Monthly Archives: December 2020

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With a 56-game season, just like that, the National Hockey League is back.

The NHL and the NHL Players Association announced today an agreement to play an abbreviated 2020-21 season starting Jan. 13, getting the sport back on the ice amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The season will be the 20th in Columbus Blue Jackets franchise history.

“I’m super excited,” goalie Elvis Merzlikins Jersey said recently of the specter of a return to the ice. “I can’t wait. I really miss hockey. I really miss the action. I am missing the boys, I am missing all my traditions and being with the boys in the locker room.”

Because of the pandemic, the 2019-20 season was paused March 12 with most teams still needing to play 12 to 15 games to conclude the regular season. The teams returned to practice in July before moving into a pair of “bubbles” in hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton to stage a 24-team playoff bracket that concluded Sept. 28 when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars to earn the Stanley Cup.

It was a postseason unlike any other and it will be followed by a regular season that will be just as unique. Because of travel issues related to the pandemic, the divisions will be realigned and teams will play only those foes, with Columbus playing eight games apiece this year against new Central Division opponents Tampa Bay, Carolina, Dallas, Nashville, Florida, Chicago and Detroit.

Per the NHL, It is the current plan to play games in the home arenas of participating teams while understanding that most arenas will not, at least in the initial part of the season, be able to host fans. However, depending on prevailing conditions both in local markets and across North America, the League will be prepared to play games in one or more “neutral site” venues per division should it become necessary.

“The National Hockey League looks forward to the opening of our 2020-21 season, especially since the Return to Play in 2019-20 was so successful in crowning a Stanley Cup champion,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news release. “While we are well aware of the challenges ahead, as was the case last spring and summer, we are continuing to prioritize the health and safety of our participants and the communities in which we live and play. And, as was the case last spring and summer, I thank the NHLPA, particularly Executive Director Don Fehr, for working cooperatively with us to get our League back on the ice.”

“The Players are pleased to have finalized agreements for the upcoming season, which will be unique but also very exciting for the fans and Players alike,” said Don Fehr, NHLPA Executive Director. “During these troubled times, we hope that NHL games will provide fans with some much needed entertainment as the players return to the ice.”

A full schedule and other specifics related to the season are expected to be released in the coming days, with the 56-game season to conclude May 8 and a normal 16-team Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket featuring the top four teams in each division to follow. Training camps are slated begin Jan. 3, but in recent weeks a number of Blue Jackets players have been skating at the OhioHealth Ice Haus in preparation for the upcoming season.

“There’s a good amount of guys that have been here,” veteran winger Cam Atkinson Jersey said recently. “We’ve been trying to get guys to come back early because we are skating, we are pushing each other, and it’s good to see more and more guys starting to trickle in.”

Columbus finished 33-22-15 while playing 70 games a season ago, good enough for a tie for eighth place in the Eastern Conference. The Blue Jackets participated in the qualifying round of the playoffs, defeating Toronto by a 3-2 margin to reach the final 16 before losing in five games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Lightning. With that showing, Columbus is just one of three NHL teams to have reached the final 16 of the playoffs each of the past four years.

The league will attempt to return to a normal calendar with an October start for the 2021-22 season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets and National Hockey League announced today a 2020-21 regular season schedule in which the club will play 56 games, including 28 home dates at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets will kick off their 20th NHL season with a two-game series at Nashville on Thursday and Saturday, January 14 and 16. The club will play its first home games of the season at Nationwide Arena on Thursday and Saturday, January 21 and 23 with a two-game set against the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blue Jackets’ announcement of the club’s 2020-21 schedule is presented by mike’s Hard Lemonade. Game times and a broadcast schedule will be announced soon.

This season’s schedule will feature 56 games among the re-aligned Central Division’s eight teams. The Blue Jackets will play eight games each against the Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, Detroit Red Wings, Florida Panthers, Predators and Lightning. The club will play its 56-game schedule over 115 days between January 14 and May 8.

