Thursday, December 31, 2009

In honor of the Winter Classic

I'm going to let the Bay Stater in me (I lived in Massachusetts for about 6 years during high school and college) come out for a day and celebrate the fact that the Winter Classic is being played in one of America's greatest cities, Boston. In honor of the game, here's a song that some of you might be familiar with...

Let it snow! Go Bruins! (And next time, play the hated Montreal Canadiens - not the Flyers!)

...and now we return to your regularly-scheduled Blue Jackets analysis and commentary...

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.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A new lease on Washington

A new lease on life.

Sadly, that's not the reaction coming from Chris Clark or Milan Jurcina upon arriving with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Their reaction is shock and caution.  In fact, Clark was pretty blunt about his feelings on the trade to Columbus:
"I didn't mind a diminished role [in Washington] because we were winning so much and we're such a great team and had a chance to do something in the playoffs," Clark said. "I would have taken any role on this team to do that. But now I'm going to start all over again. Hopefully Columbus will be in that position in a few years."

"It's going to be tough, but I've been in this situation before," Clark added. "Hopefully I can help out in any way I can."
No, that reaction is coming from Jason Chimera, via the Washington Post.

10 Thoughts about Game 41: New York Islanders

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets flew out to Long Island to challenge the New York Islanders in the Nassau Coliseum.  The result was another defensive struggle (albeit with less energy than Game 40: Detroit), and the game went to a shootout.  The Jackets converted none of their three attempts, and the Isles got one past Steve Mason.  Thus, the Jackets lost, 2-1.

1a. The game featured two teams with identical records - an oddity at this point of the season - 15-18-7, 37 points.  With the "loser point," the Jackets are now 15-18-8, 38 points.  They remain in 14th place in the Western Conference but now are 9 points out of the 8th and final playoff-qualifying seed.  They have won 2 of their last 21 games.

1b. Here are your highlights:

Monday, December 28, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 40: Detroit (plus 1 Thought on the trade)

1. The reeling Columbus Blue Jackets hosted the ailing Detroit Red Wings at Nationwide Arena tonight...and a goalie duel broke out. Jackets won in overtime, 1-0.

1a. The win ends the team-record losing streak at 9 games and, more importantly, adds 2 points to the standings for the Boys in Union Blue. The CBJ are now 15-18-7, with 37 points and 8 points out of the final playoff spot.

1b. Here are the highlights. Savor all of's been a while since we had the win:

Jackets win! Jackets win!

8 Thoughts from Skye about Game 39: Detroit

[As I mentioned, I was tied up with holiday and family obligations all weekend.  I received some bad information about Game 39, but luckily Skye (Twitter's @magicoilyoctopi) was present in Detroit and offers this first person recap for you.  Thanks for Carrying The DBJ Flag for the weekend!]

1. Following the Christmas break, the Columbus Blue Jackets traveled to Hockeytown to take on the Detroit Red Wings. After scoring the first goal in the first period, the Jackets failed to capitalize on any other chances, finally falling 2-1 to the struggling and injured Red Wings of this season.

1a. The Jackets fall to 14-18-7, still at 35 points and last in the Central division, and one point up on last place in the Western conference. 2-12-5 since November 19th.

1b. Here are the highlights for the night, per and NHL TV:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 38: Dallas

1. After a dramatic day off, the Columbus Blue Jackets dusted themselves off and took the ice against the Dallas Stars at American Airlines Arena.  After a strong early push from the Boys in Union Blue, the Stars prevailed, 3-1.

1a. The loss (the 16th in the last 18) drops the CBJ to 14-17-7 - still holding at 35 points.

1b. Per Twitter's LeeAuer:
14-17-7 for 35 pts in 38 gms. Must now go 28-15-1 for 57 pts in 44 gms to reach 92 points and hopefully put #CBJ in the post season
1c. Here are the highlights:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"The Howson Interview" - The Commentariat Speaks!

The response to my call for Columbus Blue Jackets bloggers to take a swing at answering the questions that Columbus Dispatch reporter Aaron Portzline posed to CBJ general manager Scott Howson was impressive!  The bloggers came through with (largely) insightful and sometimes witty answers that reveal a remarkable depth of understanding about the big picture issues facing the Blue Jackets as they hit the mid-point of the season.

I believe that the following list encompasses all the blogs that participated in this exercise.  If I missed any, please let me know.
I also compiled the answers by question (including Howson's) and listed the responses after the fold. (Because I wrote a book for each question, you can just click on my link and read my answers.)  This is a great way to see the diversity of opinions on any of the questions that Portzline posed. I found that it brought new ideas and fresh perspectives to light - and how could I forget John Moore when talking about minor league callups?

Regardless of what you think about everyone's ideas, keep in mind that the whole reason that most of us blog is for fun.  It's fun to write about our favorite team, to theorize, to play back-seat driver to team management. So please enjoy this, and have fun reading what we came up with.

10 Thoughts about Game 37: Phoenix

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets strolled into Arena last night, and then strolled right out - having lost 5-2 at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes.

1a. With the loss, the 15th in the last 17, the Jackets fall to 14-16-7.  Still at 35 points, Columbus sits in 14th spot in the 15-team Western Conference.

1b. Here are the highlights:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Answering Scott Howson's questions - A group exercise

The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline conducted an excellent "end of the calendar year" interview with Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson, which was published in today's paper.  Seeing as 36 games are completed in an 82-game season, it also serves as a temperature check on the team as they round the bend toward the back half of the 2009-2010 season.

I was thinking of creating a handful of open-ended questions about the team at the mid-point of the season and asking my fellow CBJ bloggers to join me in answering them on our respective blogs, but Portzline saved me the hassle.  The questions, framed like a professional journalist should, are largely open-ended and leave room for plenty of commentary.  They also allow those of us who take a shot at responding to Portzline's interview questions to compare our responses to Howson's - a fascinating study, indeed.  I'm really looking forward to seeing how my fellow bloggers answer these questions.

So, to my fellow CBJ bloggers: Copy the questions in the interview and paste them into your own blog, and try answering them yourselves!  If you participate in this exercise, please post a link to your responses in the comments.
Question: Given the expectations surrounding this club heading into this season, how surprised are you to be closer to last place than a playoff spot in the Western Conference?
Q: What player, what aspect of the club, has been most surprising?
Q: Why is coach Ken Hitchcock the right coach for this club right now?
Q: You have one of the youngest clubs in the NHL. Does he work well with a group like that?
Q: Do you feel like you over-estimated Derick Brassard, expecting him to be a No. 1 center this season?
Q: How close did you come to making a deal over the last few days, before the NHL's holiday roster freeze went into effect on Saturday?
Q: Do you consider talking during the next week, even though you can't make a move until after Dec. 26?
Q: Any thought given to a minor league call-up?
Q: You made one change to your blue line last offseason, adding defenseman Anton Stralman. If you had it to do over again, would you have done more to upgrade the defense?
Q: Could this club use another strong veteran presence in the dressing room?
Q: You talk about "going through the process" and "working through it", but isn't that what last season was about? Didn't you feel like you'd already gone through all of this?
Q: Do you need an enforcer?
Q: [Why or] Why not?
Q: Sitting here, five days before Christmas, do you still feel as if that's a playoff-caliber club?
My answers to Aaron Portzline's mid-season questions of Scott Howson are below the fold...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Western Conference playoff race, 20 December edition

WOW - What a week.  Tremendous separation taking place between the top and the bottom.  Sadly, that's not a separation where the Columbus Blue Jackets line up with the top of the conference.

