Risk Factors: Columbus Blue Jackets edition

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From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you“Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Columbus Blue Jackets

1. Nathan Horton’s extended health nightmare – As much as the Blue Jackets wore down their opponents with a relentless mentality, one feels that the team needs some more “high-level” talent to truly take the next step. Horton was supposed to be a legitimate top-line winger for Columbus after signing what’s looking like an increasingly disastrous deal, but that obviously hasn’t happened just yet.

While the team is providing semi-optimistic updates about his degenerative back condition, it all sounds awfully ominous.

Really, even when Horton was able to suit up in 2013-14, it was difficult to believe that he was a) healthy and b) comfortable in a new setting. He managed only four goals and 18 points in 35 games and logged his lowest amount of ice time (15:54) since averaged 13:20 minutes per game as a rookie with the Florida Panthers in 2003-04.

Such problems could really put a lot of extra pressure on the next guys in line, such as Scott Hartnell. Considering the significant parity in the NHL, it can be a cruel jump from receiving cushy zone starts and easier matchups to shouldering tougher minutes and strenuous defensive assignments.

2. Bob or Nothing – The Blue Jackets learned some painful lessons about life without Sergei Bobrovsky when he dealt with some injury issues in December 2013.

Curtis McElhinney went 10-11-1 in 28 appearances last season – a considerably larger number than Columbus probably hoped – and while he wasn’t an outright disaster, the drop-off between Bobrovsky and McElhinney was significant.

The Blue Jackets opted against getting more accomplished backup for “Bob” this summer, leaving the gig to McElhinney and/or prospects like Oscar Dansk. Back in July, team president John Davidson said he believed that the team won’t need to lean on Bobrovsky quite as much going forward:

“It’s about knowing you have a chance to do some damage. This isn’t on a wing and a prayer anymore,” Davidson said, via NHL.com. “This isn’t hoping [Bobrovsky] stops 55 shots. This is a team that has capabilities of winning at home, winning on the road, and doing some damage.”

For all those bold words, it’s hard to deny the notion that this team’s outlook could become pretty grim if Bob goes down for an extended amount of time.

Heck, things could even get a little tense if he’s not so happy about the idea of playing out his contract year …

Jackets lose Jenner (hand surgery) for five weeks

This has not been a banner preseason for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Embroiled in a contract dispute with Ryan Johansen and unsure when Nathan Horton will return from his back problems, the Jackets announced on Wednesday that Boone Jenner would be sidelined for the next five weeks after undergoing surgery on his broken hand.

Jenner, 21, suffered the break on Sunday when he was struck by a puck during practice. The injury now means Columbus’ entire first line from 2013-14 is on the sidelines; Jenner had plenty of success playing alongside Johansen and Horton last year, his first in the NHL, finishing with 16 goals and 29 points in 72 games.

Johansen, Blue Jackets talks haven’t just resumed, they’re ‘very polite’


There are a litany of words that could be used to describe the contract negotiations between Ryan Johansen and the Columbus Blue Jackets – tense and strained come to mind – but “civil” probably doesn’t come up very often. Apparently the recently resumed talks have been a lot less heated, however, as team president John Davidson told various outlets including Sportsnet.

“It had been the first time there’s been discussions in awhile,” Davidson said after a meeting of the NHL’s Board of Governors. “They were very polite, well-mannered.”

One interesting wrinkle is that the often-discussed concept of merely settling for a two-year “bridge” deal isn’t the only possibility being considered, according to Davidson’s accounts. More than anything else, he emphasizes a fair contract for both sides.

“That’s what we’re about, that’s what our ownership’s about, we don’t want to lowball anybody,” Davidson said. “We don’t believe in that. We just want to do the right thing.”

Davidson said that Boone Jenner and Nathan Horton’s injuries have no bearing on discussions, yet it’s difficult to believe that changing context hasn’t affected both sides. The Blue Jackets are in that much greater need for a scorer of Johansen’s caliber while the regular season (aka the time when Johansen starts really losing money) is rapidly approaching. (Also, plenty of RFA’s are signing, and those deals aren’t exactly boosting the 22-year-old’s leverage …)

This sometimes soap operatic situation makes it dangerous to make any overly optimistic predictions, but one of the other promising things Davidson said was that he didn’t believe that any ill will should carry over once a deal is reached.

For the first time in weeks, it’s easier to imagine an agreement actually happening, but for all we know there could be another blowup or two before anyone signs on the dotted lines.

Risk Factors: Boston Bruins edition


From the same bunch of pessimists who brought you “Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup,” PHT presents a new series called “Risk Factors,” i.e. three reasons to be worried about each NHL team in 2014-15.

Boston Bruins

1. Zdeno Chara…he’s not so young anymore. In fact, only 12 defensemen were older than the 37-year-old last season, and not one of them came close to averaging the 24:39 of ice time the big Bruin did.

