Blue Jackets TV voice Jeff Rimer is one of the league's most "plugged-in" guys, and he has a pulse on what's cooking around the NHL as free agency opens today.
Rimer dropped by to update us on what he's hearing around the league, and what fans can expect on the Blue Jackets' front (as well as other big names in free agency) as the frenzy continues...
RIMER'S UPDATE: As far as the Blue Jackets are concerned, I expect them to look for ways to improve their depth at the forward position. They're not going to be in the hunt for Zach Parise, and I don't necessarily think that Parise will sign first, regardless. I think, more realistically, the Blue Jackets will make a move for a forward that can help complement the top two lines and possibly in the bottom six. I also believe they will add a goaltender to the mix, as well.
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Happy Canada Day!
First off, we wish a very happy Canadian holiday to all of our friends north of the border (and to the Canadians who now make their home in the United States). We're less than an hour away from the start of NHL free agency, and what better way to track all of the action than with the CBJ Today?
The wildly unpredictable news and chains of events are what make this day so exciting. There are big names available every year, and 2012 is no different. Where will star winger Zach Parise sign? What about top defenseman Ryan Suter, or underrated offensive defender Matt Carle of Philadelphia? How will the goaltending market shake out?
These are questions that, while not guaranteed to be answered before the close of July 1, will dominate conversation around the NHL landscape as we move along.
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The Blue Jackets knew they were getting a solid player when they acquired Nikita Nikitin from the St. Louis Blues, but it’s safe to say the defenseman blew expectations out of the water.
He battled through a tough situation in St. Louis, and came to Columbus with a fresh outlook – and it paid off. Nikitin, 25, earned heavy minutes from both Scott Arniel and Todd Richards during the 54 games he played for the Blue Jackets in 2011-12, and quickly became a permanent fixture on a strengthened blue line.
Nikitin officially signed a two-year, $4.3 million contract extension with the Blue Jackets this afternoon, keeping him in the union blue sweater through the 2013-14 season. He was scheduled to become a restricted free agent (RFA) later this week, but GM Scott Howson and Nikitin’s camp both had an interest in agreeing to new deal as soon as possible.
The new deal will buy one year of Nikitin's unrestricted free agency years. Per the terms of the agreement, he will earn $1.8 million next season and $2.5 million in 2013-14.
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When the NHL Draft concluded last weekend, we spoke with Scott Howson and he indicated both drafted goaltenders could play junior hockey in Canada this upcoming season.
The first step in that process came today with the CHL Import Draft, and it was nothing but good news for both Oscar Dansk and Joonas Korpisalo. The top-ranked Swedish (Dansk) and Finnish (Korpisalo) netminders in the 2012 draft class were both selected in the top five of the import draft, a strong indication that they could each have starting jobs as early as this season.
Dansk was taken third overall by the Erie Otters (OHL), a club that struggled mightily last year (10-52-6) and could use some help between the pipes. The big, athletic goaltender will get playing time, and could play a large role in getting the Otters back to respectability in the Midwest division.
If Korpisalo decides to play junior hockey, he will start his career in the WHL with the Prince George Cougars. The 18-year-old Finn is regarded as one of the quickest and most athletic goalies in the draft, and if he gets a chance to crack the lineup for the Cougars, we could be hearing his name a lot as the season progresses.
I talked to Blue Jackets goaltending coach Ian Clark about both of these goaltenders, who will be in Columbus for development camp beginning July 3.
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Before we get this blog started, can we take a moment to marvel at that absolutely awesome pass by Nikita Nikitin? Easily one of my top Blue Jackets plays of the second half of the year. Catches the Red Wings defense napping in the neutral zone, stretches the ice, and Derick Brassard is on the business end to cash it behind Ty Conklin. Brilliant stuff.
Oops, sorry. This guy is having a hard time coping with the offseason. How many days until training camp? Holy dog days, man.
Anyway, what we're looking at today are the Blue Jackets' restricted free agents. The dawn of UFA Day is less than a week away and it's time to get geared up for one of the more fast-paced days in the National Hockey League. How much activity will there be? It's always hard to tell, but we anticipate a busy week (or more) on the Blue Jackets front.