In the end, though, the playoff bar only rose three points to the holy grail of a playoff birth isn't totally out of reach for the bottom of the conference.  Only 8 points away, St. Louis!

BIG POINT GAINER OF THE WEEK: The Central Division steps up with a tie for top gainers in the Chicago Blackhawks and the Nashville Predators - each with a mind-blowing 8 points each.  We all talk about what the Olympics are doing to the schedules (in this case, compressing the schedules to accommodate the Olympic break), and the 'hawks and Preds are taking full advantage of it.  Chicago vaulted past San Jose into first place in the conference, too.  In an interesting side note, no other team in the West gained more than 4 points.

SMALLEST POINT GAINER OF THE WEEK: Sucks to be the Edmonton Oilers right now...they didn't add a single point to their bottom line.  That's rough.  The runner-up is (again) the Columbus Blue Jackets, who added a meager single point last week.  Again, bad enough to be bad but not bad enough to be the worst.  Sigh.

Also, the Red Light District blog posted the first Western Conference playoff analysis post that I've seen this season - here's a link.  Not pretty at all for the Blue Jackets.

I guess we're just imbeciles.

I like Michael Arace's work by and large, but this column was uncalled for.
Modern technology allows millions upon millions of imbeciles to gather in the dark. This is as true in the world of sports as it is in the worlds of celebrity, politics, entertainment and religion. A mere bump in the road results in a tremulous response that ripples through myriad electronic media, from instant messages to satellite television. Together, the critics can't be wrong.


I do not think it is the end of the world.

I like that the program -- ownership, management, coaches, players -- are suffering together and plowing forward together, with few, if any, signs of schism.

I like that they are absorbing the critical genius of a thousand imbeciles in the dark.

All of us can't be wrong.
This is offensive. And I say that as a Dispatch subscriber.  For now.

What was he thinking?  Insulting your readers - the people whose subscriptions put food on your table -  is...imbecilic.

10 Thoughts about Game 36: Colorado (by Kirsi)

Hi, I’m Kirsi. You can find me online at Twitter, where I go by KirsiJ. My friend the Dark Blue Jacket asked me to recap the latest game so he could take a maintenance day. Perhaps he will go on a bike ride.

Here are my 10 Thoughts about Game 36: Colorado.

1. The Colorado Avalanche were plenty rested with three whole days off. They probably needed it as their last game was a 6-1 lashing by the Washington Capitals. Seems that the rest did them good and left them anxious to play another game – so anxious they scored four goals in the first 8:02 of the first period! Thankfully the Columbus Blue Jackets showed up after that point, but were still handed a 5-2 loss in Denver.

1a. The Blue Jackets now are 14-15-7 and have 35 points, two points from the bottom of the Western Conference standings. 14 of the last 16 games have been losses. Tonight’s game was the start of a “pivotal” and “huge” four-game road trip, according, respectively, to the Columbus Dispatch and forward Jason Chimera.

1b. Unfortunately, defenseman Fedor Tyutin was not a healthy scratch tonight. Maybe if Stralman didn’t get sick…

1c. Highlights!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Healthy scratch

Time for a "maintenance day" - gotta hop on the exercise bike with Rick Nash.  In my place for 10 Thoughts on tomorrow night's Colorado Avalanche game will be KirsiJ of #CBJ Twitter fame.

Why Kirsi?  Sure, I don't know her any farther than her Tweets, but any person who lives in Central Ohio and posts this at midnight knows good hockey when she sees it and deserves to expound on the biggest stage I can offer:
"its hard to tear myself away from the fabulousness of thornton, marleau, heatley, getzlaf, nabokov, niedermayer.. but im so tired :(
I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with the blank canvas of 10 (-plus) Thoughts.  The guest post from My Friendly Pens Fan for the Anaheim game was a great read, and I'm excited to see what Kirsi does.

I'll be back with the weekly Western Conference standings and 10 Thoughts about Monday night's Phoenix game.  See you then...Carry The Flag!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 35: Phoenix

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets welcomed a somewhat winded (having just bushwacked the Toronto Maple Leafs the prior evening) Phoenix Coyotes to Nationwide Arena.  The two teams largely played defensive hockey, and the game went to a shootout tied 1-1.  Phoenix won the shootout, leaving Columbus with the loser point on the night.

1a. The Jackets are now 14-14-7 and have 35 points.  They're sitting in 12th place in the West, having lost 13 of their last 15.  The playoff qualifying bar currently is at 41 points.

1b.  Here are the highlights:

2. To their credit, the Jackets played a much more....invested game.  They still have much work to do on defense, turnovers, passing and goal conversion, but they clearly ate their Wheaties this morning.  Or maybe during the 1st intermission, as the 1st period was a little slow.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Honeymoon over

If this current streak of lousy play - losing 12 of their last 14 (and counting) - will be known for anything, I will suggest that this is when the bloom officially fell from the Ken Hitchcock rose in Columbus.

If you recall, Hitchcock arrived in Columbus as a white knight.  The original Mr. Mac said, "This is the man who will save our franchise" when he hired Hitch.  Hitch is unquestionably a great coach, with over 500 wins and a Stanley Cup to his credit.  Heck, he helped pilot the Jackets to their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff appearance; if that's not Hall of Fame-worthy coaching, I don't know what is.

At the same time, losing does funny things to a coach, his players, the front office and the fan base.  Especially losing a lot over an extended period of time.  Coaches start grab-bagging, players lose confidence in the system (and maybe each other), the front office makes (possibly half-hearted) statements about the coach's job security and the fans...well, the fans grab their pitchforks from the closets and light the torches.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 34: Minnesota*

1. Despite only the crowd in the arena actually watching the game (with the rest of us proles listening on radio, hence the asterisk next to this game), the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild appeared to play an NHL-regulation hockey game.  Minnesota won, 2-1.

1a. The loss drops the CBJ to 14-14-6, still at 34 points and now in 13th place in the Western Conference.  That's 5 points below playoff contention and 3 points above the conference cellar.  Not a lot of room for error.

1b. Here are your highlights....oh, no video.  Hmmm.  In it's place, let's pause and review some of the basic rules of hockey:

10 Thoughts about Game 33: Nashville

1. After everyone in the Columbus Blue Jackets' locker room piped in with comments about the "serious," "critical" and "urgent" nature of tonight's game, the Jackets proceeded to play the exact same type of game that they've been playing recently in losing to the Nashville Predators, 5-3.

1a. The Jackets have lost 11 of their last 13 and currently sport a record of 14-13-6 (34 points).

1b. Here are your highlights:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Versus sucks

I haven't used this blog to pontificate about how the DirecTV-Versus stalemate has led to my not being able to watch the titular "Game of the Week" in HD but instead on my computer screen from some internet feed from Australia.  The issue is bigger than me, bigger than the Blue Jackets.  That, and the Blue Jackets are only on Versus a couple of times this season (thankfully, seeing how lousy we've been playing).

