Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Blue Jackets' 10th Anniversary patch

My, how the wind sweeps along the plains of Twitter.  A gentleman from Auburn, Alabama named Everett Duke posted a page out of a hockey patch company's catalog and Tweets that he's impressed with the Columbus Blue Jackets' new 10th Anniversary patch - which no one in the CBJ fan base had seen.  Eric Smith from HockeyBuzz re-tweets it to the CBJ fan community, and we're off to the races!

Here's the patch (photo touched up by The Hockey Writers' Rick Gethin):

All that in the course of two hours.  Aren't these inter-tubes grand? 

As for the patch: Not too shabby looking if you ask me!  Everett tells me that the patch will be on the Blue Jackets' jerseys all season long in 2010-2011.  Presumably, this would be a patch that would go on the players' shoulders a la the "JHM" commemorative patch of recent past.

Friday, May 28, 2010

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's "State of the League" presser

I can't find an embeddable video for easy access here on the blog, but this is the link to Commissioner Bettman's entire press conference at

The Commish offered lots of juicy information, ranging from the obligatory NHL business overview, the salary cap (going up by $2MM), the announcement of the 2011 Winter Classic (Washington v. Pittsburgh at Heinz Field) and a 2011 outdoor Heritage Classic (Montreal at Calgary), the headshot rule, the relative stability of team ownership, the situation in Phoenix, his latent desire to do right by Winnipeg and Quebec, and his angst with the IIHF (who trashed the NHL players who passed on playing in the NIT World Championships).

Draft, free agency loom on the horizon

As readers of this blog know, I've spent most of my offseason considering the different matters surrounding the Columbus Blue Jackets' coaching search.  That's not to say that other important matters aren't coming to a head, and they warrant attention from self-respecting CBJ fans.  Before you blurt out "new alternate uniforms" as the key issue of the day, let me suggest that the main two issues are 1) the draft and 2) free agency.  In the interest of time - and giving credit where credit is due - permit me to offer some links to places around the CBJ web where you can learn a lot more about both.


The draft isn't totally my bag of tricks.  While I'm somewhat excited to see who the Jackets will draft with the number four overall pick and their three picks out of the top 60, I have a hard time going overboard when the likelihood is that the kids are going to minors for a couple years.  Still, this is all part of the process that is the Circle of Life in hockey...and it's a great time to hockey fans to gather in the middle of the summer and talk pucks.

I've already touched on the draft and the First Round webcast that Rick Gethin is developing at The Hockey Writers.  Ten Minute Misconduct blogger (and Hockey Writers contributor) Jeff Little will be participating, and I hear that Rick's got some surprises planned as well.  I participated in a post-regular season podcast with Rick and Full Mental Jackets blogger Greg May a little while ago, and I can tell you firsthand that Rick does a great job keeping the conversation flowing.  Should be a good listen.

Past The Hockey Writers, CBJ HockeyBuzz man Eric Smith reports that he will be working with Fox Sports Ohio on developing pre-draft web content for FSO's site.  Eric is a stalwart of Blue Jackets fan media - a "grinder," to use hockey player parlance - and it's nice to see him get picked up by the big boys.

The crew at SB Nation's "The Cannon" blog have been diligently offering profiles of potential draftees for your review and consideration.  They're up to 20 individual profiles thus far, and I don't see them stopping soon.  Guess they're prepared for Scott Howson to put his 'riverboat gambler' hat on and deal around in the draft as he's done in the past!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Columbus: A great place to be an NHL coach

I've read with interest the chatter across the inter-tubes vis a vis the hiring of Steve Yzerman as Tampa Bay Lightning general manager and Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson's ongoing search for a (permanent) head coach.  My observation is that there is a tendency in both the fan base and media to automatically place Columbus behind other markets in terms of attractiveness to a possible coach.  This presumption of inferiority is confusing and deserves to be challenged.

