Monday, February 8, 2016

The End of the Season Surge

Alex Wennberg
This post has been kind of simmering for awhile, under a different name, but recent conversation has been on the subject of tanking, so I thought I would restyle the title a bit.  One other notable end of the season surge was in 2013, when there was a very deep top end of a very deep draft.  Indeed, in only his second year in the NHL, our top pick from that draft, Alexander Wennberg is doing quite well.  As I recall Nathan 'quit winnin for' Mackinnon was the top prospect of the draft, and he went to Colorado, who won the lottery.

In 2010, in what many considered a lesser draft, the assumption was that the CBJ would take Cam Fowler in the fourth spot, but Howson took a gamble on Ryan 'baby moose legs' Johansen, who would turn into a 30 goal scorer in the NHL.  While one might argue that the organization would have been better with Fowler, I would argue right back that the organization is far better off with Seth Jones.  For you see, in the Johansen-Jones trade, Jarmo effectively traded up to the 4th spot in the 2013 draft.  Better yet, this pick was seasoned in an organization steeped in defensive attitude compared to, well, our organization.  Joey perhaps had a better opportunity to spread his wings with the CBJ, so I think that is a fair trade in seasoning and experience as well.

So now we have Jones, Wennberg, Rychel, and the departed Dano from the 2013 draft.  That, my friends, is a really solid draft class.  And from an organizational perspective it is a draft that will serve us well for many years to come.  And it is a little early to be writing Alex Wennberg off as a number 1 center.  First things first, you have to play well enough defensively to stay on the ice.  Johansen took two full years to get that down. Next year we may see that offensive push from Wennberg, and we'll get a better feel for what his top end might be, though it may be a couple years until that is fully expressed.  I expect Karlsson to essentially mimic this track, though there may be some differences.  When you talk about a core to build around, the 2013 draft is not a bad way to start.

So my point is that how we end up the season, and where we draft in a particular draft is not that critical.  We are not having a good year.  We are going to have a relatively high draft pick, and we are going to get good players in the draft, to restock the system.  That's what really matters at this point.  And you absolutely want our players out of the 2013 draft focused on winning hockey games, versus our draft position.  At the end of the day, if our position in this draft is that critical to the organization we can try to adjust the position at a later date, like we did in the 2013 draft.

So Jarmo, in case you had really wanted to hear it, the 2013 version of Gary Bettman says:  We have a trade to announce!


Friday, February 5, 2016

Connecting the Dots

Sergei Fedorov was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, a well deserved recognition.  Back when they released the original third jersey, I got one with Fedorov's name on it, a real beauty that I have worn pretty much all year in celebration of his accomplishment.  In what I think is a somewhat ironical note, the only Blue Jacket or former Blue Jacket official that Fedorov invited to his induction ceremony was "Big Summer" Barry Brennan, the former strength and conditioning coach during the Maclean era, and replaced by Kevin Collins during the Howson administration.  Collins joined the organization in June of 2010.

I started thinking about this a lot after I listened to the DKM Hockey Podcast #51.  During an interview on the podcast they talked about some of the longer term issues with the franchise, and it piqued my interest.  The coach with the longest tenure in the organization is the strength and conditioning coach.  Technically, this is the guy that should have the least amount of clout as well, and I know nothing as to whether this is the case, or not.  But he has survived the firing of both Arniel and Richards, and the results during this time have certainly been checkered.

The fastest start in franchise history occurred in Collins first year, when Scott Arniel's team started with a franchise best start of 14-6-0 in 2010-11.  However, Collins did not come on board until June, so the off season training would have already been set.  The following year, the CBJ had a disastrous start, and in 2011-12 the Blue Jackets were out of the playoffs by Halloween.  Scott Arniel did not survive this season, but in a familiar refrain, the CBJ finished strong under interim coach Todd Richards.  In 2012-13, the CBJ started poorly, but roared down to the finish of a truncated season following a lockout to miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker.  The strength and conditioning coach was unable to influence the players conditioning, and the CBJ certainly touched the bottom in 30th place that year before they got rolling.