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Feeling "replaced" is never easy for any player (let alone a goaltender) and Blue Jackets goaltending coach Ian Clark could see it in Sergei Bobrovsky.
Fresh off a stellar campaign with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010-11, Flyers GM Paul Holmgren instigated a complete organizational makeover. First, team captain Mike Richards and scoring center Jeff Carter were sent packing in exchange for prospects and draft picks.
Holgmren used the spare salary cap space to sign free agent Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract, sending Bobrovsky down a rung on the organizational ladder. He had just won 28 games for the Flyers and posted a 2.59 goals-against average, but instead, would be relegated to backup goaltender duty.
Bobrovsky soldiered on and waited for his opportunity. This past weekend, he got it -- coming to the Blue Jackets in a trade that sent draft picks to the Flyers. One man who is extremely excited to have "Bob" in the organization is goaltending coach Ian Clark, who has watched Bobrovsky's game closely over the past few years and knows exactly what he's getting: a confident, hard-working kid who wants a chance to assert himself in the National Hockey League.
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What a week!
First off, before we get things started on the blog, my many thanks go out to the people of Pittsburgh, the Penguins, and the National Hockey League for making the 2012 NHL Draft a great experience for all involved. We were fortunate to have great weather (which always helps), but those in charge of putting on the event did a tremendous job. I'm already looking forward to next year's draft in New Jersey -- but not before we get to roll out the red carpet in January for the All-Star Game here in Columbus!
Now, on to business.
I got the sense from Scott Howson and the Blue Jackets staff (both before and after the draft) that they were going into the weekend with an aggressive mentality toward filling needs in the organization. Top of the list, as Howson has said many times, was the goaltending position. That doesn't simply mean players at the NHL level -- the club needed top-end prospects that can develop into No. 1 goaltenders in the next few years.
After the team opted to let Mathieu Corbeil go back into the draft pool (and he was not selected in this year's draft), it was clear they were going after goaltenders.
By all accounts, and from those I talked to, the sense is the Blue Jackets got two very solid prospects at goaltender -- and Oscar Dansk (31st overall) was their top-rated netminder. Many mock drafts had Dansk going in the first round, and after Howson said there was a player at No. 31 they "really like," you got the feeling it was Dansk.
|Oscar Dansk meets CBJ director of amateur scouting Tyler Wright at the NHL Draft.|
Joonas Korpisalo could be a sleeper for the Blue Jackets. Dansk may be the guy who gets more of the attention because of where he was selected, but Korpisalo has a ton of raw, natural ability and says he likes to model his game after fellow Finn netminder Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators. Korpisalo is 6-foot-3 and regarded as a quick-footed, athletic goalie who makes efficient movements between the pipes. Like Dansk, he's likely a few years away from the NHL, but Howson said both goaltenders could play in Canadian junior hockey this season.
Blue Jackets fans will get a close-up look at all of this year's draft picks when Development Camp begins on July 3 at the OhioHealth Ice Haus. BlueJackets.com and JacketsTV will have you covered wall-to-wall once the sessions begin -- and don't forget, the practices are open to the public. So come down to the Arena District and get a glimpse of the future in the Blue Jackets organization!
On the pro side, things will start to heat up as we get closer to the start of NHL free agency. Howson got out ahead of the game by trading draft picks to the Flyers for Sergei Bobrovsky, who is going to come into training camp with an opportunity to compete for the No. 1 goaltender's job. The scouting report on "Bob" is that he's got a lot of talent, and has playoff experience while with the Flyers -- and posted some impressive numbers during the 2010-11 season when he got ample playing time.
Howson said the team still plans to add another goaltender that can play in the NHL once free agency opens, so we'll keep track of that as news develops. July 1 falls on a Sunday this year, so kick back, relax, and follow our coverage on BlueJackets.com as soon as the clock strikes noon and the "frenzy" is under way. I'll be speaking with Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards and goaltending coach Ian Clark today about the acquisition of Bobrovsky, so look for a story on the site either tonight or tomorrow morning.