I'll admit my bias toward Columbus to anyone willing to listen and honestly feel that Columbus should be one very attractive club for any prospective coach - at least as attractive as any current openings if not moreso.  Passion aside, step back from the situation and look at it objectively:
  • We have one of the youngest teams in the NHL (Average age: 26.3)
  • Only five players on the entire roster are 30 or older
  • Our youngest players arguably are among our most talented - Nash, Voracek, Brassard, Tyutin, Russell, Stralman and Mason are all 25 or younger - suggesting that the upside potential of this club is huge
  • Our prospect pool is far from depleted - Filatov, Calvert, Moore and Savard...not to mention the Blundens and Clitsomes that bounce back and forth between the AHL and the NHL
  • We have another potentially great draft coming up (#4 overall and 3 picks in the top 60), which will further develop our prospect pool 
  • We are roughly $10 million under the salary cap, and ownership has indicated a willingness to add salary if justified
  • We have a ridiculously patient ownership history that has been reinforced through the ongoing arena ownership/lease saga
  • We have a President/GM tandem that clearly has a plan and won't veer from it without...well, a losing streak of epic proportion (Sorry, Mr. Hitchcock)
  • We have one of the premier arena/training facilities in the country, one that other NHL teams are lifting up as an example 
  • We have a community that is one incredible sports town -- a powder-keg of a fan base that's waiting to explode in support of a consistent winner 

Another Boucher nugget

Perhaps inspired by the CBJ Coaching Search Challenge, Kathy K (Twitter's @Czechtacular and blogger at Hab it her way) offers this gem of a blog post from November on Columbus Blue Jackets candidate Guy Boucher.  To me, the big takeaway is this:
Guy Boucher is a man who values work ethic. If you don't fight hard enough to get even close to that tying goal, your level of talent (or lack thereof) immediately becomes void. He wouldn't shy away from telling letting the media know what he felt was lacking, either. In a single press conference, he can be asked just one question, "What went wrong tonight?" and be able to leave everyone with soundbytes worth an entire newscast. But he's not a man that singles out a particular player. When he's ashamed of a loss, it's because he knows his team could do better. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

CBJ Coaching Search: I challenge YOU!

Now that we have stopped the insanity, let's move on to more productive efforts.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have four top candidates for permanent (whatever that means in today's professional sports) head coach: Scott Arniel, Guy Boucher, Kevin Dineen and Claude Noel.  

To date, I suggest that we really only know one coach remotely well - Noel - and only there do we know what he did as interim CBJ head coach.  By his own admission, he didn't coach as he'd like but felt that it was more important to get the players' heads right instead of impose a new system.  

Last week, I posted a compilation of insights on Guy Boucher that scratched the surface about this interesting candidate.  That was followed by a Columbus Dispatch piece that added to the knowledge already in circulation.  

Beyond the Wikipedia and team links that I've provided, I doubt that most fans know anything meaningful on Scott Arniel or Kevin Dineen.  I've tried to unearth some information on both but can't get anyone to share anything publicly in one case and...well, I can't make any meaningful contacts in the other.  

With such a terrific fan base of CBJ fans and media out there, this lack of knowledge - two rounds deep into interviews - is pretty sad.  

I'd put more effort into digging around but have to wrap up the quarter at school.  Thus, I'm going to throw the challenge out to the many CBJ-oriented Tweeters, bloggers and media types out there (that includes you, too, Dispatch guys):  
Tell the world what makes any or all of the four Columbus Blue Jackets head coaching candidates distinct and good for the team.  Such information should include coaching from both the X's and O's perspective as well as the intangible leadership/motivational perspective.  
If you have a venue on which to publish such information for the public to read, post away and I'll gladly link to it.  If you have the desire to write and no place to put such information, I'll put it up on my blog as long as it's reasonably coherent.

The gaunlet has been thrown down.  Will you pick it up?

Stop the Insanity!

