While the Flames could certainly benefit from a goaltending upgrade with starter Mike Smith struggling considerably to start the season, it doesn’t appear that Blue Jackets pending UFA Sergei Bobrovsky is an option for them. In an appearance on Sportsnet 960 (audio link), Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested that Calgary isn’t on the list of teams that Bobrovsky would be willing to waive his no-move clause for. Smith has just a .876 save percentage so far this season which is the worst of his career by a significant margin and while backup David Rittich has played quite well, it would be difficult for the Flames to ask him to take over as the number one given that he only has 30 career NHL games under his belt. However, if Calgary wants to make a move to help their goaltending, it doesn’t appear that they’ll be turning to Columbus for help.
Blue Jackets Rumors
The Columbus Blue Jackets will apparently have another name to consider in net next season. The Swiss Hockey News reports that young goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is expected to make the jump to North America next year. Merzlikins, 24, was Columbus’ third-round pick in 2014 and has been a standout member of the NLA’s HC Lugano ever since. The Latvian keeper took over Lugano’s starting job in 2015-16 at just 20 years old and has performed admirably. So far this year, he has been especially impressive; though 16 appearances, Merzlikins holds a .932 save percentage and a 2.19 goals against average. Fortunately for him, Merzlikins is in the final year of his NLA contract and is reportedly bound for the next level once it expires. Given his impressive performance, Merzlikins is likely to compete for the starting role with the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters and push for NHL appearances. With only Joonas Korpisalo and untested Matiss Kivlenieks under team control beyond this season, the Blue Jackets face questions in net moving forward and hope Merzlikins could potentially provide some answers.
- The Swiss Hockey News also relays the news that Dennis Everberg has quickly found a new home. Everberg cleared unconditional waivers and had his contract with the Winnipeg Jets terminated only this morning, but clearly had a new opportunity lined up. Everberg has signed with EV Zug of the NLA, with whom he is surely going to take a much larger role than he had relegated to the minors with Winnipeg. Ironically, Zug was in search of a top forward after another former NHL forward, Viktor Stalberg, departed the team for the KHL’s Avangard Omsk last month.
- Oskars Bartulis continues to make the most of his post-NHL career. A third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers back in 2005, Bartulis played in 66 games with the team but could never quite stand out. After spending much of his time in North America down in the AHL, Bartulis returned to Europe in 2012. Almost immediately, he began establishing himself as one of the top shutdown defenders in the KHL. Even thouhg his play has tailed off somewhat, Bartulis spent the last three years as the captain of Admiral Vladivostok and is still well-respected in the league. When he did not sign a new contract this off-season, there were questions about whether he was done. Yet, he’s back for another season at the age of 31. The KHL reports that Bartulis has signed a one-year, two-way contract with the Kunlun Red Star and should fit in well on a roster that is chock full of talented former NHLers.
- On the other end of the spectrum, former top NHL prospect Zach Boychuk has been released from his contract with the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets. Boychuk had been disappointing this year, with just four points in 25 games. In his first season with Severstal, the team was not willing to wait any longer to see if his play improved. The long-time Carolina Hurricane has been overseas for three years now and was very effective just last season with HC Slovan Bratislava. It remains to be seen what the next step is in the career of the capable forward.
Wednesday: Brian Hedger of The Columbus Dispatch reports that Clendening has cleared waivers and will likely be assigned to the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL.
Tuesday: In addition to the Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers using unconditional waivers to terminate contracts, the Columbus Blue Jackets have placed Adam Clendening on regular waivers today according to Bob McKenzie of TSN. Clendening hasn’t played for the Blue Jackets in a month, and will now likely get a chance to suit up in the minor leagues if he clears.
Clendening is one of the most well-traveled 26-year old players in the NHL. Originally selected 36th overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011, the Blue Jackets are already his seventh organization—not even counting the second stint with Chicago last season. Suiting up for 90 total games split between the Blackhawks, Canucks, Penguins, Oilers, Rangers, Coyotes and now Blue Jackets, Clendening can’t seem to stick anywhere around the league. Despite being an excellent offensive presence in the minor leagues, the most NHL games he’s played in a single season was 31. That’s not to say there isn’t interest, as he continually is acquired through trade or signed to short-term contracts in free agency.