But what they're doing to the Blue Jackets - and hockey fans - on Tuesday night is inexcusable.

Western Conference playoff race, 13 December edition

Fascinating week in the West this week.  Someone actually caught the San Jose Sharks, and more teams had less weekly point accumulation than any week I can recall.  Nine weeks until the Olympic break, right?  Time for teams to make a move.

[Note that this edition was written before the conclusion of games played on December 13.  We'll catch them on December 20.]

TOP POINT WINNER OF THE WEEK: Watch out, San Jose, because the Los Angeles Kings piled on 8 points in the past week and pulled into a tie with you...but they apparently have the tiebreaker as has them in top seed in the West.  8 points in one week....dang.  I can't remember the last time a team added 8 points to their bottom line.  This is an incredible jump and probably made possible by the compacted playing schedule forced on the NHL by the Olympic break.  Coming in second were Anaheim and Edmonton with 6 accumulated points each.

LOW POINT WINNER OF THE WEEK: With a whopping 2 new points for their bottom lines are Chicago, St. Louis and San Jose.  St. Louis is having a worse season than Columbus, so I can understand their status...but the Sharks and Blackhawks?  Guess everyone's due for an off-week.  San Jose had better get it back in gear, though, as they are deadlocked with Los Angeles.  The teams adding 3 points this week were Calgary and Columbus.  Ah, those Blue Jackets...bad enough to stay out of contention but not quite bad enough to panic over.

So where exactly is the bottom?

It's nearly 24 hours since the Columbus Blue Jackets lost their most recent game, and I'm still cranky.  We all hear about a team hitting rock-bottom before they pick themselves up and right the ship, and I'm fairly certain we haven't hit it yet.  But look at what's happened on the way down...

  1. Playing the stiff in the hat trick debut of Dany Heatley in the San Jose Sharks' season opener - the third game of the season.  We lost that one, 6-3.
  2. Serving as a speed bump for the Calgary Flames in the Saddledome.  We lost that one, the seventh game of the season, 6-3.  
  3. Giving Dustin Penner a platform for All Star (or I guess Olympics this year) status as the Edmonton Oilers cruised over us, 6-4 in the eighth game of the season.
  4. Giving Anze Kopitar & Alexander Frolov a venue to engage in target practice as the Los Angeles Kings crushed us, 6-2 in the tenth game of the season.
  5. Being systematically dismantled by the Detroit Red Wings, 9-1, in the seventeenth game of the season.
  6. Taking our star turn on Broadway and flopping on opening night after a disastrous performance against the New York Rangers, losing 7-4 in the twenty-second game of the season. 
  7. The (shudder) game against the Toronto Maple Leafs where we were shellacked, 6-3 - the twenty-eighth game of the season.
  8. Yesterday's listless loss to the Western Conference cellar-dwelling Anaheim Ducks, 3-1 in the thirty-second game of the season.  
And those were only the really noxious losses.

10 Thoughts about Game 32: Anaheim

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets largely could not solve the Western Conference-cellar dwelling Anaheim Ducks defense and lost, 3-1.

1a. Here are your highlights (so to speak):

Friday, December 11, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 31: Nashville

1. Both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Nashville Predators played 45 minutes of strong hockey on Thursday night at The Arena Formerly Known As The Sommet Center, leading to a 5-round shootout that was won by Nashville.  The final score: 4-3 (SO), Preds.

1a.  Here are your highlights:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

More info on the Rosenberger appointment

Columbus' The Other Paper picked up the Coleman appointment of John Rosenberger to spearhead the Blue Jackets/Arena District rescue project and advanced the story quite a bit.

First, they interviewed the gentleman who wrote the Chamber's report.
The news came as a relief to Stephen Buser, the Ohio State emeritus professor of finance who had been commissioned by the Columbus Chamber to research and report a number of possible solutions to help stem the Blue Jackets’ bleeding. That financial framework was released a month ago.

As part of his research, Buser said the chamber “set up a rotation of people for me to speak to.” Among them, he said, was Rosenberger.

“When I saw his name on the agenda I did think, ‘What am I talking to him for?’ Within five minutes, he was able to solve that problem for me,” said Buser. “He was able to spell out, clearly and concisely, how the Convention Facilities Authority would be a natural owner of the arena because of A, B, C and D, and how, if that happened, it could whittle down that current (arena) operating loss of $4 or $5 million (that the Blue Jackets now assume).”

“Of course, neither one of us realized that, four months later, he’d be named the point person of those negotiations.”
Rosenberger again raises the comparison of himself to Henry Kissinger, which I don't care for (sorry, this matter doesn't transcend it issues of racial/religious identity and global geopolitics).  He does, however, have experience in transferring private properties to public use.  He managed the transition of the Columbus convention center from Battelle to the Convention Facilities Authority - a group that has "operate arenas" in its charter.

Great work by The Other Paper and the writer, Eric Lyttle.  The article is on my must-read list.

The DBJ Financial Acuity Index

One element of life in the National Hockey League that I find most intriguing is the stark financial realities that teams operate under. The NHL is a league of "haves" and "have nots," and their salary structures lay out the pecking order.

Sure, there's a salary cap of $56.8 million. But the dirty little secret of the NHL is that the average cap hit absorbed by a given team right now, in the 2009-2010 season, is $55.083 million - almost $2 million below that which the league allows them to spend. In fact, only 12 of the league's 30 teams are at the cap ceiling. (Source: NHL Numbers)

What makes this whole issue fascinating to me is that teams who are playing with literally 2/3 of a deck (salary-speaking) are still extremely competitive - regardless of the opposing team.  This speaks to uniquely talented front office management (including drafting acumen, development of a top-tier farm system and free agency savvy) and coaching that goes well beyond the average.  It also speaks to GMs who pay like drunken sailors in the hopes of getting a Stanley Cup.

Take last night's game.  The Jackets have the 4th lowest salary cap number in the entire league.  (We're #27!)  Florida is the 19th highest - just under the average NHL team cap hit number - and $6.45 million more than the CBJ.  That's like adding RJ Umberger and Fedor Tyutin's salaries to the existing Columbus lineup - and I'm including Freddy Modin, who hasn't played yet this season.    One would think that Florida would have a decided advantage, but the standings aren't playing out that way.  The Jackets have 33 points, and the Panthers have 28 points.  Clearly, the Jackets outperformed the salary market last night.

This little comparison intrigued me, so I took it to the next level.  I created a very simple Financial Acuity Index.  ("Acuity" is defined as "sharpness of vision; the visual ability to resolve fine detail".)  My Index is really simple.  I took the Salary Cap rank of each team and subtracted the league-wide standings rank (not East/West, but all 30 teams).  The teams with positive numbers are, from a financial acuity perspective, outplaying their salary level.  The teams with negative numbers are underperforming.  The magnitude of the index number gives the reader a sense of how far a team deviates from its salary cap position.