Again, thank you for reading our coverage all week long from Pittsburgh, and for interacting with us on Twitter @BlueJacketsNHL. Stay tuned as we bring you all the #CBJ news throughout the offseason, as we get set for the 2012-13 season!
PITTSBURGH – On Thursday night, Scott Howson jokingly said he had a guess as to who the Edmonton Oilers would select with the first overall pick. When he had the opportunity to select Ryan Murray a few minutes later, there was nothing but certainty.
The 18-year-old captain of the WHL’s Everett Silvertips became the newest member of the Blue Jackets organization on Friday, and joins an already-strong group of defensemen in Columbus. Howson and the club’s hockey operations staff sat with fingers crossed, hoping the Oilers would leave Murray on the board. When it became reality, the Blue Jackets selected the player they had rated No. 1 on their pre-draft list.
He has all the characteristics that a solid hockey player is comprised of: natural leadership ability, a willingness to always improve, and – not to be forgotten – a mature, pro-style game on the ice surface.
At least two other NHL clubs were keenly interested in moving up in the order to take Murray, but Howson stayed put.
“We got a very attractive offer to move off, too, and we just said no,” Howson said. “We got another offer from the same team and we said no again. They kept coming, but we were locked in on Ryan Murray. He was No. 1 on our list and that's the guy we wanted to take.
“(Defense) is certainly the strongest part of our team, and I think it's crucial to win in the NHL from the back end out. We added a goalie today, so hopefully we're getting a little sturdier in the defensive zone and in defending. Now we're going to have to address how we score."
Though Howson said Murray was the top player on the Blue Jackets’ list, they made sure not to let Murray in on the secret. After several days of meetings – and more than one with Columbus – Murray sat in the seats at CONSOL Energy Center with his parents by his side, and his mind full of uncertainty as the seven o’clock hour approached.
The giant exhale after hearing his name called made it all worthwhile.
“They didn’t make it clear to me, no,” Murray said with a laugh. “I met with them earlier (Thursday) and had a good meeting. They were pretty intense towards me, but they were a lot nicer to me after the draft. It’s crunch time and there were a lot of big decisions that needed to be made.”
One decision that wasn’t difficult was to bring 71-year-old Parker Fowlds to Pittsburgh with him to witness his life-changing moment – and it’s because Fowlds made Murray’s first life-changing event a possibility.
Fowlds welcomed Murray into his home as a billet two years ago in Everett, Wash., and the lessons Murray learned can’t be quantified in value. “Home away from home” can sometimes be tired phrase, but for Murray, Fowlds’ home was home, and a big reason why he was able to stride across the stage and shake Gary Bettman’s hand.
“He wanted to come (to the draft) since the start of the year,” Murray said. “I’ve been with him for two years, and he’s taken me in and really been like a father to me.
“He’s a great guy that’s really taken care of me over the past two years, so I really wanted him to be here.”
Many scouts and NHL types believe Murray is ready to step in and play right away, but as Howson has repeatedly said, the player will ultimately make that decision. Murray took a step in that direction this past season, when he was invited to Team Canada’s pre-tournament camp for the IIHF World Hockey Championship.
After a tremendous showing at the World Junior tournament earlier in the year, he earned the opportunity to train with some of the elite players in the game. One of his teammates during the tournament was Blue Jackets defenseman Marc Methot, who Murray said gave a ringing endorsement of the city of Columbus and the organization Murray now calls home.
All it took was a couple of injuries on the Canadian blue line and Murray was forced into game action – an experience that he said not only helped him get better at the time, but will be something he can reflect on as his career progresses.
“It was just a great experience for me,” Murray said. “I was only supposed to go down there for about a week and maybe get some exhibition games in, and some guys got hurt and it kind of opened the door for me.
“It was great to play with those guys, practice with them and see how they prepare themselves both on and off the ice.”
“They have a lot of good defensemen,” he said, smiling. “I have a lot of work to do.”
