Saturday, March 16, 2019

If You Want To Whine When You Lose, You Have to Crow When You Win

We have watched Bobrovsky have bad puck luck lo these many games.  And in times of weakness, we have blamed the result on the goal tending (meaning me).  This may not have always been fair.  Two posts ago I called for a change in the goal tending, and indeed, Bob got a rest on the away game against Pittsburgh.  But he has been lights out since.  And indeed, before that, review by people I respect, namely Tom Reed of the Athletic thought that all of the deflections that pissed me off were darn good hockey plays, and don't throw your goal tender under the bus for those. (BTW, your dad used to subscribe to Sports Illustrated.  Really, the Athletic is the modern equivalent, and you should subscribe if you can afford it).  So, in many ways, Bob was due a little puck luck.  He got it tonight in spades, with a superlative performance in a crucial playoff Metropolitan tilt, shutting out the Carolina Hurricanes.

Tonight the Blue Jackets shut out the Hurricanes 3-0.  I thought the Jaekets' play was reminiscent of Carolina's, where we got ahead early and then stifled them.  Yes they dominated on the shot clock, but they weren't high danger chances, and those high danger chances that they generated, Bob snuffed.  

When I talk about this, I think about the times recently where our defense gave a shooter a bit of space, and they invariably hit the corner top shelf far side.  The Islanders game is a good example.  One defenseman gets space on a blown coverage, he hits top, far corner (instead of pipe) and the game is over.  Tonight we jumped on them early to get a two goal lead, and Bob no longer feared those miracle shots, and stuffed everything accordingly.  Nice work by Bob.

HUGE, HUGE, HUGE win tonight.  We don't know how it will turn out, but our boys played stifling defense tonight.  That's what it takes to win in the playoffs.  A performance to capture in their minds.

Jackets win!  A tough road ahead.  One game at a time.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Dear Boone, Thanks for the New Hat

PRETEND THIS IS AN IMAGE OF BOONE JENNER Because google drive can't seem to pull up the real thing.  It's an old image, from 2016 training camp, but i took it so i have the rights to it without offending someone.  Since I do this for fun, no one is out any money, so its all good.

Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Boston Bruins 6-4.  A huge win for the Jackets, and a long journey from my last immature rant after the Winnipeg game.  If you don't like immature rants, go ahead and close the link.  I like to think I am better than that, but I fail to attain that mark sometimes.  In many ways, that's hockey, so I don't sweat it a bunch.  I admit my failings, and move on.  Which is one of the beauties of the game, in a way.  You are forced to confront failure, and rise above it.  There could be no better metaphor for tonight's game.

The Blue Jackets raced to a 5-1 lead based on the pent up shot percentages, and some damn fine play.  There is not a thing wrong with the CBJ play over the last 3 games.  Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, that's hockey.  The Bruins, being a powerful team this year, substituted in an outstanding goalie in Halak, and proceeded to whittle away at the lead in short order.  It's who they are, it's what they do.

Nonetheless, the Blue Jackets withstood their comeback, in spite of the score closing to 5-4 by the end of the second period.  And Boone Jenner scored the hat trick goal to salt the win at 6-4, and I lost a damn fine hat.

But, I got to go shopping, and found a really sweet black and white CBJ hat.  its a great thing to go Minnie Pearl and go out of the arena with the tags still on your new hat!

I like to think I am a glass half full kind of guy.  I'm not sure its accurate, as far as the CBJ are concerned,  but I like to think it.  We are in an ears pinned back dog fight to make the playoffs.  Perhaps to face Tampa.  If, and I mean IF we make the playoffs, we are going to be playing some really good hockey.  IF we make the playoffs, and IF we face Tampa, we won't be the same team they played before.  But first things first.  Friday, it's Carolina, and we need a win in the worst way.

Okay, maybe it's me, but Duchene, Dzingel and Anderson are kinda scary,  In  a good way.