What he can’t seem to secure is a qualifying offer, as he’s been denied one in each of the last three offseasons and is at risk once again of not being retained by the Blue Jackets. Amazingly, the team still does own his rights as a restricted free agent through next season, something that they are risking by exposing him to waivers at this time. Still, Columbus has been carrying two extra defensemen for much of the season and had gotten Clendening into just four games. If he’s not going to play for you, losing him on waivers isn’t much of a risk.
While there are plenty of rumors abound about potential trade candidates, the New York Rangers may opt to wait before they make any trades, according to TSN’s Darren Dreger, who appeared on NBCSN’s post-game show on Wednesday. While there are rumors that the Rangers could move center Kevin Hayes whenever they want and might consider moving him soon, Dreger said that was unlikely and he can’t picture the Rangers moving Hayes or Mats Zuccarello until after the new year.
“You’re right, it’s still a little bit early,” said Dreger. “But I would have said a month ago that the New York Rangers were more interested in listening to what sort of interest might have been in Kevin Hayes. But the reality is Kevin Hayes is playing pretty well for the New York Rangers right now. There are always teams in the market for centermen, particularly guys who are playing well and are 6-foot-5. So it’s still a little bit early to ramp up the rumors with Kevin Hayes and even Mats Zuccarello of the New York Rangers. I would say very early in the New Year we’ll be able to identify those specific teams with interest.”
The 26-year-old Hayes, who is eligible to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, has three goals and 11 points in 17 games so far this season. While he is still young, there are many among the Rangers’ brass who aren’t sure they want Hayes to be the center-point of their rebuilt franchise and might be better off moving him for more pieces. Zuccarello is also in the final year of a four-year deal and can also be a free agent. The 31-year-old has three goals and 10 points in 15 games.
- Even though Columbus Blue Jackets forward Anthony Duclair has been impressive this season with seven goals in his first 17 games as he’s currently on pace for a 35-goal season at a minimum $650K. However, many were shocked when Duclair found himself benched during the third period and overtime Saturday, according to The Athletic’s Tom Reed (subscription required). Head coach John Tortorella made his point quite clear. “He’s got to check,” Tortorella said. “He’s got to learn to check.” Of course, Tortorella put the blame on Duclair’s entire line, including Alexander Wennberg and Oliver Bjorkstrand. However, it was Duclair’s minutes that were cut into as he played just 5:40, although strangely, he was still given an opportunity to take a shootout attempt at the end of the game.
- One reason for the Philadelphia Flyers improved play of late is the recent emergence of defenseman Christian Folin, who has impressed Flyers’ brass with his defensive play, especially with his physicality and his willingness to block shots, according to The Athletic’s Charlie O’Connor (subscription required). The scribe writes that after struggling during the preseason and making multiple gaffs early in the regular season, Folin has come into his own over the last couple weeks. “I really didn’t see him do anything different tonight than what he’s done over the past however many games,” the Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “Fols is a consistent player. He’s reliable in terms of you know what you’re gonna get, and you get those elements at a high level.”
- Michael Smith of NHL.com reports that Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Brett Pesce did not practice Sunday after taking a knee-to-knee hit during Saturday’s game against Detroit and is listed as day-to-day. Pesce, who is in the first year of a six-year, $24.2MM deal ($4.03MM AAV), has been mentioned in potential trade rumors with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a potential William Nylander trade. The 23-year-old could provide Toronto with a cheap, young defensive-minded blueliner who could stabilize any teams’ defense.
The London Knights have announced their new leadership group for the 2018-19 season now that several key players have returned, and Edmonton Oilers defenseman Evan Bouchard has been given the captaincy once again. Bouchard played seven games for the Oilers before being sent back to junior for the rest of the year, and should immediately step into his role playing nearly 30 minutes a night for London. One of the most effective players in the OHL, Bouchard will also likely be a key member of the Canadian World Junior squad in the coming months.
