Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Time to step up: Grant Clitsome

  • Defenseman
  • 25 years old, 2nd year in National Hockey League
  • $550,000 cap hit 
  • 0.9% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 11 games played, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, +/- of zero, 6 penalty minutes, 14:44 avg. time on ice
Does Grant Clitsome have the stuff to make a
serious run at a full-time CBJ roster spot?
Talk about a guy at the crossroads of his hockey-playing career.

Grant Clitsome is 25 years old.  After one year of juniors, he took the college route to the NHL, playing all four years for Clarkson University in New York, an ECAC school.  Clitsome then went straight to the Columbus Blue Jackets' (then-) AHL affiliate in Syracuse, perhaps an indicator that his skill level was sufficient to bypass a stint in juniors.  He then played one full season for the Crunch in 2008-2009.  I'm not sure that one can call him a late bloomer, but he's certainly not a child prodigy.

Had the Jackets not decided to jettison their pricey veterans nor experienced debilitating injuries to the likes of Rusty Klesla in 2009-2010, Clitsome might not have seen the bright lights of Columbus until this forthcoming season, if at all.  Instead, he put in 64 games in Syracuse and then played in 11 more for the Blue Jackets at the end of the season.

By most accounts, Clitsome did nothing to hurt his case for NHL playing time while in Columbus.  He doesn't appear to be a playmaker or scorer, but he did get 5 goals and 15 assists in Syracuse last season in addition to his 3 points during his time in Columbus.  Simply put, he's never going to make the Blue Jackets forget about the likes of Tomas Kaberle...but he's also not going to make Scott Howson pop a handful of Tums every time he hits the ice. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Time to step up: The defensemen


As alluded earlier, I haven't spent nearly as much time looking at the Columbus Blue Jackets' blue line as I have spent on the forwards.  I'm guessing that my naivete will show in this part of the series and can only ask for your forgiveness in advance.

At the same time, this series has proven useful in learning more, and in more depth, about the National Hockey Team that I enjoy so much and the people who are a part of it.  So, perhaps rather than laugh, you can tag along in this little voyage of discovery and continue the enjoyable back and forth that is coming out in the comments.

As for the defense itself, let's start with the basics.  With 259 goals given up in the 2009-2010 campaign, the CBJ stood fifth-worst in the entire league.  The only teams worse than the Blue Jackets were:
  • Edmonton Oilers (284 goals allowed)
  • Toronto Maple Leafs (267)
  • New York Islanders (264)
  • Tampa Bay Lightning (260)
It should shock no one that none of the aforementioned clubs made the Stanley Cup playoffs last season.  The saying goes, "Offense puts butts in seats, but defense wins championships," and it could not be more true in today's National Hockey League.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Catching up

The plane landed yesterday in the early afternoon, meaning that the Dark Blue Jacket is back in action.  It was a great week away, and the sun, surf and family time was welcome.

But it's time to get back to the Blue Jackets.  Fortunately, it looks like I missed precious little last week.  So let's recap.


Raffi Torres signed a one-year, $1 million contract with the Vancouver Canucks.  That puts Vancouver, with Torres, Manny Malhotra and Aaron Rome, ahead of Philadelphia (Nik Zherdev and Jody Shelley) in the NHL's "recent ex- Blue Jackets" challenge.  No word on whether Vegas oddsmakers will be applying an "ex-Jackets factor" to their betting lines.  Does baseball's "ex-Cubs factor" have a hockey rival?

Seriously, good for Raffi.  The guy showed in Columbus that he's a warrior like few others.  His presence on the ice is good for the game.

79 -- MAYBE -- IN 10?

The NHL/Versus/NBC and the Columbus Blue Jackets/Fox Sports Ohio announced their respective television schedules for the Boys in Union Blue, and it looks like my oh-so-simple yet much-more-difficult-than-anyone-can-really-comprehend proposal for all 82 Blue Jackets games in high-definition isn't going to happen in the team's 10th anniversary season.  FSO will be carrying 75 games (not sure how many in HD yet), Versus will carry 3 games and NBC has an option on one game (but it would be surprising if NBC chose to show the CBJ-Devils games over the Penguins-Rangers game).  If all the stars aligned, that would make 79 games, leaving 3 games totally untelevised.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Time To Rest Up: Dark Blue Jacket

After a furious week of CannonFest and the Time To Step Up season preview covering the Columbus Blue Jackets forwards (thus far), I'm going to step back for a week.  In fact, I'm totally going dark - no blogging, no Twitter, no email, etc. Time to recharge the batteries before school and hockey season kick back into gear!

I hope you have enjoyed this week as much as I have.  It's been the blog's best week ever from a traffic point of view, which is immensely gratifying to yours truly.  And the comments and responding Tweets only added to the fun.

As for next week, you all have plenty to chew on while I'm away (And don't forget to check out the blogs in the right-hand column!  Good ones, all.).  Please use the comments to share thoughts and ideas on the different players; I look forward to reading them when I return to the online world!

