Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The boiling point

When Doug MacLean was frog-marched out of Columbus, one of the many grievances aired about him was his oft-frantic approach to personnel moves.  I won't admit to a first-hand knowledge of MacLean's foibles as I started following the Columbus Blue Jackets when he had one foot out the door - right before Ken Hitchcock was hired.  Regardless, the terms "circus huckster" and other all-hype/no-results slurs have been tossed his way.  And it appears that trades like that for Sergei Federov were at least in part based upon desperation, not just for improving the team.  And the results were not strong, to put it gently.

[UPDATE: I just read this blog piece about the rebuilding of the NFL's Detroit Lions.  Read this paragraph, substitute Doug MacLean for Matt Millen, and I think you get a sense of where I'm coming from:
Under former GM Matt Millen, the franchise wasted roster spots on blown draft picks and lemon free-agent acquisitions. And, under the multiple coaching changes, never appeared to establish any scheme. As Millen's pokes and prods turned into desperate risks and frantic prayers, the transient, ambiguous roster fed an incessant identity crisis. One that was defined only by failure.
Does that make sense?]

Enter Scott Howson.  Our very own personnel Ice Man (or Ninja GM, depending on the jargon you use) has dropped the organizational blood pressure considerably in Columbus.  He often is loathe to make any moves at all, but he most certainly does not get rolled over when he does.  Consider Antoine Vermette for Pascal Leclaire.  Who won that trade?  Or Tyutin/Backman for Zherdev/Fritsche?

Perhaps the penultimate demonstration of the patience on Howson's part was this entire past offseason.  Staring a disastrous 2009-10 season in the rearview mirror, complete with the firing of likely Hall of Famer Ken Hitchcock and replacing him with Claude Noel, one would think that Howson would take advantage of the drop-off after the 2008-09 playoff year to move some players out, bring some in and improve the roster.

Think again.  The two major roster moves that Howson made were: 1) Claim Ethan Moreau off of waivers, and 2)  Re-sign Steve Mason.  Other than that, Howson essentially said that he liked his roster, and that while he'd like to upgrade the defense, he'd be comfortable taking this squad into the season.  And, yes, he overhauled the coaching staff.

So here we are, the week after Christmas.  Despite what still is the best CBJ start ever, the Jackets are struggling mightily to extricate themselves from a slide that has seen them win a whopping four games (including overtime/shootout winners) since Thanksgiving.  As I've written all over this blog, the Blue Jackets have demonstrated since their dismantling at the hands of the Red Wings that they are incapable of reliably beating any good NHL hockey club with this roster.  It's probably past time to start making moves to get the CBJ out of 12th place in the Western Conference and back into playoff contention.

What we love about Howson - his ability to keep his hand close to the vest until he gets a deal he knows will at least be an even trade if not a win...his willingness to stand pat rather than stir the pot up - is precisely what drives us crazy at times like this.  

Even his one "panic" trade since coming to Columbus - shipping Jason Chimera off to Washington for Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina - is probably a draw in most people's minds as Clark has played OK since coming to Columbus (but not closing the perceived "leadership gap," leading Howson to pick up Moreau as well).  And that clearly was a trade designed to forestall the possibility of firing Ken Hitchcock, a situation we're not looking at this year.

So here we are, CBJ fanbase either concerned, nervous, panicked or - like roughly 25% of the post-playoffs season ticket base - given up on the team.  Despite the comparatively fast start, the CBJ are still uncomfortably close to the Western Conference cellar.  The season's not lost, though, not by any means.  The CBJ are two points out of 8th place, 11 points out of the conference lead.  With just over half the season to go, it's time to make moves that will put this team over the hump.

The Montreal Canadiens appear to be in a similar boat (albeit in 8th place in the East, a tad more comfortable than the CBJ's current ladder rung), picking up defenseman James Wisniewski from the Islanders for a 2nd round compensatory pick and a conditional 5th rounder.  What makes this interesting to CBJ fans is that Howson apparently spoke to the Islanders about "Wiz" before the trade went down.

Very interesting, indeed.