Sunday, March 3, 2019

Three Strikes and You're Out: Time for a New Goal Tender for the #CBJ

Bob Can't Not Give Up That First Period Goal.
Since the trade deadline, one thing has become amply clear.  In spite of great opportunity, Sergei Bobrovsky is not a goal tender who will get the CBJ into the playoffs.  Maybe it's bad karma.  Maybe it's bad luck.  Maybe its that fact that the other goal tenders in the league don't think he is better than they are, and routinely outplay him, ESPECIALLY AT HOME.  I'm not shouting.  I'm not.  Well, maybe...

Before you read too much into this rant discussion; I want you all to recall Philipp Grubauer.  He is the goal tender who carried the Washington Capitals to the playoffs last year.  Then, a motivated Braden Holtby took over the net and carried the Caps to the Stanley Cup.  I think we are watching at least part of this dynamic play out in front of our eyes.  As a long time fan, at this point I have zero (0) confidence that Bob is going to win during the gauntlet of games we have coming up.  I don't think the team does anymore.  My Dad is a big fan of karma, after watching 8 plus decades of sports, and I don't think Bob has good karma.  Good karma is something that can be earned.  It's time for Bob to do that.

It's time to turn the reins over to Korpisalo (hereinafter Korpi) and Kinkaid (hereinafter Kinks).  Jarmo tried to change the dynamic of the team at the trade deadline.  This has yet to play out in the goal tender position, although Jarmo made provision for it by acquiring Kinks.  It is time.  Kinks should get the net against his old mates the Devils, so they can salute him and move on.  It's the right thing to do.  If he wins, he keeps the net against the Pens.  Because he has a winning record against them.  And they definitely won't know what to do with it.  If he loses the away game, Korpi should get the home game. 

In case anyone hasn't noticed, we are in a playoff race now, and it's not going well for the home squad.  Since the goal tender routinely spots the other side a goal in the first period, it's time to change.  The currency to keep the net from here on out is to win.  You lose, you lose the net.  You win, you keep the net and keep playing,   It's time to make this move now.  There is enough time left to let this play out.  But it needs to start now. 

Realistically, it doesn't make sense to even have Bob be the backup.  We need to know which of these two are going to carry us to the playoffs.  If Korpi gets the net with regularity he can be very good.  Kinks is an excellent guy to fill in, but don't wear the tread off.  These next three games should give us a good idea of where we stand. 

The CBJ left the easy points laying on the table by losing their home games.  Sometimes, that's hockey.  It happens.  But right now, EVERY opposition goal tender comes in here to prove he's better than Bob, and backups and regulars have been making it happen this year.  It's time to change that dynamic, and introduce some uncertainty into the calculations of the loyal (but hated, I'm talking to you Pittsburgh) opposition.  Bob has had his opportunity, and I believe he has squandered it.  I also believe he is a pretty darn good goal tender, who can't buy a break right now.  It's time to earn some of that karma.  It's time for the other guys to play in the starters net in practice, because that comfort zone is not serving Bobrovsky well at this time.

Humble pie is a tasteless, sometimes sour, meal that nonetheless must be eaten at times when we least want to partake.  That time has come for Bob.  It's better to have this now, than in the playoffs.  If we make the playoffs, which at the moment is certainly in doubt.  This team is not playing like a playoff team a the moment, and part of it is because the goal tending position is fragile.  And that is awkward at best this time of year.


Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Dark Blue Basket Case

Sergei Bobrovsky possibly still a Jacket
This is the mother of all trade deadlines for Blue Jackets fans.  We have two of our best players, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky who will test the free agency waters come July 1.  They are major assets on our team as currently constructed, and it is not certain the organization will reap any benefit from the remainder of their contracts other than their play.

To me this is somewhat of a sign of the maturation of our franchise.  Seldom have the Jackets been so newsworthy. 

But none of that really helps this writer cope with the uncertainty.  The next few days until the Monday 3 PM trade deadline could well see a dramatic reshaping of our team.  Or not.  It's all over the board.