Carry The Flag!

Time to step up: Jake Voracek

  • Right wing
  • 21 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
  • $1,270,833 cap hit 
  • 2.1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 81 games played, 16 goals, 34 assists, 50 points, -7, 26 penalty minutes, 15:37 avg. time on ice
Before Puck Daddy posted Lee Auer's fine CBJ "Mount Puckmore" article, there was some discussion on Twitter about who should be looked at as the four faces of the franchise.  Perhaps the most intriguing idea was to put Jake Voracek in the mix.  Sure, he has only played two seasons in the NHL, the argument went, but Voracek is perhaps the one young member of the Columbus Blue Jackets who is on a straight line progression to NHL super-stardom.  Steve Mason tumbled in year two, Derick Brassard has had his issues, John Moore isn't at the NHL level yet, no one really knows on Ryan Johansen yet, but Voracek...he's a climber.  

Think about it: Voracek hit 50 points this season.  In Rick Nash's 2nd season, he had 57.  In Marian Hossa's 2nd full season, he had 56.  In Patrick Marleau's 2nd season, he had 45.  In Corey Perry's 2nd season, he had 44.  In Martin St. Louis' 2nd full season, he had 40.  If you're getting my point, you're seeing that Jake Voracek is right in the mix of some pretty awesome NHL talent at similar points in their careers. 

Time to step up: Antoine Vermette

  • Center
  • Alternate captain
  • 28 years old, 7th year in National Hockey League
  • $3,750,000 cap hit 
  • 6.3% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2014-2015
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 82 games played, 27 goals, 38 assists, 65 points, +2, 32 penalty minutes, 20:08 avg. time on ice
Don't look now, but we might have that Mythical First Line Center
right under our noses!
If I had to pick an offensive player for last season's DBJ Most Valuable Player, it would have been Antoine Vermette.  (Of course, I didn't choose to go offense and instead picked Fedor Tyutin, but that's another topic for another profile.)

In addition to playing in every single game last season, and trailing only Rick Nash in goals and total points (and trailing only Kristian Huselius on assists...wait a minute, Juice led the team in assists?), Vermette also led the team in a couple "Blue Jackets by the numbers" categories, that being pace-setting goals and last-minute goals.  Work on your clutch scoring, Antoine, and you'll have hit the trifecta.  

And - holy cow - he can pull rabbits like this out of his hat:

(Side note: Where did I come up with this gem of a video, you ask?  Strangely, I found it on the Hockey For The Ladies blog, which offers a great bio on Vermette in addition to beefcake shots that will make any Puck Bunny swoon.  The perils of Googling a guy's name for more info...)

Talk about a talent.  I'm still amazed that Scott Howson was able to grab him, straight up, in a trade with Ottawa for Pascal "Murphy's Law" LeClaire.  I'm having a hard time thinking of a shrewder personnel move than this one.  (Hmmm....Maybe the Tyutin/Backman for Zherdev/Fritsche trade?)

Time to step up: R.J. Umberger

  • Left wing
  • Alternate captain
  • 28 years old, 6th year in National Hockey League
  • $3,750,000 cap hit 
  • 6.3% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 82 games played, 23 goals, 32 assists, 55 points, -16, 40 penalty minutes, 19:10 avg. time on ice
In my mind, there is only one indispensable player for the Columbus Blue Jackets, and you're reading about him right now: R.J. Umberger.  

Take a look at the stats and try to develop a cohesive argument that a guy who played in every single game all season, who put up over 50 points and who averaged nearly 20 minutes a game is not an absolute warhorse.

Then, throw in the fact that Umberger might wear the alternate captain "A" on his sweater but might as well wear the "C".  Need proof?  Try this: When Claude Noel called a weekend practice after taking the reins from Ken Hitchcock and then just didn't show up, who ran the practice?  Captain Rick Nash and...R.J. Umberger.  Something tells me that Nash leans on Umberger really, really hard...especially as Scott Howson swept Freddy Modin, Jody Shelley and other veterans out and brought in new veterans who don't have a relationship with Nash like Umberger does.

Time to step up: Sammy Pahlsson

  • Center
  • Alternate captain
  • 32 years old, 10th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,650,000 cap hit 
  • 4.5% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 79 games played, 3 goals, 13 assists, 16 points, -9, 32 penalty minutes, 16:16 avg. time on ice
How do you measure this type of defensive play?
That's the challenge when evaluating Sammy Pahlsson.
It's a challenge for someone with as minimal a playing background as I to construct a meaningful critique of Sammy Pahlsson.  His role on the Columbus Blue Jackets is clear: Center the 3rd line - the line that shuts down the opposing team's top line.  But how can you tell that he did it from a stat sheet?  Hockey statistics largely reflect on offensive performance, and the one that suggests defensive performance (plus/minus) reflects not just on a single player's effort but on their linemates as well.