The Index could be construed as punishing high-cap teams as they have a harder road to hoe in order to achieve a positive Index score.  Perhaps that's true, but a high-cap team that plays to an equivalent level in the standings gets a zero index score -- no embarrassment there, but not outperforming either.  All you are doing is delivering a return on investment commensurate with expectations.

And here's my first Dark Blue Jacket Financial Acuity Index of National Hockey League teams:

As the standings are updated on a nightly basis, and as player transactions during the season can affect a team's salary cap ranking, I'll have to update this periodically.  I'm thinking monthly right now.  But the lessons from this first iteration are clear:
  1. Money doesn't automatically mean success.  4 of the 5 top-ranked teams from a salary cap perspective are 4 of the 5 teams with the lowest Financial Acuity Index scores.  
  2. As a slight counterpoint to #1, Chicago and Washington prove that you CAN pay well and still outperform your cap rankings in the league standings.  Note, however, that those are the ONLY two teams in the salary cap top 10 with a neutral-to-positive Financial Acuity Index score.  
  3. (I know my Friendly Pens Fan will love this) Note that Pittsburgh is the highest scoring team that is above the league average salary level.  Well-run and well-performing - you'd think they could win Stanley Cups or something...
  4. Lou Lamoriello, GM in New Jersey, is in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Apparently with good reason...he toes the line on salaries yet always fields a competitive team.
  5. Don Maloney, GM in Phoenix, is a genius.  To take a team with a cap number $20 million lower than Toronto and get them to 9th in the entire league...WOW.  
  6. No matter how you look at Carolina, they are not a good team.
What do you think?  Is this index a useful way of looking at the relative competitiveness of the NHL?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 30: Florida

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets, fresh off of two days of practice, played a full 60 minutes of Hitchcock hockey in beating the Florida Panthers, 3-0.

1a. With the win, the Jackets (Salary cap hit: $48.538M) advance to 14-11-5 (33 pts.) and the Panthers (Salary cap hit: $54.989M) drop to 11-14-6 (28 pts.).

1b. Here are your highlights:

CBC on the Rick Nash extension

Sometimes its hard to keep the big picture in mind when your team is wallowing in a slump/identity crisis, but this story from the CBC hits home at the amazing foundation laid for the Columbus Blue Jackets by the Rick Nash contract extension of last summer.

Great piece. As much as I snipe at Nash for the performance of what clearly is his team, I'm still damned glad that he's on our side.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Trouble between the pipes

Of all the articles that have been published about the Columbus Blue Jackets, this was one that I did not expect. Not in the least.

CBJ goaltending coach Dave Rook went on the record with's Scott Burnside (By the way, who knew ESPN was even trying to stay relevant in hockey?) and dropped a couple bombs about his prodigy, goaltender Steve Mason.  He said that "Basically, he had trouble handling the success he had last year. ... Maybe it's not as easy as he thought it was." Rook then went on to say that Mason's still learning on the job and that "He needs to make sure 'he doesn't forget where he is and how much of a privilege it is to be [in the NHL].'"  There's more, but you get the drift.

My thought?  Dang.  This is Mase's hand-picked coach?  I'd hate to see what some coach who he doesn't like has to say.

More seriously, the comments from Rook lead me to think that either of two things is happening (I hope not both at the same time) - neither particularly positive for Jackets fans:

1. Fallout for Mason's poor performance thus far this season is landing on Rook's shoulders, and Rook is covering his rear in the media.  This would be akin to, "If I'm going down, I'm not going down alone."

2. Mason really does have an outsized impression of himself and his abilities.  One would think that a 3.44 GAA and an .886 save percentage would keep him grounded, so holding this attitude despite the facts of the matter make me run for the maalox.  That Rook is taking the media approach in this scenario means that Mason is tuning Rook out at some fundamental level, and Rook is using Burnside to speak to him.  Other approaches could include benching and/or sending Mason to Syracuse for some "conditioning" (you know how those back spasms get), but Rook apparently took the tactic of calling Mason out in public - a little shock value, I suppose.

It's possible that both could be the case.  Let's hope that Mason and Rook can get back on the same page real soon; the CBJ's season might hang in the balance.  Of course, it could all be for naught if Ken Hitchcock can't get the defense in one should be expected to hold up under that pounding.

The brightest light in a dark picture

The fine folks at The Hockey News offer a grim forecast for the NHL's escrow system for this season. For those who don't know about it, here's a brief description:
To ensure the correct revenue split, a percentage of player salaries could be placed in escrow. When total NHL revenues are determined at the end of the season, the escrow account is divided among players and owners to ensure that the target has been met.
As the NHL is so dependent on ticket revenues (without the gargantuan television contracts of the NFL and NBA, for instance), low ticket sales equals low revenue sharing ... equals escrow money being withheld.  THN tells us that a full 18 percent of salary monies are being put into escrow.  Yow!  That $3 million contract might not be worth $3 million, if you know what I mean.  More like $2.46 million.

Despite the rough news on the league-wide front, THN offers a listing of the team-by-team attendance changes on a year-to-date comparison basis against last year.  And wouldn't you know, the Columbus Blue Jackets, with 15,111 average attendance for the first two months of the season, eclipsed last season's 13,822 by an average of 1,289 more rear ends in seats.  That 1,289 is the highest such increase for any team in the NHL this year, and many teams are well below last year's numbers.

This again proves that the fan base in Columbus is hungry for a winner and will support a winning team, even in the hardest of times.  Now, let's work on this defense thing...

Let's Make a Deal

The Field of Schemes blog (I suppose that there had to be a blog for people who think that public-private stadium deals are bad news) offers its two cents on Mayor Coleman's hiring of John Rosenberger to bring the Arena District bailout home:
Leaving aside whether an NHL franchise really falls into the category of "too big to fail," the prospect of a Blue Jackets bailout raises some other familiar concerns. For one thing, is there a risk of moral hazard if sports teams can go into arena projects with unworkable finances, figuring, "Hey, if we're losing money once the place is built, we can always get the government to renegotiate our lease later"?
A bigger question now, though, might be: What, if anything, will Columbus get in exchange for any money it pours into the Blue Jackets' coffers? If the team doesn't have money to spare, the next most likely thing is equity — if the U.S. can become part-owner of AIG and General Motors, there's no reason Columbus can't demand a share of the Blue Jackets in exchange for any bailout money. And unlike the federal government, they already have plenty of experience in such things...
And whaddya know, the Franklin County Government OWNS the Columbus Clippers!  I had no idea.  This little gem missed me as I haven't been a Columbus-ite all of my life.  It also changes the negotiating dynamic considerably in my mind.  With Huntington Park (and the Clippers) so inextricably linked to the Arena District and, by extension, Nationwide Arena's success, Franklin County Government is pretty well trapped on this one.  To protect their Clippers investment, the Commissioners will likely have to play ball with the Jackets.  Otherwise, two teams (and stadiums) could be hurting.  What an interesting, slippery slope the Commissioners put themselves on by moving the team downtown...

On the bright side: The Jackets have the good sense not to ask for Federal stimulus money!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Western Conference playoff race, 6 December edition

None of the front-runners made any spectacular jumps or drops this week, but the movement under the playoff qualifying bar (which rose from 29 to 34 this week) was very interesting.