A perfectly fine morning (where the Dark Blue Toddler and I cruised the Asia exhibit at the award-winning Columbus Zoo and, oddly enough, ran into one of Eklund's hockey teammates from New Jersey) was shattered by reading this morning's Puck Rakers blog post discussing the Tampa Bay Lightning's hiring of Detroit Red Wing legend Steve Yzerman as their new General Manager - and its implication for CBJ General Manager Scott Howson's search for a Columbus Blue Jackets head coach.

OK, I'll hold on while you stop laughing about Stevie Y tanking his career for a giant paycheck to salvage professional hockey in Florida.  (That must be one giant paycheck!)  Waiting....waiting....waiting....OK, let's move on.

Long story short, the post makes current Portland Pirates (AHL - Buffalo Sabres) coach and CBJ coaching candidate Kevin Dineen seem like long-lost fraternity house buddies.  The Puck Rakers theory goes like this: If Yzerman and Dineen are buds, there is a chance that Yzerman may hire Dineen!!!!

(Dineen, as you surely know by now, played for Columbus back in the early days of the franchise and spent some time as a development coach - two things that, along with 50 cents, probably could buy Scott Howson a cheap cup of coffee.)

Two things amaze me about this post.  First, this quote is just stunning:
The consensus throughout the NHL since the end of the regular season is that Dineen was the likely pick to be the Blue Jackets next coach. The move makes sense on so many different levels. Dineen has interviewed twice with Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson. His first interview was on May 4, exactly three weeks ago. The second was on May 18.
Readers have to appreciate that the Dispatch reporters have been in the "Jackets will likely hire Dineen" camp pretty much since Ken Hitchcock was fired.  Jeff Little aptly points this out - and mentions that they also whiffed on identifying Scott Arniel as a primary target candidate.  The digital trail on this runs long and deep...go look at their blog posts and listen to their podcasts.  It's Dineen...and everyone else for the CBJ.  With today's post, that theme continues.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Draft plans taking shape

It's that time of year!  Hope springs eternal, and the hockey knowledge-brokers are getting ready to introduce a whole new class of hockey prospects to the National Hockey League-watching world.

First up is from The Hockey Writers. Rick Gethin is organizing quite the event to cover the entire first round.  Sadly, I'll be in the second hour of class and won't be able to witness the action.  Hope you make the show into a podcast, Rick!

Rumor has it that Eric Smith at HockeyBuzz will be doing something, too.  And, of course, the Columbus Blue Jackets themselves set the bar with last year's fun, family-friendly draft party.  Nothing has been announced thus far.  Will they do another?

Has anyone heard anything else about draft night activities?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who is this Guy Boucher?

[5/23 UPDATE: Aaron Portzline of the Dispatch offered his own research on Guy Boucher in the Sunday paper.  It's a good piece - especially as he lays out Boucher's on-ice system better than anyone else I've read thus far.  At the same time, it reads to me like there's was more content but not enough space to print it all.  Hopefully Aaron uses Puck Rakers to continue sharing the knowledge.] 

Despite how the weekend unraveled, it appears that Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson's transition into the second round of (permanent) head coach interviews comes with an asterisk.  The tea leaves from Howson's public comments tell us that he still is willing to hold up the bus to talk to someone in particular, someone that he has not been able to reach due to the person's team not having completed their season.  As Howson said, "It’s looking more like it will be late May [now apparently early June],” Howson said. “You can’t control the whole process."

Speculation is that the "someone" is Hamilton Bulldogs (AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens) head coach Guy Boucher, whose team is still playing in the AHL Western Conference finals against the Texas Stars (and leads the Stars, 2-0, meaning that an AHL finals appearance is very likely).  With the NHL scouting combine next week in Toronto (a decent slap shot's distance away from Hamilton), it's possible that Howson and Boucher could talk then...presuming the Canadiens grant Howson permission to do so at that time.

