Nick Foligno

It’s Columbus Blue Jackets Day at PHT

Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2018-19
47-31-4, 98 points (5th in the Metropolitan Division, 8th in the Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in six games to the Boston Bruins in Round 2

IN
Gustav Nyquist

OUT
Sergei Bobrovsky
Matt Duchene
Artemi Panarin
Ryan Dzingel
Keith Kinkaid
Mark Letestu
Adam McQuaid

RE-SIGNED 
Markus Hannikainen
Joonas Korpisalo
Ryan Murray
Scott Harrington
Sonny Milano
Adam Clendenning

2018-19 Season Review

Well, you can’t say it was an uneventful year in Columbus. The Blue Jackets were a playoff team for most of the year, but they definitely started to struggle early in the second half of the regular season. In January, the Jackets dropped their final four games and they followed that up by losing their first contest in February. They managed to go on a four-game winning streak in February and they managed to go a respectable 8-5 that month.

It was a bit of an awkward time for the organization. They were talented enough to be a playoff team but they had a few key pending unrestricted free agents in Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. Could they afford to lose them for nothing? Many speculated that both players wouldn’t be with Columbus beyond the trade deadline. Not only did they stay but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen also added to his core group of players.

[More: Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Kekalainen felt like this was the time to go all-in. He traded for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid. This sent a strong message to the players, fans and the entire NHL. The Blue Jackets weren’t just going to watch the parade go by while their top two players became free agents. It was a bold strategy, especially because there was always a chance that they could play the high-powered Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

In the end, the Blue Jackets ended up finishing in the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference and they only clinched it on the second-to-last day of the regular season. Kekalainen’s team was a nice story, but no one expected them to go head-to-head with the Lightning and come out victorious.

In Game 1, the Bolts jumped out to a 3-0 lead and most people in the hockey world were starting to type up their obituaries for the Jackets. But Columbus stuck with it and they ended up coming back to win the first game of the series. The rest must have been a blur for the Lightning, as they get swept by the Blue Jackets in the opening round.

With Tampa out of the way, who was going to stop Columbus?

Unfortunately for them, they ran into a red-hot Bruins team that they pushed but were unable to beat. They dropped the series in six games, and just like that their season was over.

It’s hard to blame Kekalainen for going all-in. After all, the organization had never won a playoff series before. So on one hand, he was able to deliver a series win and one of the biggest surprises in postseason history. On the other hand, the additions he made at the deadline only got his team to the second round.

Duchene, Bobrovsky and Panarin all ended up walking in free agency, so the team isn’t as strong as it was last season. They still have Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, Josh Anderson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, but no one can argue that they’re a better team than they were one season ago.

There are plenty of question marks surrounding this team, but this group will be able to prove all their doubters wrong all over again in 2019-20.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Watch Kenan Thompson’s fantastic NHL Awards monologue

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While the Adam Sandlers, Steve Martins, and Chris Rocks of the world are the most famous people to come from “SNL,” the performers who were “lifers” land among the most talented. Kenan Thompson is one of those performers who stood the test of time, much like Darrell Hammond and Tim Meadows.

So, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising just how great Thompson was as a host of the 2019 NHL Awards, but either way, he knocked it out of the park on Wednesday.

It says a lot about the quality of the show that, even deep into the telecast – award shows are long, basically always – people were still laughing and smiling. From the emotions of Carey Price surprising a young fan, to Robin Lehner‘s speech about mental health, to the bonkers segments with “Tony Babcock,” the show had a little bit of everything.

And Thompson’s fantastic monologue really set a fun tone with legitimately great jokes.

Considering that the NHL wouldn’t want Thompson to go scorched earth like Norm MacDonald did during that unforgettable ESPYS appearance, this was a great mix of funny and wholesome.

Though, that’s not to say that there weren’t any spicy zingers.

  • Watch as the Tampa Bay Lightning go stone-faced when Thompson makes a great barb about the Bolts getting swept.

Actually, it was mainly Andrei Vasilevskiy looking displeased. Also, notice Nick Foligno grinning widely in the background. Hmm, I wonder why he might enjoy that joke?

