Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ryan Johansen + Dark Blue Toddler = BFF

Quick practice story from today, and please pardon the fan-boy in me (but I am a Columbus Blue Jackets fan first and foremost, so I'm not apologizing that much...):

Surprisingly, the Dark Blue Toddler and I were the only two -- ummm -- civilians in the arena today to watch practice.  The squad playing tonight in Minnesota had the early shift and was supposed to be on the ice until 11AM.  They pretty much bailed out at 10:45, and DBT and I only caught about 5-10 minutes of them because we were running late.  The next practice, for the squad not going to Minneapolis, was supposed to start at 11:30.

So we hung out for a while, knowing that we were supposed to meet Mrs. Dark Blue Jacket for lunch and didn't want to show up at 10:45 and ruin her schedule.  We rode the escalators and cruised around the concourse a little - things a 16-month-old loves - and yakked it up with the very nice ushers (who have already started to know DBT by name).

And then one player came out early and just sat on the bench by himself for the longest time as the zamboni whizzed around the area (much to the delight of DBT, whose first Christmas present ever was "Z is for Zamboni").  It was Ryan Johansen, and it seemed as if "The Johan" was trying to get centered while waiting out the zamboni.  Never one to miss the opportunity to mess with a guy's concentration (Hi, Steve Mason!), DBT and I trotted down to the front row.

After spending a couple minutes being mesmerized by the zamboni, DBT saw Johansen on the opposite side bench.  We waved to him, and he nodded that he saw us.  The zamboni wrapped up, upon which Johansen grabbed his sticks for practice and headed out onto the Nationwide Arena ice.

Then, get this, Ryan Johansen came across the ice and handed one of his practice sticks over the glass for me to give to the Dark Blue Toddler.  I'm staring at it as I type - a Bauer Vapor X:60...perhaps the longest hockey stick that I've ever seen (Johansen's a tall guy at 6'3", and tall guys need long sticks).  He did not have to do that.  There was absolutely no one else in the arena who would notice or care.  But he did, and that was really, really cool.  So I offered profuse "thank you's" through the glass and showed DBT his new hockey prize.  And, pretty much like always, DBT said, "Hockey!"

Johansen started loosening up on the ice by himself while waiting for his teammates.  I briefly talked with him through the glass...he still had that "pinch me, I'm in the NHL" attitude, especially about playing with Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger on his opening preseason appearance.  He had no idea if he was going to stick on the NHL roster or go back to juniors.

He also suggested that the big difference between juniors and the NHL is speed.  That's a pretty stock answer, so I asked what he meant.  As a center, he said that the speed in the NHL means that nearly every pass is a no-look pass.  He flies down the middle, dumps the puck off to the left or right and presumes that a winger will be there because they are one or two steps behind.  Never sees his teammates until they receive the pass.  Faith-based puck movement, if you will.

By that point, John Moore and David LeNeveu were coming onto the ice and Johansen had to get to practice.  Fair enough - that's what he's here for!  And, with DBT melting down and a spouse waiting for us to grab lunch, it was time to get moving.

What a great guy, Johansen.  And, again, thank you to the Blue Jackets for opening up practices -- and for allowing for such moments to happen.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The bubble bursts

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced 10 more cuts from their training camp roster today.

Cody Goloubef is off to Springfield to build on what he
learned during training camp in Columbus
That Matt Calvert, Chad Kolarik, Steven Delisle, Cody Goloubef, Brent Regner, Theo Ruth, Daren Machesney, Trevor Frischmon, Jonathan Sigalet and Oliver Gabriel were all sent on their various professional paths is not necessarily upsetting or - crassly - meaningful at this point to CBJ fans. Head Coach Scott Arniel left the door open for all them for a long time, longer than most teams, before making these decisions in the hopes that the players would have ample opportunity to show that they deserved a slot on the NHL team roster more than the next guy in the overcrowded locker room.

Attending just one training camp practice, though, puts a different spin on the cuts, though. More than anything I learned while watching the players go through their drills was the pressure that many of these guys were under as they tried so very hard to do what it took to stay around for another day. Honest to God, you could see the strain on the faces of the bubble players. On a human level, it was heartbreaking as even I could sort through some of the more simple cuts over the course of that morning. The players most likely knew it, too, but it was their job - their dream, in most cases - that they were fighting for. How painful.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Our bubble boys can beat Minnesota's starters

Let's get the personal stuff out of the way - this was the first actual game to which I brought the Dark Blue Toddler.  Luckily, the tickets were dirt cheap and the section (209) was pretty much empty above us in row J, so he was able to munch on Cheerios, drink milk, crawl around the (widow-maker) stairs and run back and forth across the aisles.  Oh, and eat my fries.  He lasted almost two entire periods, not bad for a 16-month-old.

And, once we bailed out, the Columbus Blue Jackets started scoring.

A Jackets team made up of a small handful of starters and a whole bunch of players on the bubble won, 3-2 over a Minnesota Wild team that was comprised of their NHL-level lineup as they had made most all of their cuts already.  That's profound, something in which the CBJ can be pleased.  Or the Wild can be downright scared.  Take your pick.

