Saturday, August 20, 2016

Part XIII: The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ; The Tortorella Tenure Begins

Brandon Saad
When I last left this space I had gone to my happy place, the All-Star Game.  It's time now to return to the harsh reality of the 2015-16 season.  A defensive corps that was adequate for the preseason suddenly showed up as deficient once the regular season started, and a CBJ squad that had high hopes suddenly found itself the proud possessors of an NHL record, and a new coach.  The NHL record, of course, is the worst start for any team except a Rangers team that had all of its players in the military fro WWII.  For the Blue Jackets, this represented an 0 for 8 debacle that killed the season before it ever got started.  Enter John Tortorella, a stark change from the soft spoken Todd Richards. 

I confess to a degree of trepidation when Tortorella was first named.  He had seemed to become increasingly volatile in his transition from the Rangers to the Canucks, culminating in a legendary foray into the opponents locker area between periods, a stunt that got him suspended.  Tortorella seems to have gotten the message from the league, and while still brutally honest in his assessments, has stayed away from anything too colorful.  I maintain that this is a really important assignment for John, and if he flames out with the CBJ, it will really hurt his coaching career.  On the other hand, there is a body of evidence that suggests that he is precisely the correct choice for this franchise at this time. 

Make no mistake, John has his sights set on returning to the promised land, and the 2016-17 season will likely only be a step in that direction.  But I think Torts has the perspective to see where he stands across the league, and coach his team accordingly.  Keep in mind he is the winningest US coach.  This is not an accident, and Columbus is a good place for this guy to return to the heights.  But this is the perspective of the season past, not the burning pain of watching our beloved CBJ cash in a season before Halloween.  I had thought that had gone out of style with Scott Arniel.  But those die were cast before Tortorella's arrival.

When Tortorella parachuted into the hostile territory of the CBJ in early October the team was already sporting an 0-7 record.  Once Torts started, they finished the month with 2 wins, 3 losses, and 0 overtime losses (2-3-0), to finish the month of October, 2015 with a record of 2-10-0 and a whopping 4 points in the standings to show for 12 games.  To redress a deficit like that, the team would have to pull off a serious winning streak, but they seemed incapable of stringing together the serious streaks that they had shown in previous years.  The defense and the goal tending were simply not up to the task.

November was better, and the team turned in an 8-5-0 record.  Good if you did it every month but not enough to allow you to be making any kind of a serious challenge to playoff position.  Problematically, a 4-7-3 December essentially drove a stake in the heart of any nascent thoughts of a comeback to the playoffs.  As 2015 turned to 2016, the CBJ were not yet mathematically eliminated, but we're pretty much done for the year in terms of the playoffs.  The rest of the way they went 20-18-5 (January to April), essentially a .500 record when you needed a much higher winning percentage if you wanted to climb back into the playoffs.

At this point, it was going to get a little bit hard to write about this season.  This isn't the first season I sat in the stands to watch the Jackets play out the string from January through April.  For me, it is still entertainment, in spite of the mind numbing frustration.  However, once 2015 came to a close, a series of events started to make 2016 much more interesting in spite of the known lack of playoff position. 

Ryan Johansen
On January 6, 2016, the CBJ world changed dramatically when the news broke that the Jackets had traded center Ryan Johansen to Nashville for defenseman Seth Jones.  I am one of those that view this trade as a pure hockey trade.  Quality for quality.  It is true that Nashville was dealing from a position of strength, but the needs of the two organizations overlapped nicely.  Jarmo had expressed confidence in his defense at the beginning of 2015-16, and was let down horribly by the inadequacies of the group, in scoring and in defense.  So he set about making dramatic changes.  Capitalizing on the hope brought on by the drafting of Zach Werenski the previous year, Jarmo added a young defenseman with a considerable upside in exchange for our best potential first line center.  This is a trade that CBJ fans will dissect for years to come, but at present I think it will help both clubs and both players.  That makes it a good hockey trade.