BIGGEST GAIN OF THE WEEK: Don't look now, but Minnesota and Phoenix added 6 points each this week.  Two wins over playoff-caliber Nashville helped a lot (gosh, that would be nice) for Minnesota, who has quietly put together a nice run over the last couple of weeks.  Colorado, Detroit, Los Angeles and San Jose all added 5 points each this week, too.  After being tied with Columbus at this time last week, the Red Wings pulled into 9th seed in the West with 33.

SMALLEST GAIN OF THE WEEK: Poor Anaheim only added 2 points this week.  Worse yet, those 2 points came over a 4-game week.  Yow!  No wonder the stories about their coach on the hot seat and their roster getting shaken up are prevalent.  Columbus, Dallas and Nashville added 3 points.

The Top 10 Reasons to Boo Adam Foote

I saw this sequence of Twitter posts from CBJ4ever yesterday and wanted to post them in anticipation of yesterday's Jackets-Avalanche game.  We didn't connect until today, but the quality of the posts was so high that I need to post it for posterity's sake.  That, and the Avalanche come back to Nationwide on January 2nd...

So, with no further ado, here are the Top 10 Reasons to Boo Adam Foote from the home office, temporarily located in Adam Foote's empty house in Dublin:
10) He started it.

9) Told Fliatov “Just tell them you will be back next year like I did. They will believe anything!”

8) Foote is responsible for Jon and Kate’s divorce.

7) Recent medical studies indicate that booing actually builds immunity to the H1N1 virus.

6) Foote sold ABC on the idea of putting Kelsey Grammar in another sitcom.

5) The way things are going for the Jackets this might be the highlight of the season.

4) Foote taught Marc Denis how to play goal.

3) Booing is just as effective as Viagra and it’s free!

2) Remember this…”Bad captain, bad player, bad teammate”.

And the no 1 reason to boo Adam Foote tonight:

1) Doug MacLean isn’t likely to come to Columbus anytime soon so...

Saturday, December 5, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 29: Colorado

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets "welcomed" disgraced former team captain Adam Foote and the Colorado Avalanche back to Nationwide Arena and played about 30 minutes of hockey in losing, 3-2.

1a. Here are the highlights:

2. The Jackets made a late push in the 3rd period and almost tied it up with about 12 second left on a Jason Chimera shot.  Upon further review, it was revealed that the puck went under the side bar and thus never crossed the goal line.

2a. The referees never told the Nationwide crowd that part - they just said that the puck never crossed the goal line.  The crowd didn't accept that very well.

2b. The Twitter post of the week followed from SeppeSai: "You're forgetting that the common NHL referee feeds on human misery. Our sadness is his bread, our tears his wine."

3. The Jackets scored on two ugly little garbage goals - which warmed my heart. Both Jason Chimera and Jake Voracek did the tough work in/around the crease to get the puck past the line. And Chimera almost got another in the same manner. Gotta like that.

4. Thanks to my sister-in-law and the rest of my big brother's (Blue-Grey Jacket?) family for inviting the Dark Blue Jacket family to join them in the loge for tonight's game. Dark Blue Onesie won't be attending a Jackets game this year, but you can bet that he'll be there in the years ahead.

4a. If you EVER get a chance to see a game from loge seats, jump at the opportunity. Really. It's a great way to watch a game.

4b.  I snagged a couple souvenir schedule cups for home use.  If you read this blog, you know that's important.

5. I'm not sure what I expected from the crowd in the return of Adam Foote, but the booing every time he stepped on the ice seemed....underwhelming.

5a.  The pregame signs facing Foote as he warmed up were cute.  None particularly innovative ("Foote still sucks" for example), but it's the thought that counts.

5b. I think we had more (weak) hits on Foote than shots on goal in the 1st period (4).

5c. Why didn't we have some big guys on Foote?  It seemed like he was being bodyguarded by Huselius and Brassard.  Those guys don't lay hard checks...

5d. Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the loss is that Foote got the win.

6. Turnovers again were a problem.  Not a problem on the level of the Toronto game, but a problem nonetheless.

7. In his postgame presser, Hitch suggested that the team lacked the sense of desperation - the feeling of loathing losing.  See for yourself:

I'd agree. There is a definite lack of urgency. Perhaps, as Hitch suggests, the return of Dorsett (and maybe Modin?) will light a fire under some of the players.

7a. Hitch also said that, because of the rough game schedule, they haven't had a real practice in three weeks. If you were wondering why the Jackets have pretty much looked the same - night after night - that might be the reason.

8. If you really don't bother showing up until halfway through the 2nd period, you shouldn't expect to win.  And Columbus didn't.

9. I again didn't miss listening to the Fox Sports Ohio announcing team.

9a. I did listen to the CBJ radio guys on the postgame show on XM Home Ice on the way home. They took calls from listeners and, in a refreshing display of candor, agreed with a lot of what the irritated masses had to say. When they disagreed, they took the time to explain why. I like George and Bob.

10. Just another couple of games, and the CBJ will be a .500 team. It'll happen before we know it!

NEXT UP: The (not-so) feared Florida Panthers invade Nationwide on Wednesday night. It's a game that we should probably win, which means we'd best bring our A-game lest we get ambushed again.

Photos from Yahoo NHL.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pass the maalox, please

Two news items popped up that don't warrant detailed analysis, but they do deserve mentions.
Rather than peel paint off the walls of Teh Internets, I'll just say that I'm underwhelmed at the (in)action since the Columbus Chamber released their report on the Blue Jackets and the Arena District almost a month ago.  I hope that this move is a meaningful display of intent by the Powers That Be.  Even moreso, I hope that the CBJ ownership can continue to be patient with the Powers That Be.
So Nikky's a prima donna.  Tell me something I didn't know.  Perhaps this article will inject a little reality into the Pollyanna-ish discussion about him playing for the Jackets again as long as Hitchcock is coach.  It won't happen.  

Both articles only continue the indigestion that started last night against Toronto.  Anyone got a tums?

Still smarting

The sun rose this morning, and that's about the only good thing I can think of for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The excitement/emotion of the visceral experience of watching the game in person probably makes last night's Toronto loss hurt even worse.  I was so excited to FINALLY get to see the boys live!  And while I've always "liked" (in a casual, positive-neutral kind of way) the Leafs, I was satisfied that they hadn't improved that much since adding Phil Kessel, that the Jackets were going to have too much trouble with them.  Especially considering that the Jackets really did look pretty good in Chicago only two nights earlier.  The adrenalin was pumping.

But no, this was bad.  This was "one step forward, four steps backward" bad.  This was Detroit (9-1) or New York Rangers (7-4) bad.  The team looked disorganized and lost out there.  At one point, I asked one of my friends who knows hockey much better than I, "Is it possible that they're thinking too much out there?"  The Jackets seemed to have to take a standing 3-count every time they had an open shot on the power play.  They looked indecisive in nearly every game situation.