Not long ago, Aaron Portzline of the Athletic (subscription required) posted no less than 7 different scenarios on how these contract situations could play out with varying degree of probability between now and the deadline. (Get a subscription if you can afford it.  You won't regret it).  The sheer number of these is staggering, and for a team that would have to play the Tampa Bay Lightening if the season ended today, the magnitude of the potential impact is staggering as well.  This is all really high stakes stuff, and the Twitter feed will get crazy. 

All of which is contributing to me being a bit of a basket case waiting for the shoe to drop.  The good news is that the day after the deadline we get to turn around and play the Penguins, likely with a spot in the top 8 on the line.  But at least at that point we'll know what we have.

Ottawa has declared that Matt Duchene won't suit up for any more games in Ottawa.  He is going to be traded.  The Blue Jackets are rumored to be in on this deal, and if we want to compete for a cup this year, we might well need to add an asset like this.  With the news of Ryan Murray being out for awhile coming out today, it seems certain a defenseman needs to be added as well.

Also on the Athletic, Craig Custance wrote an article called 'Execs unplugged: Behind the Scenes on the Real NHL Trade Deadline'.  This is an excellent article, and Jarmo Kekalainen was one of the executives that Custance interviewed for the article.  My take away from this is that Jarmo is a process guy.  While he has not foreseen the exact scenario in front of him, large pieces of it have been obvious for awhile, or at least the possibility of those pieces.  So Jarmo has done his homework, and will trust that homework as he tries to put these deals together.  Right now, I feel pretty good that Jarmo is the guy to stand up for our organization.  We all get to dissect it with the beauty of hindsight.  Jarmo gets to do it real time.  At the end of the day, it will be interesting to see what was really there.

These are interesting times for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  There's also an old Turkish curse that goes "May you live in interesting times".  Hmmmm.  Well, good news is Jarmo is from Finland, so maybe it doesn't translate that way there.  Best of luck Jarmo.  Go get 'em!!


Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Making the Monsters Great Again; The Acceptable Futures Trade for Panarin

The Monsters' Count Down to the Calder Cup
With the big news being Artemi Panarin will go to the post season to evaluate his options, Jarmo Kekalainen must make some hard decisions.  We discussed in the last post some of the consequences of that decision, and the notion that 'losing Panarin for nothing' is a relative term.  As we saw with the Gaborik trade, that can happen at the trade deadline as well as on July 1.  Since a trade deadline deal will almost certainly involve futures rather than a player, you have to ask yourself what type of futures deal is worth making the move?  To me, the easy criteria for evaluating the move is: Does it make the Monsters great?

There are not a lot of teams out there that have the resources to do that.  In order to do my best to see this clearly, I am going to be relying on an article published on August 30, 2018 by Corey Pronman of The Athletic.  Please note that the Athletic is a subscription sports news service, with an incredible variety of awesome content.  If you can afford it, I recommend a subscription.  They have deals out there, you won't be sorry.  In this particular amazing article, Pronman ranked all 31 NHL teams farm systems.  Pronman is the NHL equivalent of @CBJProspects over on the 1st Ohio Battery, except he covers the whole NHL.  So I will use his article to evaluate possible trade partners with the CBJ for the talents of the Breadman, and possibly Bob as well.  Note that Pronman ranked the Blue Jackets farm system as 23rd overall, which I thought was right on the money.  Most of our young talent is in the NHL, and not at the farm.

Two teams that I think might well be interested in Panarin for the playoff push are the Nashville Predators and the Boston Bruins.  They both could use the offensive boost that Parnarin will bring, and particularly in the Predators, you have a team with its sights legitimately set on a Stanley Cup.  Unfortunately for the evaluation criteria I am talking about here, the Predators, as well as Boston, rank behind the Blue Jackets in Pronman's rankings.  Since it seems likely that we will want to focus on center depth, neither team seems to have much to offer that would move the needle for the Monsters, much less the CBJ, even with some patience.

Pronman cleverly ranked prospects in the following manner: Special Prospects (e.g. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo), Elite Prospects (e.g. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver), Legit Prospects, Have a Chance, and Depth Notes.  For comparison sake, Pronman ranked Vitaly Abramov as a Legit Prospect (a fair ranking).  Nashville has a center that Pronman wasn't content to rank as simply legit, but wasn't ready to call Elite, so settled for High End Prospect with Eeli Tovanen, a right wing playing for Jokerit in the KHL.  Not a great match with the Jackets needs. 

