NHL’s SnapChamp Era begins: Flames, Jets make playoffs; defending-champ Kings – & maybe, Bruins or Pens – are out

Flames players celebrate a 3-1 home win over L.A. – and making the playoffs this year – in front of a raucous home crowd in Calgary. (Gerry Thomas/NHLI via Getty Images)

Watching the NHL’s action play out Thursday night was kind of like covering a political election and seeing the polls come in and herald a new leader for a new era. In one polling station, you had the Boston Bruins – the league’s top regular-season team last year – falling to the Florida Panthers and putting their playoff fate in the hands of the surging Ottawa Senators and wobbly Pittsburgh Penguins (who, like the Bruins, won a Stanley Cup not too long ago); In another station, you saw the Calgary Flames hold off the desperate Los Angeles Kings and register a 3-1 win, eliminating the defending Cup champions from the post-season and securing a playoff berth for the Winnipeg Jets.

Change was everywhere, and more change could be coming. Depending on what happens Friday and Saturday, the Eastern Conference playoff picture could have three teams (the Sens, Capitals and Islanders) who weren’t in the 2014 post-season, and the Western Conference will have four teams (Vancouver, Nashville, Calgary and Winnipeg) in this year’s playoffs who weren’t there last year. A 43.75 percent playoff turnover rate is one thing, but it’s not just the fact there are potentially seven new post-season teams this year that’s so intriguing; it’s the great distance teams are falling that has NHL executives clenching their teeth and always worrying about what’s ahead. Read more

Columbus can’t escape season without another injury, Atkinson’s wrist cut as team celebrates

Jared Clinton
atkinson-453784535

Entering play Wednesday, the Columbus Blue Jackets had players miss 499 games this season, according to Man Games Lost. As they took the ice against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the counter officially turned over to the half-millenium mark, which is the most of any team in the NHL this season.

But even in a 5-0 victory over Toronto, and in the midst of one of the hottest — yet ultimately ill-timed — streaks of the season in which the Blue Jackets have gone 13-1-1 in their last 15 games, yet another injury struck. This time, it was to Cam Atkinson, one of the few players who has been able to suit up for 70-plus games for Columbus this year.

As the Blue Jackets leapt over the bench to go congratulate goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky on his shutout, the skate of teammate Alex Wennberg sliced Atkinson’s wrist, reported the Columbus Dispatch’s Aaron Portzline. The clip below shows when the injury occurred, but, thankfully, does not show the severity: Read more

Rumor Roundup: Dion Phaneuf could still be a target for Detroit

Dion Phaneuf

Leading up to the recent NHL trade deadline, the biggest rumor making the rounds claimed the Detroit Red Wings were interested in Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Dion Phaneuf. While trade talks between the two clubs ultimately fell through, speculation persists suggesting the Wings could revisit their interest in the 29-year-old Phaneuf during the off-season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman notes Red Wings director of pro scouting Mark Howe took in a recent game between the Leafs and Buffalo Sabres. As the Wings completed their respective season series with both clubs weeks ago, Friedman facetiously wondered which player Howe was scouting.

If the Wings remain keen to land Phaneuf, they must ensure not to use up too much cap space for future use. They currently have over $53 million invested in their 2015-16 cap payroll, but Friedman points out they have several key players to re-sign. Notables include Gustav Nyquist and Brendan Smith this summer, plus Justin Abdelkader, Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, Darren Helm and Petr Mrazek in 2016.

Phaneuf has another six seasons at $7-million annually remaining on his contract. If the Wings want him, they must convince the Leafs to pick up part of his salary or accept a toxic contract in return like center Stephen Weiss, who has three years at $4.9-million per season left on his deal.

BLUE JACKETS WANT TO BOLSTER BLUELINE

The Columbus Blue Jackets won’t have fond memories of 2014-15. Having reached the playoffs last year for only the second time in franchise history, the Jackets followed up by finishing well out of contention this season.

Injuries were largely to blame. As of Apr. 7, Man Games Lost indicates the Jackets led the league in man games lost to injury with 499. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, defensmen Fedor Tyutin and Ryan Murray along with forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu and Matt Calvert were among the notables to miss considerable time.

While the Jackets front office expressed disappointment in how the season unfolded, they don’t intend on a major roster shakeup this summer. ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun reports team president John Davidson said management will try to improve the lineup, “but we’re not going to tear it down to improve it.”

