Monday, September 28, 2015

James Sheppard and the Importance of the Looming Expansion

James Sheppard at 2015 CBJ Training Camp
During this training camp something occurred that is being repeated throughout the league.  Sometimes it is a young guy, a tweener like James Sheppard.  Elsewhere it is veterans having a hard time catching on to a team.  It just seems to me that there are more NHL caliber players out there than there are positions.

And, I have to admit to being a bit confused about what Jarmo and JD are up to.  We are going into this season with a deep, veteran, albeit young, lineup.  We are floating up near the cap, yet the talent level down at Lake Erie is as high as it has ever been.

Based on his showing in training camp, James Sheppard makes this team 5 years ago.  I thought he looked really solid to me, and stood out in all of the preseason games I watched.  But he was gone in the first series of cuts.  Five years ago, Kerby Rychal makes this team, hands down.  Probably not this year.  So why the level of veterans?  Certainly experimenting with 'making room for the young guys' last year didn't work out so well for our fourth line.  And yes, the injuries compounded the problem.  So I get not wanting to walk the same path as last year.  But a cap team?

Then it occurred to me.  This summer, or next, there is going to be an expansion draft.  Forty-six new NHL jobs, and the development systems to support them, are going to be created!  Every team is going to get bled of several players in the expansion draft.  How will the CBJ deal with.....oh.  Yeah, that's right.  Young talent safely ensconced in the AHL, abundant veteran talent to spare at the parent club come time for the expansion draft.  

So this is an important year for this group.  It is time to feel a sense of real urgency, as this group of players really only has about 2 years together.  Then there will be the tough decisions about who to protect in the expansion draft, and who you can make available, then back filling with the young talent.  This group of players needs to move the bar in Columbus, and move it hard THIS year.  In spite of the long term contracts, this group will be under assault before two years is out.

And keep skating James Sheppard.  Hook on somewhere and bide your time, and continue your development.  There will be jobs out there soon.  I thought you showed well at our training camp.  Good luck for your future!


Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Word About Joonas Korpisalo

Joonas Korpisalo
A little more than a year ago I read an article about goal tending that I found fascinating.  I'm pretty sure I picked up the link off of Puck Daddy, but I have found the article again.  It is written by Chris Koentges, and is called The Oracle of Ice Hockey, and this is an unbelievably good article about goaltending in Finland.  I highly recommend this article, as it is written by a real writer, unlike myself.  The point I want to make is related to Part VI of the article, which is that Joonas Korpisalo is exactly on the development trajectory that one should expect from a Finnish goal tender.

An important point of the article is that Finnish goal tenders tend to mature at a different, slower, pace than their Canadian counterparts.  There are important philosophical elements to this as well, and Joonas has remained in Finland absorbing this part of the game.  I have seen some who characterize the CBJ goal tending pipeline as in a bit of trouble, but Anton Forsberg has not yet peaked, and Joonas Korpisalo is a long way from reaching his peak.  Developmentally, coming in as the backup in Lake Erie right now is right on track for him.  By next year we will begin to see what type of goal tender we can expect him to really be.  On a more recent front, he played very well at Traverse City, backstopping the CBJ to another tournament title.  I did see one comment that implied that it was well, you know, Traverse City, so.... inferior competition.  For the NHL, yes.  For a guy whose development track calls for him now to be exposed to the North American professional game, it is an excellent start.

Don't write this guy off because he was drafted behind Oscar Dansk.  If you read that article, you will understand that he was always going to hit his peak later than Oscar.  We do not know what Korpisalo's ceiling is yet.  We should get a better handle on that over the next two years.  I for one, am excited about this prospect, and think he is going to be way better than a lot of people think he is going to be.  Now he is going to have a lot of exposure to Ian Clark's NHL coaching skills, which should polish the foundation he acquired in Finland.

Good luck Joonas!  I'm rooting for you!


Friday, September 18, 2015

2015 Training Camp Opens for the CBJ

Head Coach Todd Richards coaches Saad, Clarkson, Campbell and Johansen
The Columbus Blue Jackets opened the 2015-16 season with the start of training camp today.  The coaching staff put the team through structured and rigorous practices today, with little fanfare.  The fanfare will come tomorrow, with more people expected to be available, but there was a small but vocal crowd most of the day.