It appears that Howson has received the message that Scott Arniel's been posting on neon signs around Nationwide Arena sending, that of "I can't be expected to win hockey games with this defensive corps," accompanied by the parade of blue liners through the healthy scratch seats in the press box.  Don't forget that he recently inquired to the New York Rangers about Michael Del Zotto, too.  He's talking to other teams, seeing what's available and - for the time being - passing on opportunities that are presented to him.

Howson may be many things, but he's not dumb. And he has said on past occasions that he will not sacrifice the future for a short-term fix.  (Never mind that the short-term fixes that he engineered in 08-09 got the team into the playoffs...really, never mind that.)  He's got a plan and will stick to it.  And he couldn't care less what we in the fan world, or the media (much to Kevin Dineen and Sheldon Souray's chagrin), think.

It's said that one of the problems with the CBJ locker room is its high "boiling point" - that the team is so calm, so - ummm - passive that it doesn't get angry and take that out on the opposition.  (I obliquely reference that line of thinking when I suggest that the team retreats to its "happy place".)  It's very possible that the team may actually have a higher boiling point than it's general manager, though.

The question that I'm wrestling with, however, is, "Is that high of a boiling point necessarily a good thing when the season could hang in balance?"

4 comments:

  1. I really think patience has been the right pattern for Howson to maintain. When he started, guys like Brassard, Russell, Methot and Jake were just kids with potential, and they are now staples on the team. His patience with those guys has been fantastic, and there is no question they make this team better with their presence.

    I think the biggest issue is defense. There is no question a change needs to be made, but how long can we be patient? We have a slew of youngsters budding in juniors/minors who will inevitably take the roster spots of the nightly dunce cap wearers. It's a matter of either losing a ton of potential talent for more guys like Commodore, Tyutin, and Stralman, or continuing on the path of patience, dealing with a couple more years of highs and lows, until these youngsters grow into their own..

    I also think the addition of Calvert and hopefully Filatov will make a big difference as well. I just believe that patience is the way to go. We still see awesome games when the boys show up, so what's it worth? Build for now, or build a dynasty?

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  2. My opinion on this remains, how to get the players to compete ON A NIGHTLY BASIS!!! One new body isn't going to make up for a lack of being able to clear the zone for 45-50 seconds. During the Vancouver game, the puck was handled(mis-handled?) by VETERAN players who couldn't even get a pass on the stick. Like you, D B J, iI would very much like to see SOMETHING to shake up the status-quo. In fact, I'm STILL expecting a trade to be announced at any time now. The numbers say someone HAS to go SOMEWHERE. I just don't see the fanbase being content with just being close and waiting for the next batch of "can't-miss" draftees to make the big roster. I don't have an answer, just a feeling we are still too far away from consistant play to have one body make a huge difference.

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  3. It takes two to tango. It's very easy to say GMSH should do this or should do that. Get this guy or get rid of that guy. We need..... well you get the idea. No move is made in a vacuum. Moves made of desperation simply for the sake of making a move are generally lateral at best and smack of our illustrious FORMER GM. A trade has to make the team better not only in the sense of who is coming in but also considering the cost of that acquisition. Nothing comes free.

    One of the loudest complaints about the CBJ has been that we don't wait for our prospects to mature and develop, so what happens when there is a bump in the road? The call goes out to throw the prospects out there or trade them for something (anything). The most significant positions #1 Dman and #1 Centers are very seldom acquired, they are developed. So that's what has to be done. GMSH has been at it for three years, less than half the time GMDM was in place and the organization is in better shape than it ever has been. There is a future for this team. There are parts in place. Lets hope they arrive sooner rather than later.

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  4. We were Detroit, a consistent winner, guys like Brass, Russell, Mason and
    Voracek would like be just coming into Columbus from a couple years in the AHL. We brought up Mason because Norrena melted down, and Leclaire was hurt (again) ruining our situation in goal. We don't have the people to slow cook our prospects, but at least we're not trying to flame-broil them way MacLean did with Klesla and Brule.


    I think we the fans are conditioned to losing, and start losing our cool when things take a downturn. We don't have the confidence of winning seasons. The sky is not falling but you'd have a hard time proving it from what I hear.

    But I find it funny that we play our best when we forecheck hard, as Hitch would have liked.

    FlaggerX

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