Boston has a Very Good NHL Prospect, again a half step higher than a Legit Prospect, but not Elite.  This is a center, Ryan Donato, playing for Harvard in the ECAC.  Pronman had a lot of nice things to say about this prospect.  But does he drive a deal for the Breadman?  I don't really think so.

One team that has potential for a deal, is Florida.  I covet their top center prospect Henrik Borgstrom, whom Pronman rates as an Elite Prospect, but not the finished product of a Pettersson.  They also have a legit prospect at center in Aleski Heponiemi, playing in the WHL.  If you put together a package of picks, with these two prospects, and took their backup goalie in exchange, you might be able to ship both Bread and Bob off to Florida.  They sit 10 points out of a wild card spot, but its still January.  You add Bread and Bob to your lineup, push Luongo to the backup role, and make a run at the wildcard.  It's definitely doable.  A bold move on their part, but I think they have excellent prospects for being able to sign both players.  South Beach baby!!

Plopping an elite Center prospect into Cleveland once his college season is over could have a real impact on the Monsters.  Other prospects would emerge over time.  One of our organizations strengths is scouting, and this is where it has to come to the fore.

It's time to make the Monsters great again!!  And if what other GM's are offering you isn't going to do that, then you don't want to do the deal, you stand pat, and take your medicine, along, hopefully, with the playoff success for the Blue Jackets.  There is talent on the Monsters roster now that still needs development before its ready for the big show, but it is coming along well (e.g. Abramov, Milano, Stenlund, et al).  And reinforcements are coming next year (Elvis will be IN the building!!).  But it would be nice to be able to move the dial now, if you can!



Friday, January 25, 2019

Lessons from the Gaborik Trade

Marion Gaborik back in his CBJ Days
There came a time in the history of the CBJ where it was thought that trading Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline was important because he was an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of the season.  It was considered important to get assets for him instead of taking a dead loss in free agency.  That was the thought.  We'll review the trade in a minute.  The unfortunate reality was that later that year, down a goal to the Penguins late in an elimination playoff game, the guys we had coming down the ice were not 'high danger' guys.  Good players, but not players you feared would wing the puck by you into the net before you could react.  Gaborik is a guy who could do that, but he was long gone, off to win a Stanley Cup with the LA Kings, because he winged the puck by guys a bunch of times in the playoffs.  Now he's dead weight on LA's salary cap, but would you exchange that for a Stanley Cup?  Every time. Errata:  LA unloaded Gaborik on Ottawa.  LOL.  But you get my point.

The point is, when the CBJ most needed a player of that ilk, we didn't have him because we were 'worried about losing him for nothing'.  Jarmo Kekalainen is a pretty astute man.  This lesson did not escape him at all.  Hence the concept of 'renting him to ourselves', a way of internalizing the cost versus the value.  Obviously, all of this has relevance to this year, as we look at possibly renting a couple of high value players to ourselves, potentially at great cost.

But what cost?  Here, looking at the Gaborik trade in depth makes sense.  In that regard I am indebted to Pale Dragon over on the Jackets Cannon who posted this  Ranking of Jarmo Trades.  I've been thinking of this post for awhile, but I was hung up because I couldn't remember exactly what the trade was.  Pale Dragon bailed me out on that regard.  And there is a thread in the comments on his article that flirts with what I am trying to get at here, so I wanted to take a moment to give credit where due.

According to Pale Dragon, we traded Marian Gaborik for Matt Frattin, a 2015 second round pick (Travis Dermott) and a 2014 3rd round pick (Dominic Turgeon).  You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy... Oh wait, wrong epic.  Anyway, Matt Frattin made it to the NHL for 135 games.  That's nothing to scoff at for any old hockey player growing up.  But as a significant piece of a trade for an aging top player?  Meh.  The other two pieces played zero role in the CBJ's efforts to become respectable.  So overall, it's fair to say we got nothing in the trade.  Except for the loss of a scoring threat when one might have been useful.