Joining him with letters for the Knights are several other well known prospects, including Alex Formenton of the Ottawa Senators and Liam Foudy of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Formenton played nine games for the Senators this season and scored his first NHL goal, while Foudy was the 18th-overall pick in June after dominating the NHL Draft Combine. William Lochead and Cole Tymkin, both undrafted, will round out the group of alternates for the Knights this season.
- Antti Raanta will be out at least a few days with a lower-body injury for the Arizona Coyotes, meaning they were forced to recall Hunter Miska under emergency conditions. Craig Morgan of The Athletic adds that Raanta has subsequently been placed on IR and will be out until November 13th at the earliest. Miska will serve as the backup to Darcy Kuemper for tomorrow’s game in Philadelphia, but perhaps he will be forced into action before too long given the team has a back-to-back against Pittsburgh and Washington that are scheduled fewer than 24 hours apart.
- Though the Vegas Golden Knights will be without Erik Haula for at least a few games—and perhaps many more given the optics of last night’s injury—they welcomed back another familiar face to practice today. Nate Schmidt was back on the ice with the team, and can now take full part of practice as he waits out the last ten days of his PED suspension. November 18th is the first game action Schmidt is eligible for, when the Golden Knights head to Edmonton to take on Connor McDavid and the Oilers.
“This is a critical time in our season and our results to date have fallen well below our expectations. With that in mind, this was a difficult decision but one we feel was necessary,” said Blake. “We have a great deal of respect and appreciation for John’s time with our organization. He was a key part of our past success, and we have tremendous gratitude for his many contributions.”
Despite picking up a 4-1 victory Saturday over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the victory didn’t do anything to allow Stevens to keep his job as the team remained 4-8-1 in the team’s first 13 games, giving them the worst record in league with the Florida Panthers the only other team that has nine points (although they have played two less games). Stevens, in just his second year as head coach of the team, took the team to the playoffs last year as the fourth-seed in the Pacific Division, but were swept in the first-round of the playoffs as the Vegas Golden Knights exposed their lack of speed.
Los Angeles responded by adding 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk through free agency this offseason and was expected to make a renewed run for a Stanley Cup title with the likes 30-somethings Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty (he’s actually just 28), Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Trevor Lewis, Nate Thompson, Dion Phaneuf and Alec Martinez. The team was expecting some of their young players to step up, but players such as Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have struggled under Stevens’ tenure and haven’t developed into the goal scorers that everyone had hoped for. The team also has been without Quick, their star goaltender, for much of the season and there is no word on how much time he might miss with his most recent injury. Throw in the lack of development of some of their prospects and the team was heading down the wrong path with many of their veterans under contract for three of four more years.
Desjardins, who has 20+ years of coaching experience, has been acting as Team Canada’s men’ head coach, including leading the team in the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, Korea. He served as head coach of the Vancouver Canucks for three seasons between 2014 and 2017, compiling a disappointing 109-110-27 record. He also led Team Canada to gold at the Spengler Cup in December of 2017. Desjardins also served eight years as head coach in the WHL with the Medicine Hat Tigers where he won two championships in eight seasons there.
The team also released fired assistant coach Don Nachbaur from his duties, who served as the team’s assistant since last season. The team has brought in current German National Team coach and former Kings player Marco Sturm. The team did retain assistant coach Dave Lowry.
One has to wonder what Stevens chances will be to get another head coaching position. He served as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers between 2006 through 2009, reaching the Eastern Conference finals once and a second playoff appearance. He has a combined record of 171-148-43.
Helene Elliott was the first to report the coaching change.
The Columbus Blue Jackets needed a roster spot to activate veteran forward Brandon Dubinsky from injured reserve, according to Columbus Post-Dispatch’s Brian Hedger. However, the team surprised a few by opting to send winger Sonny Milano, who is not waiver-eligible, to the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL.
It is a surprise for a few since Milano posted 14 goals last year and many thought that the 22-year-old was ready to take that next step up in his game and even develop into a top-six left wing for the franchise in the future. However, it hasn’t been a good year for Milano so far, who has appeared in just eight games for the Blue Jackets with just one goal and four healthy scratches. Milano averaged 11:39 of ATOI last season, but found his playing time dwindle to just 8:19 this season.