I was able to watch groups 1 and 2 today, and I guess my impression would be 'veterans leading the way'.  Scott Hartnell seemed the de facto leader of Group 1, while the Captain, Nick Foligno was the obvious leader of Group 2.

After a fast series of drills, the practice wound down with fitness testing.   This diabolical instrument of torture allows the coaches to In this day and age you need to measure everything, and that's what they did.
'You will skate through this
machine many times..
And when you are done, you will
look like that!!!

A good day of practice!  Tee-shirts for the first 1000 tomorrow!


Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Glory of Cross Mojonization

If you look to the column to the right, you will see that the lads from DKM Hockey have posted a new podcast.  One of the great things about this podcast is the stunning beauty of cross mojonization, where our Blue Jacket centric land is about the multiple blogs and creative people who contribute to our love of hockey in Columbus.

Dan, from the Cannon joins Morgan and John as the new emcee.  They post a phenomenal interview with Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch and Puck Rakers.  Rob Mixer does good work over on the Blue Jackets Official Web Site, Alison does work for both the CBJ and Buckeye State Hockey, where @CBJProspects and the Coach are also posting.  Don't miss Martini Hockey, and Lori Schmidt piles onto the hockey scene when she's done covering OSU football, and Fox Sports makes a concentrated effort to support our team, while the Cannon, mentioned above, hosts many other talented writers (Jeff Little I'm talkin' to you) in addition to Dan.

We are truly blessed to have so many talented people pouring their energy into our hockey team.  Cross mojonization is making sure that we provide a way for anyone who wants to read these  writers a chance to see their material.  I highly encourage it.  If I missed anybody, my bad, and I apologize.

Training camp tomorrow.  It begins.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Bjork! Bjork! Bjork! Jackets Prospects 2-0 at Traverse City

Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!
The Blue Jackets Prospects jumped to 2-0 at the Traverse City tournament according to the CBJ and The Dispatch.  Oliver Bjorkstrand had a 5 point game with 2 goals and 3 assists to add to his 1 goal and 1 assist in the first game to illustrate the potential of this young prospect.

The good news is that Bjorkstrand is not at all alone on this team, with Sonny Milano, Kerby Rychel there to help him, while TJ Tynan adds the leadership to the group.  It is really exciting to see this prospect group performing so well, and they will match up against the Rangers prospects tomorrow.

Because of the depth on the parent club, many of this group will end up playing in Cleveland this year for the Lake Erie Monsters.
Oliver Bjorkstrand
This is a great opportunity for this group to form before the season starts, and it is to be hoped that it yields some significant benefits.  Needless to say, following this afternoon's football game, there are going to be fans in Cleveland looking for a winning team to follow.  This group of players has an excellent opportunity to establish a winning tradition with the Monsters that will aid the parent club for years to come.

These young players are focused on trying to make the NHL squad, but there isn't much room up there, especially for forwards.  These things don't play out on paper, they have to play out on the ice, but there is no shame for a prospect being unable to crack this Blue Jackets line up.  But for now, this group of young players is looking VERY strong!  Which is a great thing for the CBJ down the road.  Keep in mind that there are two expansion teams coming into the league over the next couple of years.  These players are going to find opportunity soon.  They will be best prepared for it with a good year of AHL play under their belt.  It's a good time to be a Jackets fan!

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Defensive Wild Cards

A 5 year Extension for Savard
Today the CBJ announced that they had signed David Savard to a 5 year contract extension for $21.25 million following a break out year for the young defenseman.  Savard scored 11 goals in 2014-15, tying Jamie Heward (now there's a blast from the past!) for second most goals by a defenseman in franchise history.  Heward scored his goals in 2000-01, showing just how low the bar is set.  But this should not detract from his accomplishment.

Savard's biggest accomplishment however, is being able to skate with Jack Johnson when Jack is out there munching minutes.  While arguably the Fedor Tyutin - Jack Johnson pairing might be a bit more solid, Johnson skates all the tread off of Tyutin's tires by the end of the season.  It's a lot healthier for Toots if he doesn't try to match minutes with Jack.  So Savard's accomplishment is significant.