This season, which is the Blue Jackets’ 20th in the NHL, marks a return to its roots in the Central Division, where the club played its first 12 seasons from 2000-13. The club will reunite with former Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit and Nashville) and continue to compete against one Metropolitan Division rival of the past seven seasons (Carolina). In addition, Columbus will face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning, whom it upset in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and lost to in the 2020 postseason as Tampa Bay went on to win the second Stanley Cup in franchise history. In Florida, the Blue Jackets face a team led by General Manager Bill Zito (CBJ Assistant GM from 2013-20) and includes former Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky Jersey, Alexander Wennberg Jersey, Markus Nutivaara Jersey, Anthony Duclair and Anton Stralman. Below is breakdown of the schedule by opponent:

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Christmas is coming and the Columbus Blue Jackets are sending a letter to Santa Claus. What do they want and need for the 2020-21 season and beyond?

The NHL is expected to return to play in mid-January, as training camps open in just a few weeks. Making the playoffs isn’t Columbus’ goal, but a deep run and raising the Cup are on their “wish list.” What will it take to make that happen? Here are five presents the Blue Jackets would like to see under the tree this year.

#5 Big Years from the Young Wingers

When projecting the Blue Jackets’ lineup for 2021, the intrepid team of Blue Jackets columnists at The Hockey Writers were unanimous in predicting that Alexandre Texier Jersey (age 21) will play on the top line alongside center Pierre-Luc Dubois Jersey (22). Liam Foudy Jersey (20) and Emil Bemstrom Jersey (21) should see ice time early in the season while winger Gus Nyquist recovers from surgery.

Alexandre Texier Columbus Blue Jackets
Alexandre Texier, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
It’s tempting to add Oliver Bjorkstrand Jersey and Eric Robinson Jersey to this list but, believe it or not, both are already 25, as is newly-acquired center Max Domi Jersey.

#4 Kraken Prefer Goaltending to Defense in the Expansion Draft
Not long after the 2021 Stanley Cup is awarded, the Seattle Kraken will decide on the core of the newest NHL team through the Expansion Draft. The rules for the draft are the same as those used by the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017, where each team, other than Vegas (exempt from the draft), can protect certain players, but the rules are designed to ensure that quality players are made available to the Kraken.

We can’t read the minds of the Blue Jackets’ brain trust, but we can (and, of course, will) speculate. Likewise, we don’t know what Seattle’s plans are. Will they lean toward the older, more experienced goalies who are likely to be available, including Anton Khudobin of the Dallas Stars, as projected by The Athletic (“Seattle Kraken expansion mock draft 5.0: Who could the Stars lose?” Dec. 8, 2020) and Dallas Stars Daily Links? Perhaps Jonathan Quick of the Los Angeles Kings or Corey Crawford of the New Jersey Devils? Or will they select young goalies with great upside? Or a couple of each?

Columbus has a pair of star goalies right now: one is exempt from the draft because he is a second-year player (Elvis Merzlikins Jersey) and one who should be protected (Joonas Korpisalo Jersey). The organization has three good prospects in the pipeline: Daniil Tarasov, Veini Vehviläinen, and Matiss Kivlenieks Jersey. According to the expansion rules, at least one goalie must be exposed. Kivlenieks is the most likely candidate.

Matiss Kivlenieks Columbus Blue Jackets
Matiss Kivlenieks, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
Why would the Blue Jackets wish to lose a goalie with potential? Because the likely alternative is to lose defenseman Dean Kukan Jersey. After trading Ryan Murray Jersey and Markus Nutivaara Jersey, the team’s defensive depth isn’t what it once was. And because the club will probably protect Seth Jones Jersey, Zach Wertenski, and Vladislav Gavrikov Jersey, Kukan is the most tempting player exposed.

Dean Kukan Columbus Blue Jackets
Dean Kukan, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
The Blue Jackets, of course, have other players who will be unprotected and available to the Kraken. I expect the list to include D-men David Savard Jersey, Gabriel Carlsson Jersey, and Scott Harrington Jersey, as well as forwards Nick Foligno Jersey, Mikhail Grigorenko Jersey, and a half-dozen others. But Seattle’s decision will likely come down to Kukan or Kivlenieks, and Columbus can afford to lose the latter more than the former.

#3 Healthy Goalies
The 2019-20 season was a nightmare of injuries. Shortly after being selected for the NHL All-Star Game, Korpisalo went down with a knee injury. Merzlikins took over the crease and became a star, but he too was knocked out of the lineup by injury, twice (a concussion in February and a groin pull in the postseason).