In 2013-14, the CBJ started poorly again, but not so poorly that their annual late season charge was enough to get them into the playoffs.  In 2014-15, the CBJ got off to a miserable start, in 2015-16, they got off to another miserable start, which Todd Richards did not survive.  Now John Tortorella is coach, and is finding the teams conditioning wanting, and the CBJ were out of the playoffs by Halloween again.  Even if the CBJ made a move on this, Collins will still set the off-season regime again this year.  Torts is probably going to have some influence on it however.

One thing is clear.  The collective bargaining agreement does not require the players to pay attention to the strength and conditioning coach in the off season.  Joey was free to train in Vancouver.  Bobrovsky trained in Russia.  I think Cam Atkinson was skating with Marty St. Louis (could be wrong about that).  Several of the young guys stayed in Columbus and trained, and they seem to be doing okay.

So there is a fairly conclusive body of evidence that the team is simply not ready to play at the start of the season.  There's a lot of people with skin in that game, and laying it on the guy who stands on the bottom rung of the ladder just seems wrong.  On the other hand, this is a results driven business, and the results have been consistent and bad.

Jared Boll would never have made the Blue Jackets if he hadn't stayed in Columbus one year with "Big Summer" Brennan, and he had a huge summer, and made the team.  When was the last time you heard about someone on our team having a big summer?  So it makes you kinda wonder.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Joey's Lid Hits the Ice, Cam Gets a Hattie

Cam Gets A Hat Trick
Ok, there is nothing better than exiting Nationwide Arena with a hat that has the price tag, and a hook in the top of it, because you needed to purchase a new head gear while leaving due to a hat trick.  My buddy Bruce tossed an All-Star hat tonight.  My lid was one that I really liked.  It was the design that Joey (Ryan Johansen) was wearing when he signed his deal after missing training camp.  It is the second of that design that I had, having tossed the original for a hat trick in the glory run last year, and running downstairs to get the last of that model hat.  I've been wearing this one all year, with few exceptions.

Never go to a game with a hat you are unwilling to toss.  It's one of the unique traditions of the game, a celebration of something that is uncommon and hard to get.  Trust me, I have a hat I rarely wear to regular season games because I won't toss it unless its a playoff hat trick.  Besides, I prefer to wear a good one, because I like that, but I also wear one I will toss.  Heck, I lost a really sweet gray one to a Jeff Carter hat trick, and I have never found another like that one.  I regret that all the time, but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do.  So it was truly awesome to see Cam get the hat trick tonight.  It was a great treat to the home town crowd.  Montreal didn't mean to cough that goal up, and that will simmer before tomorrow's game.

It was a funny game.  Not a real vocal crowd, but one that took umbrage with a PK Subban unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shoving Dubinsky after he lofted a shot from beyond the blue line that somehow managed to go in on Korpisalo.  I was surprised the penalty was called.  After that the crowd booed Subban lustily every time he touched the puck.  I kinda don't like that, because when we do that to Jeff Carter, it seems to ignite his inner lazy man and makes him rise to new heights.  Subban is a much more interesting character than Carter, but the explosion I feared from the booing never emerged.  Perhaps we'll see it tomorrow.

But there is a subtle difference in our team that is emerging.  And perhaps my tossing of my last 'Joey' model hat is symbolic of that.  I felt Seth Jones was really stretched tonight by the speed of Montreal.  That is part of the testing he is seeing in his new role, and there will be times when it does not go perfectly.  But our defense is totally different then it was before 'the trade'.  It is not yet a finished product.  That may be more than a year away.  But the rough cut looks dramatically improved, even with Savard out of the lineup.

There are those who would point out that Dubinsky is no Johansen, and that the team is worse for the exchange of Jones for Johansen.  And then there are those, like me, that would point out that historically our team has played its best hockey when we had 3 second lines and a damn good fourth line.  Tonight's line up looked a lot closer to that model then the team we iced earlier in the year.  I wonder how Torts would feel about that concept.  Lori Schmidt?   Little help here?