There were other issues with Gaborik.  CBJ management (JD and Jarmo) were distinctly unhappy with his apparent influence on Cam Atkinson.  The investment in Cam's future (hello Mr. All-Star!) may have made this a great trade in hockey ops balance sheet.  But Jarmo learned this lesson well, and he will be using the experience he gained with this lesson to make tough choices as the 2018-19 trade deadline approaches.

If you subtract Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin from this team, you are certainly going to be looking at situations in the playoffs where their skills will be dearly missed.  Can their skills take you to a new level this year if you keep them?  Only 20-20 hindsight sees this clearly.

I sure hope the Breadman signs.  I love watching the dude play.  The lesson above says, if you aren't getting a large return, you keep him.  Matt Frattin, a second and a third, neither of whom panned out?  If you are going to come up empty, I'd rather take my chances in free agency with Panarin, and reap the benefits of what he will bring to the playoffs.

Bob is tougher.  But I think the market is bad, and you have to have goal tending if you want to do anything, so you keep him, and take your chances competing in free agency.  Likely he'll be gone.  But you have to have him if you want to make any noise.  And the pressure is on him to perform.

Summing up, the lesson from the Gaborik trade is that these guys are probably worth more to you than what you will be able to garner on the open market.  Trust your ability to convince them in free agency, and move forward with your sights on really making some noise in the playoffs.  It won't be easy.  This is high risk, high reward stuff.  But you just gotta take your shot when you can.  And now is that time for the CBJ.  It's going to be a fun finish to this season!!



Saturday, January 12, 2019

Why Hoisting Nash's Jersey Soon Makes Sense

Nash in Todd Richards First Practice.  Another Coach.
Yesterday, Rick Nash announced his retirement from the NHL.  As has been discussed in many venues, Nash holds many records for the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise.  As was also discussed earlier in the year by The Athletic's Portzline, Reed and Lukan, Cam Atkinson is poised to assault many of Rick Nash's CBJ records.

Certainly Nash has been an influential player for the CBJ.  In our first trip to the playoffs in 2008-09, Nash pretty much carried the team the whole way under the able whip hand of Coach Ken Hitchcock.  What is beyond question, is that Nash left everything he had on the ice that year.  The team's reward was to face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the first round, on their way to a repeat confrontation with the Penguins.  The exhausted upstarts didn't really have a chance.

Nash just wasn't able to climb that mountain again in later years.  While I should confess to being critical of him at the time, the reality is that one guy can't just keep pulling an entire team along, year in, year out.  A current example is Taylor Hall last year for the New Jersey Devils.  It's the same phenomenon.  Both players deserve ultimate credit for that accomplishment.  But its not the type of thing that is often repeatable.

All of this is really cool, and these are reasons to hoist Nash's jersey some day.  They aren't really an argument for doing it sooner, rather than later.

To me, the argument for doing it sooner is twofold.  First, it represents the maturation of our franchise.  That we could draft a guy, and he could go through his career, and get his jersey hoisted is one of those things that shows stability in the franchise.  Admittedly, this is a pretty self serving reason for the CBJ.

Secondly, raising his jersey sooner is a means of celebrating his footprint in the record books of the NHL.  He has a lot of the records for the CBJ.  But what has he done that puts him in the NHL record books?  First off, he is the only Blue Jacket to ever win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in a season.  That trophy is a great accomplishment, and similar to Bob's Vezina trophies, a good reason to hoist his jersey.

But the one event that to me says, 'do this soon', is to commemorate that night in the 2008-09 season, where the upstart CBJ went into Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and just destroyed the Red Wings.  It was one of those nights for the 'Wings.  We weren't that good, they weren't that bad.  It was just one of those nights.  That's hockey.  But on that night, Rick Nash scored an unassisted hat trick, the first player to do so since the incomparable Rocket Richard.  The first player to do so in more than 50 years.  It was an unbelievable accomplishment.  And that is the reason why I believe Nash's Jersey should be raised to the rafters of Nationwide Arena sooner, rather than later.

