John Davidson resigns from Blue Jackets, joins Rangers as president

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A busy off-season for the Columbus Blue Jackets is under way with the news that John Davidson, the team’s President of Hockey Operations and Alternate Governor since 2012, has resigned and will be taking up the role of president with the New York Rangers.

Davidson replaces Glen Sather, who stepped down from the position in April.

In a statement released on Friday, Blue Jackets’ president Mike Priest confirmed that the team granted the Rangers permission to speak with Davidson about the job. Davidson still had four years left on his contract with the Blue Jackets, but rumblings of his departure for New York surfaced this spring and only seemed to grow once their postseason run ended.

It’s expected that Davidson will be introduced by the Rangers on Wednesday.

“Today is the start of a new and exciting chapter in New York Rangers history,” said Rangers owner James Dolan in a statement. “John Davidson is one of the premier executives in the National Hockey League. As we continue to build a team that can consistently compete for the Stanley Cup, John’s knowledge of the game and his experience and passion for the Rangers logo make him the ideal choice to oversee our Hockey Operations department. I am thrilled to welcome ‘JD’ and his family home.”

Davidson played parts of eight seasons with the Rangers and was one half of their television broadcast team for two decades before he moved into management as the President of Hockey Operations for the St. Louis Blues from 2006-2012.

According to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, there will be no replacement for Davidson within the Blue Jackets’ organization. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen will now lead the hockey operations department and assume the alternate governor role.

Davidson’s exit could be the first of many this off-season for the Blue Jackets. Unrestricted free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin are looking like they’ll be leaving, while the futures of fellow UFAs Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid, and Adam McQuaid are also cloudy. Back inside the management offices, assistant GM Bill Zito has interviewed for open GM positions around the league, including the expansion NHL Seattle franchise.

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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.

Brind’Amour calls for expanded replay: ‘Help the refs’

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One of the biggest storylines in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been the state of the officiating and instant replay in the league.

It has been such a dominant talking point because there have been several controversial plays and calls that were allowed to stand because the on-ice officials and the NHL’s situation room were unable to correct them.

Among the biggest calls that have caused the most criticism…

There have been several other plays, but those are the big ones, especially since none of them were able to be reviewed by the league’s current instant replay rules. All of these plays happening in the playoffs, within a very short period of time, has naturally steered the discussion in the direction of increased instant replay.

Count Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour among those in favor of doing more to help the on-ice officials get the calls right.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Before Game 4 of his team’s series against the Boston Bruins on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream), Brind’Amour was asked about the latest missed call (Karlsson’s overtime winner on Wednesday night in St. Louis) and whether or not it is time to use more replay.

“It’s been time forever,” said Brind’Amour. “I was sitting at home with my son watching that game, there was a play earlier, think it was one of those [puck] flipped over the glass, and said watch how long this is going to take when we’ll know within three seconds — and we did. NBC showed a review, it’s a penalty. They [the refs] were actually quick to say no penalty, but it’s time. We can go on with this forever. It’s time. It’s time to get the calls right because it’s just too important, the games matter so much. I don’t know, that was tough last night to watch.”

He continued: “Help the refs. These refs are great refs. Live you can’t tell. There are so many calls where I go, I don’t really know, then I look down, I see it, then I lose my mind because I know it’s the wrong call. But they can’t be expected to make those calls like that, it’s way too hard. There’s an easy solution for it, I think. They will get to it because this can’t keep going on. It’s tough.”

Critics of expanded replay will complain of the “slippery slope” it sends the league down, the unintended consequences that come with such rule changes, and also point to the fact that even with review there is still going to be controversy and calls that aren’t as black-and-white as you might hope (see that Gabriel Landeskog offside play in Game 7 against the Sharks as an example of the latter two points).

But at some point you have to be willing to do something more than just shrug your shoulders and say, “there’s nothing that can be done” when one of these plays happens.

Especially when the technology easily exists to right some of these wrongs.

Maybe the solution is an NFL-style format where every scoring play is automatically reviewed for anything that could deem it illegal (like a hand pass setting it up, or a puck hitting the protective netting). The league can already review for whether or not the puck totally crossed the line or a potential high-sticking infraction. It should not be issue to add other elements of the play to that.

Maybe it is giving a coach one challenge per game that can be used on anything (not just offside or goaltender interference, as the current rule allows) at their own discretion.