Howson's apparent desire to talk to Boucher is very serious -- even to the point where he could risk losing another coaching candidate to another team.  This, of course, is a real possibility as there are now four NHL teams in the market for head coaches (Columbus, New Jersey, Atlanta and Tampa Bay) and one CBJ candidate, Manitoba Moose (AHL - Vancouver Canucks) head coach Scott Arniel is interviewing toward the end of the week with Atlanta.  Considering that Boucher has only been a hockey head coach since 2006 (QMJHL's Drummondville Voltigeurs, 2006-09; Hamilton Bulldogs, 2009-present) with no NHL experience as a player or coach, his candidacy is a bit of a mystery to Central Ohio hockey fans.

We can all see from his  Wikipedia page and Bulldogs biography that he's a winner - something we would certainly enjoy in Columbus.  But what has made him a winner so instantaneously, and what is it about his coaching style that makes Boucher so effective?  Will that style transfer to the NHL in general - and Columbus in particular?  And what does Howson's patience in pursuit of a conversation with Boucher say about the what he might be looking for in the Columbus Blue Jackets next head coach?

Not finding any meaningful discussion of these questions online, I decided to research this matter myself and share what I found.  Fortunately, my investigation turned up a few distinct perspectives - that of diehard fans (CBJ follower @frickindannie, who also harbors a serious love of the Bulldogs; and Kathy K of the Hab it her way blog, who tracks the Canadiens and their minor leagues as well) as well as a sports industry guy (Von Jeppesen, who currently interns in Media Relations for the Canadian Football League's Hamilton Tiger-Cats and also completed an internship in the Bulldogs' Broadcast and Communications department).  What makes the multiple perspectives even more intriguing is that their similarities are greater than their differences, which tells me that we're getting a strong read on Boucher.

What did they have to say?  Read on...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Coaching search rumor - CBJ still talking to Arniel?

DISCLAIMER: I'm no journalist, nor am I well-schooled in the art of handling sources.  So I have vetted this entire post with my source, and they have agreed to what I offer you.

I just got the most interesting set of messages.  Compiled together, they say:
Scott Arniel seen in Starbucks [presumably in Winnipeg, where Arniel coaches the AHL Manitoba Moose] talking roster with [Assistant General Manager] Chris MacFarland from Someone I know called me about it right away. Say they didn't realize it was Scott until he got up and they left.
Take it for what it's worth - I tend to trust this person.

Presuming it's true, though, what could it mean?
  • Is MacFarland doing Columbus Blue Jackets work for General Manager Scott Howson or Springfield Falcons work - for whom he serves as General Manager?  (Remember, the Falcons need a head coach, too...but why would Arniel leave the Canucks' AHL team for the Falcons?)  
  • If its the CBJ, might Arniel in line for a head coaching job or an assistant job?  
  • Is the CBJ management hedging that Guy Boucher falls flat in his interview and already starting the followup discussions with candidates who made it past the initial conversations?
Lots of combinations/permutations to consider.

UPDATE: It appears that my source's source shared their firsthand experience:
I live in Winnipeg and was out at a Starbucks near the airport this morning. Scott Arniel and Chris MacFarland walked in and had coffee right beside me. Didn't actually see who it was until they got up to leave, but MacFarland was talking about CBJ's roster quite a bit.

FINAL UPDATE: The Dispatch corroborates the rumor and explains further:
Arniel and Dineen were each provided DVDs including highlights of several players on the Blue Jackets' roster and in their minor-league and junior systems. Arniel's package was hand-delivered to him in Winnipeg over the weekend by Blue Jackets assistant general manager Chris MacFarland, who is scouting the Memorial Cup in nearby Brandon, Manitoba. Dineen's was mailed.
And the handoff apparently took place at Starbucks.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Claude Noel is one savvy man

In my rush to get the prior post out the door, I missed one key component of the Claude Noel approach to the Columbus Blue Jackets' coaching search:

By specifically asking to be the last person interviewed, Noel demonstrated that he understands the selection process perhaps better than any other candidate.