ANDERSON THRILLED TO BE DRAFTED BY COLUMBUS: We just spoke with Blue Jackets fourth-round pick Josh Anderson, a strong young forward out of the London Knights organization in the OHL. He couldn't have been more excited, and after a strong first season in major junior hockey, he said that he has set goals for himself as he moves into the sophomore campaign.
In 2011-12, Anderson tallied 12 goals and 22 points in 64 games with Knights. He carried a +17 rating and regularly played against opposing teams' top players. He's considered to be a two-way player that can check and score goals, and that's exactly what he wants to do more of next year. Anderson scored five points in 19 playoff games as the Knights won the OHL championship, before eventually losing to Shawinigan in the Memorial Cup final.
Here's what Anderson told BlueJackets.com after being picked:
On his feelings after being drafted:
"It's great. This is an unbelievable feeling...I'm so happy to be part of this organization. I talked to the Blue Jackets during the Combine and I knew they liked me then, but I had no idea they would be picking me today. It was a total surprise, but it's awesome."
On the kind of player he is/what style he plays:
"I'm a strong two-way player, and I'm real committed to playing hard at both ends of the rink. I consider myself an unselfish player, and I'll do whatever it takes to help my team win games. I block shots, take a hit to make a play and get the puck out...anything that helps the team, I'll do it."
On his goals for next year:
"I want to work on my creativity with the puck. I think that's something I can get better at and I'm going to work really hard at it. My goal is to score 80 points with the London Knights next year and I think I can do that. I like the way Rick Nash plays the game -- I want to be more like that and model my game after his."
The Blue Jackets had a list of priorities heading into this weekend's NHL Draft, and GM Scott Howson is pleased he was able to cross a significant number of them off his to-do list.
With just two goaltenders under contract in the organization -- and very few in the pipeline to begin with -- the Blue Jackets sought to bolster their depth in goal, and wanted to do so at their draft table. After two highly-rated netminders were selected in last night's first round, the next best available goaltender was young Oscar Dansk from Shattuck St. Mary's, and Howson zeroed in on him at 31st overall.
After the conclusion of the first round, Howson admitted he had legitimate trade offers from two NHL clubs interested in the 31st pick, but said "there's a player there we really like." When NHL senior VP Jim Gregory let the Blue Jackets know they were on the clock, there was not much deliberation -- Dansk was their guy, and the second piece acquired this weekend geared to rebuilding the goaltending position in the organization.
"I feel like I have a good opportunity (in Columbus)," Dansk said. "I'm going to work hard now, but it's probably going to take some time, though. It could happen fast, too, you never. I'm just going to work hard every day and see how it goes.
"I'm really happy about it. My dream is always to come in (to the NHL) at 20, but I know it's a process and I'm willing to go through the process, however long it's going to take me."
The same feelings were shared by Joonas Korpisalo, a Finnish goaltender from the Jokerit organization. He was selected in the third round (62nd overall), making it back-to-back goalies for the Blue Jackets. Korpisalo is regarded as an athletic goalie who has experience in international tournaments, and has been a successful player for his junior club in Jokerit.
Korpisalo posted a 2.04 goals-against average, .920 save percentage and four shutouts this year and, like Dansk, could be on his way to Canadian major junior hockey this fall. Both players are slated to be included in the CHL Import Draft in the coming weeks, where their next destinations will likely be revealed.
"When they announced my name, I was so excited," Korpisalo said. "To be drafted to a team and a city like Columbus, it's unbelievable. I feel great because I know I can be the No. 1 goalie there, so yeah, I feel pretty good. That's what I have to do, and being the No. 1 goalie and winning the Stanley Cup...that's the dream."
Howson said he would welcome the decision of both goaltenders to come to North America and play junior hockey. And though the Blue Jackets have added to their goaltending depth this weekend, he said there's more work to be done on that front.
"We're well-stocked," Howson said. "They're both obviously young kids, but I know Oscar wants to come and play junior hockey. I haven't talked to Joonas yet about what he wants to do. If he wanted to do that, they can both come over and play.
"We need to add more goalies, two more pros. We certainly need another goalie that can play in the NHL, that would give us competition at that spot for this year."