And then the morning newspaper.  Look, I'm not hating the Dispatch for reporting what they saw.  I saw it, too.  It still doesn't hurt any less, though, when you see the following teaser above the front-page masthead:
"Now in goal for the Jackets..." Mathieu Garon, left, replaces Steve Mason in 6-3 loss, [page] C1
(It's arguable that pulling the goalie AGAIN was the main thrust of the game, however.  I'd suggest that Light The Lamp's Twitter post reference to the keystone cops was.)

Then, horror of horrors, the inside article from the Dispatch.  Tom Reed reminds us that after demolishing the Eastern Conference with a 13-3-2 record last year, the Jackets are currently 3-4-1 against what was the weaker brethren.  Damn, this hurts.  If we can't beat up on the run 'n' gun patsies of the East, where are the Jackets' treasure trove of playoff-qualifying points going to come from?

Fedor Tyutin said it best last night: "We have to get this fixed before it's too late."  Fine, we're all agreed that it needs to get fixed.  I think everyone in the locker room has been quoted in saying the same thing to some extent.  But over a quarter of the season is gone.  The clock is ticking.

When are you guys going to start fixing it?

The Avalanche, led by disgraced former CBJ captain Adam Foote, are coming to town tomorrow night.  I only shudder at what the Jackets will look like then.  It should be a monumental beat-down against the franchise's Judas, their Benedict Arnold.  But do the Jackets have it in them when they can't put away the worst team in the Northeast Division?

[Photos from Yahoo NHL - and that wasn't stock footage, all shots were taken last night.]  

10 Thoughts about Game 28: Toronto

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets welcomed the Toronto Maple Leafs to Nationwide Arena for only the third time ever.  This obviously was a huge honor, as the Jackets rolled out the red carpet right to the CBJ goal.  The Leafs took advantage of this generosity to thump the Jackets, 6-3.

1a. Here are the highlights:

1c. I can't even call this a performance of the "40 Minute Men." They didn't come close to competing for that much time.

2. As forgettable as this game was to most Blue Jackets fans, it was big for yours truly as it represented my first pilgrimage to Nationwide of the season. (The arrival of the Dark Blue Onesie has curtailed my social schedule...) I enjoyed the company of a couple friends from my old work, and together we endured one really lousy game - from the perspective of a CBJ fan.

3. Seeing the game live reinforces a couple things that you don't pick up on television...things that make seeing an NHL game in person a truly enjoyable experience regardless of the score.

3a. The NHL is one FAST game. Transitions are split-second, rushes fly down the ice.

3b. When players get checked into the boards, there's some force behind those hits.

3c. The speed of pucks on slapshots is just incredible.

4. The Jackets turnovers were at epidemic levels tonight. It was as if there was a rule that the CBJ was only allowed to carry 1 of every 2 or 3 pucks into the offensive zone. There were a couple moments where the Jackets simply left the puck at the offensive blue line. What's up with that?

5. The Jackets defense, especially in front of the goal, was mystifying and might warrant another "Object Lesson in Poor Defensive Strategy". I've noticed a number of teams this year who play simple, solid defense that collapses to the crease and supports the goaltender. The Jackets don't do that. I'm not sure what they are doing out there, but they sure as heck don't do that.

5a.  Steve Mason doesn't appear to be the Steve Mason of last year, but he's not getting anything close to the level of help that he got last year.  The problem, my friends, does not lie in goal.

6. The undeniable highlight of the night was the 3rd period's Kris Russell-Phil Kessel fight, which I will refer to as the "smurf battle":

7. About the Leafs:

7a. Phil Kessel. He's really good. Not so good as a pugilist, but a really good hockey player.

7b. Mike Komisarek is one large hombre.

7c. The Leafs' 3rd string goaltender was made to look like an all-star by the Jackets. I doubt he's that good.

7d. The Leafs Nation travels well. Lots of Leafs fans throughout the arena. They're a boisterous bunch, too...with good reason tonight.

8. With about 7:30 left in the 3rd, I and a few hundred people around Section 106 saw Rick Nash take a shot that appeared to fly in and out of the goal so fast that no goal was called. We all celebrated, the Leafs fans shook their heads in disbelief....and nothing. They just kept playing.  Were we all blind?

9. Note to CBJ management: If you know that you're not going to sell the arena out, don't tape hot pink flyers to the backs of every seat in the arena. It really shows how many seats are empty. (And there were a LOT of empty seats, sadly.)

10. I didn't miss the Fox Sports Ohio guys. Not one bit.

NEXT UP: S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y ... NIGHT against the Avalanche at Nationwide.  As I type, disgraced former CBJ captain Adam Foote has not been able to trump up either injury or illness, so it looks like he'll make his first appearance on the ice in Columbus since engineering his escape from the Blue Jackets.  Can't wait!  (And it looks like I'll be there for that game, too!! w00t!)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The NHL star system: A humble suggestion

I'm no expert on things hockey.  This blog should have made that abundantly clear to readers by now!  Regardless, I'm doing my best to keep abreast of the big picture issues in the NHL and can perhaps offer an outside perspective for everyone's consideration.  Hey, it's something to do on an off-night for the Jackets...

Today, I'd like to tackle the Alexander Ovechkin suspension situation.  There was all sorts of hue and cry over whether Ovi would get suspended, and - if he did - how long would the league REALLY sit the reining league MVP?  As we all know, there's a star system in professional sports.  The premise is simple: If you put butts in seats and sell tons of merchandise with your picture/name/number on it, you get kid glove treatment from the Powers That Be.

When you get to the NHL, however, the issue is a little more complex.  These guys are like licensed weapons on the ice, hurtling around with their sticks and blades, chucking a puck at 100+ mph.  People REALLY get hurt out there.  Hoops is a sissy sport (He hand-checked me!  Wah!), and there really aren't any dangerous stars in the NFL outside of Ray Lewis (and look at how hard of a time the NFL has had keeping him and his thuggish Baltimore defense in line).  But hockey is a sport where you can be damned good and a public menace at the same time.

(Why, yes, Mr. Ovechkin, we were discussing you...)

So Ovi plays a game that tends toward the thuggish side, and he's been able to get away with it because he's such an incredible shot against everyone except Steve Mason.  But he bumped up against the NHL disciplinary system when he had one too many game misconducts after another knee-to-knee hit.  So the league (probably reluctantly) had to do something.  They suspended him for 2 games.  (I know that he sustained a knee injury to himself in the hit, but I won't address the logic of a 2-game suspension when you know he's going to be out for a couple of games just to get well.  That's another issue altogether.)

Two games to Ovi apparently is worth roughly $100,000 in lost salary.  It also is a significant penalty to the NHL as a league, who loses a marquee name for 2 games and has that much less exposure at a time where it needs all of the exposure it can get (cough-cough-VERSUS-cough-cough).  So there has to be a better solution.

Try this on.  Using the exact same circumstances of Ovechkin's suspension as a model, I would suggest that the NHL take a two-pronged approach to player discipline from the league office.  The player can pick his poison.

