Blue Jackets fire coach Brad Larsen after two seasons

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Brad Larsen has been fired as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets after two seasons without a playoff appearance, a move general manager Jarmo Kekalainen called “absolutely a necessary change that we needed to make.”

Kekalainen did not elaborate on why he thought Larsen wasn’t the right person to lead the team from behind the bench. He informed Larsen and players of his decision Saturday morning and was not interested in explaining exactly when he made it.

“We need a change,” Kekalainen said. “That became clear that we need a change.”

The Blue Jackets finished last in the Eastern Conference and 31st out of 32 NHL teams. While they were ravaged by injuries throughout the season after beginning it with expectations to contend, the call was made nevertheless to move on from Larsen, who had been under contract through next season.

Columbus lost 102 of 164 games since Larsen succeeded John Tortorella as coach. Goaltending coach Manny Legace also will not be back after five seasons on the job.

“I’m not going to dissect the strengths and weaknesses of the coaches that got let go today, out of respect to them,” Kekalainen said. “But it was a lot of things that factored in that made us come to this conclusion, and it was absolutely necessary to make these moves.”

Larsen, 45, was a Blue Jackets assistant for seven years under Tortorella and predecessor Brad Richards before getting promoted.

When Blue Jackets President John Davidson and Kekalainen chose Larsen in 2021 over more experienced coaches, including Gerard Gallant and Rick Tocchet, they cited his communication skills and thought his institutional knowledge of the organization made him the best fit. Kekalainen said Larsen had earned the promotion and that he was “going to be a fresh, new voice.”

Larsen at the time said some patience would be needed.

“I’m going to learn more now,” he said at his introductory news conference. “I’m going to make mistakes – I promise you – but that’s part of the process.”

That process in Columbus will continue without Larsen. It may include Connor Bedard, the prospective No. 1 pick in the draft who is considered the most talented generational player since Connor McDavid entered the league in 2015. The Blue Jackets have the second-highest chance, 13.5%, of landing Bedard.

Winning the lottery could change the course of the franchise that came into existence in 2000 and has not gotten past the second round of the playoffs. Kekalainen said he was not going to rush into anything in the interview process and would see how the rest of the NHL landscape looks before hiring a coach.

Larsen became the third head coach since the NHL’s regular season ended to lose his job. Dallas Eakins will not return to the Anaheim Ducks after four consecutive losing seasons, and Peter Laviolette won’t be back for a fourth season with the Washington Capitals, who missed the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade.

Kekalainen won’t necessarily wait until after the lottery is drawn on May 8 to make a hire based on the outcome, even though it could affect immediate expectations.

“I don’t know if that would be the deciding factor,” Kekalainen said. “If the decision’s not made by then, it’s something that factors into what kind of team we have here next year. All those things go into the process of evaluating the next head coach and who it should be.”

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    Blue Jackets’ Patrik Laine out 2-4 weeks with triceps injury

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus Blue Jackets forward Patrik Laine is out 2-4 weeks after straining a triceps muscle in practice, yet another blow to the last-place team in the NHL that has been hampered by injuries all season.

    The Blue Jackets announced Laine’s absence before their home game against the New York Islanders.

    They already have 454 man-games lost to injury, one of the highest numbers in the league, and have a record of 22-41-7.

    Laine missed two separate stints with elbow and ankle injuries in the fall. The 24-year-old Finn is the team’s second-leading scorer with 52 points in 55 games.

    Columbus has been top defenseman Zach Werenski since November because of a torn labrum and separated shoulder. Forward Sean Kuraly recently went on injured reserve with a strained left oblique muscle but is set to return Friday.

    Kings trade Quick to Blue Jackets for Gavrikov, Korpisalo

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings achieved their goal of adding a quality defenseman near the trade deadline. It came with a heavy cost.

    The Kings acquired defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in a trade with Columbus Blue Jackets. In return, Los Angeles sent two-time Stanley Cup winning goaltender Jonathan Quick, a conditional 2023 first-round draft pick and a third-rounder in 2024.

    “The team’s performance over the last month put us in position that we felt as a staff we needed to go out and address needs that we had identified previously to help this team continue to push for the playoffs,” Kings vice president and general manager Rob Blake said during a conference call on Wednesday.