While there may have been better options, it’s the easiest decision for the team who otherwise would have had to place a player on waivers, which they obviously preferred not to do. The team hopes that Milano can find his scoring prowess as well as work on his defensive game while in Cleveland, hoping that the demotion sparks his play.
The team does get a big boost in the return of Dubinsky. The veteran has only played in the first two games of the season before straining an oblique muscle during practice and has since missed 10 games. The 32-year-old veteran had a career-low 16 points in 62 games last season and many believed he desperately needed a bounce-back season. While it’s too early to tell, Dubinsky looked good in the first two games of the season, putting up a goal and an assist, while receiving 14:27 of ATOI in those two games. Dubinsky still has three years remaining on his deal, paying him $5.85MM AAV.
The second month of the NHL season is underway and with it comes the first iteration of TSN’s “Trade Bait” board. To no surprise, unsigned Toronto Maple Leafs forward William Nylander tops the list. With the countdown at 28 days until the December 1st deadline for Nylander to sign and play in the NHL this season, the impasse between the two sides is desperately in need of a resolution, and with each day that goes by, a trade looks more and more likely. TSN’s Frank Seravalli notes that it was the first week of November last year when No. 1-ranked trade bait player Matt Duchene was traded away, making it entirely possible that a Nylander trade or other big name move could drop in the next few days. Joining Nylander in the top six of the list are recent rumor mill highlights Kevin Hayes of the New York Rangers and Alec Martinez and Tanner Pearson of the Los Angeles Kings, as well as summer trade bait board holdout Mats Zuccarello, also of the Rangers, and perennial rumor monger Gustav Nyquist of the Detroit Red Wings. Both free agency-bound Columbus Blue Jackets superstars – Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin – feature in the top ten, as does a possible Nylander return piece Brett Pesce of the Carolina Hurricanes. A surprise addition is Winnipeg Jets defenseman Tyler Myers, who seems unlikely to move in the midst of what the Jets hope is a Stanley Cup-caliber season. So too is Wayne Simmonds, who the Philadelphia Flyers seemingly would like to re-sign and keep on as a leader and core contributor, but the Flyers’ success this season will likely determine his availability. The trade board is limited to just 15 names right now, but this initial list certainly features plenty of talent and some names that have already featured prominently in rumors. TSN may have perfect timing, as the NHL trade market seems ready to heat up.
- One of the off-season’s biggest trades almost went differently, writes Sportsnet’s Luke Fox. Fox talked to new Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters recently, who stated that he expected a different package from a different team entirely in return for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, only to find that his former club, the Carolina Hurricanes, had offered the top package of Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin. Peters (obviously) says that he likes the way the deal turned out. While Hanifin is off to a slow start in Calgary, Lindholm has been an excellent fit next to Sean Monahan and Johnny Gaudreau on the top line and currently sports a 24.3% shooting percentage to go with a team-leading nine goals and total of 14 points.
- Fox also recently spoke with Dallas Stars center Jason Spezza, who this past week played in his 1,000th NHL game, about how he is approaching a contract year. Spezza was transparent with his answer:
“Not when you’re 35. You don’t care about the contract years… I just want to play the year, have a good year. I want to be back here next year. The money doesn’t matter. I just want to play and make sure I have a good role… It’s different when you’re at this point in my career. I just want to be on a team that has a chance to win. So, no, I can’t say that’s once played into my mind… That time has passed in my career. I’m just looking to play and be on a good team and have a good role and contribute… If you put the work into it, you get rewarded with big contracts. I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever played the game for the money.”
Spezza’s honesty is refreshing, but he also contradicts himself with a scenario that is likely to unfold as the season progresses. Spezza states that he wants to be back in Dallas next season, yet also wants a chance to finally win the Stanley Cup. Those two things may not coincide soon enough for the veteran center. The Stars currently share the 14th-best record in the NHL, but sit sixth out of seven in the powerhouse Central Division and have struggled to score goals early on this season. If Dallas cannot improve over the course of the season, Spezza will become an attractive trade rental candidate, especially since his eight points thus far indicate a bounce-back season compared to a disappointing 2017-18 campaign. Dallas may also be a few years away from really competing with the likes of Nashville and Winnipeg in the Central. A desire to win may make a continued career with the Stars less likely, but would make Spezza’s decision to waive his No-Movement Clause and choices in free agency much easier.