Pahlsson had 16 points last year, two off his NHL career average of 18.  His -9 rating was slightly worse than his NHL career average of -6.  And he played on a team last season that suffered from anemic scoring and a penchant for letting other teams score goals, so did he have a down year or was he simply consistent with past performance on a personal level?

Time to step up: Rick Nash

  • Left wing (but more often plays right wing)
  • Captain
  • 26 years old, 8th year in National Hockey League
  • $7,800,000 cap hit 
  • 13.1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2017-2018
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 76 games played, 33 goals, 34 assists, 67 points, -2, 58 penalty minutes, 20:56 avg. time on ice
Before I dig in (thank you, Mr. Hitchcock, for the term), let me qualify everything you read below with this statement: I really, really, really, REALLY like Rick Nash as a hockey player.  The guy clearly is something special on the ice, a world-class superstar entering the prime years of his professional career.  Remember, he is capable of plays like this:

Or this:

Of course, there's always room for one of these (It's the playoff-qualifying goal from 2009, if you didn't know already...): 

When he wants to be, he can be hockey's equivalent of the Human Highlight Reel.  I cannot speak highly enough of Rick Nash's hockey skill.  Period.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Time to step up: Andrew Murray

  • Center
  • 28 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $625,000 cap hit 
  • 1.1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 46 games played, 5 goals, 2 assists, 7 points, -6, 6 penalty minutes, 10:21 avg. time on ice
I was going to write about how this is a pivotal year for Andrew Murray on a host of fronts: 
  1. He's a 4th line center on a team with a number of rising young players
  2. He's a late-blooming 28-year-old in the last year of his contract
  3. If you believe The Hockey News Yearbook, he's already been passed by Tomas Kana on the depth chart and thus actually projects to start the season in Springfield as a result.
  4. He plays with a lot of energy and enthusiasm that just isn't projecting onto the stat sheet.
Now, as I write (and I'm writing in advance of posting to ensure that I can squeeze all of the player previews in by the start of training camp), the Blue Jackets have signed forward Ben Guite to the roster.  With that, it sure seems like the competition for the 4th line just got a lot tougher.  

Time to step up: Derek Mackenzie

  • Center
  • 29 years old, 8th year in National Hockey League
  • $600,000 cap hit 
  • 1.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 18 games played, 1 goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +3, zero penalty minutes, 8:41 avg. time on ice
If you don't like Derek Mackenzie, you're dead inside.  

This is a guy who pretty much lives out of a duffle bag all season long.  He shuffles back and forth to Syracuse (now Springfield) to captain the Blue Jackets' AHL franchise and, as soon as the CBJ get their first injury hit, hops a plane/train/car to Columbus and plugs a hole.  Again.  And again.  And again.

In fact, I remember one point last season where the callup was extended beyond the usual cup of coffee, and Mackenzie had to buy another pair of jeans.  That's his life, and he just keeps on, keepin' on.  

Maybe there is some justice - perhaps the Blue Jackets let him keep the frequent flyer miles that he piles up while shuttling back and forth.  I bet that would translate into an awesome post-season trip to a beach somewhere. 

Time to step up: Tomas Kana

  • Center
  • 22 years old, 2nd year in National Hockey League
  • $625,000 cap hit 
  • 1.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 6 games played, zero goals, 2 assists, 2 points, +2, 2 penalty minutes, 8:40 avg. time on ice
Drafted early in the second round of the 2006 National Hockey League draft by the St. Louis Blues, Czech Tomas Kana was buried with the Alaska Aces of the ECHL (30 GP, 6 G, 14 A, 20 PTS, +14, 65 PIM) when he, along with defenseman Brendan Bell, came to the Columbus organization in a December 8, 2009 trade for Pascal Pelletier.  I vaguely recall the talk at the time being, "Great, we needed more defensive help."  Kana was an afterthought.  

My, how times have changed.  I opened up The Hockey News Yearbook (and who says print is dead?) and right there on page 93, Kana is projected as the number 4 center in the organization behind Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard and Sammy Pahlsson.  Andrew Murray and Derek Mackenzie are both listed behind Kana.

And of course, I have no idea who this guy is.  Let's dig into the vault, shall we?  

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time to step up: Kristian Huselius

  • Left wing
  • 31 years old, 10th year in National Hockey League
  • $4,750,000 cap hit 
  • 8.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 74 games played, 23 goals, 40 assists, 63 points, -4, 36 penalty minutes, 18:23 avg. time on ice
Ah, the mercurial "Juice."  

You genuinely wonder where he goes for shifts (and sometimes games) on end.  He's not really a clutch scorer.  He rarely scores a pace-setting goal.  He only dropped one last-minute goal last season.  Yet he ends the season with only 4 fewer points than the team's captain and all-world superstar.  

He doesn't appear to be full of sparkling personality and bravado, has never worn a letter on the front of his jersey in Columbus (haven't checked on his time in Florida or Calgary), yet a Google search of images tagged with his name sure show a lot of celebrations.  