    Los Angeles is tied with Vegas for most points in the Pacific Division with 76. The Kings got to the playoffs last season for the first time since 2018 but lost in seven games to Edmonton in the first round. They have not won a postseason series since winning the Cup in 2014.

    The first-rounder is conditional on the Kings making the playoffs, as expected. If they do not, Columbus – which has a league-low 46 points – gets a second-round pick from L.A. each of the next two drafts as part of the trade completed late Tuesday night and announced Wednesday.

    Quick found out about the trade in a phone call from Blake after Tuesday night’s 6-5 shootout victory over the Winnipeg Jets. Blake was not with the team during the five-game road trip.

    “There was shock and disappointment,” Blake said. “The setting wasn’t perfect because of the time. That was not an easy decision and I’ll reiterate how important he (Quick) is to the franchise and the organization.”

    Blake added that he talked to captain Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty after his call with Quick to let them what happened.

    Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said they had tried to reach an extension with Gavrikov, but were unable to come to terms. Korpisalo was also in the final season of his contract.

    “Both of them are pending unrestricted free agents and where we are in our process and in the season right now, we felt that it was a necessary move for our future,” Kekalainen said.

    Quick backstopped the Kings to their Cup titles in 2012 and ’14. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in 2012 after recording three shutouts in 20 starts. He also allowed only seven goals in the six-game finals victory over the New Jersey Devils.

    Quick is in the final season of a 10-year, $58 million contract but had been supplanted as the Kings No. 1 goaltender by Pheonix Copley. It’s unclear if Columbus will keep Quick or flip him to a contender before the trade deadline Friday.

    The 37-year old Quick had started three of the last six games. He made 16 saves in last Friday’s 3-2 victory over the New York Islanders to pick up his 370th career win, which surpassed Tom Barrasso for third place on the wins list by a U.S.-born goaltender in NHL history.

    He is 11-13-4 on the season with a 3.50 goals-against average, .876 save percentage and one shutout.

    Quick – a third-round pick by the Kings in 2005 – also holds the franchise records for goalies in games played (743) and shutouts (57).

    Gavrikov and Korpisalo are expected to arrive in Los Angeles before Thursday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens.

    Quick is remaining in Los Angeles, since there is a possibility he could be moved again before Friday’s trade deadline.

    Gavrikov has three goals and seven assists in 52 games, but has not played since Feb. 11. He was expected to be dealt last week to the Boston Bruins before that fell through.

    Gavrikov was among Columbus’ leaders in ice time. He also is a left-handed shooter and a quality penalty killer, which are two areas where the Kings have been lacking.

    “I think he fits the mold of a bigger player who is very solid defensively, can play a lot of minutes, can penalty kill and check top players,” Blake said.

    Korpisalo had won three of his last four starts along with posting a .921 save percentage. He made nine starts for the Blue Jackets during the 2020 playoffs.

    Copley is 18-4-2 since making his debut on Dec. 6. The wins are tied with Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy for the most during that span, but Copley’s .899 save percentage is 24th among 31 goalies who have played 18 or more games over the past three-plus months.

    Korpisalo’s .915 save percentage since early December is ranked 11th. His overall record this season is 11-11-3 with a 3.17 goals-against average and .913 save percentage.

    Quick’s trade leaves Kopitar and Doughty as the only remaining players from the Kings’ Cup-winning teams.

    Sabres at Blue Jackets postponed due to travel restrictions

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Sabres game at the Columbus Blue Jackets was postponed by the NHL because Buffalo International Airport remains closed due to a severe winter storm that has paralyzed the region.

    A makeup date has yet to be determined.

    A travel ban is in place in Buffalo, and the airport won’t open until at least Wednesday morning as a result of a storm that’s dumped close to 50 inches of snow on the area. The Sabres were scheduled to travel to Columbus following the NHL’s mandatory Christmas break.

    Buffalo has won four straight but hasn’t played since closing a three-game road trip with a 3-2 victory at Vegas on Dec. 19. The Sabres’ home game against Tampa Bay on Dec. 23 was postponed as a result of the storm.

    Buffalo is next scheduled to play when it hosts the Detroit Red Wings.

    In another weather-related postponement, St. Bonaventure rescheduled its college women’s basketball game against Buffalo. The game was originally scheduled to be played, but it was moved back a day to allow players to return to campus following their holiday break.

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.


    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.


    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.