Thursday, December 31, 2009

Must-read midseason analyses

I was thinking of writing up an analysis of the team at the halfway point of the season, but a couple of pieces beat me to the punch and are of terrific quality - leaving me to do little more than comment on their work.

I. The Hockey Writers - State of the Union Blue

Rick Gethin offers the needed cold shower for the Jackets in suggesting that it'll take a 24-13-4 record to get to 90 points and playoff qualification.  Scott Howson said on XM Radio the other day that he thinks it'll take 94-95 points this year, pushing the bar even higher yet.  Still, the point is made - for a team that's gone 3-12-6 in the last 21, that's a mighty mountain to climb.

Gethin then dives deep into two key issues.  The first is that of leadership, where he suggests, "One of the biggest factors that I believe have led to this slide has been the lack of a veteran voice on this team. While you would think that Mike Commodore and Fredrik Modin could fill this vital position, neither one has done so." He touches on the trade for Chris Clark, something that offers all Jackets fans some hope to straighten out the locker room.  I just hope that the Clark addition isn't too little, too late.

The second issue is the roster, and the practice of merit-based play.  Gethin reminds us that the Jackets went on their January/February run last year while hobbled with injuries (remember the "Blue Cross Blue Shield Jackets"?), something I fondly recalled in "It's All About Desire".  He suggests that if injuries don't force this type of roster shakeup, then the Jackets need to start (continue?) tweaking the roster to get the most competitive players on the ice.  No argument here.

Considering the issue is on the tips of the tongues of most diehard CBJ fans, I'm a bit surprised that Gethin didn't touch on Ken Hitchcock's job security directly as he did in the excellent "Where Has The Competitive Fire Gone?".  Matters not, I suppose...the Jackets management loves the man.

II. The Columbus Dispatch - Analysis: 'Disappointing' Blue Jackets have plenty of issues

Aaron Portzline summarizes the issues into four topics:
  1. Sophomore slumps - As a group, Mason, Brassard and Voracek haven't performed close to expectations.
  2. Hitchcock's tenure - "In most any other city, Hitchcock would likely have been fired by now." Powerful words from the biggest CBJ news outlet around.  Do you think that's being read on Nationwide Boulevard?  (Go ahead, nod in agreement...)
  3. A high boiling point - You wonder if the losing really DOES hurt the players.  Clearly, it's tearing Hitchcock to pieces,.)
  4. Righting the room - Leadership, leadership, leadership.  Nash might wear the "C", but clearly the team needs more than he can offer in the locker room.
The only criticism I have of Portzline's piece is that he didn't touch on what I perceive to be a fundamental disconnect between the roster composition (especially the forwards) and the coaching philosophy.  I just don't know as the team is cut out (mentally?  attitudinally?) to play Hitch Hockey for 82 games.  A game here or there - like Game 40: Detroit, for instance - but not the grind of an entire season.  Jeff Little offered a masterful analysis of this issue in the must-read article of the first half of the season, "The Young and the Restless - Blue Jackets, Hitchcock seek common ground," so I won't belabor the point.

My nit-picking aside, both are must-reads.  Who would've guessed that Michael Peca would be the most popular ex-Blue Jacket of the 2009-2010 season? (My $.02 on Peca is in Thought No. 8.)

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