This trade, however, did not rocket the Jackets higher the standings.  A 5-5-2 record in January ensured that mediocrity was the best they could hope for this year, but a funny thing was happening for the team.  Bobrovsky had gone down with a groin injury in December, attempted to return in January, hurt himself again, and didn't return until March.  In the meantime, at the beginning of January, Curtis McElhinney was injured as well.  This left the team with two call ups from the AHL, Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo in the goal.  Forsberg did not fare well in the NHL in this call up, saving a story book ending for later in the season with the Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland Monsters).  In the meantime, Joonas Korpisalo began to gather himself as an NHL goal tender and helped stake the team to a 7-3-3 record in February. 

The return of Bobrovsky to health pushed Anton Forsberg down to the AHL affiliate Monsters, where he began to put together a streak of fine goal tending that will be described on another day.  Don't give up on this kid as an NHL goal tender.  Korpisalo, on the other hand, started to string together some very good games for a young netminder, and played some very solid hockey, even pushing Bobrovsky to the bench on occaision. 

March was a disappointment, as the team went 4-9-0 in March, to solidify a strong drafting position.  Unfortunately, in a maddening fashion unique to the Blue Jackets, with a generational player available in the first draft slot, the CBJ went 4-1-0 down the stretch in April against some teams in full on tank mode, but finishing with a win against defending Cup Champions, and at that time favorite to repeat, Chicago. 

So there we were, another season out of the playoffs.  The CBJ finished 34-40-8, so ~6 games below .500, when you started out 0-8.  Let's face it, if you start 0-8, and have plan C in the goal for an extended stretch of the season, as an NHL team you are in deep trouble, no matter how well plan C plays.  The flame out of plans A and B are going to cost you dearly.  For success going forward, the Jackets need to see a better performance in goal. 

That is not to say that this disastrous season lies only at Bob's knee pads.  The under performance was pretty wide spread, with a few exceptions.  Boone Jenner scored more than 30 goals, recovering from an injury filled sophomore campaign.  Brandon Saad, a surprise acquisition in the off season, set a personal best in goals and scoring, a very nice performance in the unfamiliar role of playing for a loser.  Cam Atkinson continued to grow his goal scoring totals.  But other than these players, most of the group had underwhelming seasons. 

Cam Atkinson and Brandon Saad finished tied for the team lead in scoring in 2015-16, with 53 points each.  Saad scored more goals, finishing with 31 goals and 22 assists for his 53 points, while Cam went 27-26-53.  These point totals are a sharp drop and a sharp contrast from the 73 and 71 points scored by Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen respectively in the 2014-15 season.  The only commonality between the two seasons was that Scott Hartnell finished third in scoring, with 49 points (23-26-49) in 2015-16 vs 60 points in 2014-15.  Surprisingly, Boone Jenner finished 30-19-49 for a personal best season in the NHL, which got him rewarded with a new contract.  I don't know if this is a realistic expectation for Boone going forward, but if he repeats these numbers a couple of times it could be real trouble for the rest of the NHL.

Dubinsky finished a distant 5th in goals with 17, but added 31 assists for 48 points to finish 5th in scoring.  Alexander Wennberg finished 6th, and Nick Foligno finished 7th in scoring with 37 points, just about half of the points he scored the previous year.  To call it a tough year for Nick would be a massive understatement. 

Joonas Korpisalo
Highlighting a huge problem for the Blue Jackets in 2015-16, Joonas Korpisalo, a rookie, lead the goal tenders in wins (16), save percentage (.920) and goals against average (2.60) in 31 games.  Joonas was plan C (or D) coming into the season, and illustrates the collapse of the organization's plan for the goal tenders.  Sergei Bobrovsky only played 37 games, and Curtis McElhinney played in 12.  The performance by the first two does not meet expectations, even taking injury into account.  This position MUST have a better result in 2016-17.  

Not that the goal tenders got any help from the defensive corps, especially early on in the losing streak.  They seemed to be unable to take away time and space from other players.  For the most part, if you give any NHL forward the kind of space the Jackets were giving up early on, they have a real good chance of scoring, and a lot of them did.  This is just my personal observation, and perhaps subject to dispute, but there is no disputing that they started the season unable to play defense.  Jarmo Kekalainen, when asked about his defense before the season had expressed confidence.  That confidence was misplaced, and before the year was half over Jarmo was spending his most valuable asset in an attempt to shore up the defense.

Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, Ryan Murray, David Savard, Justin Falk, Dalton Prout, Cody Goloubef all started slow.  At least Murray had the excuse of not having played for a year.  Tyutin and Falk are now gone, Tyutin having been bought out in the off season, and Falk signing a contract with another organization.  The overall impact of the poor play of this ground is that it will look substantially different when the 2016-17 season starts.  Seth Jones has come in from the Johansen trade, Zach Werenski has finished his college career and had a good start with excellent AHL experience (to be covered in a later post), and Ryan Murray seems to have shaken off the rust of the early part of he 2015-16 season.  Instead of Johnson and Savard as the top pairing, now we are looking at Seth Jones and Ryan Murray.  Zach Werenski will add slick puck moving and a hard shot that finds the net to another pair.  He will also learn some hard lessons at the hands of NHL veterans, the same process every rookie goes through. 

Organizationally, things look good in the future, as the pipeline of young talent seems to be producing, and a high draft position results in another wave of young talent coming into the development system.  The exploits of these youngsters at the Lake Erie, now Cleveland, Monsters will be discussed later, as I said. 

The 2015-16 season for the Columbus Blue Jackets could be summed up by saying expectations were shattered.  In what has been called their most disappointing season, they set an NHL record for futility, got their coach fired, and were out of the playoffs by Halloween.  Finishing with 76 points, a very underwhelming number, they have real work to do in 2016-17 to sniff the playoffs.  The pressure from the youngsters below is a real reason to think things might incrementally improve.

I find it rather ironic that this is Part XIII of this history.  The 2015-16 NHL season was a forgettable year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and they certainly didn't have, or make much luck.  Some people thing 13 is a lucky number, some people don't.  It is hoped that the results of last year simmers in the guts of the players the way it does for Jarmo Kekalainen, and that they show a response in the upcoming year.  I think we all believed they were a better team than the result of last year.  Fortunately, we do not have long to wait for the new season, and a fresh beginning.  Thus, we can thankfully close the book on the 2015-16 season.

GO JACKETS!!

GO MONSTERS!!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cannonfest, 2016; You Never Know What Will Happen

I've had a really good summer Dave, I think it's going to be a great year -
Calder Cup Champion Sonny Milano; Cannonfest, 2015.
You don't always get a championship when you have had a good summer.  There are many players, across multiple leagues that are having good summers to prevent you from getting that championship.  Nonetheless, Sonny Milano has that Calder Cup Championship to think about, and how he will likely need to be 'the man' at Lake Erie Cleveland Monsters in 2016-17.  Those goals that Oliver Bjorkstrand scored last year will be Sonny's to score this year, and as one of the first call ups out of Cleveland, he will want to have his ears pinned back and be ready to go when training camp starts.

And so it goes, the start of the ramp up for the season, the fan festival known as Cannonfest.  Starting on Sunday, at 1 pm at Dick's Last Resort, these posts from the Cannon and Buckeye State Hockey give you all the details.  I've never missed one of these.  I have no intention of doing so this year.  It's the place to be if you are a hockey fan in Central Ohio.  It's August, and you are jonesing for the fastest game on the planet.

This year we have the excitement of the US training camp for World Cup hockey being in Columbus.  One does have to wonder what the R-Bar will be like during that time.  Our team under performed last year.  That means no one expects anything from them this year.  Is Zach Werenski really that good? (kinda thinking so, should be interesting...).

Cannonfest, the place to share your own disjointed hockey thoughts!  Be there!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Part XII: The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ, the All-Star Game

Nationwide Arena Looking Good at the All-Star Game
Nestled among the angst of an injury plagued 2014-15 NHL Campaign and a disastrously under-performing 2015-16 season, the Columbus Blue Jackets were a bright star for the NHL over a long weekend in January of 2015 when they hosted the NHL All-Star Game.  During that time Columbus gave the rest of the NHL a glimpse of the potential of the market.  Ironically, there were ripples put in motion that weekend that are still rocking the CBJ lifeboat today, a year and a half later. 

The game itself was a bit of a snoozer, in the third year of the pick-up game format that had the Captains picking their team for the game.  Alex Ovechkin campaigned loud for the last selection, and the car that went with it, as he intended to donate it to a charity.  As one might expect, Honda came through anyway to take care of the charity, so props to the sponsor for being supportive.  They needed to, because no one is dumb enough to pick Ovechkin last in a pick up game, I don't care who you are.  And give the NHL props for recognizing a snoozer when they see one, and changing up the format to a 3 on 3 tournament for the next All-Star Game in Nashville. 