1. The first option is the two-game suspension.  Sit and sulk, and we'll see you next week.

2. Another option would be a fine in lieu of a suspension.  Not a small fine, but rather a multiple of the salary value of the suspension.  In this case, if 2 games is worth $100,000 to Ovechkin, then levy the fine around 2.5 times the value of the suspension, or $250,000.  Maybe even a slightly higher multiple.  That's enough to get his attention, perhaps cause some remorse and still keep him on the ice.  If the player pays the fine, it simply comes out of his pocket.  If the team picks up the fine (as they often do), the fine would count against the team's salary cap as de facto new salary paid.  If he goes to the round of discipline and gets the 5-game suspension, Ovechkin's alternate fine would jump to something like $625,000.

Just a thought, one that can potentially keep star players on the ice while ensuring that the NHL's somewhat bizarre disciplinary system keeps a shred of integrity.  Opinions?

10 Thoughts about Game 27: Chicago

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the back end of back-to-back nights of hockey, skated into the United Center in Chicago and took the Central Division-leading Blackhawks to the limit and beyond.  After 11 rounds of overtime-induced shootouts, Chicago's Brent Seabrook put one past Columbus' Steve Mason for the Chicago win, 4-3.

1a.  Here are your highlights:

1b. With 1 point taken from the game, the Jackets slipped back into the 8th place in the West with 31 points, making them playoff-eligible if the Stanley Cup playoffs were held today.  They aren't, of course, but readers of this blog know that I tend to keep a pretty close eye on the standings...

2. Let's start first at the end of the game.  The shootout, lasting ELEVEN rounds, was crazy.  According to Puck-Rakers, only 5 shootouts have ever gone longer...EVER.  This made for some terrific excitement.

2a.  I'll be man enough to admit it (and my trail of Twitterings will betray me as a liar if I don't), I dreaded the idea of another shootout.  Steve Mason was 0-4 in shootouts going into the game.

2b.  Mase, as opposed to prior shootouts, stepped up tremendously.  He's clearly been working on this in practice.  Fox Sports Ohio's Ray Crawford perhaps had the most insightful comment on the changes in Mason's approach in Tweeting, "looks like mason has taken some lessons from garon.. coming way out of the net to meet the skater and gauge speed."  Mase was way out of the net to start the shootouts, slowly drawing back into the crease to minimize the shooting lanes.  Let's face it, stopping 9 of 11 (Marian Hossa got one through, too) is NOTHING to be ashamed of.

2c. The shooters, on the other hand, hopefully were gassed from a long, tough game against the Blackhawks. Otherwise, they have not rational excuse for the pathetic showing on the shooting end of the skills competition. Only Jake Voracek scored for Columbus, meaning that Huselius, Nash, Brassard, Vemette, Tyutin, Umberger, Torres, Pahlsson, Russell and Chimera all were turned away by that brick wall known as Cristobol Huet.  (Huet, in case you didn't know, is not a good starting goalie.)  That 10 of 11 of our shooters couldn't put it past that joker in a 1 on 1 situation speaks volumes to our lack of killer instinct.  I'd suggest it was more about our ability to score goals, but the CBJ seem to be able to do that this year when they want to.

2d. Mase blew his top after the Seabrook shootout winner:

And why shouldn't he? He just turned away 9 penalty shots from arguably the second or third best team in the NHL and wasn't given the offensive support to bring the win home. Personally, I like to see a goalie get frustrated when stuff like this happens. Goalies are an odd lot, and the competitive fire is what keeps them sharp. When Mase starts to hang his head and get depressed, then I'll be worried. Until then, break all of the sticks you want.  Maybe your teammates will get the message.

3. The rest of the game was a classic CBJ road game.  Hit hard, hit harder, grab a goal if you can, hit some more and hope to be in the mix at the end.  Actually, the Jackets held the lead for a fair bit of the game, but Toews' power play goal in the third period tied it up with 15-plus minutes left.  At that point, the Jackets seemed to be playing for the overtime and the standings point.

3b. I see no shame in leaving the United Center with 1 point.  Frustration at going so deep into overtime and a shootout without the second point, sure.  But Chicago is one tough band of hombres, made even tougher with the addition of Hossa to the lineup.  They're physical, they can score when they need it, and they have enough talent to cover up for the fact that their goalie - well - stinks.  It must be nice to be a salary cap team and not a budget team...

3c.  I maintained last night that the Jackets won't be able to keep up with the Blackhawks (in the standings) this year, and I'll stick by that.  They're Stanley Cup contenders of the highest order.  We're Stanley Cup playoff caliber - this year.  As the young Jackets mature over the next year or two, we'll be legit finals contenders.  But not now.

4. So Rick Nash gets 23 minutes of ice time and is a +2 on the night but only has 3 shots, no goals and no assists?  A lousy shootout shot?  On one of only two national TV appearances for the CBJ this year?  There goes my theory that Nash rises to the occasion in big games.  Seriously, where was he when it counted?  ARGH!

5. In the "Thank God they stepped up" department, how Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger and Kris Russell?   Those three, together, comprised the goal and assist combinations for 2 of the 3 regulation goals.  It's an unusual scoring trio, especially when you note that Russell had one of the goals as opposed to passing it up from the back end to facilitate a goal, but who am I to complain?

6. Kristian Huselius, a part-time whipping boy on this blog, had an assist last night but also threw his body into the mix on a couple of occasions with the Chicago tough guys.  His performance wasn't out-of-this-world outstanding, but it was good...and what we need from him every night.

7. The fact that I have DirecTV and hence no Versus for the national broadcast of the game made for an adventure in viewing.  Luckily, CBJ-fan Twitterer DamonChristen forwarded me a link that let me watch the game on Fox Sports 1, a cable/satellite channel from Australia.

7a.  Mrs. DBJ offered a salient comment about the state of technology today when she reminded me that the feed from Chicago was sent by satellite to New York, then by satellite to Australia, where it was streamed through the internet back through God-knows-how-many nodes and web waystations until it hit my desk.  Pretty freaking amazing.

7b. The picture quality pretty much stunk (Mrs. DBJ said it was like watching a recording of an NHL game from the 1970's), but at least I could watch the game.

7c. The connection cut out on about half a dozen occasions.  Of course, half of those had to be during the shootout.  I panicked.

7d.  Aussie ad commentary: Who knew that Cricket was so fierce? (And in a tournament sponsored by Kentucky Fried Chicken, no less?)  That rugby was so big?  And that I don't recall seeing a single beer ad?  Shame that apparently the Aussie Rules Football season was over...

7e. I underestimate the cultural impact of the NFL (a uniquely American game) until I see foreign tv.  Then it's hard to miss.  And that's a shame, as the world must think we're a bunch of conservative nitwits from the commentary offered by the FOX announcers.

7f. With the late start, I caught the beginning of the Leafs-Canadiens game at the Bell Centre and was lucky enough to catch this pre-game introduction of the Canadian Football League Grey Cup (their Super Bowl) champions, the Montreal Alouettes.  And what a reception they received! (Sorry for the crappy quality of the video - it's all I could find...)

7g. For all I gripe about Fox Sports Ohio's broadcasts, they are light years better than Versus.  Those announcers clearly hadn't done any homework on the Blue Jackets beyond "Rick Nash is good" - and they even got that wrong when they classified Nash as an Olympic "hopeful."  Sorry, gents, Nasher is a stone cold, lead pipe lock.  Probably will be on the 1st line, for that matter.  I know the Jackets don't get a lot of national coverage, but give them a little respect..