Related: Blue Jackets: The 5 Most Significant Injuries of 2019-20

The 2021 season is likely to include a compressed schedule, perhaps with a higher percentage of back-to-back games than usual. Having two healthy goalies, either of whom can steal a game, will be an advantage for Columbus, which is expected to be a low-scoring team – unless:

#2 A Trade Partner Offering a Scoring Winger
If there’s one area where the Blue Jackets need help, it’s scoring. The 2019-20 season saw Columbus tied for third-fewest goals scored in the league (tied with the Stars who went to the Stanley Cup Final, but, still…) General manager Jarmo Kekäläinen may sign a free agent, such as Mike Hoffman, but he may also play the waiting game and hope to steal a proven goal scorer from one of the 10 or so teams currently over the salary cap.

Mike Hoffman, Brandon Dubinsky Jersey
How would Mike Hoffman look in (rather than against) a Blue Jackets sweater? (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
He has low-cost players on entry-level contracts who could be swapped for a player with a higher cap hit, and some prospects and draft choices could be dangled in front of teams with a cap problem.

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It was a season of firsts for the Blue Jackets, none more important than when Robert Kron won the first-ever faceoff in Blue Jackets history from Alexei Zhamnov of the Chicago Blackhawks.

That was the moment NHL hockey in Columbus became real, with Oct. 7, 2000, serving as the culmination of a decade’s worth of dreaming and years of planning.

Finally, four years after the first application was submitted to the NHL for a team, three years after the city had been awarded an expansion franchise and after two years of construction on a downtown arena, the first game in Blue Jackets history signaled a new era for the city.

To this day, the names on the inaugural team still remain etched in Blue Jackets lore, from top scorers Geoff Sanderson Jersey and Espen Knutsen to tough guys Tyler Wright Jersey and Kevin Dineen to the veteran wiles of captain Lyle Odelein Jersey and goalie Ron Tugnutt. Assembled by general manager Doug MacLean through trades, free agency and the expansion draft, they came from all over the NHL and the world to become the first to put on the union blue sweater.

And they thrilled raucous crowds that flocked to Nationwide Arena, including the one on that opening night that could hardly believe its eyes when the Blue Jackets opened a 3-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of franchise history. Bruce Gardiner scored the historic first-ever goal off assists from Krzysztof Oliwa and Kevyn Adams 7:34 into the game, and David Vyborny Jersey and Steve Heinze followed in the next two minutes to nearly blow the freshly completed roof off the building.

But fans would come to know the fickle nature of the sport of hockey, and quickly. Chicago tied the score in the second period and went on to ruin opening night with a 5-3 victory, but the Blue Jackets would soon know the taste of triumph.

The first-ever Blue Jackets win came Oct. 12, as Columbus earned a 3-2 win at Calgary thanks to Adams’ tiebreaking third-period goal. A 3-1 win over Washington on Oct. 27 earned the first home win, and the Blue Jackets were off and running.

Columbus would go on to finish 28-39-9-6 under head coach Dave King, tying the Blackhawks with 71 points for fourth place in the Central Division, but the city’s love affair with hockey was already evident.

There were plenty of highlights from the season, which ended with a bang when the Blackhawks returned to town and Wright scored in overtime to make the Blue Jackets walkoff winners at the end of their first campaign.

Milestones were aplenty, from Tugnutt’s first-ever CBJ shutout in a Dec. 18 win over Montreal to Sanderson’s inaugural hat trick as he tallied all three goals in a Feb. 10 victory against Nashville. On March 24, Knutsen became the first Blue Jacket to earn five points in a game as Columbus earned a thrilling 6-4 victory over Calgary.

On the season, Sanderson led the way with 30 goals and 56 points, with Knutsen’s 42 assists part of his 53-point NHL debut campaign. Heinze added 22 goals and 42 points, while Wright, Vyborny, Serge Aubin and Jamie Heward each finished with double-digit goals. Tugnutt won 22 games, a record for an expansion team goalie, and a 2.44 goals-against average even though his spoof ‘Vote Tugnutt’ presidential campaign didn’t quite get off the ground.

All in all, the groundwork was set for what was to come at the corner of Front and Nationwide.