Tom Sestito's closing argument as to why he should
make the Columbus Blue Jackets roster.
As I mentioned, I was chasing my son all over section 209, so my thoughts are admittedly incomplete and based largely upon quick glances as opposed to any detailed study of what I saw.  But here's my take:
  • The Blue Jackets looked really ragged, which stands to reason as the roster was assembled with green-handled scissors and scotch tape in order to accommodate all of the players sitting on the roster bubble.  This was a night of forced chemistry, of proving to the coaches and management that you can perform in this new, Scott Arniel puck possession system.
  • Alternatively, you can prove that you can offer other services to the team.  Mike Blunden and Tom Sestito ended up taking this route, getting in fights.  Blunden laid the beat down on his victim, and Sestito won in an impassioned decision.  By the way, Dark Blue Toddler enjoyed cheering with the fans over the fights...not that he understood what was going on.
  • There's not a lot you can tell about a team on "last chance night," so I'll keep my profound statements about the team and their adaption to this new system to a minimum.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Time to step up: Mid-training camp update

It's the preseason for the National Hockey League and the Columbus Blue Jackets, and I don't think that anyone can draw any significant conclusions from a single practice or game where your team is icing only one-third to one-half of your squad.  But we now have four games and even more practices under our belt, and the scene is taking shape to the point where we can have a discussion.

So let's take a look at the team through the lens of the "Time to step up" preview series.


If memory serves correct, I spent time suggesting that the forwards needed to (re?)develop a nose for the goal - to shoot the puck and, with enough shots, put a few more in the back of the net.  Let's review thus far:
  • Game 1 - at Atlanta - 26 total shots, 5 goals (19.2%)
  • Game 2 - Washington - 39 total shots, 2 goals (5.1%)
  • Game 3 - Pittsburgh - 37 total shots, 4 goals (10.8%)
  • Game 4- at Pittsburgh - 33 total shots, 1 goal (3.0%)
All told, that makes 12 goals on 135 shots, or an 8.8% conversion rate.  Now, let's do a comparison between the 10-11 preseason CBJ and the CBJ teams of the last couple years, as well as selection of three playoff teams from last season - the prolific Capitals, the highly-regarded Penguins and the surprising Coyotes:

10-11 CBJ (Preseason - 4 games)
09-10 CBJ 2,338 214 9.2% 28.5 2.6
08-09 CBJ 2,490 217 8.7% 30.4 2.6
09-10 Washington Capitals 2,693 313 11.6% 32.8 3.8
09-10 Pittsburgh Penguins 2,688 249 9.3% 32.8 3.0
09-10 Phoenix Coyotes 2,502 211 8.4% 30.5 2.6

This process of comparing an incomplete collection of preseason games - replete with tryout candidates, AHLers and the occasional starter - against normal, regular season rosters over 82 games cannot be perfect.  I hope to illustrate, however, some of the changes that the Blue Jackets are going through.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The newest Blue Jackets fan

OK, so I lied about photos from practice.  I just wasn't able to get any of the folks on the ice.  Here's the Dark Blue Toddler, though, hanging out in between the morning and afternoon practice sessions with his toy truck and Jonathan Sigalet-fired practice puck.  

A fun morning, indeed.

Post-9/24 AM practice thoughts

With the Dark Blue Toddler in tow, I headed down to Nationwide Arena to witness my first-ever Columbus Blue Jackets practice with the little guy...only my second practice ever, I believe.  I'm much more of a TV/internet fan of the club than an in-person fan, largely due to familial and work/family constraints, so it's interesting to see the machinations of the Columbus Blue Jackets system on full display with no filters applied beyond the glass that separates us from the ice.  I'd love to do it more often...hope to do so in the future.

Attending a practice in person only reemphasizes how much I have to learn about the game I enjoy so much.  With drills running almost constantly at both ends of the ice, and occasional specialty drills at center ice, there's so much going on that you really don't have a means to drink all the water coming out of the visual fire hydrant.  So you drink in what you can, pray you didn't miss anything big, and enjoy the experience.  Or at least I did, while not chasing my son up and down the stairs.

I only caught the on-ice practice for the last 45 minutes of the team that will play tonight, with barely enough of the balance of the squad to count as seeing them in-person.  Chasing the Toddler around the arena means that no photos will accompany this post.

Howson has assembled a tall roster, but I don't know as any are taller than Tommy Sestito.  Just saying...

The young v. old culture clash, hockey style

I stumbled across a very interesting piece on the youth movement taking place in the Edmonton Oilers locker room, and how former Oiler captain and now Columbus Blue Jacket third-liner Ethan Moreau fit into the mix last season.

Ethan Moreau's success in Columbus will largely be decided based upon the
attitude and resilience of the younger players.  Can he look past his frustration
with the Edmonton Oilers and help the Blue Jackets over the hump?
Here are the money lines, excerpted from an email sent to this blogger by a person who was in contact with Moreau back in early 2009:
Moreau’s quite fed up actually and has been for most of the year. Says the locker room is full of players that are extremely difficult to motivate and that basically just don’t give a [deleted]. 
Moreau would have had no problem with a trade either. Says he’s sick and tired of trying to get this bunch going. I think you and I can agree that despite the guys foibles and propensity for inopportune penalties, he is a good leader type and a blood and guts sort that every team would love to have one of.
And it sounds like nothing really changed for Moreau for the duration of his time in Edmonton.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

19 impressions while catching up

As my last post demonstrated, I'm back from Doug MacLean's undisclosed location and am ready to get blogging again.  I'm not going to be as manic in my frequency of posting this fall due to a rough quarter's workload in school, but don't delete those bookmarks because I'm certain to be around.