He makes a lot of money - second highest cap hit on the team behind Rick Nash - and he kinda sorta backs it up at the end of the day.  He's just quiet about it. 

Time to step up: Ethan Moreau

  • Left wing
  • 34 years old, 15th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,000,000 cap hit 
  • 3.4% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers (in Edmonton): 76 games played, 9 goals, 9 assists, 18 points, -18, 62 penalty minutes, 14:24 avg. time on ice
I'll just come out and admit it.  I know nothing meaningful about Ethan Moreau.  I had Center Ice last year and didn't spend much time at all watching the dreadful Edmonton Oilers.  I preferred to watch competitive hockey.  

(Really, to say that Edmonton was bad last year does a disservice to poor-performing teams.  Heck, even the Blue Jackets went 3-1-0 against Edmonton last year, and we landed in 14th place in the conference!  But I digress...)

You can read Moreau's stats as well as I can, but that doesn't tell you a lot beyond the fact that his plus-minus would have taken the green jacket for the CBJ last season but, on the "Who, us, defense?" Oilers team that he captained, he actually was one of the stronger performers.  (As a point of comparison, Patrick O'Sullivan was a -35.  Gulp.)

He's not super-expensive as a projected veteran third-liner.  And if it doesn't work out this year, he's an unrestricted free agent and both sides are free to walk away.  

So why did Scott Howson pick up Ethan Moreau when he doesn't fill any particularly pressing need at forward?  That's right, kids, leadership.  Moreau is yet another grizzled veteran/former captain brought in to right the ship of state in the locker room.  Just like Chris Clark.  And Michael Peca before that.  But this isn't the time to gripe about leadership or personnel matters - I've got Rick Nash and Scott Howson pieces to come.  Point is, Moreau clearly is projected to play a "character" role in the locker room this season.  And, speak of the devil, Nash is pretty pleased about Moreau's joining the squad:
"(Moreau) is going to be huge in the dressing room. The leadership and experience he has earned being captain for all these years with be a big boost to our young guys."

Time to step up: Nikita Filatov

  • Left wing
  • 20 years old, 3rd year (kinda-sorta) in National Hockey League 
  • $2,195,833 cap hit 
  • 3.7% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers with CBJ: 13 games played, 2 goals, 0 assists, 2 points, +/- of zero, 8 penalty minutes, 8:06 avg. time on ice
  • 2009-2010 numbers with CSKA Moscow: 26 games played, 9 goals, 13 assists, 22 points, +3, 16 penalty minutes, 16:30 avg. time on ice
Nikita Filatov scored a hat trick for the Columbus Blue Jackets
early in his NHL career.  Will the magic return in 10-11?
Can a guy get a mulligan on an entire year?  If possible, please sign Nikita Filatov up for one.  Take a look at this and try not to wince:
  • Filatov has a falling out with the Columbus system - presumably focussed on Ken Hitchcock, who buried him in the lineup and apparently lectured him about not becoming Nik Zherdev - and gets loaned to the KHL's CSKA Moscow (the original Red Army team).  He has a good initial run with CSKA and then things went sour.  
  • He played for Russia in the World Junior Championships and, after a falling-out with the coach, was stripped of his captaincy.  
  • He started training for the World Championships for Russia but got bumped once the Penguins (Malkin), Devils (Kovalchuk) and Capitals (Ovechkin) players showed up after being eliminated early from the Stanley Cup playoffs.  

Time to step up: Derek Dorsett

  • Right wing
  • Currently alternate captain
  • 23 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
  • $562,500 cap hit 
  • 0.9% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 51 games played, 4 goals, 10 assists, 14 points, +6, 105 penalty minutes, 10:53 avg. time on ice
With some players, you can look at the stats and understand their value to the team.  With others, you need to look in other places.  Derek Dorsett is one of the latter.

To judge his value, I'd like to suggest you look at the two stretches of the season when Dorsett wasn't playing.  The first period was following the NHL-determined cheap shot by James Neal of the Dallas Stars that resulted in a concussion for Dorsett.    That was a nine game run from November 20 to December 8 where the CBJ went 1-5-3.  The second was a 16-game span from December 13 to January 13 where the Jackets posted a 4-9-3 record after Dorsett hurt his hand against Anaheim.  That's right, the dreadful "Fall of Hitchcock" games almost perfectly coincided with the periods when Derek Dorsett was not in the lineup.  

That's not to say that Derek Dorsett is the straw that stirs the drink in Columbus.  At just over 10 minutes of ice time per game that he did play in, far from it.  But he plays with a passion and energy (not in the Jared Boll "energy" way, either) that appears to rub off on his fellow teammates.  Those attributes are what led Ken Hitchock to pass over other, more highly-touted youngsters and name Dorsett an alternate captain (not sure if Scott Arniel will continue that designation, but we'll see).  

