Blue Jackets Rumors
Sonny Milano has accepted his qualifying offer from the Columbus Blue Jackets, signing a one-year two-way contract worth $874,125 at the NHL level. Milano will still be a restricted free agent next summer, and is no longer waiver-exempt.
The 23-year old Milano was originally selected 16th overall by the Blue Jackets in 2014, but has still not been able to establish himself as a full-time NHL player. In 70 games at that level—55 of which came in 2017-18—he has 15 goals and 24 points, but has spent most of his short professional career at the AHL level. Admittedly an strong offensive player at the minor league level, Milano hasn’t really been able to dominate that level like many expected him to coming out of the USNDTP and OHL.
2019-20 may represent his best opportunity in the NHL though, as the Blue Jackets will be looking for offensive players to replace some outgoing forwards. Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel have all left for greener pastures, opening up room for a player like Milano to see powerplay time and show what he can do. The fact that he would need to clear waivers should all but guarantee him a roster spot, as he would almost certainly be claimed by a team willing to give him a shot.
In order to really establish himself at the NHL level and carve out top-six playing time, Milano will need to focus on more than just his own scoring opportunities. He’s proven in the past that his shot is an asset and he can score from difficult angles and situations, but nine assists in 70 career games for a player expected to drive the offense just hasn’t cut it. He also needs to engage more on the defensive side if he expects to be playing against top competition. In all, this very well could be a make-or-break season for the young forward.
Before the Colorado Avalanche acquired Nazem Kadri from the Toronto Maple Leafs in a big deal involving Tyson Barrie, the Calgary Flames were close to acquiring the veteran center. However, Kadri refused to waive his 10-team no-trade clause that would have sent him in a deal that would have included defenseman T.J. Brodie.
The Calgary Sun’s Wes Gilbertson writes that Kadri did admit that he rejected the deal to Calgary in hopes of convincing the Maple Leafs that he wanted to stay with the team.
“What happened is they had a deal in place and they wanted me to move my no-trade clause,” Kadri explained. “Obviously, for me, it was no disrespect to Calgary or the Flames organization — I love their team and I love the direction they’re headed. I just figured that had I declined, I would have had a better opportunity of being a Maple Leaf next year, and that’s really what it came down to. “I wanted to play for the Leafs next year. I wanted to be a part of that. In declining that trade, I had aspirations of being a Leaf, and we know clearly that didn’t happen.”
Instead he did get traded to Colorado and now will take over as the team’s second-line center in hopes of developing a powerful secondary scoring line after their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog.
- The Athletic’s Daniel Nugent-Bowman (subscription required) delves into the drafting success of the Edmonton Oilers’ new director of amateur scouting, Tyler Wright, noting that while the long-time executive with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings has had lukewarm success drafting in the first round, he has been successful in the later rounds of drafts, having nabbed several key players late in the draft, including Josh Anderson, Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Filip Hronek and could provide value for Edmonton who hasn’t had as much luck later in the draft.
- In a mailbag piece, The Athletic’s Eric Stephens (subscription required) writes that while defenseman Hampus Lindholm is a solid top-pairing defenseman, his offense still hasn’t come around and at age 25, time is running out. The blueliner posted 34 points in his second season back in the 2014-15 season and hasn’t reached that target since then. However, Stephens writes that Lindholm was never a big fan of Randy Carlyle’s system and could thrive under new head coach Dallas Eakins and show off some more offense, potentially becoming a regular at 40 points.
- Looking back at the recent history of signings by the Los Angeles Kings, The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman (subscription required) looks at the best and worst deals handed out since 2009. Unfortunately for the Kings, the top bad contract is only kicking in this year as the eight-year, $88MM contract that star defenseman Drew Doughty signed a year ago is about to kick in at age 29. After a down season last year, the 29-year-old blueliner will be getting paid $11MM until he turns 37 years old. Not a good sign if people think that before he’s even started getting paid.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have made several changes in their front office, adding Craig Hartsburg, Troy Dumville, Mikko Makela and Lukas Suter to their scouting department while hiring Niklas Backstrom as a European goaltending coach, Zac Urback as a hockey analyst and Jon Hamre as a video coach. Danny Flynn, Dave Peters and Jared Boll have all been promoted to full-time. Chris Morehouse, Marshall Davidson, Derek Ginnell and Austin Powell have all left the organization.
