Which franchise will be the next to win its first-ever Stanley Cup?

Wild-Blues

We recently sorted out our Yearbook predictions for 2014-15, which included projected standings and which team will win the Stanley Cup. Without giving it away, our anticipated winner has been to the promised land before. Which mathematically, should not be surprising. Only 12 of the NHL’s 30 teams have never won the league title and it’s hard to say who will be next. When the Los Angeles Kings won their first Cup in 2012, they broke a streak of futility that had stretched back to 1968 when the team originally entered the league. The following teams would like to join them:

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Will neon green be used on NHL All-Star Game jerseys this season?

Rory Boylen
nhlallstar1

If you care to watch the NHL All-Star Game – and if you do, you probably have kids – you’ll know the league hasn’t used black vs. white jerseys in a long time. They’ve gone with red, white and blue combinations, they’ve tried green and purple. But neon green? That one would be new.

Lo and behold, that may be the direction the NHL goes in its 2015 All-Star Game in Columbus.

A Reebok catalog that became accessible online shows all kinds of apparel from all 30 NHL teams. Then, on Page 94, it starts into all-star paraphernalia. And that’s when we start seeing an awful lot of hints that black and bright, bright green will be a big part of the event.

First clue: take note of the picture above. The Columbus All-Star Game logo features the team’s colors, but above that we see a “00″ that looks like numbers on the back of a jersey. The numbers are black, with a neon green outline.

Hmmmmm.

Second clue: this logo that appears on Page 107 of the catalog.

all-starlogo

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The NHL’s weakest division? Um, “congratulations”, Metro

Marc-Andre Fleury

When the NHL made its most recent realignment, last season, it reemphasized the importance of divisional play by also restructuring its playoff format. The wild card element throws a bit of a wrench into it from year-to-year, but for the most part, teams have to play their first two playoff rounds against division rivals – and that means a weaker division has the potential to make the road to the Stanley Cup easier for the team that can emerge from it.

I’d argue that’s one of the reasons the New York Rangers qualified for the Cup Final this past spring. They faced a flawed Flyers team in the first round and a Penguins squad in the second that had serious issues of its own before they beat the injury-depleted Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final. You have to give the Blueshirts credit for their resilience, but they had a much easier go of it than, say, Los Angeles or Chicago.

So which division is shaping up to be the NHL’s weakest in 2014-15? It’s not in the Western Conference, that’s for sure. Six of the Central Division’s seven teams (every one but Winnipeg) have a bona fide shot at making the playoffs, and the California Trinity Of Doom, combined with the desperation to make the playoffs in Vancouver and Edmonton, makes the Pacific Division daunting as well.

So, the “honor” of the league’s worst division has to go to either the Metropolitan or the Atlantic. And although the Atlantic has seen more separation between the haves and have-nots of its teams this off-season, I’d still make the case the Metro is the weaker of the two. Read more

New contract for Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky is a significant overpayment

Adam Proteau
Brandon Dubinsky (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Blue Jackets continued an eventful summer Friday with the signing of Brandon Dubinsky to a six-year, $35.1-million contract extension.

Dubinsky was one season away from unrestricted free agency, so Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen was due to make a decision on his future with the team soon enough. However, giving an annual salary of $5.85 million (as well as no-trade/no-move clauses) to a player who hasn’t scored more than 16 goals since 2010-11 – when the 28-year-old was still a member of the New York Rangers – is a significant overpayment. Read more

Blue Jackets should look at P.K. Subban; avoid messing with Ryan Johansen

Los Angeles Kings v Columbus Blue Jackets

It took awhile for Ryan Johansen to find his feet in the NHL, but once he did this season, he was a force. The fourth overall pick in 2010 led the Columbus Blue Jackets in scoring while winning nearly 53 percent of his faceoffs and was great in the team’s playoff battle with Pittsburgh.

Now Johansen’s contract is up and as a restricted free agent, he has reportedly been offered a “bridge” contract of two or three years by the Blue Jackets. He would still be an RFA when that hypothetical deal runs out. Johansen, a big scoring center that possesses the types of traits most teams want in a No. 1 pivot, would prefer a long-term deal that takes him to unrestricted free agency and that’s where the stalemate comes in.

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Flyers trade Scott Hartnell to Columbus for R.J. Umberger, reinforce their status as NHL’s Game of Thrones franchise

Adam Proteau
Scott Hartnell R.J. Umberger (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

There are a few things you can count on in every NHL off-season: GMs and team officials will step to the entry draft podium and thank the host city (as well as their fan base watching the proceedings back at Jimmy Bob Jesse Joe’s Alabama Steakhouse and Cheesecakery Grill); players will be overpaid in free agency; and the Philadelphia Flyers will conduct major surgery on their roster.

The first two of those summertime staples will take place in the next week or so, but the Flyers got a jump-start on their end Monday afternoon by trading heart-and-soul left winger Scott Hartnell to Columbus for left winger R.J. Umberger and a fourth round draft pick. And once again, Philly’s ever-spinning personnel carousel unsettles a roster that probably just needed to be left alone.

Both Hartnell and Umberger are 32 years old and both make close to the same money – Hartnell has a $4.75-million cap hit, while Umberger has a $4.6-million hit – and while the Flyers save on contract term length in the transaction (Umberger has three years left on his deal and Hartnell has five), there’s little doubt the Blue Jackets are getting the better player. Read more

Detroit has the easiest schedule, Columbus and Toronto the hardest

Kronwall-Johansen

The NHL schedule has been released and the number-crunchers have already put in some great work in breaking it down. As always, there are fun match-ups to kick off the season, such as Los Angeles hosting San Jose and Montreal visiting Toronto. But which teams will really be grinding through 82 games and which ones get more of a cozier ride?

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Defense-desperate Oilers land rights to Nikita Nikitin as hunt for blueliners heats up

Nikita Nikitin (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Edmonton Oilers on Friday tried to get a head start on what promises to be a desperate, league-wide off-season search for capable blueliners by acquiring a negotiating rights window with Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin.

There was no immediate word on what Oilers GM Craig MacTavish surrendered to land the rights to Nikitin, but given that the 28-year-old will be an unrestricted free agent in a couple of weeks, it won’t be much. Nikitin has size (6-foot-4, 223 pounds), but the Russian isn’t a physical threat and was a third-pairing d-man for Columbus last year, averaging just 17:06 of ice time and posting two goals and 15 points in 66 games. In 2011-12, his first year with the Jackets after being dealt from St. Louis, he amassed more than twice that amount of offense (seven goals and 32 points in 54 games), but if he does sign with Edmonton, Oilers fans shouldn’t expect a return to those totals.

Nikitin earned $2.5 million in 2013-14 and in a weak free agent market, he’ll get some type of raise. MacTavish clearly wants to avoid the inevitable inflation of a player’s worth that occurs when free agency kicks off; that’s not to say he’ll have to give Nikitin $4 million a season, but he will have to offer him enough to forego free agency. Read more