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Time to step up: Chris Clark

  • Right wing
  • 34 years old, 12th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,633,333 cap hit 
  • 4.4% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 CBJ numbers: 36 games played, 3 goals, 2 assists, 5 points, -8, 21 penalty minutes, 12:06 avg. time on ice
  • 2009-2010 Washington Capitals numbers: 38 games played, 4 goals, 112 assists, 15 points, -4, 59 penalty minutes, 11:39 avg. time on ice

Rather than try any meaningful analysis of Clark's performance, let's look at the timing of his arrival, and the goal that it was supposed to achieve.  Clark came (along with Milan Jurcina) in a December 28, 2009 trade with Washington in exchange for Jason Chimera.  This, after a team leadership meeting in Dallas less than one week earlier led Scott Howson to believe that leadership - or, more precisely, the lack thereof (especially in the wake of not re-signing Michael Peca) - and weak defense was the cause of the team's tailspin.  So, out with Chimera and in with the Capitals' captain.  

Think about it.  If leadership is the ability to get people to believe in you, relate to you and rally around what you say and do (my definition, don't bother googling it), when and from whom does it emerge?  Might I suggest it won't emerge at the depths of a mid-season slump from a new player who is dropped into the dressing room?  Yeah, that's right.  Chris Clark was in a no-win scenario last season.  

(On the bright side, the Washington Capitals flamed out spectacularly in the Stanley Cup playoffs.  So it's not like he missed a Cup run or anything.)

Time to step up: Derick Brassard

  • Center
  • 22 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $3,200,000 cap hit 
  • 5.4% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2013-2014
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 79 games played, 9 goals, 27 assists, 36 points, -17, 48 penalty minutes, 14:57 avg. time on ice
I look at Derick Brassard's info above, and I see two things: 1) He's still really young and 2) He's making a LOT of money.  I'll suggest that those two points represent the tension in our former first round draft pick.  Is he too young for the responsibilities that he's being shouldered with (centering a top-two line)?  Does the considerable investment in him force the Blue Jackets to push him along faster than would be otherwise prudent?

So let's dig back into the 09-10 stats.  The first thing I found most curious about Brassard is that 7 of his 9 goals (not a huge number to start with) came under Ken Hitchcock, who occasionally buried him on the fourth line.  Only 2 under Claude Noel, who I believe gave him considerable second line exposure.  The vast majority of his assists were also under Hitchcock.  What happened?  Wasn't the post-Hitchcock string supposed to be all about playing the kids?  He clearly played (and logged consistent, considerable minutes) under Noel, but he was less productive as best I can see.  Something doesn't add up, but he clearly needs to develop a better nose for the net in addition to the playmaking required from a center.

Time to step up: Jared Boll

  • Right wing
  • 24 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $725,000 cap hit 
  • 1.2% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 68 games played, 4 goals, 3 assists, 7 points, -8, 149 penalty minutes, 7:12 avg. time on ice
One of the more maddening things about the National Hockey League to me is the way in which the league has systematically taken fighting out of the realm of "enforcement" and into the realm of "energy" - or, perhaps better said, "circus sideshow."  A fight on the ice should be an act of retaliation for an excessive action by the other player (or other team).  Instead, let's let Jared himself explain why he fights:
"I was just trying to get the rest of the guys going."
That was following a beating that Boll took at the hands of then-Wild enforcer and uber-fighter Derek Boogaard.  So...he lets himself get pounded in the name of team unity?  Man, that's one helluva way to make a living.  Boll has had moments when he's had the upper hand, but his fight card could be a lot prettier.

Time to step up: Mike Blunden

  • Right wing
  • 23 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
  • $590,000 cap hit 
  • 1% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 40 games played, 2 goals, 2 assists, 4  points, +3, 59 penalty minutes, 8:07 avg. time on ice
To figure out where Mike Blunden's head is at, you just need to look at this year's salary and last year's.  This season, he's making $590,000 on a one-year contract.  Last season, he earned $735,000.  That says to me that Blunden is 23 years old, a fourth-liner and perhaps looking at the prospects of living out the rest of his career in the AHL.  This is a pivotal year; the fact that his new contract was for one year could be taken any of three ways: 1) Scott Howson doesn't want to invest in him for the long-term, 2) Howson and/or Blunden are looking at this season as a "step up" year to either boost his value or cut him loose or 3) Blunden is a placeholder as the restocked talent pool in the minors starts percolating up to the NHL (see: Calvert, Matt).

Blunden's NHL games (he also logged 39 games for the CBJ's AHL team last year) appears split almost equally in the pre- and post-Hitchcock games in 09-10, his first season where he had any extensive playing time.  Interestingly, though, he scored both goals and both assists toward the end of the season in games coached by Claude Noel.  Makes you wonder if some shackles came off once Claude took over.  The fact that he had a positive +/- rating on a team littered with negative numbers last season also speaks to a playmaking/defensive capacity that he displayed in limited ice time.  