  • Enjoy the juxtaposition of many hockey people generally not reacting to jokes while their significant others laugh like the rest of us.
  • Enjoy some great deep cuts, from jokes you’d be more likely to expect, to a really creative bit about The Pope Mobile being a penalty box on wheels, and the Pope getting five minutes for “cross-checking.” (Thompson deserved cheers, not boos, for that one.)
  • Also, Thompson has a point about the Blues using “Gloria” instead of the actual Blues.

Overall, the 2019 NHL Awards are going to be a tough act to follow. Here’s hoping Thompson gets to try it in 2020, because he (and basically everyone else involved, Jillian Fisher was a great addition, too) did a truly fantastic job.

While it’s not quite at the same level as Thompson’s monologue, the cold open included John Krasinski, Jenna Fischer, and Laila Anderson (!), so you might enjoy it, too:

More: Rounding up the NHL Awards.

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.

WATCH LIVE: 2019 NHL Awards

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NBCSN will televise the NHL Awards Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from Las Vegas, as the NHL celebrates the top performers of the 2018-19 season from the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

The 2019 NHL Awards will recognize the best regular-season players in a variety of categories, including most valuable player (Hart Trophy), outstanding goaltender (Vezina Trophy), outstanding defenseman (Norris Trophy) and outstanding rookie (Calder Trophy). The Ted Lindsay Award, which is presented annually to the “most outstanding player” in the NHL as voted by fellow members of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA), will also will be awarded.

St. Louis Blues’ Doug Armstrong, Boston Bruins’ Don Sweeney, and Carolina Hurricanes’ Don Waddell are finalists for General Manager of the Year, while St. Louis’ Craig Berube, Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, and N.Y. Islanders’ Barry Trotz are finalists for the Jack Adams Award, which honors the league’s top head coach. Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov and Edmonton’s Connor McDavid are all finalists for the Hart Trophy.

Willie O’Ree Community Hero Award finalists Anthony Benavides, Tammi Lynch and Rico Phillips also will be in attendance.

[WATCH LIVE – 2019 NHL AWARDS LIVE STREAM]

2019 NHL Awards finalists:
Hart Trophy
Sidney Crosby, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid

Ted Lindsay Award
Patrick Kane, Nikita Kucherov, Connor McDavid

Norris Trophy
Brent Burns, Mark Giordano, Victor Hedman

Selke Trophy
Patrice Bergeron, Ryan O'Reilly, Mark Stone

Calder Trophy
Elias Pettersson, Jordan Binnington, Rasmus Dahlin

Vezina Trophy
Aleksander Barkov, Sean Monahan, Ryan O’Reilly

Jack Adams Award
Craig Berube, Jon Cooper, Barry Trotz

Masterton Trophy
Nick Foligno, Robin Lehner, Joe Thornton

GM of the Year
Doug Armstrong, Don Sweeney, Don Waddell

Actor Taylor Kinney also will present at the event. Jon Hamm, Alex Trebek and Kinney join previously announced presenters Hockey Hall of Famers Willie O’Ree and Mark Messier; NHL star P.K. Subban; broadcasters Jackie Redmond, Kathryn Tappen and Elliotte Friedman; actors Jay Baruchel (“How to Train A Dragon: The Hidden World”), Jay Harrington (“S.W.A.T.”), Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”), Kel Mitchell (“All That”) and Nico Tortorella (“Younger”); “Jeopardy!” champion James Holzhauer; Miss USA Cheslie Kryst; model Camille Kostek; Miss Universe Catriona Gray; and race car drivers Kurt Busch and Simon Pagenaud.

Trevor Gretzky, Alexa Lemieux, Lynn LaPaugh and Jesse Robitaille, family members of NHL legends Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, the late Ted Lindsay and Luc Robitaille, respectively, and special assistant to the executive director with the National Hockey League Players’ Association Mathieu Schneider, also will present.

Blue Jackets’ future cloudy after Kekalainen’s gamble falls short

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If you’re looking for a feel-good story about how the Columbus Blue Jackets ignited hockey fandom in a town for the past month, you won’t find it here on this Tuesday in early May.

Fuzzy feelings are fleeting when a team that went all-in, risking future assets and big returns on key pending unrestricted free agents, crashes out of the playoffs in Round 2.

The talk or progress would be a sentiment I could be more bullish on if they weren’t fixing to lose two or three of their stars come the summer.

Yes, the Blue Jackets beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. Swept them, no less, in emphatic fashion.

