NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 18, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – April 18, 2022

The Wild and Capitals clinch playoff berths, the Leafs and Blues set franchise records, the Panthers remain red hot and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: The Minnesota Wild clinched a playoff berth with a 5-4 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks. Jared Spurgeon scored twice, including the game-winner, Kevin Fiala had a goal and three assists and Frederick Gaudreau collected three assists for the Wild, who sit in third place in the Central Division with 101 points. The Sharks have lost 10 straight games.

Minnesota Wild winger Kevin Fiala (NHL Images).

William Nylander scored the game-winning goal as the Toronto Maple Leafs doubled up the New York Islanders 4-2. The Leafs set single-season franchise records with 50 wins and 106 points as they sit in second place in the Atlantic Division. They also officially eliminated the Islanders from playoff contention, meaning the Washington Capitals have secured a postseason berth with 94 points as they sit in the final Eastern Conference wild-card berth.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Leafs sat out Auston Matthews from this game as he’s nursing a minor injury. He’s listed as day-to-day but head coach Sheldon Keefe wasn’t concerned his condition might worsen.

The eight Eastern Conference playoff clubs have now been determined. What follows over the remaining games of the regular season will be jockeying for position to determine home-ice advantage in the opening round of the 2022 postseason.

The St. Louis Blues erupted for seven second-period goals to set a club record for most goals in a single period as they crushed the Nashville Predators 8-3. Brayden Schenn, Jordan Kyrou and Calle Rosen each scored twice while Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists for the Blues, who sit one point ahead of the Wild in second place in the Central Division. It was also the most goals the Predators have ever given up in a single period as they drop behind the Dallas Stars into the final Western Conference wild-card spot.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Predators (91 points) are tied with the Stars but the latter holds a game in hand. Earlier in the day, the Predators announced defenseman Jeremy Lauzon would not play as he’s week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Blues coach Craig Berube provided an update on Nick Leddy’s condition after he had been cut under one eye during Saturday’s win over the Wild. He said the defenseman was feeling better and doesn’t think he’ll be sidelined for very long.

Florida Panthers rookie Anton Lundell scored twice and goaltender Spencer Knight made 33 saves in a 6-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Florida winger Jonathan Huberdeau’s point streak ended at 13 games. The Panthers have won 10 straight games and sit atop the Eastern Conference with 114 points, two behind the first overall Colorado Avalanche.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Fun fact: the Panthers have lost only once in the 13 games they’ve played since acquiring Claude Giroux from the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Anaheim Ducks snapped a 13-game winless skid by downing the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-4. John Gibson made 31 saves for his first victory since March 1 while Troy Terry scored twice and collected an assist. Jackets winger Patrik Laine missed the game with an upper-body injury and Zach Werenski left the game early in the first period with a facial injury.

Buffalo Sabres forwards Victor Olofsson and Tage Thompson each scored twice in a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers. Kevin Hayes and Noah Cates each had a goal and an assist for the Flyers.

HEADLINES

TSN: Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen will undergo an MRI for a lower-body injury suffered during Saturday’s loss to the Colorado Avalanche.

CBS SPORTS: Avalanche defenseman Devon Toews is dealing with “some nagging things” and could sit for Monday’s game against the Capitals.

TSN: Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Pezzetta will have a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety regarding an illegal check to the head of Capitals winger T.J. Oshie on Saturday.

MONTREAL HOCKEY NOW: Speaking of the Canadiens, they’ve set an NHL record for the most man-games lost to injury with 700.

THE ATHLETIC: Pierre LeBrun reports Donald Fehr’s tenure as executive director of the NHL Players Association could come to an end before next season.

A report released Friday by the law firm Cozen O’Connor cleared Fehr and the PA of any individual or systemic wrongdoing over their handling of the Kyle Beach investigation. That report, however, has come under criticism, raising speculation about concerns among the PA membership.