Prior to Davidson’s comments, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said he’d like to add more depth to his blueline. Given the amount of players the Jackets have under contract next season and with the prospects within their system, Kekalainen said he wants to ensure his club has enough defensive depth going forward.

With over $61 million already invested in cap payroll for 2015-16 and all his core players under contract, Kekalainen has some room to add an experienced and affordable blueliner via free agency. St. Louis’ Zbynek Michalek and Barret Jackman, Detroit’s Marek Zidlicky, Chicago’s Johnny Oduya, Montreal’s Jeff Petry and perhaps Nashville’s Cody Franson could be among the options.

Bobrovsky’s lunging pad stop on Girardi is a thing of beauty

Jared Clinton
Columbus Blue Jackets v Dallas Stars

The Columbus Blue Jackets are mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but don’t tell goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky that. Monday night he made a pad to rob New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi of a game-tying goal with less than a minute left, and it was a beauty.

With the Rangers pressing and their net empty, Girardi pinched down and found himself stationed right in from of the Blue Jackets’ net. The puck was worked back to the Rangers blueline and was fired on goal while on edge, causing it to flutter down to the stick of Derick Brassard. Brassard then made a no-look pass between his legs and onto Girardi’s tape, and then Girardi was absolutely robbed by Bobrovsky’s left pad: Read more

Blue Jackets’ Ryan Johansen scores a shootout goal – while barely moving a muscle

Adam Proteau
Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen scores a shootout goal on Isles netminder Jaroslav Halak. (Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

Blue Jackets star center Ryan Johansen is capable of all sorts of dazzling moves on the ice, but in scoring the game-winning shootout goal on New York Islanders netminder Jaroslav Halak Thursday, Johansen barely had to move a muscle.

Johansen was the Jackets’ second shooter in Columbus and skated in on Halak at a slow-but steady rate. However, neither player did much in the way of moving, and all Johansen did at point-blank range was spot the opening between Halak’s pads before flipping the puck through it: Read more

Denis Leary making new hockey-themed TV series – & here are 12 NHL-themed shows that should be next

Denis Leary (Mychal Watts/WireImage via Getty Images)

News Wednesday that actor and famous hockey/Boston Bruins fan Denis Leary was producing for IFC a new series centered around an amateur hockey team should inspire puck fans to pitch more hockey-themed shows to TV networks in the hope they might get picked up and put on air. Here, I’ll show you what I mean, using titles of TV series as examples:

The Walking Dead An outbreak of a mysterious virus ravages the Sabres, Coyotes and Maple Leafs and leads to locals staggering aimlessly and dead-eyed in the streets in Buffalo, Arizona and Toronto. While death sometimes seems to be a merciful option for our heroes during such a bleak time, they bravely continue to search and hope for a place to settle and grow. Read more

Why the Penguins should trade Sidney Crosby for the No. 1 pick

Claus Andersen/Getty Images

Before any Pittsburgh fans go and get their jerseys in a jumble, just pause for a second, take a deep breath and think about it: if the Penguins fail to get back to the Stanley Cup final for the sixth straight season, what else is left for the franchise to do but blow up the core?

After an off-season of upheaval in which Pittsburgh brought in a new coach, a new GM and a new supporting cast for Sidney Crosby, there would be few options left but to raze the roster to the ground and begin anew. Sure, the Penguins could use Marc-Andre Fleury as a scapegoat and try using the same roster again next season with a different goalie, but that would only be putting off the inevitable. (Just ask the San Jose Sharks, who are years behind on the rebuilding schedule after sticking with their core despite perennial playoff failures, including their first-round faceplant last year.)

The best thing for the Penguins to do would be to try to trade Crosby for the next Crosby.

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CHL playoffs: The most intriguing first-round matchups

Quebec's Anthony Duclair  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The CHL playoffs begin tonight and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Connor McDavid has one last chance to win it all with the Erie Otters in the Ontario League, but the powerfully-built Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have designs of their own. Out in the Western League, Kelowna and Brandon seem to be on a collision course for the final, while the Quebec League has the added wrinkle of sending two teams to the Memorial Cup – one being the host Quebec Remparts, who won’t want to crawl in through the back door.

Here’s a look at all the first-round matchups in the CHL, with a bit more info on one series per league that has me riveted from the get-go.

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