Blue Jackets seek 5th straight berth in postseason
COLUMBUS — The Columbus Blue Jackets managed to achieve two of their most pressing offseason goals, but not without some friction.
Coming off their fourth straight playoff appearance, the Blue Jackets traded for some help at center, getting Max Domi from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for forward Josh Anderson. The 25-year-old Domi, who had 17 goals and 27 assists in 71 games, and three more assists in 10 postseason games, immediately signed a two-year, $10.6 million contract with the Jackets.
Done deal. Next.
Days before Monday’s opening of training camp, Columbus tied down one of its most important players, top-line center Pierre-Luc Dubois, with a new contract — but it wasn’t the long-term deal the organization had expected to announce with happy feelings on both sides. Dubois, an unrestricted free agent at age 22, signed a two-year pact worth $10 million, but it’s been floated to other teams that the young star may be looking for a change of scenery sooner rather than later.
Dubois, who has 65 goals and 93 assists in three seasons with the Blue Jackets, wouldn’t answer questions about the situation during a session with reporters Sunday.
“Our goal was to get a contract for camp,” he said. “The team, my agent and I have held talks, private talks, and they’ll remain private.”
It will be up to coach John Tortorella and captain Nick Foligno to make sure the Dubois situation doesn’t become a distraction, as it did when star forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky were playing out the 2018-19 season while making it clear they didn’t want to stay in Columbus.
“I think you know how we run things here,” Foligno said. “I mean if you’re here, you’re committed to being here until we hear otherwise, we’re told otherwise. So, you know, I think we’ve dealt with it in the past. You know, it’s outside chatter that really doesn’t affect our room, and we’ll have our own conversation with (Dubois) like any player, and know that he’s gonna be ready to go.”
LINING THEM UP
The Columbus forward ranks are crowded, but expect Oliver Bjorkstrand, last season’s top goal-scorer, to play on one side of Dubois with 21-year-old Alexandre Texier on the other. Foligno and veteran Cam Atkinson are good candidates to anchor the second line on either side of Domi.
The Blue Jackets will be without forward Gustav Nyquist, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum last fall and may not be back this season. A solid top-six forward, Nyquist was second on the team in scoring last season with 42 points, behind Dubois’ 49.
MORE GOALS, PLEASE
The Blue Jackets were 28th out of 31 NHL teams in goals scored but were holding on to a wild-card slot when the season was paused in March. That got them into a qualifying series, where they smothered Toronto in five games before being eliminated by eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay. There is no doubt Columbus will have to get more goals out of multiple players to be in the mix in a realigned Central Division that includes Chicago, Carolina, Nashville and the Lightning.
WHO’S IN THE NET?
When the offseason dust cleared, goalies Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins were still with the Blue Jackets, after speculation that one of them might be traded for another top forward.
Both had breakout seasons in 2019-20. Korpisalo, who got his chance to start after Bobrovsky left, played well enough early to earn an NHL All Star nod. But a knee injury to Korpisalo in late December 2019 put Merzlikins in the net, and he made the most of the opportunity. Both saw action in the playoffs.
“They ended up being the backbone of our team last year,” Tortorella said.
Columbus hopes the addition of Domi will give the team two solid forward lines. Mikko Koivu, a 37-year-old center who had 21 points in his 15th NHL season in 2019-20, also may fit in.
The Blue Jackets are curious to see whether center Mikhail Grigorenko’s positive development in the Russian league will transfer to the NHL, and whether forwards Emil Bemstrom, 21, and Liam Foudy, 20, can take the next step in their careers.
Gone are longtime Blue Jackets Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray.
After an 11-day training camp, the Blue Jackets open the 56-game regular season Jan. 14 with two games in three days at Nashville. Games will be played in home arenas without fans.