This is an accomplishment for our drafting and development system as Savard, selected 94th overall in 2009, has blossomed into an NHL defenseman.  Which is really cool, when you reflect on some of the failures of this system early in the franchise's history, when the dearth of talent was so acute that young players were pulled in before they were ready.  Cody Goloubef and Dalton Prout are products of the same system, and the reality of this season is that we can go as far as these later round defensive draft picks of ours can take us.  The better these guys play, the less pressure there is on guys like Ryan Murray to carry the defense.

Boy, this team better be good, because they are all going to be around for a long time.  Our aspirations to make some noise in the playoffs really come down to the height of Savard's, Goloubef's and Prout's respective development ceilings.  If all three continue to develop consistency that comes with experience along with their game at the NHL level, then Jarmo's determination to take a shot with this defense will be rewarded.

The season looms.  I can hardly wait.


Monday, August 24, 2015

Daring to Hope; Hoping to Dare

Sonny Milano visits Cannonfest!
The ramp up to the season has begun, albeit the most difficult part.  Cannonfest 2015 is in the books, and it was a dandy.  Hosted at Dick's Last Resort, right in the shadows of Nationwide Arena, the event filled another venue.  A festival of hockey in the dark days of the off season, Cannonfest allows for some hockey renewal as we start the countdown towards the Traverse City tournament for prospects.

With the compensation of the summer weather, these are some of the hardest times for a hockey fan.  Free Agency excitement is long past, and all you can do is count the days till training camp.  Cannonfest helps to fill that late summer craving for hockey, and as such has become an essential survival tool for the die hard fan.

I have been to every Cannonfest.  But this one seemed a bit different to me, mainly because I am pretty excited about our 2015-16 team's chances.  We haven't even begun the warm up for the marathon in front of us, but the team is already healthier than it was at this time last year, when several players were recovering from surgery or other injuries and the Nathan Horton saga with pain was just becoming known.  Yes, we'll find out about some training injuries when camp opens, but the team is healthier already.  And this team is deep.  Very deep.

Seeing Sonny Milano at Cannonfest was a reminder of how deep this team is.  Sonny is an excellent prospect, with a bright future, but to crack the CBJ's lineup he is really going to have to bring some mojo.  For a guy like Sonny, the proper development track is critical, and unlike past years in CBJ history, there is no pressure to rush him to the NHL.  Ideally, Sonny has a strong season in Cleveland with the Lake Erie Monsters (YES!!!  I'm still pumped about that), and helps to establish a tradition of excellence our new affiliate location.  That puts him on track to attempt to crack the line up in the next two years when he has a pro season or two under his belt.  But the bottom line is that the parent club is SO deep, that a top draft pick talent like Sonny is a long shot to make the big club.

Depth is hedge against the inevitable misfortunes of the hockey season.  A tangible defense against the many things we know can go wrong with a season.  This level of depth lets me dare to hope that we are going to have a really fun season.  As Jeff Little, over on the Cannon, has often said, 'hope is not a strategy'.  And while it must be admitted that there is a certain amount of hope related to our defensive makeup, there is little else on this team that seems to require that.  So I dare to hope that things will go well for us this year.

And deep down, hidden within that battle scarred, cynical shell of a Blue Jackets fan, I hope to dare.  To dare to come out of nowhere like the 2011-12 New Jersey Devils, so when the Cup Final comes, everyone is looking around saying 'how the hell did those guys get here?'  Likely depending upon the foibles of our defensive corps, this group could really cause some trouble for a lot of teams, and Todd Richards must be licking his chops when he thinks of what could be.  So I hope that the players dare to take us on a wild ride that will leave an indelible mark of success on our young franchise.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

twas the Night Before CannonFest

Even my milk is excited for CannonFest!

Twas the night before CannonFest, fan unity our goal
Not a player was slandered, not even Boll;

My #CBJ milk was poured in my glass with care,
In hopes that I'd soon see some players there;

Anticipation of greatness, past year trends,
#HartnellDown donations, and meeting new friends;

something, something, something, something...

Now! Wagner, now! Lukan, now! GregMay and UB Soldiers,
On! Wooten, on! Ashley, on! Artillery and Schroeder

something, something...

But I heard him exclaim, like a voice from God --
Enjoy CannonFest you ALL,
and you're welcome for Brandon Saad

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

So Where Will the Scoring Come From?