Johansen at Skills Competition
However, the overwhelming theme for the weekend was that it was a really good time, and Columbus showed itself off really well.  The snow slide and the outdoor skating rink were embraced by the citizens of Columbus to such an extent that the outdoor rink returned to McPherson Commons last winter as well, much to the detriment of Coach John Tortorella's ribs, as he was taken out by a sprawling Rene Bourque. 

Given the injury riddled state of the Blue Jackets squad, and their poor record in late 2014, I was concerned that we wouldn't have anyone that the NHL would dare to name to the All-Star squad.  But Ryan Johansen, Nick Foligno and Sergei Bobrovsky were given the homer nod.  In a case of super scary foreshadowing, Bobrovsky got hurt immediately prior to the game and was unable to participate.  And Brian Elliot will always get a soft spot in my heart for climbing off his plane in the Caribbean, and turning around an coming back to Columbus to fill the spot.  I hope things go well for him in his new gig in Calgary.

The Flying-Vee Gets Underway
As things turned out, both Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno were great ambassadors for our city and hockey club, yet the seeds were planted for future strife during this celebration.  Blue Jackets management was greatly impressed by how Foligno handled himself at this game, and cemented an inclination to make him their new Captain the following summer. Ryan Johansen was the star of the celebration for the home team, especially in the skills competition by wearing an OSU jersey celebrating Braxton Miller, and instigating a 'flying-vee' of movie fame.

Following an acrimonious contract negotiation with the club, the All-Star performance seemed a good result for Johansen, and he went on to have a very good year with the CBJ.  In hindsight we can see that this was the high water mark for Johansen with the organization, and before another year had passed he would be gone in a trade for an elite defenseman, Seth Jones.  In my opinion, the organization's resolve to name a Captain, Foligno, deepened the rift between the organization and Johansen.  During the exit interviews from the injury derailed 2014-15 season, several of the veterans, led by Foligno, called for a Captain to be named, while Johansen emphatically declaimed that there was no need for a Captain, and everything was just fine.  I believe this was the beginning of the end between the CBJ and Johansen.  In the clarity of hindsight it is easy to see that the disastrous start to the 2015-16 season, where Johansen was clearly not ready to perform, just cemented the rift.

And as we sit here, even today, the CBJ are negotiation with a center, Sam Gagner, in attempting to fill the void created by the trading of Johansen.  I know it is a long time since this game happened, and I likely should have tried to write this piece last summer, but it is easier to appreciate the impact of that weekend from this, more distant, perspective.

For a weekend, Columbus was a shining spot in the NHL, and the quality of the event was widely admired.  Yet the choices that flowed from that weekend have altered the course of the Columbus Blue Jackets, for better or worse.  As we sit hopefully anticipating the 2016-17 season, we anticipate that a young mobile defensive corps built around draft picks (Murray, Werenski, Goloubef) and the Johansen trade (Seth Jones) will take the ice.  This group will be much different from the defense that started the 2015-16 campaign in such record setting fashion (ugh!).  And in 2016-17, Bourque will be spelled Bjork, as Oliver Bjorkstrand should join the NHL club this year, with his game winning goal in the Calder Cup Championship in tow.

The 'let's see what these guys can do when they are healthy' approach for 2015-16 survived the preseason.  The record setting 'not so good' message was received prior to Halloween, and the team that takes the ice in 2016-17 should be quite different.  That should be entertaining.

The All-Star weekend was a really amazing, fun event, and we showcased our City and Team at that event.  But the flow of the history of the game has left that bright spot behind, and now we look to the future with hopeful eyes.  It should be interesting to see what it brings.


GO JACKETS!!!!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Musing on Hartnell

These next few years, the discussion will often return to Scott Hartnell, the length of his contract, and his production will dictate that trend.  While Hartnell's speed will continue to be a concern as he ages, I go to my oft-repeated evaluation that speed was never a big part of his game.  He hasn't gotten dramatically slower since he scored 28 goals 2 years ago, and his goal production of 23 last year did not represent a dramatic fall off on an underperforming team.

