Over the summer, we had the assignment of creating trade proposals for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Elpalito busted out with his first The Cannon article with a proposed deal that would send the-since combative Cam Atkinson to the Edmonton Oilers for center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.
Now, at the time that this trade scenario was published, Atkinson was fresh off a personal best, and franchise-tying best, 41 goals. His previous high was 35 in 2016-17, and he has at least 20 goals in a season since 2013-14. He even put up 24 in a shortened 65 game season, for him, in which he battled injuries and contract uncertainty at the beginning of 2017-18.
Entering this season, Atkinson would undoubtedly be seen as potentially the best player still on the roster at that time. At least one of the best forwards — hello, PLD! — and with the wave of the since-departed UFA, it at least would stand to reason that Atkinsons’ goal-scoring presence was all the more needed. Not to mention, he’s arguably among the top leaders in the dressing room and on the ice, right?
So it was no surprise when the poll at the bottom of the proposed trade was overwhelming in those that hated the trade idea.
Do you like this Cam for RNH trade?
This poll is closed
PD gon’ kill you
Today, Cam Atkinson has seven goals — three in the last three games, two last night at the Washington Capitals, a team he’s been historically great against (19—12-7), so maybe he’s figuring it out. But it’s December and you’d have expected that total to be double digits before now.
He has three power play goals, one overtime game-winner, an empty net, and most damning of it all, two at 5v5 — of course, the first 5v5 goal came Dec. 5 against the Rangers...with Artemi Panarin in the building like old times.
The offensive woes that have been nipping at Atkinson might instantly bring to mind that aforementioned 2017-18 season. At least, it did for me.
If contract bugaboos and the uncertainty of his future were weighing on him, that didn’t last for long as Atkinson was locked up by the organization for the next seven seasons at $41.1 million by mid-November of that year.
Through Nov. 22 of that season, Atkinson had the same amount of goals (4) as he did through this past November, and only three assists for a measly seven points. As of today, Atkinson has 18 points — believe it or not, that’s tied for second on the team and just one behind Gustav Nyquist for the lead — and he had a run of six assists in seven games last month.
Prior to Cam’s recent trio of goals, Atkinson’s last goal came against the Red Wings, Nov. 21, a 5-on-3 power play goal he was able to bank in, while stationed at the front of the net. It felt like that could be the goal to get him going.
I, alone, assumed it was only a matter of time before the goals started coming when he had three by late Oct. and I made a wager with Seeds he would still score 30.
As the games have gone by, the absurdity of the offensive-outage droned on, and with little answers. Is he injured? Is it actually Atkinson who feels the loss of Artemi Panarin far more than any of us may have imagined?
What has amazed me looking at Cam’s WOWY chart courtesy of Hockey Viz is how Pierre-Luc Dubois has thrived away from Atkinson. You can check the number breakdown courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.
John Tortorella sure noticed time is of the essence as the veteran saw his ice-time diminished in recent games, with an uptick back to 17:00 minutes last night. He only saw the ice for 13:01 against the Penguins (5-2 win) Nov. 29, and then followed up with just 12:34 against the Islanders Nov. 30 (2-0 win).
Comments by the coach in recent weeks, such as during the Blue Jackets’ run of three-consecutive wins in mid-to-late November, coinciding with Nick Foligno’s three-game suspension, left Tortorella trying to figure out who to take out of the lineup upon Foligno’s return. It never seemed out of the question that a scratch could benefit Atkinson, from a mental reset perspective, though Torts nixed that notion (story by The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline, subscription required).
I’ve been annoyed with Atkinson’s lack of scoring because he’s among the leaders you expect to be potting goals. He’s largely been invisible, and costing a pretty penny in the process.
Cam had a breakaway short-handed chance Saturday night but there was nothing doing there and Sergei Bobrovsky made quick work of it. Tortorella spoke postgame about needing big plays at key times. It was not to be.
However, it was last night.
Atkinson banks in the empty netter to make it 5-2 #CBJ #AllCaps pic.twitter.com/2DN3OBgi1r— Alison (@AlisonL) December 10, 2019
In that 2017-18 campaign, when Cam started out slow, signed the contract extension, and then missed a month due to a broken foot, Atkinson rehabbed, reset, and came back on a vengeance. The resetting was a point of emphasis for Cam, who didn’t want to remember how the first half of that year went. He came back with a goal in Arizona against the Coyotes, which kicked off a four-game points streak, and 18 goals, 15 assists in the new year.
That club was a playoff team, but this version of the team is obviously different. Which places even more emphasis on guys like Cam to get going.
And watch, he’ll likely get on a run — maybe he’s in the midst of that — because it simply still stands to reason, even just based on his career track record to date, that he has that in him.
Even if it’s the inexplicable bad luck to this point, eventually that’s gotta turn. Right now, his shooting percentage is just seven percent (100 shots) which is the lowest its been since 2013-14 over a whole season (9.7%). It was 13.9% last season.
I’ve wondered, where would the Blue Jackets be in the standings by the point that Atkinson gets going? It might just feel like simple stat-padding to see Atkinson reach the scoring numbers we’re accustomed to, but of little consequence to the team in the grand picture.
But we might just take that because he has clearly been in a rut for a large juncture of the season to this point. Although as the calendar has turned to December, Atkinson has two goals in his last three games, so maybe he’s finally starting to emerge, rise even, from the depths of his blue.