Having been out of internet contact since Saturday, here are my thoughts on the Columbus Blue Jackets and hockey related to news that occured in my absence:

1. The biggest CBJ news, by far, is that Kris Russell is out for 2-4 weeks with a sprained knee.  I tagged Russell as one of the players with the most to gain from the new Scott Arniel "puck-possession" defensive system, and his loss hurts not just his progress in picking up the system but also affects his chemistry with his goalie, defensive partner and forwards.

2. The second-biggest CBJ news, in my opinion, is that the CBJ's AHL affiliate, the Springfield Falcons, are not looking very viable from an economic perspective.  "Hundreds" less than 1,700 season ticket holders is downright scary.  It's sad to see a 75-year-old tradition in a great community like Springfield, Massachusetts be called into question, but the article suggests that the Falcons may have to consider non-local ownership with no restrictions on relocating the franchise.  If that's the case, let's put our "sad for Springfield" faces aside and have an Ohio buyer move the team to Toledo or Akron.  Then my dream of a Blue Jackets farm system that includes a northern Ohio AHL team, a southern Ohio ECHL team (Cincinnati Cyclones?) and the NHL team in Columbus that much closer to reality without having to screw around with the Lake Erie Monsters' deal with the Colorado Avalanche.

3. I have not seen young Oliver Gabriel yet, but it sure sounds like he's worth serious consideration for a contract.  Talk about making the most of your opportunity.

4. Jake Voracek is having a breakout training camp.  Go figure.

5. I'm getting a chuckle out of the many folks using variations on the phrase "time to step up" in relation to the Columbus Blue Jackets this year.  Perhaps it should be the team slogan, not "hardcore hockey"?

6. I'm not going to wet the bed over Steve Mason letting two goals past in his preseason opener, especially when one was apparently Jan Hejda's fault.  Regardless of last night's performance, I'm still not entirely sure I like his two-year contract extension.

DBJ's Top 10 possible "internal conversations" about Souray-Commodore

Seeing as the Dispatch is pushing a hypothetical Mike Commodore for Sheldon Souray trade that has no basis in reality (and has been rightfully excoriated for their journalistic - ummm - flight of fancy by The Cannon and Ten Minute Misconduct), I thought it would be worthwhile to mull over what would constitute an "internal conversation".

Aw, heck, let's do it Letterman-style:  The Top 10 possible Columbus Blue Jackets "internal conversations" about a Sheldon Souray for Mike Commodore trade, from the home office in Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta:


10. "Sheldon Souray's agent called.  Said that Sheldon would love to play for a team like Columbus."

9. "Souray for Commodore?  Who came up with that crazy idea?  Don Cherry or Pierre MacGuire?"

8. "It's Friday, so let's break out the table and play 'trade a vet roulette.'  Today's Blue Jacket is Mike Commodore.  Spin the wheel....and....Sheldon Souray?  Eww...that sucks.  Spin again!  Hey, Boyd landed on Duncan Keith!  Let's get Bowman on the line, you know, for giggles."

7. "No, MacFarland, I wanted a viable candidate for Commodore.  Not Sheldon Souray..."

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Back in a few

I know, it's the opening of training camp and here I am signing off for a few days.  No excuse will satisfy a rabid Columbus Blue Jackets fan, so suffice to say that I have to go on trophy husband duty for a while.

And besides, you have the entire "Time to step up" series to digest while I'm away.  Not like I've left you in the lurch!

If all goes well, I hope to be mulling around Nationwide Arena at the end of next week.  Tell the team to stay healthy while I'm off the grid.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Training camp opens tomorrow, but get game tickets today

This is the time of year that Columbus Blue Jackets fans have been waiting for...the opening of the 2010-2011 season's training camp!

Click here for all the information you'll need to get to practices and exhibition games.  Don't forget that tomorrow's 9AM practice will feature a training camp t-shirt giveaway to the first 1,000 attendees!

As if that's not enough, single game tickets for the regular season went on sale to the general public today at 10AM.  Click here to scoop up your tickets now...I honestly believe that it's going to be an exciting season in Columbus.  We've got a few years worth of pent up scoring to unleash on the NHL, and the defense is pretty much coming back healthy.  And, of course, Steve Mason is well along on the comeback trail already.

So get your tickets, and get down to the arena starting tomorrow to get a sneak peak at the players who will make up your 10-11 Columbus Blue Jackets!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Time to step up: Concluding thoughts

Not including this post, "Time to step up" has encompassed:
  • 32 blog posts 
  • 26 player profiles
  • 6 coach profiles
  • 2 front office profiles
  • 22,489 words (per Microsoft Word)
In the process, I was able to finally do some long-overdue basic research and better understand the Columbus Blue Jackets roster and organization.  Money and talent began to intersect in my mind.  Players who barely would get a mention during the regular season received appropriate appreciation.  And, while it was a bit hairy to put together with a vacation and the beginning of fall quarter at school, it ended up being a great way to bridge the gap between CannonFest and Saturday's opening of training camp.  Your comments and feedback - both inside and outside the pages of this blog - have been fantastic fuel for the entire series.  It's so gratifying to know that people enjoy your work.