One name that might stick out is Backstrom, who had a long NHL career with the Minnesota Wild. The 41-year old goaltender actually played in Finland the last three seasons, even going 11-2-1 with a .920 save percentage for Tappara Tampere in 2018-19. Backstrom appeared in 413 NHL games over his career (just four of which were with a team other than the Wild) but will now transition into the next chapter of his hockey story.
- Speaking of the Blue Jackets, Aaron Portzline of The Athletic tweeted today that Columbus did indeed speak with Mitch Marner’s camp at some point this summer about a potential offer sheet, but he sees “no indication” that the young forward wants to leave the Toronto Maple Leafs. Marner’s name has been brought up in offer sheet speculation for months, but no team has yet convinced him to actually sign one. The Blue Jackets can only sign an offer sheet in the highest or lowest compensation tiers (either over $10.57MM or under $1.4MM AAV) because of their current draft pick situation.
- New Jersey Devils assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald spoke with Corey Masisak of The Athletic today, and explained that prospect Jesper Boqvist will either be playing in New Jersey or Sweden next season. The 20-year old center just scored 35 points in 51 games for Brynas in the SHL, but won’t be spending any time in the AHL this year. A second-round pick from 2017, Boqvist is a talented offensive player who signed his entry-level contract last month with the Devils but also had his contract with Brynas extended in February.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have re-signed minor league forward Justin Scott to a one-year, two-way contract. Scott was a restricted free agent and eligible for salary arbitration, but did not file and instead worked out the short-term deal.
Scott, 23, has played three seasons in the Blue Jackets organization since signing out of the OHL in 2016. Undrafted, he has become a solid depth piece for the team that can contribute some offense when required and serve as a defensively responsible forward. In fact, he tied for the team lead with three empty net goals this season, on the ice for many of the team’s last-second defensive efforts.
The former Barrie Colts forward scored just 24 points last season for the Monsters and has no NHL experience, meaning he’s likely ticketed for Cleveland once again. This season he will not be waiver-exempt however, meaning he’ll be available to the rest of the league should the team try to send him down.
A player who a few short months ago was simply excited to finally be in North America and looking forward to playing for the Golden Knights is now in the middle of a high-pressure negotiation that could force him to be traded for the third time before even making his NHL debut. Nikita Gusev finally made the jump this spring after a phenomenal KHL career and the Russian forward was hoping to take the next step of his career with Vegas. However, the 27-year-old scorer also sought fair value, burning his entry-level deal to negotiate a fair contract. The problem is that the Knights lack the space to meet even modest demands, currently over the cap and with other players to sign. The question now is whether Gusev becomes a casualty of the cap crunch or whether Vegas is willing to move other pieces to retain him.
The Athletic’s Jesse Granger reports that the Golden Knights and Gusev’s camp are currently $2MM apart in terms of AAV on a new contract. Gusev has long been rumored to be seeking at least $4MM annually, while Granger believes the offer on the table is two years at $2MM. Granger estimates that Vegas has just over $2.5MM of cap space to work with after moving David Clarkson to the LTIR, if they make no other moves. However, Gusev is not the only player in need of a new contract, as backup goalie Malcolm Subban, standout collegiate defender Jimmy Schuldt, and potentially veteran leader Deryk Engelland are all in need of extensions. Even if Gusev were to accept the current offer or potentially even if he were to be traded, the Knights would still need to make a move to clear out cap space, so another deal is nearly unavoidable. Granger wonders if the hold up in negotiations is simply the calculus of who Vegas would have to move out to meet Gusev’s demands.