Sure, Columbus battled the Boston Bruins hard, taking them to Game 6 before being unable to solve Tuukka Rask

They showed tremendous tenacity during those two rounds and a sense of having bought into a suffocating style of hockey that stymied one of the best regular-season teams of all-time.

Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in Game 1 against the Lightning will be memorable. As, too, will be the play of Sergei Bobrovsky, who gave the Blue Jackets a chance every night, as did the scoring touches of both Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene, who proved to be crucial pieces that stepped up when the lights shined brightest.

The crowds, the chants, the atmosphere, the cannon — all special while it lasted.

John Tortorella said his team made huge steps forward. True. The exact makeup of the team as of Monday’s Game 6 made huge steps forward over the past month, and there’d be a lot of build on here if it weren’t for this dark cloud that’s also been hovering over the team.

There’d be a reason to be optimistic if every player mentioned above were locked into varying lengths of long-term deals with the organization. The sad reality is they aren’t. And it seems almost certain at this point that they will lose both Panarin and Bobrovsky to free agency, and Duchene could walk to under the same circumstances if he so chooses.

Losing them is, at the very least, a step back, right?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen gambled big here, so much so that he can probably skip his flight to Vancouver for this year’s draft because he won’t play a big part having only a third-round pick and Calgary’s seventh-round choice at the moment. (Not to mention no second- or third-round pick in 2020.)

The only thing that lasts forever in hockey is Stanley Cup banners and the engraving on hockey’s holy grail that goes with it.

Hockey’s a sport where if you’re not first, your last. You can raise feel-good banners, but they become the butt-end of jokes rather than revered pieces of fabric.

When the dust settles in or around July 1, the Blue Jackets could be without their top scorer, their No. 1 goaltender and the man they sold a good acre or two of the farm to get at the NHL trade deadline.

Per CapFriendly, Columbus’ projected cap space heading into next year is in the $27 million range. Can that coerce a No. 1 to sign in free agency if Bobrovsky leaves? Maybe, but the No. 1 goalie pool this year is slim at best.

Can it replace a 27-year-old superstar in Panarin? What about a 28-year-old point-per-game player in Duchene?

Kekalainen’s wand is going to need a full charge to pull off that kind of sorcery. That’s not to say it can’t happen, but it’s a tall order in the highest degree.

Sure, the remaining players can draw on the experiences they had. Is there much to extract from that, however, if three big names are out?

“Next year who knows what’s going to happen?” said Cam Atkinson after Game 6. “Who’s going to be in this locker room?”

There’s a core in Columbus that will remain, however: Atkinson, Seth Jones, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson, and Nick Foligno, who’s a consummate captain.

But you don’t just magically regrow a couple of severed limbs. That takes detailed surgery and an unknown timeframe get back to full strength.

Gambles, however well calculated they may be, are still gambles at the end of the day.

Kekalainen pushed all in and got caught by a better hand.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Bruins’ McAvoy to have hearing for Game 6 hit on Anderson

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(UPDATE: McAvoy has been suspended one game.)

When the Boston Bruins host the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, defenseman Charlie McAvoy likely will not be available.

The Bruins blue liner will have a Tuesday hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety following his second period hit on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson in Game 6.

McAvoy was assessed only a minor penalty on the play due to the fact that the official deemed it an illegal check to the head under Rule 48.1, which only carries either a minor or match penalty with it, not a major or game misconduct.

The Blue Jackets failed to score on the ensuing power play and were eliminated following the 3-0 defeat.

“I thought it was a hockey play,” McAvoy said afterward. “I mean, I put my shoulder into it. When I hit, I do my very best to keep my elbow tucked so I don’t get it out there. I hit with my shoulder. I try to hit with as much power as possible. He’s a bigger guy, it was a hockey play.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

John Tortorella did not divulge what the officials told him regarding the call. The Blue Jackets players were obviously frustrated considering it was 1-0 at the time of the hit and had Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari been able to call a five-minute major, that extra power play time could have swung the game.

“It sucks,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “Kelly is a good ref. I don’t want to get into it. He had a tough call to make. I just think when your player is injured, it’s an automatic five minutes. … At the end of the day, he probably makes the right call, but at the time you probably want to see it be a five. Then again, we got a two-minute power play and we didn’t make anything of it. We got another power play after that and we didn’t make anything of it.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.