In the end, I acknowledge that this preview series - as drawn-out as it has been - is incomplete.  I've had requests to discuss more of the business side of the house - game operations, marketing, ticketing - and to delve even deeper into the depth chart.  Folks, I have to draw the line somewhere and believe that this series tells a pretty reasonable story about the team...and the challenges that they individually and collectively face.  

This is not going to be an easy season for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The supposed experts (who sometimes actually pay attention to what's going on in Columbus) are generally suggesting that the CBJ will end the season well out of playoff contention.  Not surprisingly, I disagree.  (Why start agreeing now?)

Much like 2008-2009, I sense that the Blue Jackets will be a team that will be in the hunt for a playoff spot right up to the last weekend of the season.  They might get in, they might not, but it'll be close.  And it will be one incredible run, one that will make the smart people who buy tickets to CBJ home games very, very satisfied with their investments.  

Let's close out this series in the same way that we started - with a quote from Danny Gare on the closing night of the CBJ's only playoff run.

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

Words to live by.  Enjoy the season, and Carry The Flag!

Time to step up: The front office


First, let's be clear on what I hope to accomplish in this post.  The term "Front Office" is very vague and could include everything from ticketing to marketing to arena negotiations to game operations to National Hockey League relations.  And there is a ton to discuss on those points, as the Columbus Blue Jackets - for all the many things they do so well - have challenges like any organization.  If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I comment every now and then on these types of issues.

For this post, however, I'm sticking to the hockey side of the house.  Player selection, player allocation, salary cap.  I'll be talking about the work performed by general manager Scott Howson and assistant general manager Chris MacFarland.  The integration of actual sport with business - which these two do on a daily basis - is intricate, and I've received no formal training in this line of work.  Therefore, I again implore my readers to fill in any (likely) gaps with your own thoughts in the comments.  Together, we can get it right - just as the CBJ need to get it right - for this is serious business.

Entering his fourth season as general manager of the Columbus Blue Jackets, it's time for Howson's team to shine.  And lest anyone suggest otherwise, this IS Howson's team.  Comparing the roster at the start of the 2006-2007 season to the anticipated roster (as predicted by The Cannon) to start the 2010-2011 season, we see the following:

Old-fashioned marketing

Clearly, the Columbus Blue Jackets appreciate that they have to take some extraordinary steps to demonstrate appreciation for their season ticket holder base.  They've dressed up the actual packaging significantly, but this might be perhaps the best idea yet:

Any intro to marketing class would suggest that the best way to sell your product is to make a personal connection.  It's great to see the CBJ captain (and I've heard other players are doing this, too) stepping out  in such a gracious way.  The simple "Thank you for your support" goes a long, long way.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Time to step up: The coaches


So your professional hockey team endures perhaps the most disappointing season in its ten-year history.  Forwards aren't scoring as anticipated, defenders are falling like flies, goalies can't hold serve for longer than a game or two.  But despite all the disappointment, it's still the third-highest point total in that same period of time.  What's a general manager to do?

If you're Scott Howson and your team is the Columbus Blue Jackets, you keep the team together and wipe the slate clean in the coaching suite.

Yup, Ken Hitchcock and his band of long-time CBJ assistants all were shown the door over the course of a few months.  Howson then went out and looked for a new head coach, interviewing established assistants and rising stars alike.  After conducting that wild and wooly coaching search, Howson's preferred choice, Guy Boucher, was poached by Steve Yzerman and the Tampa Bay Lightning at the last second.  Which leads us to...

What a curious situation to be in, the second choice in a coaching search.  Clearly you're qualified for the job, having made it to the final round of interviews, but you're not THE guy that the boss wanted.  Honestly, I'm not sure how I'd handle that if I was in Scott Arniel's shoes.  I suppose I'd just saddle up and do my best - as if I was the top pick - and hope that time proves my selection to be the right one.  Still, there's no getting around the fact that it's awkward.

Is Scott Arniel ready to have his name in lights?
Until you win.

Luckily for Arniel, he has won quite a bit, with a 181-106-33 record over four seasons with the Manitoba Moose, the AHL farm team of the Vancouver Canucks.  He took the Moose to the Calder Cup finals once and, perhaps more importantly, never missed the playoffs in any season where he was head coach.  That's saying something considering the talent level on a farm team can drastically change from season to season - heck, from day to day - depending on the whims of the NHL club.  So that he has won consistently with a less-than-consistent roster...that's important.

But now he's stepping up into the big leagues, and it's a whole new game.  Sure, Arniel has the pedigree - longtime player, assistant under longtime Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff, head coach in Manitoba - but being a head coach at the top level requires a level of creativity and skill that comes from trying to motivate players who make multiples of your salary and probably could have you fired with a couple of phone calls.  Does Arniel have the deft touch to massage the egos, install his system and actually win games at the NHL level?  Knowing that Scott Howson doesn't make any move (let alone select a head coach) without a ridiculous level of due diligence, I'd tend to think that he does.  But time will tell.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wanna see the Blue Jackets in Pittsburgh?