The longer that talks drag on, the more likely a Gusev trade becomes. The dynamic winger is not without fans around the league who would be willing to take a chance at his current asking price. The Hockey News’ Steven Ellis names five teams that have both the interest and the means in cap space and trade capital to acquire Gusev: the Montreal Canadiens, New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, Ottawa Senators, and Edmonton Oilers. Unsurprisingly, three of those five teams – Ottawa, New Jersey, and Columbus – are among the bottom five in the league in payroll and would have no concerns about paying Gusev. Montreal just took a big swing and miss at Sebastian Aho on an offer sheet, so they’re clearly willing to pay up for scoring as well. Edmonton would be a tight squeeze, but the Oilers could desperately use more forward talent to surround Connor McDavid. Ottawa could be most appealing to Gusev if he want to become a team’s centerpiece and boost his public image, while the upstart Devils may be his best chance at winning a Stanley Cup as soon as possible. However, Gusev’s preferences will matter little to Vegas if they do choose to move him, likely opting for the best package of picks and prospects they can find.
A resolution won’t be easy to come by, although both Granger and Ellis agree that the Golden Knights would be better served by keeping Gusev. If the team can figure out their cap situation, perhaps by moving the contracts of non-core players like Ryan Reaves and Nick Holden or Jon Merrill, then keeping Gusev is the ideal move given his ceiling and the potential for Vegas to have the most formidable forward corps in the league. Moving Gusev will likely bring back a nice return in building blocks, but at the cost of could-be superstar. It is not an easy choice for Vegas, whereas Gusev holds all the leverage as a KHL icon but unproven NHL commodity just waiting for his chance to break out, in Vegas or otherwise. So long as he gets paid a fair wage, Gusev is likely willing to begin his NHL career anywhere.
Ryan Dzingel is arguably the top remaining unrestricted free agent, ranked No. 12 overall by PHR and the leading scorer this past season among all available names. Yet, there’s been surprisingly little noise surrounding Dzingel, a 27-year-old coming off of a career high’s across the board. The New York Post’s Larry Brooks writes that some teams are skeptical about Dzingel’s potential for production, not based on his year overall but rather his late-season stint with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After being moved at the NHL Trade Deadline by the Ottawa Senators, Dzingel recorded just 12 points in 21 games with Columbus and eventually lost the trust of the coaching staff in the postseason, with one point in nine games earning him a healthy scratch. Brooks remarks that the Blue Jackets’ lack of interest in retaining Dzingel, a former star at nearby Ohio State University, is one of several “red flags” for the young winger this off-season.
It’s likely that price is playing a role in Dzingel’s market as well. After a 56-point campaign, Dzingel’s camp was though to be seeking a $5MM AAV over a long-term contract. In a vacuum, that would seem to be a fair offer, but in a market where many teams are closer to the salary cap limit than expected, a player who is coming off a disappointing final few months of the season may need to lower his expectations. That rings especially true if he wants to land with one of his reported top destinations and a team known to have interest, the Chicago Blackhawks. Dzingel is an Illinois native and his skill set would seem to fit in perfectly with his hometown Blackhawks, who could still use another top-six winger. However, The Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope writes that the team would have to move out a player, likely Artem Anisimov or Connor Murphy, to accommodate Dzingel’s salary demands. Until that happens, Pope cites GM Stan Bowman, who recently said his roster is “pretty full” and currently only in need of “housekeeping”. That doesn’t mean that Chicago, whose off-season moves have pointed toward a deep desire to return to contender status, will not continue to pursue Dzingel, but it may prove too difficult at his current asking price. If the scoring winger wants to ensure he has a long-term fit in a place that he’d like to be, Dzingel could consider taking a lesser deal to join the Blackhawks.