LeBrun reports Fehr, 74, was facing pressure to come up with a succession plan prior to the report’s release. That process could be accelerated, especially with another round of collective bargaining with the NHL coming in five years’ time.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 29, 2022

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – March 29, 2022

Senators owner Eugene Melnyk passes away, the Hurricanes take over first place in the Eastern Conference, Vladimir Tarasenko reaches a scoring milestone, and more in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

SENATORS OWNER EUGENE MELNYK DEAD AT 62

OTTAWA SUN: Senators owner Eugene Melnyk passed away late Monday following a long illness. His enduring legacy was buying the Senators in 2003 and maintaining the franchise in Ottawa. In 2015, Melnyk underwent a life-saving liver transplant. With his help, the Senators Community Foundation invested over $100 million in local charities and community programs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: My condolences to Melnyk’s family and the Senators’ organization. The hockey world is mourning his passing, with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and Senators captain Brady Tkachuk among the first to pay tribute.

Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk dies at age 62 (NHL.com).

The Senators were among the NHL’s top teams during Melnyk’s early years of ownership, reaching the 2007 Stanley Cup Final. After exceeding expectations to reach the 2017 Eastern Conference Final, the club spent the following years rebuilding its roster.

Melnyk often faced criticism from Senators fans over the club’s direction, especially in recent years. He received his share of the blame for the departures of popular stars such as Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson. The outspoken Senators owner also threatened to move the club several years ago if the club’s attendance didn’t improve.

Nevertheless, the Senators would’ve probably relocated to an American city in 2003 if Melnyk hadn’t stepped in to purchase the franchise. It’ll be up to his successor and the club’s current management to ensure the current rebuilding program achieves his dream of turning the Senators into a Stanley Cup contender.

GAME RECAPS

NHL.COM: The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Washington Capitals 6-1 to take over first place in the Eastern Conference with 95 points, one ahead of the Florida Panthers. Martin Necas scored two goals and added an assist while Frederik Andersen made 25 saves for the win. The Capitals (84 points) remain three points behind the Boston Bruins, who hold the first Eastern wild-card spot.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Hurricanes weren’t happy over a hit on forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi by Capitals center Lars Eller late in the game. Kotkaniemi’s left leg appeared to be injured. Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour didn’t know the extent of the injury following the game but commented it didn’t look good. No word if Eller will face supplemental discipline.

St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko reached his 500th career point in a 4-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Tarasenko scored twice and chipped in an assist while Ville Husso turned in a 35-save performance. With 81 points, the Blues sit in third place in the Central Division. The Canucks (73 points) remain three points behind the Vegas Golden Knights for the final Western Conference wild-card berth.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: David Perron also reached a Blues milestone, joining Brett Hull and Scott Young as the third player in franchise history to score at least 12 goals in a calendar month.

The Edmonton Oilers bounced back from a 9-5 loss to the Calgary Flames on Saturday by thumping the Arizona Coyotes 6-1. Ryan McLeod tallied twice and picked up an assist, Leon Draisaitl had a goal and an assist and Mikko Koskinen got the win by kicking out 31 shots. The Oilers sit in third place in the Pacific Division, two points back of the second-place Los Angeles Kings.

Speaking of the Kings, they fell 6-1 to the Seattle Kraken. Chris Driedger stopped 36 Kings shots while teammate Vince Dunn collected two assists. It was the 1,000th career NHL game for Kings coach Todd McLellan, who became the seventh active coach to reach that milestone.

The Buffalo Sabres rallied from a 4-0 deficit to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 6-5 with Tage Thompson netting the game-winner in the final seconds of the third period. Sabres winger Victor Olofsson scored twice and picked up an assist.

IN OTHER NEWS…

NHL.COM: Minnesota Wild goaltender Cam Talbot, Calgary Flames winger Johnny Gaudreau and Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl are the NHL’s three stars for the week ending March 27, 2022.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upheld a one-game suspension to Hurricanes winger Nino Niederreiter for a slashing infraction on March 18.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is listed as day-to-day with an upper-body injury suffered from a high hit by the Minnesota Wild’s Marcus Foligno during the Jackets’ 3-2 loss to the Wild on Saturday.

SAN JOSE HOCKEY NOW: San Jose Sharks captain Logan Couture suffered a bruised lung when he was struck by a shot by teammate Brent Burns during last Thursday’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. He missed Saturday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks but will return to the lineup on Wednesday to face the Arizona Coyotes.