Just got this from Julie Mauer, president of the Jacket Backers (the official fan club of the Columbus Blue Jackets):
This was my work computer wallpaper for the longest time...
Sorry for the short notice, all - at the request of many, our Travel Committee has been trying to get a tickets-only trip together to Pittsburgh. We have learned that there are no tickets available for group purchase for the preseason game, but have just been offered the opportunity to purchase a block of tickets for the Tuesday, February 8th game in Pittsburgh at new-this-season CONSOL Energy Center at 7 pm ET. We need to act fast to be able to retain these tickets and need to hear from you immediately if interested.
The only available seats that the Pens have available for us are in section 120 at $135 per ticket not including any possible fees. We realize this is quite expensive and don't have the funds to front these seats. Therefore, if you are interested in traveling with the Jacket Backers for this game and are able to purchase your seats today, please contact Anne and Jeff Little at with your name, email, and best way to reach you by telephone, to reserve your seats and make payment arrangements. Trip will hinge upon number of interested participants, so let us know IMMEDIATELY if you would like to go! Also, please email Anne and Jeff if you would like to be included in the next Travel Committee Meeting, date and time to be announced following our general planning meeting this Thursday.
Quite an offer, to get to see the Blue Jackets and the Penguins in the new arena in some pretty sweet seats.  Act now if you're interested!

Canaries in the coal mine

The National Hockey League world is shocked - shocked, I tell you - that the Columbus Blue Jackets season ticket sales are off by 24.5% against last season's figure.

[Permit this brief digression: THIS IS NOT NEW NEWS.  Does the fact that the Dispatch reported it yesterday, with a story in today's edition - only eight weeks after Matt Wagner shared the information on July 14, including a quote from CBJ president Mike Priest - make it newsworthy?  Or does it demonstrate that the hockey world really doesn't pay close attention to what's happening in Columbus?]

What surprises me about the whole matter is the way in which it is reported.  In most every report/Tweet I've read from "mainstream" hockey media, the loss of 2,000-ish season ticket equivalents is the responsibility of the team - that their disappointing dip in 2009-2010 is totally on their shoulders.

I cry foul.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Training camp is just days away

The Columbus Blue Jackets posted training camp schedules, rosters and other information on their website today.  Camp opens on Saturday, and the intrasquad "owners" scrimmages are on Sunday.

If you're thinking of going down to Nationwide Arena to check out the team before they ship off to Stockholm, this link has pretty much every thing you need.

Time to step up: Steve Mason

  • Goalie
  • 22 years old, 3rd year in National Hockey League
  • $905,000 cap hit 
  • 1.5% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 58 games played, 20 wins, 26 losses, 9 OT losses, 163 goals against, 1,653 shots against, .901 save percentage, 3.06 goals against average
Watch out for the glove side high, Steve.
Everyone's aiming for it!
I've read all of the other season previews about Steve Mason, and I respectfully disagree with them.  And by that, I mean pretty much all of them.

You see, I firmly believe that Steve Mason already IS back.  

In fact, I'll take it a step further.  He started his comeback last year...probably around late October when Columbus Blue Jackets goalie consultant Dave Rook started talking to the media on the record about Mase's shortcomings.  But mid-season turnarounds take time and don't always work great.  Ask Mike Commodore.  

Then, on December 1, 2009 (December!  Two months BEFORE the Olympic break!), Mason gave this amazing gem of a performance: An eleven-round shootout against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks:

You watch that, and two things come immediately to mind:
  1. Mase has it.  He never lost it.  He may have been out of shape coming into last season - and it clearly took some time for that to get rectified - but he's got the acumen to play goal in the National Hockey League for a long time.  
  2. Catch the tail-end of that video and tell me that he is not a ferocious competitor.  Then tell the goal pipes.  And then tell the dasher boards.  In this case, he was let down by his team, having made save after save (many of them downright incredible).  But he stood out there, turning away shot after shot, exhorting his teammates to give him just one goal.

Time to step up: Mathieu Garon

  • Goalie
  • 32 years old, 10th year in National Hockey League
  • $1,200,000 cap hit 
  • 2.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 35 games played, 12 wins, 9 losses, 83 goals against, 858 shots against, .903 save percentage, 2.81 goals against average
The Columbus Blue Jackets relied on Mathieu Garon at
clutch moments last season, and he responded under pressure
There is legitimate cause to label Mathieu Garon the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2009-2010 Most Valuable Player.  Think about it, as a backup goaltender, he was pressed into service at the most inconvenient of times.  He then was asked to stop the bleeding on a team that was suffering from one of the more impressive sophomore goalie slumps in recent National Hockey League history.  That "Mr. Wolf" (link is NSFW, FYI) quality to Garon is what makes him so incredibly valuable.

And, for a veteran backup, Garon performed OK.  What more do you want from a backup goalie?  If he meets the following criteria, I suggest that he's a decent role player:
  1. Spell the starting goalie and start a handful of nights - and grab a handful of wins in the process
  2. Come in off the bench for a starting goalie who's not on their game on any given night, perhaps pulling a win or two out of your hat
  3. Provide counsel and support for your starting goalie
  4. Not cost a lot against the salary cap

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Time to step up: The goalies


While Scott Howson didn't give the Columbus Blue Jackets defense a shakeup in the offseason prior to the 2010-2011 season, the countless injuries (and rent-a-player replacements like Nathan Paetsch and Milan Jurcina, both of whom are no longer with the CBJ) make it feel like we're going to see a new defensive corps in the upcoming season while likely not seeing any new faces outside of John Moore.  And the forwards are getting a bit of a new look with the return of Nikita Filatov from Russia, not to mention the possible (unlikely, but possible) ascension of the likes of Matt Calvert from the prospect ranks.