With the inexorability of a Greek tragedy, Mike Babcock never let his players forget that they let Nash do something that only Richard had done at that point; contributing heavily to the Red Wings decimation of the Blue Jackets in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.  But it gives you a glimpse of the level to which Nash had risen in that year.  And I think that singular accomplishment is something worth celebrating.

I'm not implying that it has to be done this year.  Given the unusual nature of this year, with looming free agency, I think you let all that stuff play out.  You don't want those things to detract or distract from honoring Nash.  But its something to get on the agenda for next year, and get it done.  This franchise is trying to run with the big dogs, and in the end, this type of celebration shows that they belong in the crowd.

Congratulations on a great career, Rick Nash.  Likely we'll be seeing you around in a different role, which we will all look forward to seeing.  Sorry that it had to end this way.  Nash played in an era where you had to physically overcome your opposition.  In the 2008-09 season, he did that to the whole league.  So let's raise the jersey and celebrate, because we can!



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Looking Ahead to 2019; Reviewing a Prospect, a Player and a Pick

Not surprisingly, I waffle back and forth on the subject of Artemi Panarin.  The dude has the silky mitts.  Even when I am grumping because I don't think he has been nearly as hard on the puck this year as he was last year, I still think that he drives the offense on that top line.  Should Jarmo find himself in a situation where you just HAVE to trade him, I wonder if Bjorkstrand can fill that role to some extent.  Bjork is not the same player as the Panarin, but I wonder if he could fill that role. 

All that said, I think we have the equivalent of a late first round pick invested in Panarin.  Say Sonny just doesn't make it in the NHL (which is not what I am saying); it would be roughly the equivalent of Sonny whiffing in terms of an organizational impact.  Not at all like losing a number one overall, such as Taveres.  So it wouldn't be the end of the day if we kept Panarin, and lost him to free agency.  You can only do that math in retrospect. looking to see what was accomplished in the playoffs.

But what could you get at the deadline, for a short term rental?  You want something like a prospect,  a player, and a pick for someone of Panarin's caliber.  What would that look like?  So, my buddy Bill said something funny along these lines the other day.  He just blurted out Bittner, Sedlak, and a pick.  Paul Bittner is a solid player, has had some ups and downs, but still firmly on the developmental path.  We don't know how he will turn out yet.  Definitely a prospect.  Not an Abramov, but still a prospect. 

Lucas Sedlak is an NHL player.  I personally love the player, especially in the rose tinted glasses of the Calder Cup Championship he helped win by being on fire in the playoffs.  But he's a player, and you could put him on your roster and roll him out there, probably in a bottom six goal.  But if you were responsible for selling him there are a lot of possibilities: "look at those playoff goals in the A!  Won a championship!, All he really needs is some top six playing time... etc, etc".  Other teams have players like these as well, and the trick is to get you to believe they are something more when you are making a trade.

So for a hypothetical exercise, let's assume Jarmo decides he has to trade Panarin, and he is negotiating with Jarmo2, who has the CBJ system at his disposal.  Jarmo2 is hoping to get Jarmo to take Bittner, Sedlak, and hopefully the 31st overall pick for Panarin.  It may be a faint hope that Jarmo2 can re-sign Panarin, but he is willing to give it a shot, and he hasn't mortgaged the franchise to do so.  Jarmo, on the other hand, is trying to get Abramov, Bjorkstrand, and a pick out of Jarmo2 in order to part with a prized player.  If he could get that from Jarmo2 you would like to think that you have bolstered your long term franchise depth in order to move a player who won't sign.

This is a really difficult position for Jarmo.  But if the best you could get would be the former combination of players, it just wouldn't be worth it to trade Panarin.  You keep him knowing that you are going to eat the loss.  And it will hurt.  It's like whiffing on a late first round pick.  But it happens, and you move on.  Likewise, if you decide not to move Panarin at the deadline, you hope to have some tangible hardware to show for that decision.  Maybe not the cup, but certainly not a first round exit. 

