Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Game 77/Tampa Bay: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets did their darndest to prove to the NHL that they were worse than the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team that was only 3 points ahead of them in the NHL's Race To The Top Draft Seed (aka The Taylor Hall/Tyler Seguin/Cam Fowler Sweepstakes).  And, for 40 minutes, they did a pretty good job.  Things loosened up in the 3rd period, Tampa lost their composure, and the Jackets couldn't continue laying low.  CBJ win, 3-2.

But Tampa Head Coach Rick Tocchet called the game as it was:
“It was kind of – I shouldn’t say – a boring game,” Lightning coach Rick Tocchet said.
I won't disagree. OK, there was one exception.



Note that R.J. Umberger was at the bottom of that pile of humanity and squeezed the puck out to Rick Nash. Wow.  That's some tenacity out of R.J.

But was it a case of losing by winning?  Did the win jeopardize the CBJ's draft position, or is winning more important at this point?  This warrants further discussion.

It's clear that losing your way into a top draft slot is a surefire way to have better odds at drafting top talent.  Ask the Washington Capitals, who got Alexander Ovechkin (Just don't call the Caps lucky!).  Or ask the Pittsburgh Penguins, who got half of their lineup by stinking up nearly two decades worth of professional hockey and were so bad as to have the team bankrupted and almost moved.  Or ask the CBJ, who clearly have benefited from Rick Nash's presence.

But is the goal of professional sports to accumulate young talent, or is it to win championships?  That's the question that the Blue Jackets have probably asked themselves and answered through their behavior this season.  They want to win championships.

We discovered at the trade deadline that CBJ General Manager Scott Howson has a young core of talent that  he's banking will mature into the nucleus of a team that will carry the Jackets for a few seasons.  I'll qualify that the core that I identified in the prior post probably is a bit broad, but I don't think I left anyone out.  Everyone else appears to be interchangeable.

That young cohort - with Antoine Vermette and R.J. Umberger at the old side at 27 and Jake Voracek at the youngest end at 20 (Oh. My God.  I could be Jake's dad...) - appears to have shaken off some of the malaise induced toward the end of the Ken Hitchcock era in Columbus.  The team is 10-5-4 since Claude Noel took over as (interim) Head Coach, putting them at a more or less .500 pace.  For the first time since the November-December slump, they're statistically at .500 on the season (32-32-13).  They've had some signature wins, but they've also had their share of clunkers.  That's the sign of a young, talented team that's finding itself in the world.  The shame is that they didn't get to do this at the beginning of the season like Colorado did.

But we have our group - the group that, plus or minus a trade or two and a couple strategic callups (John Moore?  Matt Calvert?), will take us to the promised land.  So it's time to put the talent acquisition matter behind us for now, develop the team that we have, and make some noise in the playoffs over the next few years.

So go for it, Jackets.  Rack up those late season wins and try to build some chemistry and confidence that will carry over into 2010-2011!

(...but where does Nikita Filatov fit in?)

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