Yet in this year's free agent frenzy, I saw a free agent given a contract of equivalent money and term as Hartnell has remaining merely because he was considered fast.  However, that player's carreer point total does not even add up to Hartnell's production since he has been with the CBJ.  Yes, that player is 27, and Hartnell is 34.  But if Hartsy was going to lose a step, he probably did it when he was 30, and yet he remains a productive winger.

To phrase my argument a different way, Scott Hartnell has plenty of speed to chase down the mouth of the goal, the place where he does most of his scoring.  Even if he loses another step between now and age 37, when his contract ends, he's still going to be able to outrun the goal.  Hartnell does not score his goals on break always and in transition, he does it out of set piece offensive possession when getting someone to the net to disrupt things is very important.  Getting into and out of transition, and into a set piece of offensive possession has a lot more to do with our young defensive corps than an aging left winger.  And there is certainly hope on the former for the upcoming year, particularly if Zach Werenski continues to develop on the pace he has shown.

At the end of the day, you need goals to win.  When people look at moving Hartnell, I always ask, where are you going to get the goals to replace Hartnell's production?  I think it is fair to think that Oliver Bjorkstrand will contribute some goals in this upcoming year, but no one on the free agent market that got huge term and huge money is even close to Hartnell's point production over the last 2 years.  His contract and cap hit look pretty good compared to some of the contracts that were handed out July 1.

If Hartnell's production falls off dramatically, than that changes things.  However, he put up goals on last year's dysfunctional team, and has had some time to adjust to Tortorella.  I do wish Torts would ease up on the penalty thing.  Scott Hartnell and dumb penalties are things that go hand in hand, and it allows him to play with an edge.  He is not as effective without that edge.  Perhaps they will be able to strike a balance in the upcoming years.

The buy out of Tyutin and Boll alleviated the cap space crunch that created pressure to move Hartnell, while you could, and while he was producing.  So in all likelihood he will be around this year.   I hope he has a productive year again.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS (Champs!)!!!


Friday, June 24, 2016

"They Draft You for What You Will Be in Your Prime"

Random Photo
The quote over on Puck Daddy by Pierre-Luc Dubois (PLD) was "they draft you for what you’re going to be in your prime and not for what you are right now.”

I think that sums up what Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets scouts are projecting, a higher eventual ceiling versus what is available now.    And indeed, that seems to fit the need of the team.  Circumstances, time, and a good post by John Kemp precluded me from writing my third 'Calder Cup Quandary' post about the forwards.  But there it is.  Our minor league team just won a championship, but we're supposed to pick a guy who is going to jump over them because he was the consensus pick?

Pierre-Luc Dubois will come up through the system.  He thrived with a late season position change to center, an area of need for the Blue Jackets, and many teams in the NHL.  He acknowledges he needs more development time.  Jesse Puljujarvi is a right wing, who by benefit of consensus of all the pundits, has been deemed better, and more deserving of a roster spot on the Blue Jackets than Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Except the fact that the pundits never compared Puljujarvi to Bjorkstrand, they just compared him to his peers.  Except perhaps the Blue Jackets scouts.  When viewed through that lens, I am really starting to warm to this pick.

Here is something to think of; Pierre-Luc Dubois will be a Lake Erie Monster.  I like that thought a lot.  They say that Puljujarvi doesn't need to be a Monster, but how does that fit our organization?  So welcome to the Blue Jackets Pierre-Luc.  Do your thing.  Develop at your own pace.  We have roster issues of our own at the NHL level, we don't need you clouding those now.  Bjork, Bjork, Bjork!!!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!!

Hindsight Vision into the Blue Jackets First Round Drafting

Rick Nash selected 1st overall in 2002
If you hold an empty Molson Canadian bottle up to your ear you can hear whispers of Doug MacLean talking about drafting Rick Nash.  Doug may have good reason to brag, Rick Nash still owns the Blue Jackets franchise team records for goals, assists and points. So that one worked out pretty well for Columbus.  How did they do the other years? I've put together a couple of visuals to take a look back and see how the Blue Jackets 1st rounders did throughout their career and who may have been available but overlooked at the draft.

