Blue Jackets aim for playoffs with future of stars in doubt


By MITCH STACY - AP Sports Writer



FILE - In this April 19, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky, right, of Russia, makes a save against Washington Capitals' Chandler Stephenson during Game 4 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series in Columbus, Ohio. Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

FILE - In this April 19, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets' Sergei Bobrovsky, right, of Russia, makes a save against Washington Capitals' Chandler Stephenson during Game 4 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series in Columbus, Ohio. Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)


FILE - In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets' Artemi Panarin pauses during the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Flyers won 2-1. Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)


BLUE JACKETS AT-A-GLANCE

LAST SEASON: 45-30-7, 97 points. First wildcard in Eastern Division. Lost to Washington Capitals in first round of playoffs.

COACH: John Tortorella (fourth season, 18th NHL season.)

ADDED: F Anthony Duclair, F Riley Nash.

LOST: F Matt Calvert, F Thomas Vanek, D Ian Cole, D Jack Johnson.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Artemi Panarin. The Russian forward, acquired in a trade with Chicago in the summer of 2017, had a career year with the Blue Jackets, leading the team with 27 goals and 55 assists for 82 points. The Blue Jackets tried to lock him with a multiyear contract, but he decided to play out the final year of his deal, signaling that he doesn’t really want to be in Columbus for the long haul. The Blue Jackets’ window for getting to the next level stays open, providing the “Bread Man” has another good year before his probable departure.

OUTLOOK: Tortorella was signed to a two-year contract extension, but the organization was unable to lock up Panarin and star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with both entering the last year of their contracts. If the team can avoid that distraction and players such as Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Pierre-Luc Dubois play to their potential, the Blue Jackets should be back in the NHL playoffs, where they have yet to make it out of the first round in four tries. Entering their 18th season of play, the Blue Jackets are still the only team in the NHL to have never won a playoff series.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — So what’s going on with “Bob” and “Bread”?

That question dominated the off-season discussion around the Columbus Blue Jackets, overshadowing everything else surrounding a team coming off consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history.

A legitimate inquiry for sure, considering Bob and Bread — otherwise known as goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin — are major pieces of a team that should be a solid playoff contender again this season.

The two Russians are playing out the final year of their contracts, and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s primary goal this summer was to lock up both superstars with multiyear deals. Neither of the deals got done.

Panarin has said he isn’t sure he wants to commit to Columbus for the long haul. Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets haven’t been able to get together on numbers.

“They’re our best players, no question about it,” veteran forward Cam Atkinson said. “We’re going to treat it as business as usual. I’m not going to look at them any differently, because at the end of the day it’s their decision. There’s only so many times in your career where you’re in the driver’s seat.”

WINDOW IS OPEN

If Panarin and Bobrovsky play to their capabilities, and some other Blue Jackets who battled injuries or otherwise struggled last year can bounce back, the team should be playoff contenders again. Columbus was eliminated in the opening round by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the past two years.

“I think we’ve crossed the bridge as a team hoping to win,” said coach John Tortorella, who signed a two-year contract extension before camp opened.

“I think we crossed that bridge, I think we know we can win,” he said. “The players’ mindset, I think they know they can win. I think we showed that the past couple years. We’ve stumbled in the playoffs, and that’s what we have to take note of here.”

Panarin set a franchise record with 27 goals and 55 assists (82 points) in 81 games. The second-highest scorer among forwards was rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois, who had 20 goals and 28 assists (48 points).

The Blue Jackets grabbed the first wildcard in the rugged Metropolitan Division despite subpar years from usually reliable forwards Atkinson (46 points), Alexander Wennberg (37 points), Boone Jenner (32 points) and Nick Foligno (33 points). Injuries definitely played a part.

THS STATE OF ZACH

Defenseman Zach Werenski is getting healthy again after playing much of last season with a bum shoulder. He started hitting last week and is hoping to be ready to go by the Oct. 4 opener in Detroit.

Werenski suffered a torn labrum in his left shoulder in the 12th game last season. The rest of the way he wore a cumbersome brace that wrapped around his chest and arm to keep his shoulder from separating. His movement was restricted, which affected his defensive skills, but he still managed to finish with 16 goals.

“It’s awful hard for a defenseman to play all those games that he played and put up the numbers he put up and do some of the things he did with that shoulder the way it was,” Tortorella said. “He’s one that we’re certainly going to watch very closely.”

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The Blue Jackets added some help at center by signing center Riley Nash, the 29-year-old former Boston Bruin who put up career numbers last year. Nash had 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 76 games, besting his previous high by 16 points.

The team also signed 22-year-old forward Anthony Duclair, who had 11 goals and 12 assists in 56 games with the Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes last season,

The Blue Jackets bid farewell to longtime players Jack Johnson (Pittsburgh) and Matt Calvert (Colorado), as well as to Ian Cole (Colorado), a defenseman who played valuable minutes down the stretch after being acquired at the trade deadline last season.

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Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

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FILE – In this April 19, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky, right, of Russia, makes a save against Washington Capitals’ Chandler Stephenson during Game 4 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series in Columbus, Ohio. Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/09/web1_121433713-c0cd9d1413f94c7f8f1bc8388af2f9e3.jpgFILE – In this April 19, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky, right, of Russia, makes a save against Washington Capitals’ Chandler Stephenson during Game 4 of an NHL first-round hockey playoff series in Columbus, Ohio. Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin pauses during the third period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Flyers won 2-1. Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)
https://www.wnewsj.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/22/2018/09/web1_121433713-36f665e552704d1094d95f88c55b820f.jpgFILE – In this Feb. 22, 2018, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets’ Artemi Panarin pauses during the third period of the team’s NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The Flyers won 2-1. Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Panarin are the best players on the team and part of the reason the Blue Jackets will be solid playoff contenders again this season. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton, File)

By MITCH STACY

AP Sports Writer

BLUE JACKETS AT-A-GLANCE

LAST SEASON: 45-30-7, 97 points. First wildcard in Eastern Division. Lost to Washington Capitals in first round of playoffs.

COACH: John Tortorella (fourth season, 18th NHL season.)

ADDED: F Anthony Duclair, F Riley Nash.

LOST: F Matt Calvert, F Thomas Vanek, D Ian Cole, D Jack Johnson.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Artemi Panarin. The Russian forward, acquired in a trade with Chicago in the summer of 2017, had a career year with the Blue Jackets, leading the team with 27 goals and 55 assists for 82 points. The Blue Jackets tried to lock him with a multiyear contract, but he decided to play out the final year of his deal, signaling that he doesn’t really want to be in Columbus for the long haul. The Blue Jackets’ window for getting to the next level stays open, providing the “Bread Man” has another good year before his probable departure.

OUTLOOK: Tortorella was signed to a two-year contract extension, but the organization was unable to lock up Panarin and star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with both entering the last year of their contracts. If the team can avoid that distraction and players such as Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and Pierre-Luc Dubois play to their potential, the Blue Jackets should be back in the NHL playoffs, where they have yet to make it out of the first round in four tries. Entering their 18th season of play, the Blue Jackets are still the only team in the NHL to have never won a playoff series.

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