8. I love Anton Stralman's shot from the point, but I don't love the fact that he was sent to the sin bin for a combined 6 minutes.  If I had to guess, he was a little overwhelmed out there with the rough and tumble Chicago/Central Division style.  Better get used to it, Anton...

9. Mike Commodore still isn't "right" after his illness/injury-plagued start.  Jan Hejda's rounding into form, though, which is a positive.

9a. At least we have the youngsters, Russell and Roy (and sometimes Methot, though he's a lot more inconsistent than last year), to help carry the load on defense.

10.  There are no moral victories.  Mase demonstrated that with his reaction to losing in the shootout.  (In the NHL's standings formula, however, there are half-victories...)  But let's take the long view.  Since the Detroit debacle, the Jackets have played progressively better and better.  They don't look like Stanley Cup contenders, but they weren't projected as such from the outset.  No fooling.  But they've played at a level which makes them look less and less like pretenders for a playoff seed.  If I see a little more of this, and if the first line can get it in gear, I think that it will be a fun spring in Columbus for reasons other than spring football in Buckeye-land.

NEXT UP: The Toronto Maple Leafs make a rare appearance in town on Thursday night.  After a crap-bag start, the arrival of Phil Kessel as a scoring threat/playmaker and the emergence of Jonas "The Monster" Gustafson as a netminder has made the Leafs a team to be reckoned with (but not exactly feared just yet).  Gustafson left last night's shutout of Montreal with an elevated heartbeat; who knows if he'll start or not.

On a personal note, it'll be my first CBJ game of the year in person.  Lord, how I've waited for this day!

Photos from Yahoo! NHL.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 26: St. Louis

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets got off the schneid with an inspired start to the game that was matched by an equally inspirational end to the game against the St. Louis Blues, winning 5-3.

1a. Here are your highlights:

2. First and foremost, let's focus on the extremely positive.  R.J. Umberger, a lunchpail guy for Ken Hitchcock if there ever was one ("R.J., we need you to play center.  R.J., we need you to play wing.  R.J., we need you to tutor the young'uns.  R.J., go sit in the crease and get pounded on."), got a hat trick with seconds remaining in the game. And the hats rained down on a guy who deserves the party like few others:

2a. The Dispatch jumped in with this great montage of interviews and still photos to commemorate the hat trick:

3. Kris Russell, our diminutive, speedy defenseman who signed a 3-year extension and then camped out in the press box for 5 of the last 6 games as a healthy scratch, returned in glorious style.  A shot, a goal, an assist, a +3 rating, and 23:06 time on ice while pushing the puck out of the defensive zone time after time after time.  If that's not a "I deserve to be on the ice" performance, I don't know what is.  And the timing was great, seeing as...

4. Rusty Klesla took what appeared to be a tough but reasonable hit on the ice, apparently heard something pop, screamed loud enough that the tv cameras picked it up, and had to be carried from the ice.  Word is that he has a torn groin muscle and will be out a minimum 4-6 weeks if he doesn't choose to take the surgical repair option - which I presume would require an even longer recovery.

4a. I hate seeing the good guys go down in such excruciating pain.  Rusty's given his all to the Blue Jackets, retooling his game on at least one occasion (the arrival of Ken Hitchcock) for the good of the team.  And the team recognizes his contribution, giving him a contract extension on Day 1 of this season.  He'll get better, for sure, but it still makes you wince when you see one of your true warriors go down so hard.

4b. The Blue Jackets defense is in a tizzy.  Hejda and Commodore are still getting back into game shape after injuries and illness.  Fedor Tyutin has been worked harder than the average plowhorse.  Anton Stralman's picking up Hitch-hockey on the fly, but he's really a sniper as opposed to a stay-at-home type.  Marc Methot is...ummm...trying hard.  And Kris Russell can't stick in the starting lineup for whatever reason.  Klesla, along with Tyutin, were the healthy warhorses this year, and now Klesla is down.  Word is that Matthieu Roy is coming back to Columbus (it was a crying shame that he was sent down in the first place), and it's even possible that Scott Howson may have to make a trade for another d-man.  Let's hope the defensemen can continue to hang tough in this tough season.

5. Derick Brassard might, just might, be picking up this NHL game after all.  Check out this assist on R.J.'s second goal:

5a. By the way, the line of R.J. Umberger, Brassard and Jake Voracek is kicking butt.  And R.J. is on record saying that he's having a great time playing with the two young'uns.  A reincarnation of the Chimera-Brassard, Voracek "goat line" of last season (1 old goat and 2 kids)?

6. Steve Mason did not play a bad game, turning aside 25 of 27 shots.  He wasn't "stand on your head" spectacular, either, which is OK as long as he plays smartly...and good enough for the team to win.

6a. Mase did step his game up when St. Louis pulled their (Chris the mountain man) Mason for an extra shooter at the end of the game.  I don't want to make light of our Mason's performance in that stretch...there were a couple clutch saves there.

6b. Mason won, Mason lost.  (Sorry, I had to!)

7. I'm somewhat numb to the Fox Sports Ohio game broadcasts but need to note that both blog articles and Puck Rakers comments seem to have an uptick in criticism of the broadcast coverage.  To me, Rimer is Rimer, Davidge is Davidge.  John Michael will always be looking up to every interview he has (except Li'l Russ).  It's not the best broadcast team I've seen thus far (by far, especially having had a chance to sample that which other teams enjoy via NHL Center Ice).  It is what it is for this season, however.  Let's hope that FSO and the CBJ make plans for an upgrade next season.  

8. Gosh, it was nice to see Ken Hitchcock get through a postgame press conference without swallowing half of his words.

9. Keith Tkachuck, the noted Jacket-killer?  How'd he do against the Boys in Union Blue?  Nothing other than 11 minutes of ice time and a -1 rating.  No shots, no assists, no goals.  As we like it.

9a.  While nobody smacked T.J. Oshie around (and that is indeed regrettable), the Jackets did limit him to 1 shot, 1 assist and a -1 rating as well during his 20 minutes on the ice.  Ah well, there's always next game.

10.  Let's close out these 10 Thoughts by savoring the team's plus-minus ratings...something we haven't been able to do too often recently:

  • Stralman -1
  • Hejda +2
  • Russell +3
  • Blunden 0
  • Torres +1
  • Brassard +1
  • Umberger +4
  • Huselius -1
  • Commodore +4  (WOW!!)
  • MacKenzie +1
  • Chimera 0
  • Pahlsson 0
  • Boll +1
  • Vermette +2
  • Tyutin 0
  • Nash +2
  • Vorace +1
  • Klesla 0
NEXT UP: Tonight, in Chicago for the Blackhawks home debut of Marian Hossa and the debut of the 'hawks' "Gosh, they look a lot like the Winter Classic sweaters" 3rd jerseys.  Their head coach is going for something like 500 wins.  And, wouldn't you know, it's on Versus - which means that I can't watch the game on TV as I have DirecTV.  I guess it's Matthews and McElligott on CD101, or maybe I can find a feed online...

Photos from Yahoo! NHL