Joonas Korpisalo skates away with the win tonight, after taking a rookie lesson from Subban on playing shots from behind the blue line.  To me, it just seemed to catch him flat footed, but I might be doing him a disservice.  I watched his body language after that, and he was distinctly unhappy about the whole thing.  Props to the rest of the team for picking him up and giving the support for the win.  I am assuming Forsberg gets the net tomorrow night, as both of these guys are developing goal tenders, and the need the ice time.  They should both be in the AHL, or at least one of them, but here they are.  They both need the net.  I am very pleased for Joonas Korpisalo.  He has been very steady, but make no mistake, this process is rushing him.  But he seems to be responding well.

Speaking of rookies, Jeff Little is at it again over on the Cannon.  Please read this post.  It is a very thoughtful treatment of the youth issue.  We're lucky to have writers like this in our blogosphere.

All in all, a very fun hockey game, with the special treat of a hat trick.  How can you go wrong with that?  Back in the saddle tomorrow on the back end of the home and home.  Montreal will have a burr under its saddle.  The Jackets better be ready to skate tomorrow!  Hattie!! Whoo!!  Cam!!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

A Good Effort, A Decent Outcome

Korpisalo looked good tonight.
The Blue Jackets lost at the Boston Bruins tonight in a shootout, 3-2.  The CBJ played well, containing a hot Boston power play, and answering when Boston made the big push in the second period.  A lot of positives to take away from tonight's game, while maintaining our advantageous draft position.  This is big experience for our rookies, and they seemed to show well when playing against a powerful team.

After playing the Bruins to a 0-0 draw in the first period, the Bruins came out flying, and knocked the young Jackets back on their heels, scoring two quick goals.  The Jackets stiffened, and caught a bit of luck when Dalton Prout beat Gustavsson short side for a quick goal to make it 2-1.  The Jackets fended off the responding push by Boston, and then pushed back themselves, with a confident shot by Falk getting tipped in by Kerby Rychel for his second goal of the year.  That tied the game, which is where it stayed through the third period and overtime.

Boston managed to score twice in the shoot out, while Gustavsson stiffened, and denied the CBJ to decide the game.  Korpisalo played very well in this game, and played well enough to win.  Gustavsson stopped a lot of prime chances in overtime, it's hard to say who deserved it more.  At the end of the day, the CBJ walk away with a point.

No angst about tonight's game.  It is what it is.  Seth Jones made at least two incredible saves at the point on the power play.  In the past, those go back up the ice.  The CBJ did not capitalize on his plays, but that will come in time.  Jones is a heck of an athlete, and an excellent defenseman.  His future is quite bright.

We jump to a home and home against Montreal on Monday and Tuesday, with the home game in Columbus on Monday.  That should be a lot of fun.


The Stuff of Gypsy Curses

Putting the Coach in the Press Box
Wow!  What a couple of days for our star crossed NHL franchise!  Poor Rene Bourque catches a rut in the much anticipated outdoor practice, accidentally takes out Coach Tortorella, and breaks two of his ribs.  Bob goes back on Injured Reserve, and Jarmo states emphatically that surgical repair is not an option for this injury, thus trashing my last post.  Gosh if I could get Bob healthy by having Jarmo trash my posts, I'd take that deal in a second.  Plus, Jarmo would have lots to work with, as my posts are eminently trashable.  Ha ha.  Hoo boy!

So Torts is back in the Cowtown, nursing two broken ribs, and Craig Hartsburg handles the bench chores tonight in Boston.  Foligno and Calvert came back off injured reserve, and Hannikainen was sent back down to Lake Erie, where he promptly fed Chaput for an overtime winner last night. So one less rookie to start, leaving us with four, one of the goalies, Rychel, Anderson, and Karlsson.  Boston is in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic and the Eastern Conference, flirting with a wild card slot.  This won't be an easy game.

I stole the tag line for this post from an old Puck Daddy post long ago, when oft-injured Pascal LeClaire was still between the pipes.  He had gotten injured in a game, and was on the bench, when he was struck with a puck and sustained a broken jaw.  'The stuff of gypsy curses' was Puck Daddy's summary, and yesterday was eerily reminiscent of that time.  So thanks Wysh, Lambert or Leahy, whoever came up with that line.  I love it.

