THN’s 2015-16 NHL season preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

The Hockey News
Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

2014-15 Record: 42-35-5 (89 Pts.)

THN’s Prediction: 4th, Metropolitan Division

What To Expect: The Jackets were struck by quantifiably bad luck in 2014-15: their 508 man-games lost were tops in the NHL. Core players who stayed healthy were productive, notably the tandem of Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, who each eclipsed 70 points. David Savard and Jack Johnson also enjoyed full seasons and posted healthy totals. But the top dogs couldn’t pull the sled alone, as Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray missed significant time.

Columbus, who ended the season 12-0-1, is due for better health and a playoff berth, especially with the acquisition of Brandon Saad. He showed glimpses of brilliance in the Hawks’ Cup run and looks to start on the top line. Saad bumps Scott Hartnell or Jenner down the lineup, creating a third threatening trio. Read more

Great problem in Columbus: too many hot prospects

Ryan Kennedy
Oliver Bjorkstrand (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a really nice spot right now. Last season, they went through an injury crisis of biblical proportions, but this year brings a clean page. An already solid forwards corps got even more difficult to play against with the acquisition of erstwhile Chicago Blackhawks left winger Brandon Saad, while more talent is pushing up from below.

Under GM Jarmo Kekalainen, the Jackets have done a great job of drafting and a big cohort appears to be ready for prime time. But is there space on a squad that could do some serious damage in the playoffs this season?

Read more

Rumor Roundup: Will Grabner trade impact Okposo’s future?

Kyle Okposo (Jim McIsaac/NHLI via Getty Images)

The New York Islanders made a trade on the opening day of training camp, shipping winger Michael Grabner to the Toronto Maple Leafs for five minor leaguers. An unrestricted free agent next July, Grabner’s slide down the Isles depth chart made him the subject of trade rumors earlier this summer so this move wasn’t surprising.

Grabner isn’t the only Islanders winger to pop up in the off-season rumor mill. Newsday’s Arthur Staple reports right wing Kyle Okposo was “briefly shopped around” by GM Garth Snow before the 2015 NHL Draft. Like Grabner, the 27-year-old is eligible for UFA status in July.

Staple claims contract talks between Snow and Okposo’s agent Pat Brisson were brief and unproductive. Okposo is in the final season of a five-year, $14-million contract. While his annual cap hit is $2.8 million, his actual salary for 2015-16 is $4.5 million. Given his performance over the past couple of years, he will likely seek a significant raise (perhaps over $6 million) on a long-term extension. Read more

The biggest and best prospects from Traverse City

Kerby Rychel (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. – Another tourney is in the books, as the Columbus Blue Jackets defending their Traverse City prospects tournament title with a 5-2 win over the home team Detroit Red Wings. There was a lot of talent again this year, so I’ve put together mini scouting reports on many of the big names, plus others who caught my eye.

I was at two days of games, watching double-headers that were staggered between two rinks in the same building. So I saw more of some teams than others, though I tried to keep it even. If you don’t see your fave player here, it’s because he didn’t catch me eye enough – which is not to say he didn’t play well, but rather that there were a lot of prospects in play and I wouldn’t want to pretend to see more than I did.

Also, some teams had a lot of free agents on their squads since NCAA players couldn’t participate due to eligibility issues and some teams don’t have deep prospect pools right now. Chicago and the Rangers – both in contender mode right now – are two examples. They fought for last place, so we’ll start with them and work our way up to the champs.

Read more

AHL Logo Ranking: No. 9 – Lake Erie Monsters

Jared Clinton
Lake Erie Monsters logo (via SportsLogos/Chris Creamer)

(The AHL has undergone a season of change and one-third of the league has changed locations or logos for the 2015-16 season. Leading up to the new season, The Hockey News will be ranking the logos of the league’s teams and offering a brief look at the history of each franchise. See the rest of the rankings in our AHL feed.)