Time to step up: The forwards


We'll start the position-by-position preview and analysis on the front lines.  This makes sense, seeing as I've put the most effort into reviewing last season's offensive performance.  Thus far, I've looked at clutch scorers, pace-setting scorers and last-minute scorers.  And don't forget the front end of my analysis from the clutch scorers post, where I suggested:
It's clear as day that the Blue Jackets need to boost their scoring - they scored 216 goals last season, meaning that only five teams in the entire National Hockey League (Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Boston and Florida) were less prolific. By comparison, the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals scored 318 times. The Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks scored 271 times. The average number of goals for a playoff-qualifying team in 2009-2010 was a hair under 243 goals. So if the Jackets are going to win, it's because they're going to put lots of pucks in the back of the net.
It was true then, it is true now.  On way too many nights last season, this team was anemic on the scoreboard.  By my count, the Blue Jackets had 36 games where they scored 2 or fewer goals.  They won a whopping 7 of them.  I know that there's value in being a "defensive" or two-way forward, but you can't overlook the scoring.  To win games, pucks have to hit the back of the net.

All too often last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets forwards played like they were looking to set up the phantom fourth forward.  They looked to pass instead of shoot, indicative of a team that looked to keep "team chemistry" and maintain friendships before developing the killer instinct necessary to win games and, eventually, championships.  It also could be indicative of a team that was too scared to shoot (and fail to make a goal), a reflection upon playing under the iron fist of Ken Hitchcock.

Many say that the Columbus Blue Jackets  have to improve the defense to become a consistent playoff team. I'm not sure about that; keep the guys we have healthy (and fit), and they can do their part.  The room for marked improvement lies with the forwards.  If the CBJ forwards can keep the opponents on their heels - and put a few more shots on net - then the entire dynamic of games change.  The question I have is, do our forwards have that inside them for Scott Arniel and Bob Boughner to bring out?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Time to step up: DBJ's 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets season preview

This team will be back, this team in blue, folks.
They have plenty of good years ahead of them, 

and it's just starting.
Danny Gare
April 23, 2009

To get started, I'm going to take you back to Thursday, April 23, 2009.  On that night (and by some stroke of luck, I was there), the Columbus Blue Jackets went down fighting against the Detroit Red Wings and lost 6-5, giving Detroit a 4-0 sweep of Columbus in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Watch this video carefully and remember:

Blue Jackets fans know all too well that this was the only playoff appearance in franchise history.

Let's ponder that night's roster, and permit me to point out a few names: Raffi Torres, Michael Peca, Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra, Jason Williams, Aaron Rome and Freddy Modin.  Seven players - over one-third of that playoff roster - are no longer affiliated with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  (And that doesn't count head coach Ken Hitchcock and assistants Gord Murphy, Gary Agnew and Claude Noel.  Hitchcock is still collecting a check from the Blue Jackets and basically staying out of the way while waiting for his next NHL head coaching job, and the assistants have scattered to the wind.)

As discussed in my 2009-2010 season in review, CBJ general manager Scott Howson and team management determined that the team as composed 'maxxed out' and would never go further than they did in 2009.  So they decided to go young.  And 2009-2010 saw that youth movement happen in all of it's pain and frustration.    I won't rehash the season that's past - you can read that in the other post.

Simply put, we now have a very different team than the one that made the playoffs.

But it's important to acknowledge the past, especially with a team where the young core is rising together.  And, considering last year, this is the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets to step up and prove that they will be the group that can make good on Danny Gare's prediction from the above video.

Time to step up.  Nearly every player on the roster needs to step up in some fashion.  Poor performers have to pull their weight.  Injured players have to stay healthy.  Good players have to be great.  The coaches, brand new to Columbus, have to step up to the big leagues.  And the front office also has to make its moves to ensure that the team makes its step up toward being a consistent playoff contender in Columbus.

My CannonFest post, or "A funny thing happened on the way to the cookout"

About 5 weeks ago, Matt Wagner from The Cannon and I were mulling over something (electronically, of course), and we started percolating the notion of a late summer, pre-training camp Columbus Blue Jackets blogger gathering to build up the names/faces recognition, get our hockey fixes and blow off whatever household chores we could avoid - at least for an afternoon.

Problem was, there seemed to be a bunch of new CBJ blogs popping up every week.  And they were pretty good ones, too, like The Green Seat View.  My blog's not even a year old yet, and Matt's contributions to The Cannon started less than six months ago.  So why would we want to create a gathering that could potentially overlook some of the very bloggers who we wanted to gather?  For that matter, why would we want to overlook the diehard CBJ fans who enrich our work as bloggers and social media hounds?