Barring injury, though, don't expect any new faces in the crease for the Blue Jackets.  Yes, Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon will be back as Columbus' goaltenders in 2010-2011.  And, as you'll see, I don't consider that a bad thing.

Time to step up: Fedor Tyutin

  • Defenseman
  • 27 years old, 7th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,843,750 cap hit 
  • 4.8% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2011-2012
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 80 games played, 6 goals, 26 assists, 32 points, -7, 49 penalty minutes, 22:31 avg. time on ice
Less fatigue means more shutdown play from Fedor Tyutin
How can my 2009-2010 Columbus Blue Jackets Most Valuable Player step up in 2010-2011?

Simple.  Play less.

It seems counterintuitive to say that the way your best player can be better is to play less, but remember what I said:
He took the hard assignments on a near-permanent basis (perhaps most notably playing a significant role in shutting down Alexander Ovechkin in the closing days of the season) and logged minutes at a pace that surely put him past the point of fatigue. That fatigue led to his making the occasional painful mistake that would elicit howls from the CBJ faithful. But can you blame him when he's playing nearly a third of every game? At least he was healthy enough to be in a position to take blame!
So here's my logic: Fewer minutes = less fatigue = more effective.

CBJ blogger offers live Traverse City coverage

I'm a game late in suggesting this, but I've been in school all day and couldn't blog, so let's quickly catch up.

Former CBJ guest blogger En4cer45 made the trek up to northern Michigan for the Traverse City NHL Prospects Tournament, which runs from today through Wednesday, September 15.  To the best of my knowledge, he's the only CBJ-related media type (mainstream or emerging) to actually be there, live, offering first-person information in real time on the on-ice exploits of Ryan Johansen, John Moore, Matt Calvert and the rest of the CBJ prospects.

Two must-links for you:
  1. En4cer45's blog: He's been analyzing the prospects up to the tournament, providing tournament previews and also is promising additional blog posts from Traverse City as the tournament progresses.  Let's hope he offers some game recaps, maybe with a little local flavor!
  2. En4cer45's Twitter account: If live coverage is your thing, you can catch up on the games as they're happening by following his Twitter.
The New York Rangers' prospects beat the "junior" Blue Jackets, 5-4, on a last second Rangers goal in the opener.  The Jackets play Minnesota Wild's prospects tomorrow at 2:00PM, so you have a little time to add those links to your bookmarks.  

Training camp is just around the corner...follow your Blue Jackets prospects to see the future -- today!

Time to step up: Anton Stralman

  • Defenseman
  • 24 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $1,950,000 cap hit 
  • 3.3% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at the end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 73 games played, 6 goals, 28 assists, 34 points, -17, 37 penalty minutes, 20:29 avg. time on ice
Anton Stralman once again gets to prove that he's worthy of the
big money that goes to high-scoring NHL defensemen
On July 28, we had no idea whether Anton Stralman was going to remain a member of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  He was coming up to his arbitration hearing and, at the eleventh hour, chose to avoid the ego-bruising  process and took nearly $2 million in the process.

He also gets to go through it all again next off-season.  Stralman only signed a one-year deal and is a restricted free agent once again.  That means he negotiates with the Blue Jackets, accepts a tender offer from a team that's willing to compensate the CBJ for losing him, or he goes back to arbitration.  Makes for an interesting season to come, don't you think?

Friday, September 10, 2010

Time to step up: Kris Russell

  • Defenseman
  • 23 years old, 4th year in National Hockey League
  • $1,300,000 cap hit 
  • 2.2% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at 2012-2013
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 70 games played, 7 goals, 15 assists, 22 points, +3, 32 penalty minutes, 18:35 avg. time on ice
The stars are aligned for Kris Russell this season.
Largely as a reflection on the lousy past season, most every player profiled up to this point has a challenge to step up according to one of two themes: 1) Correct last season's errors or 2) Earn a new/better contract.    Kris Russell is one of the very few members of the Columbus Blue Jackets where this is not the case.

Russell is an offensive defenseman, perhaps the only true "puck-moving defenseman" on the CBJ roster.  Having spent the last three seasons in a Ken Hitchcock "weighty" system that rewarded the stay-at-home defender, he is now poised to be the poster child of an attacking system in Columbus that supposedly will press the puck up the ice like so many other young, successful teams are doing these days.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

No NHL Network on Insight cable? Blasphemy!

Mark at The View from 210 highlights something that's been bugging me since I switched from DirecTV to Insight Communications cable: No NHL Network.  At all.

I'm not saying, "NHL Network is on some higher-priced tier and I don't want to pay for it."  No, I'm saying, "Even if I wanted to pay for it, Insight Communications doesn't carry the NHL Network."

