Friday, July 8, 2011

Subliminal messages

Fascinating times, this draft/free agency period.  Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson is on his way toward rebuilding the team in honor of Rick Nash's 27th birthday (OK...).  While the players keep streaming in, the moves themselves suggest to me that Howson and his CBJ cohorts are engaging in a multi-dimensional game of chess that, if the team is successful, could have much longer lasting impact than the casual CBJ observer might suspect.  By and large, I'd suggest that these "subliminal messages" will help the Blue Jackets over the days ahead.
  • The Jeff Carter trade: The Blue Jackets send winger Jake Voracek, the 8th overall pick in the 2011 draft and the CBJ's 3rd rounder to Philadelphia for the 2009 All Star center.
    • Message: "Win. Now. Baby."  James Wisniewski suggested that the Carter trade was a significant factor in his signing.
    • Message, Part Deux: "If you can perform, you stay.  If you don't, we'll find someone who will."  That's a powerful message to the roster holdovers, especially as Howson traded one of his own first rounders this time and not one of Doug MacLean's.
  • The Passion of Jeff Carter: John P. McConnell sends Howson, coach Scott Arniel and captain Nash to the Jersey Shore on his private jet to have a little chat with the newest Blue Jacket - who had been holed up in his house for a few days without making a public statement after the trade went down.  While it was understood that Carter was upset with how Philadelphia handled it, the fact that he said nothing about Columbus made the hockey world take pause: Is Central Ohio really "Hockey Mogadishu"?  Luckily, Carter quickly talked after the visit and bubbled over about Columbus.  Disaster averted...and perhaps turned to Columbus' advantages by the messages sent.
(A dramatic recreation, not necessarily using Jeff Carter's beach house.)
    • Message: "When we want you in Columbus, we want you.  We will try harder and go farther.  And you're part of the team now, hop on board."  
    • Message, Part Deux: Rick Nash is now a significant cog in the CBJ recruiting machine.  Look at this piece from the "birthday" article: "I just said the obvious about the city: Columbus is a beautiful city with a lot going for it, and once you get guys playing there, it's tough to get them out. I also expressed to them that we haven't even come close to seeing the best of this place as a hockey market. The potential is still huge. I tried to capture for them what it was like in Game 4 against Detroit, when everyone in the building stood on their feet for the entire third period of a playoff game."  Pardon my chest thumping, but I've been howling at the moon about how that playoff Game 4 was literally a game-changing experience for those involved.  It clearly got to Nash, too, and he wants that feeling back.  Can you imagine having a multiple All Star and Olympic gold medal winner across the table from you, telling you that the experience in that one period in that one game was THAT incredible?  Sell me.  And sell me again.  
  • Nash talks at the opening of development camp: Literally just off the plane from the Jeff Carter recruiting trip, Rick Nash is highlighted at the opening dinner and offers words of advice and counsel to the CBJ prospects. 
(Another dramatic recreation)
    • Message: "It's my team, and you guys are going to work to be as good as I am.  I need you to help me win."  The post-dinner tweets from prospect attendees suggest that Nash got his point across.  
    • Message, Part Deux: Umm...our captain is consistently, demonstrably acting like a leader.  (Finally?) 
  • The James Wisniewski trade: Howson sends a 7th rounder in the 2012 draft to Montreal for the privilege of talking to the soon-to-be James Wisniewski.  It's a 5th rounder if Wiz actually signed with Columbus.
    • Message: Howson was no idiot.  The market for top-tier defensemen was getting ridiculously tight as the UFA signing period loomed, with Kevin Bieksa re-upping with Vancouver and Buffalo nailing down (the apple of Columbus' free agency eye?) Christian Ehrhoff.  The CBJ blue line was, well, atrocious at times this past season.  Howson had to act.  The tradeoff for a player like Wiz was more than worth it.  Plus, it sent a message to Wiz: Columbus was serious about him.
  • The James Wisniewski signing: Howson drops over $33 million over 6 years on Wiz, signing him less than two hours before the free agency period opens up.  (Word is, however, the deal was essentially done the night before...that they were pounding out details up until the 10AM hour.)  The 5th rounder is surrendered to Montreal.  CBJ Nation rejoices.