Ignoring for the moment that we gave up 3.02 Goals per Game in 2014-15, let's focus on the 2.77 GPG we scored, which resulted in a total of 227 goals for the good guys.  It was an injury riddled year, but the 227 goals was good enough to finish 13th overall in goal scoring last year.  Due to the off season changes, and the recovering health of the team, we can play around a little bit with the numbers, and see where we might end up.

Certainly, many of these numbers will be dead wrong, with all of the foibles of the season laying before us, but here is some conservative guess work on how scoring might turn out.  Obviously, this is contingent on players being healthy.

Player                     Goals Guesstimate    Net from 2014-15
Johansen                         26                                 0
Foligno                           25                                  -
Hartnell                          22                                  -
Atkinson                        20                                  -
Clarkson                        17                                  0
Dubinski                        15                                  +
Saad                                 20                                  -
Wennberg                     10                                 +
Calvert                           15                                  +
Jenner                            15                                  +
Borque                            8                                   +
Campbell                        8                                   0
Boll                                   1                                   0
Johnson                         10                                   +
Connauton                     9                                   0
Savard                           10                                   -
Tyutin                             3                                   0
Murray                          10                                  +
Total                            244

Sorry for the lame table, Blogger has zero functionality in that regard.  But I digress...

If you look at the number of goals scored, with a good deal of the optimistic guesstimates still pretty reasonable and based on a greater number of games played, this is a pretty serious potential jump in goal scoring.  Should this season be blessed with some good luck, rather than the horrifying luck of 2014-15, there is reason to think that the scoring could compete with the top 5 in the NHL.

There is real reason to think that Wennberg might explode this year, as he looked really good down the stretch.  There is also real reason to think that he might have a tragic sophomore slump, based on evidence provided by Messrs Jenner and Murray.  However, there is a ton of depth in scoring this year, which might spell trouble for some of the other teams in the NHL.

The Metro is definitely getting tougher.  Right now over on the Cannon Matt is nursing a review of the Metropolitan Division.  It is going to be really interesting to see how the East stacks up this year.  Did the Atlantic Division just become the least in the East?

The prospect of more prolific scoring for next year is enough to get the juices going during the doldrums of summer.  I kinda like that!  So I thought I would throw these numbers out there for everyone to ponder.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Embracing the Thump: Part II

It would be natural for many of our readers to gently chide me for my incessant harping upon the importance of the fourth line, and suggest that, perhaps, some speed and skill on the top lines would be more effective.  And they would be right, a lot of the time.  But an NHL hockey season is an agonizing marathon run in 45 second sprints, but it's a team marathon.  Todd Richards has shown that when he has an effective fourth line, he will just roll his lines and try to exact a physical toll on the opponent.

This was especially apparent in 2013-14 when the CBJ went on a pretty long run of not losing once they had a third period lead and the physical toll of the game was accumulating.  In 2014-15, the fourth line was often ineffective, and we had a nasty habit of coughing up late leads as the injury depleted bench was shortened, the opposite of the aforementioned effect.

More importantly, though, is what Joel Quenneville just pulled off in Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup by essentially playing 4 defensemen.   This is a rather extreme example, but one that I think will be seen more frequently in the future.  The point is, you have to make the other team pay for shortening their defensive bench, and this is where the fourth line comes in.  They either need to get on the ice and pound on the 'royal four', or score on the other two defensemen.  Chicago's defensemen are excellent, but Tampa Bay could not put enough pressure on them with their bottom six to force them out of that mode, or at least to punish them for it.  If faced with such a situation in a playoff series, you need the fourth line to win you a couple of games, assuming that the top players essentially cancel each other out.  And you need to make the other coach reluctant to put his star defensemen on the ice in a highly physical series against anyone but your top lines.  And ideally, you grind them to the point where they are forced out of that mode of play.  This was brilliant and gutsy coaching by Quenneville, backed up by a sterling performance by his top four defensemen.  Your only real weapon in combating that tactic is your fourth line if it is physical and effective.

So my hope is that we have a more stable group on the fourth line this year, and to me, the Gregory Campbell signing goes a long way to ensuring this.  The play of the fourth line will have something to say in whatever success the 2015-16 squad achieves.  Here's my hope that it speaks with a loud voice.