Maybe all of it ends up on the table.

A couple of egregious missed offside calls over the years eventually resulted in that play being reviewable. Given how this postseason has gone across the league you can be certain that there is going to be plenty of discussion about adding to it, maybe even as soon as next season.

It doesn’t seem to be a matter of if it happens at this point, but simply a matter of what it looks like and how much it changes when it does.

MORE:
Luck finally on Sharks’ side in Stanley Cup pursuit
• Blues try to keep their cool despite losing on undetected hand pass
• 
Missed call hands Sharks 2-1 series lead against Blues in Western Conference Final

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.

Blue Jackets ink Bobrovsky’s potential successor

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed a goalie! No, it’s not Sergei Bobrovsky but it could be his eventual replacement.

On Wednesday morning, the team announced that they’ve inked Elvis Merzlikins to a one-year, one-way contract. The 25-year-old spent last season with Lugano in the Swiss League where he had a 22-18-0 record with a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage last season. He’s also a two-time winner of the Jacques Plante Trophy which is awarded to the top goaltender in the Swiss Leagues.

Merzlikins is currently representing Latvia at the 2019 World Hockey Championship.

This is actually Merzlikins’ second contract with Blue Jackets, as he signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the club back in March.

“Of course it was amazing (to sign),” he told the Blue Jackets’ website. “It’s the first part of a dream I’ve had since I was a kid that I realized, that I’ve reached.

“But it’s not like it’s that big a deal. A lot of guys can sign a contract. The main thing that I want to see is at what level I’m at, and prove to myself and especially to my mom — who made a huge sacrifice when I was a kid — to prove that I can stay in the best league in the world, not just show up there.”

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Blue Jackets’ crease heading into the summer. Franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. If they can’t bring the Russian goalie back, there’s a chance Columbus will head into training camp without a clear number one goalie.

European skaters typically have to adjust to a heavier schedule once they come to the NHL, but that might not be as big of a problem for Merzlikins who played in 43 games during the Swiss League regular season, four more in the playoffs, and however many starts he gets at the Worlds. No one expects him to be a 60-plus game starter in 2019-20, but he could potentially handle a respectable workload if he had to.

We’re still a far cry from him being in contention for the starting job in Columbus, but Jarmo Kekalainen is starting to gather his options in case Bobrovsky leaves this summer.

As of right now, Merzlikins is the only goalie on the active roster that’s under contract for next season. Bobrovksy and Keith Kinkaid will both be unrestricted free agents while Joonas Korpisalo is set to become a restricted free agent.

This should be a fascinating summer for the Blue Jackets.

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.

McAvoy’s back for Bruins, and now comes the easy part

BOSTON (AP) — When he’s playing, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said, it’s easy for him to maintain his composure and concentrate on the game in front of him.

Up in the press box, that’s the hard part.

”I’m not a very good hockey watcher,” McAvoy said as he prepared to return from his one-game suspension for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. ”The game seems like it’s much longer.”

McAvoy was suspended for a shoulder to the head of Columbus forward Josh Anderson in the second-round finale. So instead of taking the ice in his usual pairing with Zdeno Chara, McAvoy was wandering around the media dining area before Game 1, wondering if he had to pay or not. (He didn’t.)

And while his teammates were beating the Hurricanes 5-2 in the conference final opener, McAvoy was in street clothes on the very top level of the TD Garden, trying to keep his emotions under control.

”Here on this level, I’m like this,” McAvoy said, holding out his hand, palm down, and moving it in a steady and straight line in front of his face.

”But up there,” he said, pumping his fist and bouncing out of his imaginary seat. ”I’m glad I get to play tomorrow.”

A 21-year-old first-round draft choice from Boston University, McAvoy had seven goals and 21 assists from the blue line this year, his second full season in the NHL. He missed six weeks early in the season with a concussion and another two over Christmas because of a foot injury.

But he hadn’t had to sit out healthy, for just one game.

McAvoy said he would try to use the forced break to his advantage.

”Whenever you’re out, you can use it as an opportunity to get other things feeling right,” he said, adding that watching the game from above game him a perspective that would be beneficial. ”I feel like I picked up on some things.”

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said McAvoy was missed for his physical play and his ability to start the transition to offense.