To be sure, nobody’s suggesting that Chara has become an average defender. Team president Cam Neely went so far in May to say, “Zdeno is still, in my opinion, the best defender in the game.”

But even Chara recognizes he has to work to keep up with today’s young speedsters — this after his performance in last season’s playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens drew criticism. (Wrote the Boston Globe after Game 7: “When Chara was on the ice in the first, he looked a little shaky, stumbling around uncharacteristically during one penalty kill shift. He was thrown off balance and so were the Black and Gold.”)

No wonder GM Peter Chiarelli was loath to trade veteran blue-liner Johnny Boychuk, choosing instead to give RFAs Torey Krug and Reilly Smith the hard sell on taking less for the good of the team. Trading Boychuk would mean even more minutes for youngsters Krug and Dougie Hamilton, and nobody can be sure how that would turn out. Those two need to show improvement regardless.

To deny that any decline in Chara’s abilities would negatively impact the Bruins’ chances at winning the Stanely Cup would be to deny his importance to the team.

And to deny that age negatively impacts a player’s abilities would be to deny reality.

2. Who replaces Jarome Iginla on the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic? We only ask because Iginla scored 30 goals last season. And that’s a lot of goals to replace.

Iginla, of course, was brought in last summer to replace Nathan Horton, who’d left for Columbus. But nobody’s been brought in to replace Iginla, who left for Colorado. So the Bruins are stuck hoping for more from a player that came to them in the Tyler Seguin trade — one who didn’t show all that much in his first year with the club.

“We lost Jarome, but I think Loui Eriksson is a player that can be even better than he was last year,” coach Claude Julien told NHL.com. “I think we started seeing that at the end of the year and he could be a replacement for Jarome.”

Eriksson has proven he can score goals in the NHL. He had 36 of them for Dallas in 2008-09; four times he’s scored 26 or more in a season. And he’s eager to prove he can still do it.

“I think I can bring a little more,” said Eriksson.

Except he’ll need to bring a little more than “a little more” if he hopes to replace Iginla’s 30 goals. Twenty goals more, to be exact.

3. The new-look bottom six…what if it doesn’t look so good?

When Boston defeated Vancouver in Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins didn’t have a single forward that played fewer than 11 minutes.

“From personal experience,” said former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, “I know when we lost the Cup to Boston, Boston was a four-line team. Probably the best fourth line, I felt, in the league.”

It’s not clear if the Bruins will still be able to roll four lines so successfully in 2014-15. They certainly didn’t in the Game 7 loss to Montreal, when Shawn Thornton played just 3:28 and three other forwards — Matt Fraser, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille — each failed to break the 11-minute mark.

Two different games and two different scenarios, sure. But Boston’s bottom six still stands to be quite different this season. The popular Thornton is gone. Eriksson, as mentioned, may move up from the third line to the top line. There are open spots available for the taking.

“The competition, with it comes uncertainty and we’d all like things to be certain, but also the cream will rise to the top and I’m looking forward to it,” Chiarelli said.

“We’ve got some invites, we’ve got some young players pushing, I look forward to it.”

In deciding to let Thornton go, Chiarelli hinted that he wanted a faster and more skilled fourth line. That seemed to bode well for a player like Ryan Spooner, who’s scored at a point-per-game pace in the AHL. However, he’ll have to be reliable defensively if he wants ice time from Julien.

“You can give us some great opportunities up front and score goals,” Julien said recently, in remarks that were believed to be directed at Spooner. “But if you give up more chances against than you create then you’re not helping the team. In the long run, you don’t win championships that way.”

A championship remains the goal for the Bruins.

“I still think we’re in our window,” Neely said.

But the mere fact he had to say it, well — considering all of the above — isn’t that reason to wonder if they really are?

Blue Jackets, Johansen resume contract negotiations


The Columbus Blue Jackets and Ryan Johansen’s agent, Kurt Overhardt, have ended more than a week of silence, per the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline.

The discussions have included a possible two-year, bridge contract, but other options haven’t been ruled out. As far as two-year deals go, the Blue Jackets have previously offered a $6 million deal while Overhardt reportedly countered with one worth $9.4 million total, so they have a substantial gap to close.

The timing of the resumption of talks is interesting. It could be simply a byproduct of the season fast approaching, but it comes after a number of other restricted free agents coming to terms in recent days. Perhaps most notable among them was St. Louis Blues forward Jaden Schwartz’s two-year, $4.7 million agreement. Schwartz was also taken in the first round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft and put up similar numbers to Johansen last season.

At the same time, this also corresponds with Boone Jenner suffering a broken hand. Nathan Horton is also out with a back injury, so the Blue Jackets are in danger of entering the season without a single member of their projected first line unless they re-sign Johansen.