Stop for a second.  Chew on it.  I'm dead serious.  Asking to go last is the sign of a smart, smart man.

I make this assertion based on professional experience - and experience learned from some of the best in my former line of work.  These are guys who have made a LOT of money by being last in the door.  For them, last in meant first out with the deal.

First, let's appreciate that hiring a coach from a field of candidates is like making a purchase of a huge-ticket item.  Unless you're the man who steps off a private plane and shows up at Gordon Gee's door unannounced to lure him back to Columbus, you generally start by making a list of attributes you want in your purchase.  You then survey the landscape for the products that can fill as many of those needs as possible.  And then you check them out.  Doesn't matter if it's a washing machine, a car, a multi-million dollar insurance package...or a head coach for your NHL club.

A defense of Claude Noel - and Scott Howson

Per the Dispatch, the Columbus Blue Jackets' (interim) Head Coach, Claude Noel, is interviewing today to remove the (interim) tag from his title.  Though a few in the CBJ fan community think this to be an act of charity by General Manager Scott Howson, permit me to offer a few reasons why Noel is a very legitimate candidate...if not a front-runner, in part courtesy of his profile on the CBJ website:
  • During his time as head coach of the AHL Milwaukee Admirals from 2003-2007, he led the club to a 183-94-12-31 regular season record, three 100-point seasons and two West Division titles. 
  • He also compiled a 33-21 record in the Calder Cup Playoffs, including two appearances in the Finals (2004, 2006). 
  • During the 2003-04 season, the club compiled a 46-24-7-3 record and went 16-6 in the playoffs en route to capturing the organization's first Calder Cup championship. That year, Noel was named the AHL’s Coach of the Year.
  • In 2002-03, he was named ECHL Coach of the Year with the Toledo Storm.
  • He went 10-8-6 as (interim) head coach of a hybrid NHL/AHL team in Columbus, posting that record while Scott Howson jettisoned Raffi Torres, Freddy Modin and Milan Jurcina and backfilled the team with Syracuse Crunchers.  
  • He pulled Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek's heads out of the jumbled morass left by Ken Hitchcock.
  • He fostered an environment where Steve Mason got competitive again.
  • He gave the team back to the players, and Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger took the reins.
I'm sure there's more, but that's all I can come up with on short notice.  Point is, he knows this team inside and out and has demonstrated that he knows how to win.  That combination makes him unique against any other candidate.

My point is, Claude Noel IS a legitimate candidate.  I've been saying that for months - go pore through my blog and see how many times I've said that Noel's performance makes him worthy of serious consideration.  

Now, to Scott Howson.  If it's not clear by now, he's no one's fool.  He's dumped the most significant of the Doug MacLean mistakes off on other teams, brought in dynamic young talent in return, restocked a major component of the farm system (the now-overflowing defensive talent pool), rebuilt the team's salary budget for the long haul (no small feat when playing a $50 million hand in a $60 million salary cap league) and - by and large - has avoided overpaying too much of the roster.  Now, it's time for him to pick his coach.  In doing this, he has interviewed the best of the best with a host of different characteristics:
  • Dineen & Arniel - Top AHL coaches with experience.  I'll grant that Dineen has sentimental value with the fanbase (although a link to the team's tortured past doesn't seem like an automatic positive to me...), but I honestly doubt that Howson could care less about his past history with the Blue Jackets.
  • MacLean (gosh, it still makes me cringe to type that name even though he's no relation to the CBJ's former majordomo) - Top assistant to arguably the best team in the NHL in recent memory.
  • Boucher - I know he hasn't interviewed yet, but Howson's clearly leaving the process open to interview this wunderkind who has only won everywhere he's been in his young career.
  • Noel - Proven winner (A top AHL coach, too, when he was in the "A") who admirably cleaned up the psychological mess left by Ken Hitchcock.
This is a fantastic roster of candidates, which in and of itself speaks to the program that Howson has (re)built since taking over for the more unfortunate MacLean.  There are no gratuity interviews here - the people who are talking to Howson see the potential of this young and rising team.