What's the deal?  Why would the local cable company not help promote a local economic engine like the Columbus Blue Jackets through broadcasting their league's network?  Especially when the NHL Network, as I understand it, is a reasonably cheap channel for Insight to carry.  Do they not understand the local market in Columbus?  Do they not care?

Mark lays out the argument succinctly:
We are truly blessed here in Columbus. We are one of only 30 cities in North America to have an NHL team. The best hockey league in the world plays right here in our city. We root for our hometown team, we buy tickets to see them at Nationwide Arena. We watch them on Fox Sports Net. We are junkies. We love hockey. What we can’t do, however, is watch the NHL network if we live in an area that is serviced by Insight.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Time to step up extra: A little more Nikita Filatov

I apparently missed this one while on vacation - a Jeff Rimer interview with Nikita Filatov:

The substance of the interview is perhaps less important at this stage than the tone and the attitude displayed by Filatov.  He appears to be saying the right things in his public utterances, perhaps a sign of a guy who realizes that he needs to play the Blue Jacket game a little better than he did last season.  

I'm cautiously optimistic about Filatov.  His placement as a top-two line forward doesn't seem to be guaranteed, but it's clear that he's going to take his shot.  And, boy, do we need that shot of his...

The previews are coming! The previews are coming!

Hope springs eternal in the hockey world around this time of year, and the Columbus Blue Jackets fan base is right in the mix.  Season previews of all shapes and sizes are popping up from bloggers and "mainstream" media alike.  In case "Time to step up" hasn't satisfied you, check out these links for some additional insights on the Boys in Union Blue:
Some of these multi-part previews are works in progress, so I'll update this posting with links as they pop up.

And here are some more standard season previews:
As for "Time to step up," I hope to get another blue-liner or two in this week but have to prep for an intensive weekend of school.  Next week should be a tad better.  I'm still hoping to be done with my previews by the time training camp starts...cross your fingers!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Time to step up: Marc Methot

  • Defenseman
  • 25 years old, 5th year in National Hockey League
  • $1,012,500 cap hit 
  • 1.7% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of this season
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 60 games played, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, -8, 51 penalty minutes, 19:31 avg. time on ice
Can Marc Methot prove that he deserves to be part of
the Columbus Blue Jackets core of emerging talent?
Like every other player who has a contract expiring at the end of the season, Marc Methot has a pretty simple reason to step up his game in 2010-2011: To get re-signed and continue advancing his career as a professional hockey player.  

The challenge for Methot, however, gets more interesting when you look beyond the obvious.  First, you need to consider that while he's entering his 5th year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, his first two years included appearances in 20 and 9 games, respectively.  On the Jimmy Howard Calder Trophy Scale, that means that he's only entering his third year in the league.  And it's safe to say that, had it not been for injuries on the blue line over the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, he probably wouldn't have seen anything approaching the 20-odd minutes a game that he was working.  

Sunday, September 5, 2010

On that Kovalchuk contract and those of its ilk

Ilya Kovalchuk's monster contract finally was approved by the NHL.  Guess it means that we can get on with the preseason, eh?

I'm not going to address the personalities or teams involved in the contract, nor the NHL-NHLPA drama that apparently was playing out behind the scenes.  Instead, I'm going to take a macro view of the situation.  As such, I have two overarching thoughts:

1. Following in line with my Rick Nash preseason "Time to step up" profile, I am dubious that any player can be worth the amount of space that Nash or Kovalchuk (or Alexander Ovechkin, or any other "superstar") are taking up under their team's salary cap - even at their pro-rated levels.  I really don't think that any player can reasonably be expected to provide a proportional level of value inherent in the salary cap numbers that these guys are carrying.  Holders of these mega-contracts now should be expected to be captain, top scorer on their team, have a plus-minus rating higher than +30 and personally sell more season tickets than any full-time season ticket rep.  All while driving the zamboni in between periods and winning at least 4 Stanley Cups over the course of their contracts.  (I'm only half-joking.)

2. The NHL and NHLPA were wise to functionally cap the length of contracts.  Professional athletes, in a profession where they're lucky to last four years on average, should not be on the books until they're 40.  It's stupid and short-sighted on the part of the teams (Hi, New York Islanders.  How are Alexi Yashin and Rick DiPietro?).  Fortunately, the parties agreed to fix that right now rather than wait for the next lockout collective bargaining agreement negotiation.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Time to step up: Rusty Klesla

  • Defenseman
  • Alternate captain
  • 28 years old, 10th year in National Hockey League
  • $2,975,000 cap hit 
  • 5.0% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2013-2014
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 26 games played, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, -7, 26 penalty minutes, 20:06 avg. time on ice
Without question, 2009-2010 represented the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for The Original Blue Jacket.

It started with magic last season for Rostislav Klesla - a new contract announced right before the opener against Minnesota, followed by the game-winning goal in that same game:

Klesla added another goal just two days later against Vancouver, a blazing start to a season that imploded on November 30, 2009 against St. Louis.  Here's how it was described:
Klesla was injured in a mid-ice collision with the Blues' Barret Jackman during the first period of the Blue Jackets' 5-2 victory Monday night. He is believed to have torn a groin muscle and is expected to be sidelined for at least a month. 
Klesla lay on the ice for 5 minutes and did not put any weight on his left leg when he was helped off.
It wasn't just a torn groin muscle - not that such an injury wouldn't be bad enough.  No, he tore stomach muscles, too.  Ironically, that was two days after he put in a monster 26:29 of ice time in against Calgary.  Highest of highs, lowest of lows.  Poor guy could not buy a break.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Introducing The Dark Blue Jacket Shop

I'm very excited to announce the opening of The Dark Blue Jacket Shop!