- Another team looking to return to the playoffs are the New Jersey Devils and GM Ray Shero and company have certainly done their part in that pursuit this summer, drafting Jack Hughes, trading for P.K. Subban, and signing Wayne Simmonds. While the ultimate goal is to become a contender as soon as possible, the more pressing need – also with that goal in mind – is to convince superstar forward Taylor Hall that New Jersey is a team worth staying with to win a Stanley Cup. Hall is an impending free agent next summer and could be in line for a record-breaking contract, whether he tests the open market or not. The Devils have the cap space to meet his salary demands, but needed to focus this off-season on improving the talent around him after a season in which the team finished well outside the playoff picture. On paper, New Jersey should return to relevance next season and early indications are that Hall is happy with the transformation. In an interview with TSN, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner said that seeing the summer used to improve the talent level of the team and inject new blood after a disappointing campaign is exactly what you want to see. He added that Shero asked his opinion of the Subban trade before it was made and that he was totally on board and excited to play with his fellow star. All signs point to Hall being in favor of these off-season changes and eager to get started with the new season. If the Devils perform to the level they should on paper, Hall will have much more reason to consider a long-term extension to stay in New Jersey.
- New Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri could have gone elsewhere if he wanted. The Toronto Sun’s Steve Simmons reports that Kadri flexed his No-Trade Clause to block a trade to the Calgary Flames. Even after taking calls from Flames GM Brad Treliving and head coach Bill Peters, Kadri nixed a deal that would have seen he and Connor Brown, now an Ottawa Senator, go to Calgary in exchange for T.J. Brodie and Mark Jankowski. Simmons did not explain why Kadri was anti-Calgary, but did note that the fit in Colorado is better. As for the end result for the Leafs, Tyson Barrie and Alexander Kerfoot are a better package, but cost the the team young defenseman Calle Rosen, who Simmons states they did not wish to move, as well as a third-round pick. Also, Brodie would have been a more affordable defenseman to re-sign compare to Barrie, who could very well price himself out of Toronto after one year. It’s a toss up on which deal would have been better had Kadri not put his foot down.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed Scott Harrington to a three-year contract that will keep him in the organization through the 2021-22 season. Harrington was a restricted free agent for the final time, thus giving up two unrestricted free agent years in the deal. Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reports the deal will carry an average annual value of $1.633MM. GM Jarmo Kekalainen released a statement on the deal:
Scott Harrington is a very smart, reliable defenseman who made great strides to become a regular contributor on our blueline last season. He works very hard and has continued to improve steadily over the past three seasons. Scott has shown himself to be an excellent leader who has earned the respect of his coaches and teammates and we look forward to his continued contributions to our club.
Harrington, 26, had quite the tumultuous first few years in his professional career before settling into a depth role for the Blue Jackets. Originally selected 54th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he would play only ten NHL games for them before heading to the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of a package for Phil Kessel. In Toronto he would play just a single season split between the AHL and NHL before being traded once again, this time for Kerby Rychel. In his first season with the Blue Jackets he played just 27 total games between all levels, and followed that with just 32 the next season. In 2018-19 though he was given his biggest opportunity, suiting up for 73 games in the regular season and another ten in the playoffs.
Though he was playing just over 13 minutes a night, Harrington still recorded 21 points in those 83 games last season. With the entire blue line set to return at this point it is unclear exactly how he’ll fit in, but given his new salary and term there’s a good bet he’s in the team’s lineup plans. That will cause some speculation that another player may be on their way out, but the Blue Jackets have always found strength in their defensive depth and next season should be no different.
Veteran defenseman Marc Methot had a tough go of it in Dallas, playing in a combined 45 games over the last two seasons with the team. Battling lingering injury issues in his left knee, Methot has been sidelined for most of the past two years and hit the free agent market this summer with next to no noise thanks to questions about his health moving forward. To make matters worse, Methot underwent a cartilage replacement surgery last month that will extend his on-ice absence even further.
