Will injury ruin season for both Brassard and Jackets?

December, 22, 2008
We hate to be Captain Negative today, but you can't underestimate the news out of Columbus, where the Blue Jackets announced Monday that impressive rookie center Derick Brassard is out for the year. He's having surgery in January to repair a dislocated right shoulder.

Brassard was tied for the NHL rookie scoring lead with 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) in 31 games, and was among the candidates for the Calder Trophy. More importantly, he was the top center on a Jackets team that isn't that deep at the position.

"It's disappointing for him and for the team," Jackets GM Scott Howson told ESPN.com. "He was obviously a solid rookie of the year candidate who was having a good year, and was starting to take other steps. I even saw some growth here over the last couple of weeks in terms of his assertiveness. He was taking on a bit more of a leadership role, which was positive for a young player."

Talk about a punch in the gut. The Jackets were three points out of a playoff spot Monday and can ill afford to lose their No. 2 scorer. So now what? Other GMs around the league can expect their cell phones to ring in the near future.

"We're going to try and see what's out there, to see if we can help plug the hole," said Howson. "So that's what we'll try and do. But if we have to just try and move on from within, that's what we'll do."

The Washington Capitals have been shopping veteran center Michael Nylander all season, but we're told the Jackets aren't interested. Too much contract left on that baby. Nylander, 36, has two-and-a-half seasons left on his current deal, which pays him $5.5 million this season, $5.5 million next season and $3 million in 2010-11.

Either way, Brassard's injury is a huge blow for a team that needed its core players to stay healthy all year to remain in the playoff race. Ken Hitchcock rates among the best coaches in the NHL, but barring a trade, this might be too much to overcome.

Sundin contract
Now that the paperwork has been filed, here's the official breakdown of Mats Sundin's contract with the Vancouver Canucks:

It goes in the books as a one-year deal worth a total of $5.6265 million: $4 million in a signing bonus that he gets right away and $1.63 million in salary. Prorated to reflect that nearly half the season will be gone by the time Sundin plays, the contract will put a total of $5 million ($1 million in salary, $4 million in signing bonus money) into his pocket.

Mr. Outdoors
Detroit Red Wings goalie Ty Conklin will be an unrestricted free agent July 1. Where he signs will determine the next NHL outdoor game.

We're kidding, of course, but it's uncanny that the veteran goaltender is getting set for his third outdoor game, in Chicago on Jan. 1, after starting in Edmonton in November 2003 and in Buffalo last New Year's Day.

"Either I follow it around or it follows me around -- I don't know which is which," Conklin joked with reporters on a conference call Monday. He has a .500 all-time record in those games, losing to Montreal as the Oilers starter and beating the Sabres in the Penguins net last year.

Wings head coach Mike Babcock would be crazy not to start Conklin again. It must mean something in terms of experience to have played in a pair of these things. Mind you, the game in Edmonton was at night; last season's was held in the afternoon.

"It's a lot easier to play when it's not minus-20," Conklin said, referring to the Edmonton game. "They were both neat, but they were both a lot different, to be honest. The one in Edmonton was really cold and played in tough conditions. Everything was so new. I think what gets lost a lot of the time is that there's two points available.

"This game, I mean, Chicago is right behind us right now. They're not far back and they've been playing as good as anyone these days. That's going to be an important game."

We asked him whether his outdoor experience has him dishing out advice to Red Wings teammates.

"No, I can't explain to anybody how to stickhandle in the cold and when the ice is a little bit choppy," Conklin said. "I'll leave that up to them. The thing that's difficult is that the guys who have the hardest job are the equipment guys.

"[Red Wings equipment manager] Paul Boyer is going to have a good time because you never know what kind of weather you're going to get. It could be 35 degrees and a nice and sunny day, or it could be minus-10 and the wind could be blowing 20 miles per hour. You have to prepare for all kinds of elements."

If Conklin does indeed start Jan. 1 at Wrigley Field, talk about amazing. Here's a guy who has been mostly a backup in his career -- he even started last season in the AHL before an injury to Marc-Andre Fleury prompted a call-up -- and yet may end up having three outdoor game starts under his belt for three different NHL teams.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer


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