CannonFest 001
Photo courtesy of Matt Wagner
Out of that dialogue, CannonFest was created.  Matt engaged the Jacket Backers while I brought Greg May (of Full Mental Jackets and owner of the Buffalo Wild Wings in Grandview) into the loop.  We decided on a date, developed coupons for a promotion or three and came up with a handful of giveaways.  Player signed pucks, glossies, t-shirts.  Media guides.  An incredible team-signed wooden bar sign. And, of course, the beer tower.

Our fellow bloggers (the ones listed in the right-hand column, as well as others whose work needs to be highlighted there) wholeheartedly embraced the idea of CannonFest.  If they weren't blogging about it (or posting promotional graphics on their sites), they were Tweeting about it.  Or putting Facebook event listings up.  And, by and large, they immediately RSVP'd in the affirmative.  There was a groundswell of interest in a big ol' puck talk gathering.  Who knew?

And the momentum kept building.  And building.  And building.  You could see it on Twitter, where people were posting about how excited they were for CannonFest and encouraging their friends to attend.  Those who couldn't make it were outright apologizing and agonizing over not being able to join in.

Skraut introduces his newest CBJ fan video at CannonFest

Perhaps the most anticipated single element of CannonFest was the debut of Tom Larrow's (a.k.a. Skraut) newest Columbus Blue Jackets fan video.  I was lucky enough to have my camera on hand when he started introducing it to the crowd (only missed the opening couple seconds), and here are his comments:

And here's the video:

I told you it was good...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Third Jersey talk: He swings....and misses

Pardon the baseball analogy, but it's so apt on my post wondering if the jerseys we saw in use at the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey school had any resemblance to the new third jersey for the NHL team. Oh, I noticed a video on the CBJ's website with the hockey school...here it is (and note the excellent use of the 10th anniversary logo on the front!):

I'll offer more on CannonFest over a couple of posts, but I think it wisest to own up to my whiff on the jersey speculation. The throngs (and I don't think that would be an understatement...there were a LOT of people at CannonFest) were joined by a few folks from the Columbus Blue Jackets, including Todd Sharrock, Vice President for Public Relations, and Larry Hoepfner, Executive Vice President of Business Operations.

I asked them both, point blank, whether the hockey school jerseys were in any way indicative of the forthcoming third jersey. Their answer -- a resounding NO. And with that, they offered no more on the jersey itself.

Sounds like an interesting process to create a new jersey, though...I believe they said that the jersey development took about two years from beginning to end, involving focus groups among other forms of input, and only recently was approved by the National Hockey League offices.

So we're back to square one on jersey speculation...but the speculation really is half the fun, don't you think?

It's CannonFest day!

See you at CannonFest at 2PM!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Is this a Blue Jackets third jersey preview?

The Columbus Blue Jackets official Twitter feed just posted a photo of new assistant coach Dan Hinote talking to the junior-junior-junior Blue Jackets at hockey camp:

My nephew has done that camp before, but I've never seen jersey designs like these in Columbus.  Are we getting a sneak preview of the new third jersey design?

Presuming that this is an early release of the new third jersey, here are my early impressions: 1) Looks like grey on the top and bottom, which I say because the jerseys look darker than the ice (in that dark photo).  2) The "center stripe" look is a reinterpretation of a vintage style, with Chicago using them on their Winter Classic/thirds to much acclaim.  (Of course, the Habs have had that look for what seems like forever.)  3) How much money do you want to bet that the cannon design on the front will be in a circle-styled seal look like the Blackhawks' logo on their thirds?  Or St Louis' third jersey design?  Or Pittsburgh's?  Or Florida's?

What are your thoughts?  Am I totally off-base in thinking that we got our first look at the new jersey design? Do you like what you see so far?

UPDATE: It appears that the jerseys are custom-made by Ace Sports.  Using their online "build your jersey" tool, I was able to approximate what I saw using the "Fox" template.  This pretty well tells me that this is NOT the third jersey.  However, as CBJGreenSeater says, "Still could be a similar design though," which I don't doubt.  But we're now deep into wild speculation...the jerseys in the photo are pretty clearly NOT the new CBJ thirds.

UPDATE 2: The truth, right from the source.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

I have seen Skraut's new CBJ video...

...and it is really, really good.

His work on Vimeo is really good, don't get me wrong.  But this one...wow.  I'm SO ready for hockey season to start!

And, of course, the video will be premiered on the big screens at Buffalo Wild Wings during CannonFest.  After seeing it, you too will be asking why the Columbus Blue Jackets don't put this guy on game ops.

To whet your appetite, here's another Skraut gem from days past.  Recognize the old faces?

CannonFest - Jacket Backer giveaways; Bubble Hockey!

We've known that the Jacket Backers - the official fan club of the Columbus Blue Jackets - was going to take a role in CannonFest.  What we didn't know was that the club comes bearing gifts!

Yup, they're bringing Jacket Backer shirts and pucks, as well as a few player-signed items.  The one that you need to know about, though, is an 09-10 TEAM-signed CBJ wooden sign. That would be the entire pre-trade deadline roster.  This is a pretty sharp item, I've been told, and there will be a special raffle for it.  Only $1/chance, I believe.