Last season, as the top affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche, the Lake Erie Monsters missed the post-season by five points in the tough Western Conference. But the Monsters’ affiliation has shifted to Columbus, where they’ll inherit a roster that missed the post-season by one point in the East as the Springfield Falcons. There have been a number of notable changes, however.

Gone are top scorers Sean Collins and Luke Adam, as well as rookie sensation Marko Dano, who was dealt to Chicago in the Brandon Saad trade. Dana Tyrell also hasn’t been re-signed, so Springfield’s top 10 scorers from 2014-15 won’t all be coming over to Lake Erie for the new campaign.

There’s good reason to be excited about some of the young guns who could suit up in the AHL, though. After two consecutive 100-point seasons in the WHL, Oliver Bjorkstrand should be in Lake Erie this season. If 2014 first-rounder Sonny Milano doesn’t make the Blue Jackets, he’ll be down in the AHL. And after a 12-goal, 33-point rookie season, Kerby Rychel will be back for his sophomore campaign.

One area that will be improved for the Monsters by virtue of the affiliation change is between the pipes. Anton Forsberg would have made an excellent case for rookie of the year had it not been for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s Matt Murray. In 30 games in 2014-15, Forsberg posted a 2.01 goals-against average and .927 save percentage and was easily a top-five goaltender in the league last season.

It has been four seasons since the Monsters have appeared in the playoffs and the post-season is very clearly the goal in 2015-16. Read more

Vermette’s stay in Chicago was short but very, very sweet

Antoine Vermette (Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)

As Antoine Vermette made his way through the mass of humanity in the cramped visitor’s dressing room at Amalie Arena after Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final, he was unfailingly polite.

“Sorry for the sweat,” he said as he brushed up against people on his way to the door. “I probably stink, too. But I guess that’s a good thing at this time of the year.”

There were games during the playoffs when Vermette didn’t stink at all. That’s because he was likely wearing expensive cologne under his designer suit while sitting in the press box. Check that. He kind of did stink, which was why he was in the press box wearing the expensive cologne under his designer suit in the first place. Read more

Why is Brandon Saad’s nickname ‘Man-Child’?

Brandon Saad (via Columbus Blue Jackets/Twitter)

Long before he was a man-child in the NHL, Brandon Saad was a 15-year-old kid who was terrorizing goalies in youth hockey in Pittsburgh, dreaming of one day playing in the same league as his heroes, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Bob Mainhardt recalls sitting in the Saad family’s kitchen trying to get George Saad’s two sons, George Jr. and Brandon, to commit to playing for his junior team.

Mainhardt remembers George Sr. telling him point blank that if his two sons decided to commit to playing for the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American League, Brandon would be his leading scorer. Mainhardt thought highly of Saad, but he also had a veteran-laden team that was a contender for the national championship.

He admired the father’s chutzpah but didn’t put much faith in the prognostications of a proud hockey dad. After all, Brandon would still be 15 when the season started, and he’d be playing with and against players as old as 20.

“Well, if he had been a gambling man,” Mainhardt said of the senior Saad, “he should have put money on that one. Brandon was the best pro prospect I had ever seen. I had 18 kids from that team get Div. I scholarships, and we made the national semifinals. He was our best player.” Read more

Blue Jackets prospect Peter Quenneville looking to land contract overseas

Jared Clinton
Peter Quenneville (Melissa Baecker/Getty Images)

One season after captaining the Brandon Wheat Kings to a WHL-best 53-win, 114-point season, Peter Quenneville is looking to take his game across the pond.

Rumors surfaced Monday that Quenneville, 21, was seeking a contract in Finland after his agency, 2112 Hockey, posted that the Edmonton native was under contract in SM-Liiga. While he doesn’t yet have a contract in Finland, it appears that could be the next destination for Quenneville, whose NHL rights are owned by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“We’ve targeted him to hopefully play (in SM-Liiga),” said Darryl Wolski, Quenneville’s agent. “We’re working with a few teams to get an official offer for him pretty soon.” Read more