The first chart below shows each of the players drafted in the first round since 2000 and how many points per year they have earned. The "points per year" doesn't evaluate drafted goalies at all and it severely limits the value the true defensemen bring.  I had considered using their All-Star status as a way to measure value but then we start to look at players like Nick Foligno (home team voting) and John Scott (gasp!).  So for now, I am going with points as a way to evaluate how they have done.  If we look at 2002 we see that Rick Nash is at the top of his class and by a decent margin.  A goalie was drafted number 2 overall that year, but many of the other forwards don't seem to have come very close to what Rick has accomplished.  Doug MacLean is a genius*!

We can start to see players like Crosby and Ovechkin really stand out overall.  As we move along to 2007, we see the 2016 Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart Award winner Patrick Kane with a big lead.  You may be surprised to see who has the second most points per year among first round draft picks in 2007.  It is Jakub Voracek. Man, I wish the Jackets still had him!

CLICK HERE FOR A LARGER VIEW
CLICK HERE FOR A LARGER VIEW

The next chart takes all of the first round draft picks since 2000 and filters it down to just the players that have averaged over 25 points per year.  This time the chart shows the order in which they were drafted so all of us Blue Jackets fans can have some good referencing material for our complaining.
The first 3 years, there's not too much to chirp about.  The Blue Jackets were a new organization in 2000 and needed a defenseman, in 2001 they decided to lock up a "long-term" goalie with Pascal Leclaire and in 2002 they landed Rick Nash.  Pretty good start.  What could go wrong? In 2004, the NHL had a very deep draft class.  With SO MANY talented players that year and the 4th overall draft pick, the Blue Jackets are sure to get a franchise player.  Unfortunately the Jackets drafted Nikolai Zherdev and missed out on many All-Star players.

In 2004, many would call Picard a bust, but there weren't that many drafted after him that had stellar careers in the NHL.  In 2005 the Blue Jackets drafted Gilbert Brule over Anze Kopitar, yeah, that one still hurts. The next year Derck Brassard was drafted and despite it not working out in Columbus, he has been a solid player in the NHL. Claude Giroux is sitting there at 22, but at the time that would have been quite a stretch to draft him 6th overall. In 2007 Voracek turned out to be one of the best players behind Kane, so kudos to the scouting staff and Scott Howson for that one.

The Blue Jackets could have really benefited by losing more in the 2007 - 2008 season.  A higher draft position could have meant drafting Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, or Alex Petrangelo.  At the 6 spot, the CBJ drafted Nikita Filatov.  I lost one of my favorite hats to one of his hat tricks, and we didn't get much else from him. Colin Wilson and Mikkel Boedker may have been better choices, but those players wouldn't have turned the franchise around in short order.  The Jackets made the playoffs in 2008 - 2009, so their 2009 draft spot was 21.  John Moore seemed to be a good choice at that position. The next year the Jackets selected Ryan Johansen 4th overall and he developed into a terrific player.  The Blue Jackets traded away their 2011 first round pick (Boone Jenner was an early 2nd round pick) and 2012 was the year they drafted Ryan Murray. The 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts are a little too recent to draw that many insights from.

CLICK HERE FOR A LARGER VIEW
CLICK HERE FOR A LARGER VIEW

After all of this, I have learned something.  I have been holding in my mind a perception of the Blue Jackets inept 1st round drafting abilities. If I'm ever caught in a bar discussion over CBJ draft picks, I'm very quick to point out 2003 and how HUGE of a miss that year was.  Overall, the Jackets haven't done too bad considering.  Scouting talent and predicting future success is not easy and even after I look back over 15 years of drafts with a skeptical eye, they did all right. The recent draft picks are doing well over at the Lake Erie Monsters, so maybe there is hope after all.

The Blue Jackets have the 3rd overall pick in the Draft tonight so tune in and see who gets selected. Hopefully in a few years we won't be talking about the players that the Jackets should have drafted in that spot.

* not actually a genius

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Calder Cup Quandary: The Defensemen

Werenski Takes A Twirl On the Big Board at the Q
One of the rumblings that will arise out of the Calder Cup Championship won by the Lake Erie Monsters is the lasting impact it will have on the Blue Jackets Defensive Corps.  While the goal tenders played well down the stretch, the Defense played just as well, blocking shots, sweeping away rebounds, skating the puck out of trouble.    They deserve a lot of credit as well.  Yet that performance raises interesting questions moving forward into the 2016-17 season for the Columubus Blue Jackets.