The Jacket Backers do much, much more than just show up with swag, however.  They organize road trips, game watches, arena tours and tons more.  Learn more about this great group at CannonFest!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A CannonFest primer - and a coupon!

Just in case any of you didn't get the point behind this whole CannonFest concept:

That's right: Hot August weather plus good food and beverage plus hockey talk equals happy people.  It's that simple.  So come out to BWW's on Sunday afternoon and join in the fun!

If that isn't enough, Buffalo Wild Wings has a third coupon for you:

There will also be giveaways (from both BWW's and the Jacket Backers), nearly every CBJ blogger we could find and even a special guest!  Yup, Todd Sharrock, Vice President for Public Relations for the Columbus Blue Jackets is planning on spending a little time with us to munch on wings and talk CBJ.

Should be a really good time.  Hope to meet you there!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

CannonFest offers you the chance at 110 ounces of bliss

With one week to go until the inaugural CannonFest, Buffalo Wild Wings has sweetened the pot with a giveaway for a genuine Molson Canadian beer tower - of the Columbus Blue Jackets persuasion, of course.

And what's more, they're also offering yet another beverage discount to attendees:

We're just one week away!  Cancel your plans, put on your Jackets gear and join us at BWW's for an afternoon of pre-preseason hockey talk!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A modest proposal: 82 in 10

About a month ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets' budget-team rival in the NHL's Central Division, the Nashville Predators, issued a press release trumpeting its new television deal with Fox Sports Tennessee.  In the release, the Preds said,
The National Hockey League’s Nashville Predators, the team’s television broadcast partner FOX Sports Tennessee and its sister station SportSouth announced today a new four-year broadcast deal that will see the networks televise 60 Nashville Predators regular-season games this season (2010-11), 65 regular-season games during years two (2011-12) and three (2012-13) and 70 games in the fourth year (2013-14) of the deal. The goal in year one of the agreement is to broadcast a minimum of 45 games in high definition, with increases each year thereafter.
Interesting. Only 60 games in a season? Only 45 in high-definition? In an 82-game season?  Is Bill Wirtz back from The Great Beyond and running the Preds?

But this isn't a Nashville Predators sympathy blog.  Far from it.  It's a Columbus Blue Jackets blog, and the real value of the Preds announcement to yours truly was that it prompted me to take a look-see at the television situation with the Blue Jackets and their television broadcast partner, Fox Sports Ohio (FSO).  With the help of FSO's communications manager, Kate Buddinhagen and CBJ fan stats guru En4cer45, I went about trying to construct a picture of the Blue Jackets' history on TV, the issues involved in broadcasting them and the prospects going forward.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Who were the CBJ's last-minute scorers?

By request, I looked into a special type of scorer for the Columbus Blue Jackets - the end of the period, last-minute scorers.  By this, I filtered out the players who scored in the final minute of any period in a Blue Jackets game last season.  As my anonymous commenter suggested, there is a reason to look at these numbers:
How about a +/- relating to goals scored in the final 60 seconds of a period? That could show us who should be out on the ice in that final shift.
"Hey Antoine, how about you drop one in right at the end of the period?"
"Sure thing, Rusty!"  (Photo by Beauty Playin' Eh)
Yes, it could.  That goal in the final minute of the period can have a positive effect on team morale going into the locker room.  So let's look into the numbers and see who came up big as a last-minute scorer for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009-2010:
  • Antoine Vermette - 6 goals
  • R.J. Umberger - 4 goals
  • Rick Nash & Jake Voracek - 3 goals each
  • Raffi Torres - 2 goals
  • Jared Boll, Derick Brassard, Jason Chimera, Mike Commodore, Kristian Huselius, Andrew Murray & Anton Stralman - 1 goal each
Vermette, Umberger and Nash (sounds like a law firm) come out on top again.  This trio seems like the gutsy core of our team.  At the same time, don't overlook Jake Voracek...his scoring can't be overlooked and will probably be even more important now that Raffi Torres is gone.

Perhaps the most intriguing revelation of this query, however, was the number of empty net goals that the Jackets scored.  Empty netters count just like any other goals, but they also could represent the closeout to a game that was already won.  Thus, it's worth taking the empty netters out and seeing who's scoring against a goalie in what presuably would be a tighter game:
  • Antoine Vermette - 3 goals
  • Rick Nash, Jake Voracek, Raffi Torres & R.J. Umberger - 2 goals each
  • Jared Boll, Derick Brassard, Jason Chimera, Mike Commodore, Kristian Huselius & Andrew Murray - 1 goal each
But let's not discount the empty netter altogether.  If we did, we'd lose sight of gorgeous displays of talent like this one from R.J. Umberger at 18:52 of the 3rd period against the loathesome Dallas Stars (didn't qualify for this list because it wasn't in the 19th minute, but it's a sweet goal nonetheless):