With the blog developing a meaningful readership - and the incredible reaction of the Columbus Blue Jackets fan community to the CannonFest 2010 event - I've been spending some time trying to figure out how I, and the DBJ blog, could be of additional service to CBJ fans far and wide.  Out of that reflection came two things: 1) The current incarnation of the "Time to Step Up" 2010-2011 CBJ season preview series, and 2) The Dark Blue Jacket Shop.

Time to step up: Jan Hejda

  • Defenseman
  • 32 years old, 5th 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: 62 games played, 3 goal, 10 assists, 13 points, -14, 36 penalty minutes, 20:38 avg. time on ice
Can Jan Hejda return to pre-injury form...
and will he still be a Columbus Blue Jacket
after this season's trade deadline?
A late bloomer from an NHL perspective, Jan Hejda toiled over in Europe before joining the Edmonton Oilers (where Howson was assistant general manager) in 2006-2007, where he had a middling-to-poor season (39 games played, 1 goal, 8 assists, 9 points, -6 rating).  Howson must've seen something beyond the numbers when he signed Hejda as a free agent for 2007-2008, whereupon Hejda was off to the races.  

Hejda was an ironman in his first two seasons in Columbus, playing in 81 and 82 games, respectively.  While his point totals weren't anything to put on a billboard (13 and 21 points), his plus-minus was off-the-charts good - not just for the Columbus Blue Jackets but for the entire National Hockey League.  In 07-08, he was a +20.  In 08-09, he was a +23.  This, on a Ken Hitchcock team that played defense first, second and third, leaving scoring down on the list somewhere next to "air out the smelly skates."  

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Time to step up: Mike Commodore

  • Defenseman
  • Alternate captain
  • 30 years old, 11th year in National Hockey League
  • $3,750,000 cap hit 
  • 6.3% of Columbus Blue Jackets salary cap
  • Contract expires at end of 2012-2013
  • 2009-2010 numbers: 57 games played, 2 goal, 9 assists, 11 points, -9, 62 penalty minutes, 19:00 avg. time on ice
Will we see Mike Commodore sporting a
Stanley Cup playoff hairdo at
the end of this season?
I've caught a little bit of flack over the use of the "Time to step up" theme across these player season previews.  The argument goes, if [Player X] plays well or's just not going to impact the Columbus Blue Jackets' season that much.  There are  [insert small number here] factors that will make or break this season, and [Player X] isn't one of them.

My friends, Mike Commodore most certainly does not fit that categorization.  

In the salary scheme of things, Mike Commodore is one expensive player.  "Commie" is one of the players to whom Scott Howson has hitched his wagon as general manager in Columbus.  Howson gave him the big money over the long term.  He's the CBJ's highest-paid defenseman (by almost $800,000 more than Rusty Klesla, the second-highest).  He's tied with R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette as the third-highest paid player on the entire squad.

So when Mike Commodore tries a new conditioning regimen over the offseason prior to the 2009-2010 season, and it results in perhaps the worst conditioning of his career (leading to the most epic charley horse injury known to sport, not to mention missing more than 30 percent of the team's games)...we have a real big problem.  

Fox Sports Ohio shoots - and scores!

Yes. Yes! YES!!

Just got this press release from Fox Sports Ohio:

Weekly Blue Jackets highlight show premieres Monday, October 11 at 6pm

Additional Blue Jackets coverage featured on, including
Interactive Nights, Eric Smith’s weekly podcasts and more!

COLUMBUS, OHIO – FOX Sports Ohio is excited to announce a new program, Blue Jackets Slap Shots, premiering Monday, October 11 at 6pm.

This 30-minute show, hosted by FOX Sports Ohio Blue Jackets broadcaster Ray Crawford, will offer Blue Jackets fans a chance to revisit the top moments from the Blue Jackets’ previous week. Blue Jackets Slap Shots is a week-in-review show that will bring back interviews and highlights as the Jackets battle through the 2010-2011 NHL season. The show will also open up the archives to peer back at some of the moments and memories of the 10-season history of the Columbus franchise.

Jackets fans: A Call to Arms

Just in from Tom Larrow (aka Skraut), creator of so many incredible Columbus Blue Jackets fan videos:
As a way of saying thanks to everyone I met at CannonFest, and all the kind words I've received over the years for my videos, I'd like to create a video which incorporates the work of my fellow Blue Jackets fans. Instead of putting together something comprised solely of video, I'd like to include photos taken by Blue Jackets fans.

What I'm looking for:
The theme for the video is “A Call to Arms” and I would be interested in seeing the photos that Jackets fans have taken which could fit the theme. Have pictures of the players during the game? Send them in. Photos of fans taken around Nationwide Arena on game day? Great! “Artsy” pictures of your jersey or the CBJ logo? Cool. Ever been to a Civil War Reenactment? Send me your pictures of the guys in blue. Any other thing that says Columbus Blue Jackets to you.