I noticed something funny during the Ottawa game on Monday night.  It was late in the game, and Ottawa had come back and tied the game.  And I saw the Jackets get a little mad, and really start bearing down on what they were doing.  At that point, you knew they were going to score, and low and behold they did.  So as a long time Blue Jackets fan, it is interesting to me to see that this team has another gear.  Back in 2008-09, the first playoff year, I knew the team had nothing left to give.  They left it all on the ice to get to the playoffs, and there was no other gear available.  This team has that gear.  How effectively they use it remains to be seen, and they have to sort out how to be operating in that fashion when the playoffs arrive.  It's not the kind of thing you can just turn on, you do need to be running at that level when the playoffs start.  That will make this second half of the season interesting to watch.

Here's wishing everyone a safe and prosperous 2019!


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Reflecting on the #unsustainabowl; Christmas blog 2018

Torts pushing buttons; mostly the right ones
Merry Christmas everyone!  Here is hoping that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!  We are on a short hockey hiatus here, and it seems a good time to pause and reflect.  The 2018-19 Blue Jackets are in a good position, sitting a solid second in the Metropolitan Division at the holiday season. 

The Stanley Cup Champion Capitals are a few points ahead of the Jackets, the former Cup Champion Penguins are a few points behind with a lot of hockey left to play.  Needless to say it is important to keep playing winning hockey.  So what does that look like?  The Jackets kinda stunk up a game with the Capitals, and hit a reset button, focusing more on their defense.  Since then they are 4-0-1.  My point is that is what winning hockey looks like. 

Well duh, they won four straight, of course that is what winning hockey looks like.  That's not my point.  My point is that two years ago the Blue Jackets were in the midst of what became a record breaking 16 game winning streak.  Ultimately, that streak became the second longest winning streak in NHL history, culminating in the #unsustainabowl, a clash with a Minnesota Wild team on a 12 game winning streak and a Blue Jackets team on a 14 game winning streak.  The CBJ came away with a fairly convincing win, mainly because they smothered the Wild with amazing defensive play. 

It is important to remember that during 'The Streak', the CBJ were averaging less than 2 goals per game against.  In order to hold opponents to less than 2 goals a game over a double digit stretch of games, you need to have a lot of games where you only allow one, or no, goal(s).  This is startlingly effective defense, and it has been largely absent since the end of 'The Streak' until this recent 'reset'.  Of course Bobrovsky was on fire during 'The Streak', and he is showing signs of regaining that form here recently.  So if the Jackets reclaim that defensive acumen from 2 years ago, the new year should go well for the good guys.  It will be interesting to see.

Another important point for the 2018-19 CBJ is that Bobrovsky played his first back to back just this last weekend.  In the previous two years, the Jackets had used Bobrovsky like a government mule prior to the Christmas holiday as an essential ingredient to staying in playoff contention.  While I think many people feel the CBJ have not played their best hockey yet this year, it was not necessary for the number 1 goal tender to carry the team, as he did the last two years.  New goal tending coach Manny Legace effectively made good on his vow to not play Bob in back-to-back games until Christmas.  This is a stark contrast to the previous two years, which bodes well for hockey in April. 

Yes, there are some issues looming over the team for the long term.  We haven't been able to 'go Vegas' on everyone else as I had hoped back in the summer.  But going forward, the team is poised for success, and a run of play that reflects the defensive performance during 'The Streak' in early 2019 will ensure that will happen.  Since it seems certain the Bob and Bread will test free agency, as is their contractual privilege, it is important for this team to go as far as it can, as currently constructed.  We can sort out the future in June.  On the other hand, if you are going to test free agency, there is self induced pressure to perform at a high level when you play.  So we'll see how that all works out. 

Tom Reed, over on the Athletic had an interesting article reflecting on the instability for the Flyers and Devils compared to the Blue Jackets.  It has been a strange and refreshing year in that I didn't feel the team was playing that well, but continued to sit near the top of the Metro.  I was starting to get a bit worried, in that the wild card teams in the Atlantic had more points than the Jackets, but this last 4 game winning streak has changed that dynamic some.  So the Jackets do look to be a better team overall, not just a flash in the pan.  This is a novel experience for long time Jackets fans, and it is to be hoped that this team is good enough to withstand the loss of a good player to free agency.  But again, that's a future problem, and time spent worrying about it now is unproductive.

