known for the last two-and-a-half years,” Boudreau said during a grim presser.

Did Boudreau also make a sly “Seinfeld” reference?

If things really get bad, maybe Boudreau quits one day, then tries to walk into the locker room as if nothing happened?

Highlights of the Night

Anton Khudobin gave Vasilevskiy serious competition for save of the night.

Connor Hellebuyck made a beautiful stop, too. He was a Winnipeg Jet who showed up.

Mathew Barzal with a beauty.

Scary moments

With so many games on Thursday, there were some injuries and other developments that might become clearer on Friday or the weekend.

But we already know of some scary moments. Evgeny Kuznetsov seems to have avoided injury after a highly questionable Ian Cole hit, but Cole was punched many, many times for doing so, thanks to Tom Wilson. The Ducks also must cross their fingers after John Gibson was accidentally walloped by a teammate.

Finally, there’s this scare for Oilers defenseman Kris Russell.

Factoids

Speaking of records, the Blackhawks are suddenly looking more viable thanks to a six-game winning streak. The standings don’t look that promising yet, but Chicago’s chances have at least risen above laughable all of a sudden.

Considering how dire things looked at times this season, being two points back of the second wild-card team (St. Louis) is impressive. The caveats are crucial and obvious: there are teams ahead, and most have games in hand advantages. But ask those Blues and they’ll tell you that things can turn around quickly, at least considering how lousy the West bubble teams have often been.

Scores

CAR 6 – BUF 5 (OT)
FLA 3 – PIT 2 (OT)
NYI 2 – NJD 1 (SO)
LAK 3 – PHI 2 (SO)
WSH 4 – COL 3 (OT)
MTL 5 – WPG 2
OTT 4 – ANA 0
VGK 4 – DET 3
STL 1 – TBL 0 (OT)
NSH 3 – DAL 2 (OT)
EDM 4 – MIN 1
CHI 4 – VAN 3 (OT)
SJS 5 – CGY 2
CBJ 4 – ARI 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: More Ovechkin history; Blue Jackets end skid

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League-changing contract?

In case you missed it, the Toronto Maple Leafs signed superstar Auston Matthews to a beefy five-year extension. Should you be worried about the salary cap implications?

Three Stars

1. Brendan Gallagher

If the dwindling Ducks struggled in part because of the fatigue that comes with closing off a back-to-back, then credit Gallagher and the Habs for taking advantage of that waddling with a strong start.

Gallagher and fellow top-three star Jonathan Drouin did much of their damage in the first period of Tuesday’s 4-1 win. Gallagher scored a goal and two assists, with a goal and an assist in the opening frame, and then a secondary assist early in the third.

The rambunctious winger generated a +3 rating, two shots on goal, and two assists in that win. Gallagher now has 21 goals this season, building off a tremendous 31-goal campaign from 2017-18, when he was one of Montreal’s few bright spots. Things are sunnier these days.

[The Ducks’ nightmare continued on Tuesday thanks to the Canadiens.]

2. Anze Kopitar

While Gallagher and Drouin did their damage early, Kopitar was the catalyst of a dominant third period for Los Angeles.

All three of Kopitar’s assists came during the final frame, transforming a tied 1-1 game to a 5-1 laugher. Speaking of laughers, Kopitar set up a revenge goal for Ilya Kovalchuk. It also helps that Kopitar’s three assists were all primary ones.

[Read more about Kovalchuk’s return to New Jersey in this post.]

3. Jonathan Drouin

Like Kopitar, Drouin’s three assists were all of the primary variety. This thought gives him a slight advantage over another three-point performance in Roman Josi, as the Predators standout enjoyed a one-goal, two-assists output … but his goal was an empty-netter.

(You have to split hairs with the three stars most nights.)

Drouin now has seven points in his past five games, giving him 39 points in 53 contests overall in his second season with Montreal.

Highlights of the Night

Patrice Bergeron had already scored a goal in his 1,000th game, but David Pastrnak earned serious Good Teammate Points by dropping this pass to him for an empty-netter. If you’ve had a bad Internet day or night, this might be precious enough to raise your spirits.

