Stefan Matteau

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Mixed Blue Jackets injury news for NHL Playoffs: Jones in, Anderson out

With a Qualifying Round best-of-five looming against the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jackets got mostly positive injury news lately. Seth Jones highlights the good injury news, while Josh Anderson is the most significant letdown.

Jones headlines good injury news for Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets activated Jones and fellow defenseman Dean Kukan off of IR on Thursday.

This capture the bigger picture: that the Blue Jackets should have quite a few key players back if that Qualifying Round series happens against Toronto. Jones joined Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and basically the kitchen sink on the injured list this season.

Jones, 25, scored six goals and 30 points in 56 games before injuries derailed his season.

By certain measures, Jones might not be quite the Norris Trophy-level defenseman many believe. His possession numbers are closer to solid than dominant, although some of that might boil down to playing more than 25 minutes per night.

Wherever Jones ranks in the stratosphere, he’s important to the Blue Jackets. So is Bjorkstrand and Atkinson, as this Evolving Hockey GAR Chart reinforces:

Blue Jackets injury news GAR
via Evolving Hockey

[MORE: Previewing Blue Jackets – Maple Leafs and other East Qualifying Round series]

Players Blue Jackets might not have in the lineup

You may look at that chart above and believe that Anderson isn’t much of a loss. In the framework of the 2019-20 season alone, that’s probably fair.

In the grand scheme of things, it likely is not fair, though. He’s been a useful player for Columbus for some time now. Anderson also boasts the sort of size and physical play that can make him difficult to handle in a playoff format. He was a handful at times for the Lightning during that shocking sweep during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline reports that Anderson is unlikely to be available until at least September (sub required).

That’s a big blow, although it does leave the door open for a return during the postseason — if the Blue Jackets made an even better underdog run than in 2018-19.

A lack of Anderson hurts because, frankly, the Blue Jackets figure to struggle to score — even while healthier. With expanded rosters in mind, look at Portzline’s guesses for the forwards Columbus will have on hand:

Cam Atkinson, Emil Bemstrom, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, Liam Foudy, Nathan Gerbe, Boone Jenner, Jakob Lilja, Ryan MacInnis, Stefan Matteau, Riley Nash, Gustav Nyquist, Eric Robinson, Devin Shore, Kevin Stenlund, Alexandre Texier, Alexander Wennberg.

When you stack that group up against the firepower Toronto boasts in Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, and others, you can see why every Anderson-type helps.

Out of context, the eighth-ranked Maple Leafs probably shouldn’t be big favorites against the Blue Jackets.

Look at the difference in firepower, then consider very different levels of media focus. Put that together, and Columbus is likely to be framed as heavy underdogs.

That’s just the way John Tortorella & Co. like it. With Jones looking good to go, they might just have a shot at making a run.

MORE ON THE BLUE JACKETS:

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.

Devils bring back Bennett, Merrill and Smith-Pelly

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Earlier this week, the Devils didn’t make qualifying offers to defenseman Jon Merril and forwards Beau Bennett and Devante Smith-Pelly.

All part of the plan, apparently.

After the three hit unrestricted free agency on Friday, all three of ’em were quickly brought back.

The details, per the club:

— Bennett signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $725,000.

— Merrill signed a two-year, $2.275 million deal with an average annual cap hit of $1.137M.

— Smith-Pelly signed a two-year, $2.6 million deal with an average annual cap hit of $1.3M.

Bennett, acquired at the draft from Pittsburgh, will get a fresh start with the Devils after several injury-plagued seasons with the Pens.

Merrill, currently sidelined following major shoulder surgery, only played in 47 games last year due to a variety of injuries. He’s looking to rediscover the form shown during impressive rookie and sophomore campaigns in New Jersey. His second year was especially solid — 14 points in 66 games, averaging over 20 minutes per night — and he boasts good size, going 6-foot-3, 205 pounds.

Smith-Pelly, 24, was acquired by the Devils from Montreal for Stefan Matteau on February 29, 2016. He set new career highs across the board with 14 goals and 25 points in 64 combined games this season. He notched eight goals and five assists in 18 games after his trade to New Jersey.

Related: Devils sign veterans Lovejoy, Fiddler

Dirty or not? Brendan Smith’s hit on Stefan Matteau (Video)

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Detroit Red Wings defenseman Brendan Smith didn’t get penalized for a hard hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Stefan Matteau, but that doesn’t mean it was clean.

There’s plenty of debate on social media about it being dirty or not, but watch that check in the Sportsnet video above to decide for yourself.

As far as Matteau goes, he left the ice and appeared to be shaken up, yet it’s too early to tell if he’s injured. Smith was suspended back in 2011 but otherwise has a clean record in the NHL.

Here’s a taste of the back-and-forth:

Smith-Pelly on his time in Montreal: ‘It’s hard to improve when you’re playing just 10 minutes’

Associated Press
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Devante Smith-Pelly was emotional when he found out that he was being traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 29, but the change of scenery has done him some good. The 23-year-old was nothing more than a bottom-six forward in Montreal, but in New Jersey he’s flourished in an offensive role.

Since joining the Devils, Smith-Pelly has had instant success with center Adam Henrique. The two have really meshed well since being put a line together by head coach John Hynes.

“It works with us,” Smith-Pelly said of playing with Adam Henrique (quotes have been translated). “Adam is a smart player who’s good with the puck, and I play 15, 16 or 17 minutes per game. In my first game with the Devils, I played almost 19 minutes. I have a bigger role here.

“It’s hard to improve when you’re playing just 10 minutes per game,” said Smith-Pelly, per LaPresse. There’s a big difference between my role with the Devils and my role with the Canadiens.”

The Devils forward has played at least 14 minutes in all but one of his games as a member of the Devils. In Montreal, he played 14 minutes or more just once this season (Nov. 25 vs. NYR).

Smith-Pelly’s picked up at least one point in six of his seven games with his new team. He has nine points during that span after scoring 12 points in 46 games with the Habs in 2015-16.

He probably won’t be able to keep scoring as often as he is now, but if he can find some level of consistency he’ll prove to be a steal for New Jersey.

The player he was traded for, Stefan Matteau, has one assist and a minus-3 rating while averaging 10:25 of ice time in six games with the Canadiens.

Canadiens, Devils swap Smith-Pelly for Matteau

Associated Press
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After shipping Eric Gelinas to Colorado and Lee Stempniak to Boston, the New Jersey Devils picked up forward Devante Smith-Pelly from the Montreal Canadiens for Stefan Matteau.

The Devils drafted Matteau in the first round, 29th overall, in 2012. He has three goals and five points in 44 career games with New Jersey.

The Canadiens will find out if there’s an ounce of offensive upside remaining in Matteau’s game. Montreal has holes on their first three lines which means that Matteau could see some meaningful minutes for the first time in his NHL career.

The 22-year-old is the son of former NHLer Stephane Matteau.

Smith-Pelly was acquired from the Ducks last season, but failed to make a lasting impression on the Canadiens brass. The 23-year-old plays a heavy game, but lacks the ideal skill and speed to be a regular contributor on a team’s top three lines.

Matteau has one year remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $650,000 while Smith-Pelly will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.