First and foremost is the hiring of Brad Shaw as Associate Coach to replace Craig Hartsburg.  Shaw will run the defense, and it is widely reported that the lure of blue chip prospects like Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and Zach Werenski are a big part of why he came to Columbus.  But, Werenski did not win the Calder Cup single handedly, and the Blue Jackets have a full roster of 1 way contract defensemen already signed.  So let's ponder this a bit.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Calder Cup Quandary: The Goal Tenders

The Goal Tending situation for the Blue Jackets just got complicated, in a good way.  Anton Forsberg just served notice that he is a champion goal tender, setting up, as Aaron Portzline put it, 'an epic battle in training camp' among the goal tenders.  This is such a great thing for the organization that it is hard to put into words.

When Joonas Korpisalo was sent down from the Blue Jackets at the end of the season, he was given the net in Lake Erie, and Jarmo pretty much assured him that if Bob got injured next year, he would come up from Lake Erie to take Bob's place, and CMac would remain the backup (IMO).  However, Korpisalo had the misfortune to lose a playoff game, thereby opening the door for Forsberg, who promptly went 9-0 to seal a Calder Cup Championship.

The currency among organizational goal tenders just became wins.  Past Vezina trophies do not count.  If you want the net, you need to win.  And the organization now has three goal tenders with the pedigree to win in the NHL.  Forsberg has not had the greatest of luck at the NHL, but he was outstanding he went down to replace Brad Thiessen (sp? Sorry!) who did a stellar job coming up from the ECHL while Forsberg and Korpisalo were in the NHL.  Forsberg took his game to a new level down the stretch and was instrumental in getting the Monsters into the playoffs.  Korpisalo won the first playoff series, but faltered against Grand Rapids, and Forsberg took the net and refused to let it go.

Coming into next year, with an expansion draft looming, this young tandem looks really strong.  Bob will be pushed this year, no doubt about it, and a shaky start will result in a loss of the net in rapid order by any of the goal tenders.   The currency is now wins.  Anton Forsberg has shaken the foundations of the organization with his performance.  You want the net?  You gotta win.  And how awesome is that for the fans?

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!!





Sunday, June 12, 2016

Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters


Last night the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup as the AHL Champions by sweeping the Hershey Bears.  Oliver Bjorkstrand, the playoff MVP, won the game by bouncing a greasy goal off the Hershey goal tender Peters with 1.9 seconds remaining in the first overtime period.  A sell out crowd of 19,665 watched the Monsters bring the Calder Cup back to Cleveland for the first time since 1964.

In an exceptionally tightly played game by both squads, someone had to lose.  There were a few times when I felt Hershey started to tilt the ice their way, especially in the third period, but the Monsters seemed to always respond.


To Captain Ryan Craig, Coach Jared Bednar, and all the Lake Erie Monsters who flew so high this year, a heartfelt THANK YOU!  You finished the job you started on, and gave us all a ton of things to think about in this off season.

GO MONSTERS!!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

AHL Western Conference Champion Monsters Face Hershey in Final

Lucas Sedlak with 2 goals in Conference Final 2OT Win
The match-up for the AHL Calder Cup final has been set, with the Lake Erie Monsters squaring off against the Hershey Bears starting Wednesday night June 1 at Hershey.  That is followed by a Friday night tilt at Hershey, then 3 games in the Q at Monsters' home ice.  Those games have not been scheduled yet as the NBA finals schedule has not been set.

Best of luck to the Monsters as they embark on their run at the Calder Cup.  As Western Conference champs they have already accomplished something significant.  A new challenge awaits them in the finals, as the Bears, the Washington Capitals affiliate, have proven to be explosive.

The risk for the Bears, however, is that if they are somehow successful in chasing Anton Forsberg from the net, Joonas Korpisalo is waiting in the wings with something to prove.  How awesome for the organization to have two young goal tenders playing so well.  I'm really looking forward to this final.

Just wanted to make a quick shout out to Fox Sports Ohio for televising game 4 of the AHL Western Conference final.  It was amazingly fun to watching a.) a team you root for, playing b.) meaningful hockey.  The 2 OT winner was really fun to watch.  Here's hoping Fox Sports Ohio can pull off another broadcast of one of the finals games!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!