Today Puck Rakers published Mike Priest and John P. McConnell giving strong endorsements of Scott Howson. That in spite of rumors, he is not going anywhere. Given the decent likelihood that this will be the second best team in franchise history it seems as if progress is being made.
Consider this: in the tough game last night against the Redwings, we were facing a franchise that oozes stability. The CBJ history has been anything but stable, with this year being no exception. So what has been accomplished in this season of change?
We have a completely new coaching staff, a new system, a new top line, a new defense, a new Jedi Knight. Contrast this with the Redwings who have been playing the same system, with essentially the same cast since the lockout. They are better at their system than we are at ours. There is good reason to think that our team will be better in Scott Arniel's system in the 2011-12 season than they were in their first season with the system. So let's look at this a bit.
First and foremost, I want to talk about Jake Voracek and Derek Brassard. Jake and Brass played on the second line last year, and did sorta ok. This year they were elevated to the top line to play with Nash. I agree with this choice, and they have done ok with it (an upgrade from sorta ok). But think what this means. Jake and Brass face off against the other teams top defensive matchup every time they take the ice by virtue of being linemates with Nash. With their first year of that experience, they have done ok. There is reason to think that the experience will stand them in good stead next year. Look at the experience difference between Datsyuk and Zetterberg, and Jake and Brass. So our boys have taken a big step towards being accustomed to finding how to play their own game when matched up against the best defenders the NHL has to offer. This is not a small feat. I think they will capitalize on this experience in the 2011-12 season.
Scott Arniel, a new coach a new system, new assistants. All in all, a pretty good job by this group. Likely to be second best in franchise history by the time everything is said and done. Do they have the potential to be the best in franchise history in the future? You bet. Arniel is a fiery guy that the players seem to relate to. This bodes well for the future.
Old captains die hard. One philosophical approach of Howson's has been disproven, and that is the notion that old captains can help this team. The Peca lesson had indicated that this seemed like a good idea, but it has been disproven this year. During the time when you expect old captains to really elevate their game, the run up to a playoff berth, they have not produced anything meaningful. The leadership has shifted to Nash and Umberger. They will set the pace for the youngsters in the future.
Organizational Depth: Howson has built much better organizational depth. When faced with the flameout of a first round pick, Nikita Filatov, another pick moved into the slot, Matt Calvert. Use the force Matt Calvert. Use the force. Nicky may develop into a great player, its too early to give up on him. Some kids just take longer. But we have the option of leaving him in the minors. Which is a good thing. The minors are packed with young developing defensemen, and we have a stud center in juniors. In the event he's not ready in training camp, or gets injured, we acquired a good center to develop in the Sesito trade. Things look strong in the minors.
So all in all, despite a relatively disappointing season fueled by another holiday swoon, there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about the CBJ. And Howson deserves the vote of confidence. He's not perfect, but then who is? And he has some flexibility to improve the team this summer.
I for one will gleefully enjoy the rest of the season, before the big heat and the holiday swoon put an end to hockey for the year. But it will be back, and it easy to see how it could be back with a vengeance.