Circle the wagons boys.  It may be awhile before the cavalry arrives.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Time For Bob to See the Doctor in Philly

Tonight Sergei Bobrovsky left the game in the second period with a lower body injury, in his second game returning from a groin injury.  This after he was activated, but then went back on injured reserved.  This is a bad groin, and its time to visit that Doctor in Philadelphia.

Let's review the Doctor's resume.  He repaired a bad groin repair for Marion Gaborik, an injury that had plagued him for years, which ultimately allowed Gaborik to win a Cup with LA.  But he was fixed on our time.  Brandon Dubinsky went to the same guy last year, and his groin problems are a thing of the past.  The reason is that this Doctor fixes all of the groin tears, not just the one that sidelined you.  And any hockey player worth his or her salt probably has at least a couple of minor tears, that don't impeded their game.  It's time Bob.  And make sure you have both groins fixed.

This is a really hard threshold for a professional athlete to cross.  You never want to go the surgical option early, because it will be a firm 6 weeks for return.  No early return, no working through it, 6 weeks.  But its time Bob.  By the way, this is a little personal journey through hell.  Many people take it, but I suspect it is amplified for highly paid professional athletes.

The reason I do this blog, the reason I read it in the first place, was an attempt to gain perspective on our beloved CBJ.  I wanted to understand.  So let me share a little something.  I have had both of my knees replaced.  I now have metal and plastic where I used to have shredded cartilage and bone on bone.  To get there I went through two butt kicking surgeries three weeks apart, followed by 6 weeks of therapy.  That is a painful and lonely journey, but thank God I had Mrs. Gallos to help me out.

It's not easy to get there.  The mental challenge is immense.  I always viewed knee replacement in the stark terms of 'having my knees sawed off'.  I finally got to point where I was in so much pain on a daily basis that having my knees sawed off could only be regarded in terms of incremental pain magnitude that no longer seemed to be a challenge.    That's when I knew it was time to have it done.

 Rehab is hell.  When you get out of surgery, no matter how 'in shape' you are, your leg feels like it weighs a thousand pounds.  You have to gain all of that back on your own, all the range of motion and strength.  I will make a somewhat proud confession here.  Derek Dorsett was my inspiration and source of strength during rehab.  When the chips were down, I would ask myself what double D would do.  And that answer was obvious.  Grind away at it.  And Dorsett's inspiration never let me down.  I walked 72 miles short of 2000 miles last year according to my Garmin Vivofit, 2 years after my double knee replacement.  I'm glad to be here, but I never would have made it without Derek Dorsett.  It's hard to have him in Vancouver now, but there it is.  I owe a lot to him.

This is the kind of journey Bob is facing.  He will be fine.  His work ethic is impeccable, and rehab is all about your work ethic.  Bow your back, and get to work.  Mrs. Bob will be there to help him, though I would point out Sergei, that Mrs. Gallos got a new car after the knee gig.  Take care of those who take care of you.  It's time Bob.  Get those groins fixed, so we can see who you really are.  You have your CBJ hockey family to support you, as I did.  That means a lot in the dark times.

The Jackets lost a must lose game tonight to Calgary.  Does Calgary realize that?  So who won in the long run tonight, eh?

Time to make yourself well Bob.  I wish you the best in that, and all other things.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016


Rychel Records First NHL Goal
Tonight the Blue Jackets lost to a team that deserved to win, the Washington Capitals, by a score of 6-3.  It was closer than that, but it wasn't.  Barry Trotz has this Capitals team playing at a peak performance level, and I emphasize the word team.  The Capitals created chances for their shooters that gave them time and space, and they cashed in on those chances.  The CBJ played well, especially in the first period, but the Capitals seized their chances, and converted with shooters isolated on a rusty goal tender.  A hot Bobrovsky would have gotten some of those, but he wouldn't have had them all, and the outcome would not have changed.