    • Message: It might be overpaying to you, NHL rocket scientists, but Wiz offers a lot of what the CBJ needed.  Right-handed shot.  Power play QB.  Honest-to-God GOALS.  "Truculence!"  Besides, how do you measure the value of a player to a team?  (Now, Wiz, you MUST perform...)
    • Message, Part Deux: Hey, Detroit...
(with apologies to cats everywhere)
  • Love for Springfield: The Blue Jackets sign AHL stud forward Alexandre Giroux, centers Andrew Joudrey and Nicholas Drazenovic, netminder Curtis Sanford and defenseman Aaron Johnson to two-way contracts.  They trade for the rights to RFA forward Ryan (twin brother of CBJ's Kris) Russell. 
    • Message: While two-way contracts imply that the player has a shot to make the big club, the odds are that they are going to play in the AHL for the Springfield Falcons.  Think about it: Derek MacKenzie was the only two-way contract player that I can think of that played for the CBJ from wire to wire.  Kyle Wilson had a few cups of coffee, and Matt Calvert came on late, but that's it.  That means that Howson and assistant GM Chris MacFarland have put some serious effort into upgrading the quality of the Falcons.  You have to appreciate that the CBJ are putting the effort into supporting their farm team to a level that they apparently haven't seen in some time.  Considering the hell that Bruce Landon has gone through to keep that franchise afloat, it's nice to see that nice guys can finish first sometimes.  
    • Message, Part Deux: Just. Win. Baby.  Seriously, this is as much about instilling a culture of winning in the minor leagues as it is about supporting the Falcons.  The Moores, Kubaliks, Holdens, Savards et al need to rise up to the big club with an understanding of what it takes to win.  They need to know how to play playoff hockey.  They need to learn to love winning and hate losing.  Surrounding these longer-term prospects with solid compadres raises the overall talent pool (and competition for those scarce extra slots in Columbus) but also makes the likelihood of winning that much greater.  And lord knows the Blue Jackets need winners on their roster...
  • The Mark Dekanich signing: AHL stud goaltender (from the Nashville system, no less) Dekanich signs a one-year, one-way deal with the Blue Jackets.  It is presumed that he will back up Steve Mason.
  • The Marc Methot signing: RFA Methot signs a 4-year, $12 million deal with the CBJ.  The Cannon guys say it's slightly backloaded: "$2.25M in 2011-12; $2.75M in 2012-13; $3.25M in 2013-14; $3.75M in 2014-15."
    • Message: Methot's paid his dues and still is improving, so Howson locks him down in a sign of mutual loyalty.
    • Message Part Deux: Backloaded contracts are very interesting and can be construed in a couple of ways.  On one hand, they suggest improvement over time will be rewarded with more money (or, conversely, lack of improvement will be addressed by a trade to Winnipeg).  On the other hand, they also suggest that the team doesn't necessarily have the funds to pay as much now...but if we win a few games this season, maybe we can cover the additional salary later with additional gate revenue.  Otherwise...
  • The Radek Martinek signing: The oft-injured Islanders UFA rejoins his old Partner in Fishsticks, James Wisniewski, on the CBJ blue line.  It's a one-year deal for what we presume will be Methot's second pairing partner (Wiz will likely be teamed up with Fedor Tyutin).
    • Message: Martinek comes highly regarded and could be a fantastic addition to the CBJ roster if he stays healthy.  If.  
    • Message, Part Deux:  It's just a one-year deal.  Howson is keeping the seat warm for Holden, Moore and Savard.  
So that's my take on the free agency period thus far.  Howson says that we've probably seen the last of CBJ free agency activity for a while.  

What messages are you sensing from the CBJ over the past couple of weeks?

2 comments:

  1. Good summary DBJ. I still dont think we have enough depth but are in a place to make the playoffs next year and maybe win one game this time! As a fan it will be fun to watch Nash play with a top C for a change.

    CBJFAN

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  2. great to see some added firepower. even if carter isn't a "set up" type of center, having another stud on Offense will be a nice change of pace. And if Wiz can get the PP going, then the Jackets might field their most exciting team ever. Look for Huselius numbers to jump up as well.

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