COLORADO HOCKEY NOW: Over a week after being traded from the Montreal Canadiens to the Colorado Avalanche, Artturi Lehkonen’s immigration paperwork has been processed and he can finally join his new teammates.










Reviewing Some Recent Notable NHL Trades & Free-Agent Signings

Reviewing Some Recent Notable NHL Trades & Free-Agent Signings

July 25 to 31 was a busy week in the NHL following the entry-draft weekend with the annual free-agent market opening on July 28.

I noted the top UFA signings of the opening day of free agency for Bleacher Report. Here’s a quick look at several other notable free-agent signings, plus some interesting trades that caught my eye over the past week.

July 26: Florida Panthers re-sign Sam Bennett to a four-year, $17.7 million contract.

Bennett quickly meshed well with the Panthers following his acquisition from the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. He’ll provide them with solid second-line depth in their quest to become a Cup contender.

July 27: Chicago Blackhawks acquire Marc-Andre Fleury from Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights had to shed salary to improve their roster depth. With a younger Robin Lehner under contract for four more years at $5 million per season, the 37-year-old Fleury and the remaining year of his contract ($7 million) had to go. Unfortunately, he found out about it on Twitter before the club could inform him. His omission of team owner Bill Foley and general manager Kelly McCrimmon in his farewell statement to the team and the fans spoke volumes.

Blackhawks acquire Tyler Johnson from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning shed Johnson’s contract for the next three seasons. In return, they get the contract of permanently sidelined defenseman Brent Seabrook to put on LTIR. In other words, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois immediately shed $5 million from his books and garnered another $6.875 million in cap wiggle room if necessary.

Tampa Bay Lightning center Brayden Points (NHL Images).

July 28: Lightning re-sign Brayden Point to an eight-year, $76 million contract.

It’s a big investment by the Lightning but that’s the price to be paid for keeping a core player who is becoming one of the best centers in the NHL. He’s deadly during the regular season and seems to find another gear when the playoffs roll around.

Starting in 2022-23, the Lightning has almost $45 million invested in just five players. Those five, however, are Point, former league MVP and scoring champion Nikita Kucherov, former Norris and Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman, current Smythe winner and former Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, and team captain and former Richard winner Steven Stamkos. They’re the core that helped win back-to-back Stanley Cups. You can argue they’re paying too much to keep that group intact but at least they’ve got true value for those salary-cap dollars.

Colorado Avalanche acquires goaltender Darcy Kuemper from the Arizona Coyotes.

Avalanche GM Joe Sakic turned immediately to the Coyotes and Kuemper after starter Philipp Grubauer signed with the Seattle Kraken. The 31-year-old netminder has a year left on his contract with an affordable $4.5 million cap hit. He’s a terrific performer but has been plagued by injuries in recent years. Kuemper must stay healthy throughout this season if the Avs hope to win the Stanley Cup next June.

Calgary Flames sign Blake Coleman to a six-year, $29.4 million contract.

Coleman was an effective and versatile checking-line forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their back-to-back championship runs. His style of play should fit well with head coach Darryl Sutter’s system of grinding defensive hockey. Still, investing that much for six years on a middle-six forward who turns 30 this season could prove costly in the final half of the deal when his skills start to decline.

Boston Bruins sign Linus Ullmark to a four-year, $20 million contract.

Ullmark put up decent stats during his four years with the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres. Whether he’ll become a reliable starter on a better club in Boston remains to be seen. It’s an expensive gamble that could go sour. This signing also raises questions about the future of long-time starter Tuukka Rask once he returns from offseason hip surgery in February.

July 29: Columbus Blue Jackets re-sign Zach Werenski to a six-year, $57.5 million contract extension.

After seeing so many core players depart in recent years, the Blue Jackets had to ensure they could keep Werenski in the fold. The 24-year-old is an excellent puck-moving defenseman but they overpaid to keep him in Columbus. His $9.583 million AAV is higher than that of Colorado Avalanche rearguard Cale Makar ($9 million), who was a Calder Trophy winner in 2019-20 and a Norris Trophy finalist last season.










NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 30, 2021

NHL Morning Coffee Headlines – July 30, 2021

Alex Ovechkin looks forward to chasing Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, the Blue Jackets sign Zach Werenski to a long-term contract extension, and the Blues sign Brandon Saad. Get the details plus other notable trades and signings in today’s NHL morning coffee headlines.

NBC SPORTS WASHINGTON: Alex Ovechkin said the opportunity to pursue Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record factored into his recent signing of a five-year contract with the Capitals. Ovechkin, 35, has 730 career goals and needs 165 more to break Gretzky’s record. To do it, he needs to average 33 goals per season.

Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The all-time goal-scoring record is the most reachable of Gretzky’s significant offensive achievements. Nevertheless, it’ll a daunting challenge for Ovechkin, who turns 36 in September.

Ovechkin’s still among the league’s elite scorers, tallying 24 goals in 45 games last season and 48 in 68 games in 2019-20. If not for the pandemic (and a half-season lost to a lockout in 2012-13), he’d be much closer to Gretzky’s record by now. However, he’s also at an age when his production will begin to decline.

The Capitals captain is currently sixth on the all-time list. A 37-goal performance this season would vault him over Marcel Dionne (731), Brett Hull (741) and Jaromir Jagr (766) into third overall, 34 behind Gordie Howe (801).

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: The Blue Jackets signed defenseman Zach Werenski to a six-year, $57.5 million contract extension. The annual average value is $9.583 million and takes effect in 2022-23.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Jackets consider Werenski among the NHL’s top defensemen over the past five seasons and are paying him accordingly. He’s tallied 189 points in 335 career games. Starting in 2022-23, he’ll be the third highest-paid defenseman in the league with a higher annual cap hit than Colorado Avalanche blueliner Cale Makar’s $9 million and just ahead of former defense partner Seth Jones’ $9.5 million AAV with the Chicago Blackhawks.

Werenski’s a skilled puck-moving defenseman but I don’t consider him worth more than Makar, a Calder Trophy winner in 2019-20 who was a Norris Trophy finalist last season. But after enduring a steady parade of talent departing Columbus via trades and free agency in recent years, the Jackets had to pay the price to keep Werenski in the fold.

His new contract lacks no-trade protection in 2022-23 and a full no-movement clause in 2023-24 through 2026-27, dropping to a modified no-trade in the final season.

STLTODAY.COM: The Blues signed winger Brandon Saad to a five-year, $22.5 million contract. The annual average value is $4.5 million. The deal also comes with a full no-trade clause in the first four years.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Saad took a pay cut from the $6 million AAV he earned over six seasons on his previous contract. He joins a club undergoing a retooling of its roster since winning the Stanley Cup two years ago. He fills the vacant left wing spot on the Blues’ first line following the departure of free agent Jaden Schwartz to Seattle on Wednesday.

NEW YORK POST/LAS VEGAS SUN: The Vegas Golden Knights trade winger Ryan Reaves to the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2022 third-round pick.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Rangers acquired enforcer Reaves in yet another move to bolster their toughness. The Golden Knights, meanwhile, made this move to free up salary-cap space by shedding his $1.75 million cap hit.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: The Lightning signed winger Corey Perry to a two-year, $2 million contract.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Perry said he wanted to return to the Montreal Canadiens for another season. The opportunity to play two seasons with the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, however, was too good to pass up.

THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH: Zach Werenski wasn’t the only defenseman the Blue Jackets signed yesterday, inking Jake Bean to a three-year deal worth an annual cap hit of $2.33 million. The Jackets acquire the 23-year-old blueliner from the Carolina Hurricanes last week.

MLIVE.COM: Long-time Detroit Red Wings forward Darren Helm signed a one-year, $1 million deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Helm and Valtteri Filppula were the last remaining active members of the Wings last Stanley Cup championship in 2008 still with the team last season. Filppula is also an unrestricted free agent and isn’t expected to be brought back.

SPORTSNET: The Montreal Canadiens signed forward Mathiew Perreault to a one-year, $950K contract.










Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – May 30, 2021

Sunday NHL Rumor Roundup – May 30, 2021

In the Sunday NHL rumor roundup: Seth Jones will reportedly test next summer’s free-agent market, the Wild face some big offseason decisions, plus some more Penguins speculation.