This isn't some high school recruiting effort like, say, the "search process" that brought Gordon Gee back to the Ohio State University.  This is a serious, and methodical, search for the ideal candidate for a young team on the rise.  Blue Jackets fans are damned lucky that someone as smart as Scott Howson is the shepherd of this process.

To those who say that this is an open and shut case - that it's been Kevin Dineen's job all along, that Howson is only going through the motions, that Noel is being extended a professional courtesy by even getting an interview - I can only say that you're playing checkers while Howson's cleaning your clock in chess.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Moment of Stanley Cup Playoff Greatness, May13, 2010

Singlehandedly rescuing the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs from the suckiness of the Second Round, I present the Montreal Canadiens.  Because if it's Game 7, and there's a David taking on a Goliath, it's gotta be the Habs this year.

I've been saying it all throughout the playoffs, and I'll repeat it again: That Mike Cammelieri is something real special.

Now, Philly has crawled back from 3-0 down to force a Game 7 of their own against the Bruins on Friday. While I think the comeback story is great, the old Bay Stater in me would LOVE to see a rockin' Eastern Conference Finals between Boston and Montreal. Those two teams really don't enjoy each other's company...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Touching base

There have been a few items of note since I last posted on the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Other than that, nothing earth-shattering to report.  I've been swamped with family and school matters, making my posts fewer and farther between.  Also, one more thing to explain the lack of "Moments of Stanley Cup Playoff Greatness":

The second round of the playoffs, in my opinion, has pretty much sucked.  Permit me to elaborate.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A numbers game

Consider the regular season salary cap room remaining for the eight teams left in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs:

  • Boston: $1.584 million
  • Chicago: $336,000
  • Detroit: $1.476 million
  • Montreal: $2.327 million
  • Philadelphia: $2.549 million
  • Pittsburgh: $256,000
  • San Jose: $839,000
  • Vancouver: $1.203 million
Now consider that the Columbus Blue Jackets had $10.144 million in salary cap room left at the end of the regular season.  That's roughly the equivalent of two major star players short against the budgets of the current elite eight.

Sure, Nashville ($12.657 million remaining) and Phoenix ($13.384 million remaining) qualified for the playoffs...and were dispatched in the first round by the big boys.  For "budget teams" like these (and we might as well include Columbus in the mix here), it appears that just making the playoffs should be considered the outcome of a successful season.  Making it to the second round should be cause for ticker tape parades.

(In fact, the magnitude of Phoenix's stretching the series against the Red Wings out to seven games is even bigger when considering the salary disparities.)

The NHL may market itself as a league, but there are vastly different strata of teams in that league.  If you really want to win the Stanley Cup, your odds increase greatly if you are in the highest salary tier.

I'm just sayin'.

[Thanks to for the salary cap figures!]

Monday, May 3, 2010

Peterson off the board

According to Puck Rakers, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson never asked the Predators to talk to Brent Peterson. Hence, his name and face no longer grace the left-hand column. Brutal business, this coaching search...

It seems like Howson wants to go young, and minor league, in his new coach. (Scott Arniel already has had an interview, for what it's worth.) With Peterson never in contention, it makes me wonder if the rumored Paul MacLean candidacy is real as well.  MacLean is an assistant for the Red Wings and his only minor league coaching experience is with the old UHL's Quad City Mallards.  The United Hockey League hasn't even been around since 2007.

It also brings up how serious a candidate Claude Noel is against the young/minor league model of an Arniel or Dineen.  Luckily for Claude, he has the demonstrated track record of working with the CBJ youngsters and actually getting somewhere with them.

Let the parlor game continue...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Moment of Stanley Cup Playoff Greatness, May 1 edition

Playing for the first time in two months due to injury, Marc Savard only drops the game-winner in for the Bruins against the Flyers in overtime...