With all of these prominent questions and concerns, it should come as little surprise that the 34-year-old is at least considering retirement. Marc Brassard of leDroit reports that Methot is continuing to rehab after his recent surgery, but is unsure if he will be able to play next season. That does not mean that the respected veteran couldn’t continue to work at getting in game shape and try his hand at next summer’s market. After all, Methot is just a few years removed from being one of the league’s top shutdown defenders, a title he held for the better part of this decade with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ottawa Senators. However, Brasssard believes that he is strongly considering hanging it up instead.
Brassard also points out that Methot has a desire to work in sports media, which could also drive his decision to retire. Methot will get a try out on Thursday, when he joins TSN 1200 Radio in Ottawa as a guest host. The appearance could also act to further update his playing status, so stay tuned.
As expected, Bogdan Kiselevich has returned home to Russia as soon as he could. The 29-year-old defenseman is back with CSKA Moscow after just one year in the NHL, as the team announced a new three-year deal. Kiselevich was clearly not impressed by his usage in North America, as word got out quickly after the season that he would return to the KHL, before even testing the NHL market. In his “rookie” season, Kiselevich played in 32 games with the Florida Panthers and contributed eight assists. Although some of his other underlying numbers suggested that Kiselevich was being underutilized in Florida, he worked mostly as the team’s No. 7. He was then traded to the Winnipeg Jets at the NHL Trade Deadline, slotting even lower in their depth chart, and did not play a single game in the regular season or postseason. Seeing as a fully healthy Kiselevich played just one game after January, it’s understandable that he was happy to return to a top role for an elite KHL club loaded with former NHLers.
- Count Zack Mitchell as another NHL castoff looking for a larger role in the KHL. After skating in 34 NHL games between two seasons with the Minnesota Wild in 2016-17/2017-18, Mitchell was relegated to the AHL for this entire past campaign after signing with the Los Angeles Kings last summer. Still a relatively young player at 26 who also has consistent AHL production and NHL experience, Mitchell likely felt he could do better. As a result, Mitchell has signed a one-year contract with Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk of the KHL, the team announced. A team that missed the playoffs last season and has few elite players or familiar NHL faces, Neftekhimik needs a elite addition and hopes Mitchell can fill that role. If he can lead them back to the Gagarin Cup stage behind a highly productive season, Mitchell will likely be able to find a deal back in North America next year.
- The Detroit Red Wings took a shot on young Slovakian goaltender Patrik Rybar last season after he had dominated the Slovakian and Czech pro ranks for several years. However, he ended up not getting much use as the fourth-string keeper in the organization. Rybar played in 37 AHL games and did not see any NHL action. In his minor league appearances, he also failed to put up the stupendous numbers that may have attracted another NHL suitor, posting a .908 save percentage and 2.49 GAA. Fortunately, those numbers were enough to turn heads in other major European leagues. Rybar has opted to sign with Karpat of the Finnish Liiga, the team announced. Karpat was the top team in the Liiga last year through the regular season and their play in net from Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Veini Vehvilainen and former NHLer Jussi Rynnas played no small role. With both of those keepers now gone, the Karpat net looks to belong to Rybar, with promising young goalie Justus Annunen, a Colorado Avalanche draft pick, as backup.
- Mark McNeill’s precipitous drop from relevance continued last season and he is taking a drastic measure to rediscover his game. A 2011 first-round pick, McNeill was considered the top prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks for many years. Yet, to date he has just two NHL appearances to his credit. However, the heavy forward still put up good numbers in the minors in the Blackhawks’ and Dallas Stars’ systems. That is, until the past two years, when McNeill bounced around from Dallas to Nashville to Boston and posted back-to-back career lows of 25 points. Now, he must repair his image and show he can be a reliable scorer and has chosen Austria as the place to do just that. McNeill has signed with EHC Linz of the EBEL, the Black Wings announced. Linz counts Bracken Kearns and Justin Florek as their only other NHL veterans, so the opportunity will be there for McNeill to be the teams’s best player next season.