JONES TO TEST UFA MARKET PUTS JACKETS IN A TOUGH SPOT

SPORTSNET: Elliotte Friedman reported Seth Jones recently informed the Columbus Blue Jackets of his intention to test next summer’s unrestricted free agent market. The 26-year-old defenseman has an annual average value of $5.4 million on his contract with a modified no-trade clause.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (NHL Images).

Friedman said he doesn’t want to deal in absolutes but it appears Jones will test free agency “and we’ll see how Columbus decides to handle this over the next little while.”

THE ATHLETIC: Aaron Portzline reports Jones and his agent declined to comment. Nevertheless, this is a devasting blow for the Jackets. The blueliner would be the latest among several notable players to depart the organization in recent years via free agency or trades.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen indicated earlier this month he intended to keep Jones into next season without a contract extension in the hope the blueliner would change his mind. With John Davidson returning as team president, Portzline wonders if Kekalainen will attempt to trade Jones this summer.

Trading Jones could lead to a roster rebuild. It would also raise questions over the future of Jones’ defense partner Zach Werenski (a restricted free agent next summer) and Cam Atkinson, who turns 32 next month and might not wish to be part of a rebuild.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Portzline believes the Jackets would’ve made Jones their highest-paid player, as well as offering him the captaincy if he agreed to stay. His decision to go to market next year could signal the beginning of the end of the Jackets’ current roster.

The Jackets can’t afford to let him walk next summer for nothing. Kekalainen could wait until the trade deadline to move him but that comes with the risk of an injury to Jones or being forced to accept a lesser deal. It would also create an unnecessary distraction overshadowing their efforts to contend for a playoff spot.

Despite a decline in his performance this season, Jones remains among the NHL’s top defensemen. The Jackets won’t lack for trade partners if they decide to move him this summer, though those suitors will want assurances Jones will sign a contract extension.

If they trade Jones, they must determine Werenski’s future this summer. He has arbitration rights next summer and will be a year away from UFA eligibility. He could end up getting shopped by next summer if he doesn’t want to stick around.

Atkinson, meanwhile, is signed through 2024-25 with an annual average value of $5.875 million and a 10-team no-trade list. Moving him if he wants out would be a little more complicated but not impossible if it comes to that.

WHAT NEXT FOR THE WILD?

ESPN.COM: Greg Wyshynski examined the potential offseason plans for the Minnesota Wild following their recent first-round elimination by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Wild GM Bill Guerin faces difficult decisions in July’s expansion draft. Five players (Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Mats Zuccarello) have no-movement clauses and must be protected.

If Guerin protects seven forwards he risks losing defenseman Matt Dumba to the Seattle Kraken. Protect eight skaters to protect Dumba and they could lose a forward like Jordan Greenway. He must also decide between exposing veteran goalie Cam Talbot or promising Kaapo Kahkonen. Perhaps Guerin swings a side deal with the Kraken to protect a player.

TWINCITIES.COM: Dane Mizutani also weighed in on Guerin’s expansion draft plans. If the Wild GM could convince one of his players with NMCs (such as Suter) to waive their clause, it would allow him to protect Dumba.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: The Kraken could pass on Suter or Parise if they waive their movement clauses. Both are aging veterans with each carrying annual cap hits of over $7.5 million for four more years. It’s no certainty, however, either guy will agree to it.

Wyshynski and Mizutani also wondered what the future holds for Parise, a frequent healthy scratch this season who saw mostly fourth-line duty. A buyout is unlikely because it would put the club in salary-cap hell for the rest of the decade. It could be difficult to find a team willing to acquire the remainder of his contract.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Mizutani’s colleague John Shipley believes Parise showed he could still be a contributor for the Wild with two goals and an assist when he finally got back into the roster against the Golden Knights. Finding a suitable role for him on the roster for next season will be challenging if a trade cannot be worked out.

If the Buffalo Sabres and Jack Eichel decide to part ways this summer, Wyshynski suggests the Wild has the depth in promising prospects and young players to make a competitive bid. They have a longstanding need for a top center.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Yes, they do, and as long as they don’t sell the whole farm to get Eichel, he could prove a worthwhile addition to their lineup. That’s assuming, of course, he’ll be put on the trade block this summer.