One thing I really like about Alex Ovechkin.  He gives no quarter, but he expects no quarter.  Late in the game, the CBJ knock him down, he hops up and skates away.  No Prima Ballerina there, but a guy who will harm you if you give him a chance.  I think it is fair to say that I don't hate losing to Ovechkin the same way I hate losing to Crosby (Messieur la Prima Ballerina).

One thing I like about our young players is that the seem to skate when in doubt.  They make our team seem quicker than it was earlier in the season, and I suspect it is a function of raw speed.  Which is a good thing in the long run, if we improve team speed, because the other guy is surely trying to improve their team speed.  The line of Borque, Karlsson, and Rychel comes to my mind here.  They had some really dominant shifts, but the game turned on other circumstances, particularly the power play for the Capitals.

Washington is a team at the top of their game.  Props to them.  Stick tap to Coach Trotz, for having them play so well.  I like what our team did tonight, but the opponent was superior and deserved the win.  The Caps face larger challenges, such as winning in the playoffs.  Much like the Bengals, this is what will define this team.  But I never got the sense tonight that the Caps were extraordinarily lucky.  They played within themselves and they got the win they deserved.  This is a time for honing what they have, as sterner tests await them.  Yet one gets the sense that they have more in the tank, which will serve them well in the playoffs.

But, before I get accused of being a Caps lover, I want to re-direct attention to our beloved CBJ.  Tonight was a big night for Wild Bill Karlsson, and he had the matchups going.  I liked his line all night.  However, that wasn't what I really meant.  I want to direct you to a couple of articles over on the Cannon.  First of all, Jeff Little drops the second of his articles about the state of the team, which will make you cross NHL GM off the list of things you want to be, and Dan's follow-up article which reacts to the reaction to the first pair of articles.  I really like Dan's evaluation of the last few years, especially since it is one of those rants fueled by frustration that give you uncanny insight.  If you care about the Jackets, read these posts.  They are top notch.

I'm not about blowing smoke.  But I really like good work, that helps me to have a perspective about the hockey I am watching. I feel the posts I mentioned above help me to understand the dynamic of our franchise.  Because at this stage of the game, our franchise has its own history, and there is a flow to it that should help us to project toward the future.  Maybe.  As Jeff Little says, this is an uncertain endeavor, and has its own risks.  Most of the CBJ teams I have known were playoff bound in the preseason.  Its those other pesky 29 teams who think the same thing that are the problem.  If they would simply bow to our natural superiority, we would have won a couple of Cups.  Unfortunately, they seen disinclined in that area, and seem focused on winning our Cups for themselves.  Humph.  What a negative attitude.  Hee hee.  Which is what it is all about.


Monday, January 18, 2016

Musings on the Youth Movement

Rookie Kerby Rychel
In Saturday's game against Colorado, the CBJ started 5 rookies.  Korpisalo in goal, Rychel, Anderson, Karlsson, and Hanikainen.  That's one fourth of your skaters.  I'm not really sure what to make of this.  Ultimately, I guess I think it is a good move for this team at this time.  The problem comes next year, when you both want to be good AND you are going to have a lot of second year players.  That's not necessarily a really reliable mix.  Playing a lot of rookies, even very talented ones is not necessarily a recipe for success; ask Edmonton if you don't believe me.

Nonetheless, these rookies don't seem dramatically out of place in the NHL.  But I don't think you can really count on rookies for a lot of scoring, as their first task generally is to learn to contain the rest of the NHL, a fundamental prerequisite for staying in the league.  And, one advantage of having them up this year is they get to learn from the new coach, so they don't really have much, if anything, to unlearn.

It has been stated that Rychel and Anderson are going to get a 'long' look.  What that means is that you are going to watch them for at least 20 games.  The first 15 games of any new player in a new organization is a glimpse of the maximum they can be.  Think Kevin Connauton.  He had the 15 game burst, scored once more after that and everyone thought 'see, it's not just the 15 games!'  But his scoring tailed off sharply after that, never to return to that level.  He is young, and we'll see, but I suspect he will never match that burst he had after the Jackets claimed him off waivers from the Stars.