Not much has gone right for the Florida Panthers this season, but the team hopes that they may have good news on the horizon after goaltender Roberto Luongo was on the ice Sunday taking shots, according to NHL.com’s Jameson Olive. The team lost the oft-injured netminder during the second period of the season opener when teammate Frank Vatrano fell on him, forcing him out of the game with a lower-body injury.
The 39-year-old has fared well when healthy, but he hasn’t played more than 40 games since the 2015-16 season, which isn’t great considering the team is paying him $4.53MM per year for four more years. Head coach Bob Boughner was thrilled to see Luongo back on the ice, but has no intention of bringing him back until he is 110 percent healthy.
“He’s a huge part of this team. And you can see, no slight to anybody else, this team’s missed him,” Boughner said. “We’re a different team when he’s playing.”
- The Columbus Blue Jackets also had good news as winger Brandon Dubinsky participated in Sunday’s morning skate, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline (subscription required). Dubinsky has been out since Oct. 8 with a partially torn oblique muscle, but there remains no timetable for his return. The original diagnosis for Dubinsky’s injury was four to six weeks. He hasn’t been out three weeks yet, but the 32-year-old said that he’d be disappointed if he didn’t play on the team’s upcoming road trip, starting Thursday and going through Sunday. “I would say I’m ahead of schedule, but I don’t want to come back early and set myself back a few weeks,” Dubinsky said. The veteran had only played in two games before getting injured, but already had a goal and an assist.
- The Colorado Avalanche may be without one of their top youngsters for a while as BSN’s Adrian Dater reported that the team will be without center Tyson Jost indefinitely. Jost, who suffered a head injury Friday in the third period against Ottawa, has a goal and an assist in 11 games so far this season. The 20-year-old scored 12 goals in his rookie season last year, but had worked his way higher up in the lineup this year.
- Newsday’s Colin Stephenson reports that New York Rangers head coach David Quinn said that defenseman Adam McQuaid is day-to-day with a lower-body injury he sustained in the first period Thursday. He is not expected to play Sunday against Los Angeles, which could open up another chance for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, who has only appeared in two games for the Rangers this season.
Even in this early part of the season, many eyes around the league are focused on the Columbus Blue Jackets. As more players like Nate Schmidt ink contract extensions and are taken off the 2019 unrestricted free agent market, even more pressure is on the Blue Jackets and their pending duo of stars. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are both scheduled to become UFAs next July, and have had little movement with the Blue Jackets in terms of contract extensions.
In fact, Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet writes that Bobrovsky may have already given “an indication of teams he will consider” a trade to this season, given he has full control with a no-movement clause. Bobrovsky has taken the lion’s share of work in the Columbus net to start the year, but is performing worse than he ever has in his career. His .872 save percentage is among the league’s worst, and nearly 50 points lower than his mark from last season. It’s hard to believe he won’t turn things around, but if the Blue Jackets aren’t intending on re-signing him—or he’s not willing to re-sign with the Blue Jackets—a trade might be the best scenario for both.
Panarin meanwhile told the club he didn’t want to negotiate during the summer, but also wanted all business completed by the start of the season. That left the Blue Jackets in a tough position given their belief in themselves as Stanley Cup contenders, as trading a player like Panarin can only hurt your on-ice product in the short term. The 26-year old forward though never said anything negative about the organization or city, just that he didn’t want to sign a long-term deal at the moment. That little bit of wiggle room could force the Blue Jackets to keep him around all year and make a pitch at the end of the season.
It’s obvious that both players are incredible talents, capable of changing the direction of a franchise all by themselves. But both will also be incredibly expensive on the open market, likely challenging some of the highest paid players at their respective positions. Can the Blue Jackets wait out the year and re-sign either one? Or are both destined to be in a different jersey come September 2019.
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