MORE PENGUINS SPECULATION

TRIBLIVE.COM: Mark Madden recently envisioned the Pittsburgh Penguins trading Jake Guentzel for a different type of forward after watching the skillful winger getting battered and bullied in the playoffs. He pointed to when the Penguins traded James Neal for rugged Patric Hornqvist in 2014.

Seth Rorabaugh speculated the Penguins could free up some cap space if they can entice the Seattle Kraken to select someone like Marcus Pettersson ($4.025 million annually) or Jason Zucker ($5.5 million) by offering up a draft pick. They did something similar with Marc-Andre Fleury during the Golden Knights’ expansion draft in 2017.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Moving Guentzel for a power forward would be a significant move by the Penguins. It would address Brian Burke’s desire to add some skilled toughness and size to their lineup. However, it could also backfire by robbing the Penguins of a significant part of their scoring punch.










NHL Rumor Mill – April 24, 2021

NHL Rumor Mill – April 24, 2021

Are offseason changes in store this summer for the Blue Jackets? Could Patrik Laine, Max Domi or John Tortorella be part of them? Check out the latest in today’s NHL rumor mill

THE ATHLETIC: In a recent mailbag segment, Aaron Portzline was asked if Patrik Laine’s body language suggests the Blue Jackets winger wants out of Columbus. Citing those who know Laine best, he said the winger does care, wants to be in Columbus and is being maligned by a lack of confidence. Laine becomes a restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer. Portzline suspects he’ll get a one-year deal, making him an RFA again next summer.

Columbus Blue Jackets winger Patrik Laine (NHL Images).

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Laine could also pop up in offseason trade speculation. Unless he demands a trade or the Jackets get a mind-blowing offer I expect they’ll re-sign him. A one-year contract could be the best path for now given his difficulties this season.

This was a tough season for the Jackets as a team and Laine personally. The club could have a different coach behind the bench and maybe some news faces in the lineup for 2021-22. Gauging Laine’s play over a normal 82-game schedule will allow them to fully evaluate whether he’s a worthwhile long-term fit.

The likely return for Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo could be underwhelming if the market for goaltenders is flooded this summer. He suggested teams like Colorado, Toronto or Washington could seek help between the pipes if their goaltending fails them in the playoffs.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: This summer’s pending UFA goalies include Boston’s Tuukka Rask, Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer and Toronto’s Frederik Andersen. There could still be a decent market for Merzlikins or Korpisalo assuming Rask and Grubauer sign with their current clubs.

The health of the franchise will depend upon what Seth Jones wants to do. Signing the defenseman to a contract extension this summer has to be the top item on general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s list, followed by deciding whether to sign or replace head coach John Tortorella.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Jones is eligible next summer to become an unrestricted free agent. The Blue Jackets can open contract extension talks once the NHL offseason is in full swing. His contract negotiations could become a hot topic in this summer’s rumor mill. If Jones prefers testing the market it could lead to a franchise-altering trade at some point before next year’s trade deadline.

Tortorella’s critics this season (of which I am one) wonder why he hasn’t been replaced given the Jackets’ decline this season and the struggles of Laine and Max Domi since their arrivals in Columbus. There’s no question he did a good job reversing their fortunes in recent years. Nevertheless, the club’s disappointing performance this season suggests it’s time for a change behind the bench. We’ll find out well before next season if Kekalainen shares that view.

Portzline is against trading struggling forward Max Domi, pointing out the Jackets would be selling low. He wonders if Domi might benefit from a different voice behind the bench.

In another mailbag, Portzline suggests the Jackets might have to package defenseman Zach Werenski to acquire a No. 1 center in the trade market, though they shouldn’t do that unless they know what Jones intends to do. Free-agent options include Edmonton’s Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Montreal’s Phillip Danault but the former is really a second-line center and the latter a middle-six guy.

SPECTOR’S NOTE: Boosting the offense should be a priority, even if it means adding wingers if no decent centers can be found. The Jackets require a reliable first-line center but they might have to develop their own while making do in the short term with second-line additions via trades and/or free agency.