To me, that 15 games means a couple of things.  First off, the player is past any adrenaline that comes from being in the big show, or wanting to make an impression after a trade.  Secondly, the rest of the NHL has thoroughly scouted you in the context of your new team.  They know how they want to play against you, and who they want to match up against you, whereas in those first 5 games especially, this may not be clear to other teams.

The Rychel camp seems to believe that Kerby is ready for the NHL.  That may be, he has shown reasonably well so far.  The 'true' read, is after that 15 game mark.  Has he stabilized his game?  Is it showing signs of growing?  Does he appear to learn from his mistakes?

I think Alexander Wennberg will be a great player in this league.  I think Wild Bill Karlsson is right there with him.  They both have had games where they really struggled.  But they seem to be adept at taking the lessons learned from those games, and moving forward with them.  Those are the type of attributes we want to be looking for in this last half of the season.  When they get beat, do they learn from it, and then apply the lessons later?  If the answer is yes, this group might be scary good in a couple of years.  We shall see.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Kids Are Alright

Joonas Korpislo gets the win against Toronto
I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Normally when the CBJ win in Toronto, there is some sort of major catastrophe in the NHL to distract the media from the fact that the Jackets beat the Leafs 3-1 tonight.  The Jackets played a much stiffer game than last night, and didn't wilt against a lot of Toronto pressure (41 shots on goal).

Today the organization lost a second defenseman to the waiver wire, as Kevin Connauton was claimed by Arizona, who sent All-Star Captain John Scott to the AHL in order to claim him.  (Bettman:  Take a memo!  To - Arizona Coyotes, From: the Commish, Subject: All-Star Game, WTF? Etc.)  Arizona claims they will have him back in the NHL in time for the All-Star Game.  So naturally, David Savard was injured in today's game, and did not finish the game after one shift in the second period.  When they told Seth Jones he would get more minutes because of the trade they weren't kidding.  Seth Jones gets his first point as a Blue Jacket, when Boone Jenner deflected his shot to make it a 1-0 game in the first period.

Another thing the Jackets did was after a rather undisciplined first period in which they took 3 penalties, the settled down and stayed out of the box the rest of the way.  Wennberg got a really nice rebound goal off a play started by Scott Hartnell to push it to 2-0 in the second, and the Jackets did a decent job of locking the game down.  Toronto finally scored with the goal tender pulled, and our fourth line on the ice, but the Jackets finished the game with the empty netter.

Important points, the win, the kids all played well, with a better overall effort, Seth Jones is awesome, our defense is already better, and Wennberg seems to be stepping into the void created by Joey's trade.  Karlsson is coming hard in his wake, and Anderson and Rychel are playing hard.  Korpisalo plays a really nice game, very steady.  Good stuff.

Next up, Colorado in Nationwide Arena on Saturday.  Should be interesting to see how the kids match up against Colorado.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Youth Continue to Develop

Karlsson Gets A Goal
The Blue Jackets fell to the New York Islanders tonight 5-2 in the Barclay's Center, as rookies across the lineup continued to gain experience.  While Forsberg struggled with tidiness around his net, and seemed to give up lots of rebounds, it was giving Brock Nelson time and space that did him in, as Nelson placed some pretty nice shots on him when provided with the aforementioned time and space.

Karlsson was all over the ice tonight, hustling to pick up a rebound goal off a Jack Johnson shot, and drew a couple of penalties as well as killing penalties effectively.  Later in the game Tortorella was playing an all rookie line of Rychel, Anderson and Karlsson, which looked fast and effective.  Naturally there will be learning moments for them, but they still looked good.

The power play did not produce a goal, but boy oh boy is it coming.  When Wennberg, Murray, and Seth Jones are on that power play, they can really move the puck.  They haven't buried the shots, but this is something with real top end potential.  Jones made some fantastic saves at the blueline, and that power play unit developed real pressure.  Some more play together and they are going to start burying some shots.  Young players will have ups and downs, but there was a lot of up in the youngsters collective game tonight.  So there it is.

Toronto tomorrow, should be interesting.