”Those up-the-middle passes that maybe the other guys just don’t have the vision or confidence, or both, to make,” he said. ”Those quick-strike plays where forwards are getting the pucks in their hands in good spots with a better chance to attack.”

Steven Kampfer, who replaced McAvoy in the lineup, had Boston’s first goal, and the Bruins scored four times in the third period on Thursday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Sunday at the TD Garden, with the series moving to Carolina for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday.

The Hurricanes fell behind 2-0 in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals before eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games. In the second round, they swept the New York Islanders.

”We don’t want to get down 2-0,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”If we get to that point, that’s what everyone will be saying. We have some things to draw on, no matter what, no matter which way this thing goes.”

INJURY UPDATE

Cassidy said forward Noel Acciari won’t play in Game 2 but may be on track to return for Tuesday’s Game 3 in Carolina. Acciari (undisclosed injury) returned to non-contact practice on Saturday and was expected to be cleared for full practice on Monday, Cassidy said.

Saku Maenalanen is skating, but he still can’t shoot because of his hand injury, Brind’Amour said. Forward Jordan Martinook ”is going to play,” Brind’Amour said. ”He’s banged up, a little gimpy out there. But we want him in the lineup.”

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Departing stars could slow progress for Blue Jackets

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — If the Blue Jackets’ two best players leave town as expected, it will ripple through just about every move the team makes this summer.

Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and winger Artemi Panarin are unrestricted free agents and almost certainly are out the door. Retooling the roster to compensate for the loss of the two Russians, and possibly other free agents, will mean a busy and interesting offseason for general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

”We want guys that are proud to be Blue Jackets, guys that want to live in Columbus, want to raise their families in Columbus,” Kekalainen said Wednesday. ”If that’s the reason why you want to play somewhere else, then go play somewhere else.”

Kekalainen knew the elite pair probably would go – their refusal to sign contract extensions caused some strife in the locker room during the season – but held on hoping to make a deep postseason run. ”Bob” and ”Bread” ended up being a huge part of the Blue Jackets’ march to the playoffs and first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the NHL’s best team during the regular season.

Columbus played in a second-round series for the first time in the 19 years the franchise has been in existence but fell to Boston 4-2 in an Eastern Conference semifinal.

”We took a step in the right direction,” coach John Tortorella said. ”I hope we can see how difficult it is to keep on going. There are so many good things going on in our room now and – in talking to Jarmo and the management group – so many good pieces coming here. It’s an exciting time for us.”

But there will be retooling.

Forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, both picked up from Ottawa at the February trade deadline for the playoff run, also will be unrestricted free agents. Both were so-so down the stretch, but Duchene caught fire in the playoffs with 10 points in 10 games. Defenseman Adam McQuaid, also a trade-deadline pickup, didn’t contribute much because of an injury and may or may not be re-signed.

”That’s part of the business, unfortunately,” said winger Cam Atkinson, who led the team with a career-high 41 goals. ”That’s the crappy part about it. But we’re so close as a team and an organization. We took a lot of huge strides forward this year. Ultimately, those guys get the make their own decision, but we know what we have in this room. We have a winning team and a winning culture.”

The Blue Jackets have some goalies in the wings but none of Bobrovsky’s caliber. Backup Joonas Korpisalo will get a good look but may not be an everyday goalie. Columbus likely will try to re-sign 29-year-old Keith Kinkaid, who was acquired from New Jersey at the trade deadline but didn’t get into a single game with his new team.

The team also likes 24-year-old Elvis Merzlikins, a flashy Latvian goaltender who was a 2014 third-round draft pick. He’s had success in the Swiss National League and is expected to start next season on the Blue Jackets roster.

Columbus hopes forward Alexandre Texier and defensemen Vladislav Gavrikov – rookies who joined after their foreign league commitments finished – can develop into reliable NHL players. Both showed flashes in limited action in the playoffs. Highly touted prospects Emil Bemstrom and Liam Foudy also could be ready to contribute.

Columbus will have to find a way to replace Panarin’s team-leading 87 points, but will have Atkinson (41 goals, 28 assists) and Pierre Luc-Dubois (27, 34) as well as top blue-liners Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.

”We’re trying to put a stamp on what this place is, what this organization is, how we run our business here,” Tortorella said. ”Our community put a stamp on it (in the playoffs), not just for us but for the hockey world.”

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

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