This is what scientists would call “trickeration.”
Some of the best goals happen when players combine in downright harmonic ways.
In this one, Sergei Bobrovsky makes a tough save on an aggressive Tyson Barrie. From there, Artemi Panarin fires off the sort of breakout pass that would inspire Erik Karlsson to tip his cap. After that, Cam Atkinson makes a fantastic move to score his 29th goal of the season.
Brent Burns and the San Jose Sharks have been killing it in OT lately. This time, Burns set up Joe Pavelski for the clincher:
Factoids

Scores

BOS 3 – NYI 1
BUF 5 – MIN 4 (SO)
STL 3 – FLA 2
LAK 5 – NJD 1
CAR 4 – PIT 0
WSH 3 – VAN 2
MTL 4 – ANA 1
VGK 3 – TBL 2 (SO)
NSH 5 – ARI 2
SJS 3 – WPG 2 (OT)
CBJ 6 – COL 3
CHI 6 – EDM 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Rask’s milestone; former ‘Canes lift Flames over Carolina

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Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. When you move to the No. 1 spot on an Original Six team’s all-time wins list with a shutout over the defending Stanley Cup champions you get the No. 1 star for the day. Read more about Tuukka Rask and the Bruins’ big day here.

2. Elias Lindholm, Noan Hanifin and Derek Ryan, Calgary Flames. The Calgary Flames continued to build on their incredible climb to the top of the Western Conference standings with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday. It was a trio of former Hurricanes that were leading the way as Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan, and Noah Hanifin all scored goals in the win. Lindholm and Hanifin were traded to Calgary over the summer in the big Dougie Hamilton trade (Hamilton, for what it is worth, also scored against his former team on Sunday for the Hurricanes) and have played a big role in the Flames’ resurgence. Lindholm has had a career year and been one of the single biggest individual surprises in the league. All three of them get to share a star for their role in the win. Lindholm gets a special star for, well, taking a page out of the Hurricanes’ celebration book.

It is great when the Hurricanes do it, and this is great, too. The NHL needs more personality from its players. More celebrations!

3. Jonathan Drouin, Montreal Canadiens. He completed the Canadiens’ come-from-behind win with an outstanding end-to-end rush in overtime to score his 15th goal of the season. The Canadiens trailed by a goal heading into the third period and sent the game to overtime on a late tally from rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi, setting the stage for Drouin’s goal. It is a big goal for Drouin not only because it helped the Canadiens win, but because they could use more production of him this season. Entering play on Sunday he had scored just three goals in his past 19 games but has started to show some signs of snapping out of it with five points, including a pair of goals, in his past eight games. The Canadiens are now 6-1-1 during that stretch following Sunday’s win.

Highlights of the Day

It did not result in a win, but the Carolina Hurricanes opened up the scoring on Sunday with a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play that was completed by Teuvo Teravainen.

Speaking of the Hurricanes, their Storm Surge celebrations may not be embraced by people like Brian Burke but they are definitely having an impact on the young hockey players in the city.

Some of Rask’s biggest saves on his big day for the Bruins.

Here is Jonathan Drouin’s overtime winner.

Factoids

  • Garnet Hathaway scored the Calgary Flames’ 16th shorthanded goal of the season on Sunday afternoon. That total leads the league, is the fourth most in franchise history, and is just seven away from tying the team record for a season. They have a real shot at matching it at this paceP. [NHL PR]
  • Shea Weber‘s goal for the Montreal Canadies on Sunday was the 197th of his career, moving him into a tie with Mark Howe for 22nd on the NHL’s all-time list for goals scored among defenders. [NHL PR]
  • Elias Lindholm’s goal extended his current point streak to 10 consecutive games. [NHL PR]

Scores

Boston Bruins 1, Washington Capitals 0

Calgary Flames 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Montreal Canadiens 4, Edmonton Oilers 3 (OT)

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.