But, if I could have one thing for Christmas, it would be an effective power play for the CBJ!  Little help here Santa Claus??!!

Happy holidays everyone!


Friday, July 27, 2018

Embracing Going Vegas on the Rest of the NHL

Columbus Blue Jackets!  C'mon down!
There is something magical about the inaugural season of an NHL club.  The players know they are up against it, and band together into a tightly knit bunch.  Even the inaugural Blue Jackets did that, and Ron Tugnutt established a record for wins for an expansion goal tender until Fleury demolished that record.  There is a bond between the fans and the players, and the atmosphere can be awesome.

And Vegas this year, launched from a much better starting position than the CBJ, roared into a Stanley Cup Final.  Huge props to the players, the coaches, and the management.  And I think its time for the CBJ to take a page out of their book, and go all in for this year. 

In a previous post I opined that salting the increased value over our investment in Artemi Panarin back into the organization by trading him now was a choice that I favored.  I have been a season ticket holder since about 2005, I'm in too deep to back out now.  I'll probably keep buying tickets.  So for me, I think about the long haul.  But a reality I don't often consider is that people keep talking about the possibilities of Columbus as a market, instead of the realities.

It is valid to state that a rather large sector of the Blue Jackets fandom REALLY needs to see an extended playoff run sooner rather than later.  Therein lies the gist of one of the other options.  It is a high risk option, sure, but there is high reward if you rise above the risk.  That option is to ignore the contract status of Panarin and Bobrovsky as of July 1, 2019, and make a run for the Stanley Cup now.  The best players on the team are under contract until that time, and you make it clear to the team at the beginning of the season that it is time to win a Cup, for the sake of the franchise.

Lambert, over on Yahoo did a pretty solid analysis of this, and one of  his points that intrigued me was that a deep run, such as to a Cup final, would generate enough cash to make it pay for the organization that it was worth keeping Panarin for 2018-19, even if he walked in free agency.  He also pointed out that running into a hot goal tender in the first round could easily derail that strategy.  Which is a good point.  But if you do this approach, it applies to Bobrovsky as well.  Bob may want to be the highest paid goal tender in the league.  If he wants to be the best goal tender in the league he CANNOT let another goal tender best him, no matter how 'hot' that goal tender is.  That is what a contract year means to a player.

There are some advantages to the 'all in' approach.  For one, the team thinks short term, about this season.  They look around the room, and know it will be different next year, so the group needs to write its legacy.  Another is that the coach thinks long term.  A coach only thinks about the next game at some level, but the coaches strategy should also take into account an expectation that 'this is the year' and that a long playoff run is in the offing. 

Another thing that would have to change, is how the fans approach the season.  A lot of fans, like me, who have gone into a season with high hopes only to see it over by Halloween, kind of wait and see what happens.  We wade into the season, and as raucous as Nationwide Arena can get at times, it can be pretty quiet in October, November, and sometimes December. 

If this is a season where we are 'all in', that means all of us.  The fans need to start by bringing the thunder early and often, and be focused on making the home atmosphere a challenge for the opposition.  It will be a lot of work, it will be crazy, and it may well end in disappointment, for the opposition is formidable.  But you would know you left it all out there.

None of the things I have talked about are sustainable here, year in, year out, until we have finally established the reality of this market, and have achieved significant success.  But it is very doable for the short term.  A special season.  But someone needs to call it; To say the way its going to be, such as Babe Ruth pointing into the outfield.

So if we are going to go 'all in' this year, I respectfully request that John Davidson stroll to the lectern on media day, and give a short and simple speech: "Damn the torpedoes!!  Full speed ahead!  We're going for the Cup!"  And then we'll all be on notice that its 'all in'.

And that my friends, would be wildly entertaining!