Sunday, September 11, 2011

Part III: The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ

The MacLeanian Epoch - The Ice Age and the Later Deludian Period


After the lockout the CBJ unveiled a new logo.
The NHL 2004-05 season was lost to the lockout, otherwise known in this tale as the Ice Age.  Nothing moved, and the Arena District was a ghost town.  The Ice Age has a large impact on this history, because similar to the younger of two brothers, the expansion Columbus Blue Jackets were always trying to catch up to our more established brethren.  As the CBJ started trending towards larger, and more physical players to effectively compete in the pre-lockout NHL, the approach to the calling of the existing rules was changed dramatically after the lockout, emphasizing speed and skill.  From a talent perspective, the CBJ was caught on the wrong foot, and we went out of the lockout with a team ill-equipped to handle the speed of the new NHL.

The Later Deludian Period thus has that theme.  Even after the lockout it seemed as if we were still molding a team to play in the pre-lockout NHL.  Perhaps Doug didn't quite believe the NHL when they said, holding, hooking and obstruction were now going to be called.  They had said the same thing several years prior to the lockout, but the referees had quickly reverted to the older style.  So perhaps his skepticism had a sound basis.

A word about the 'older style'.  From watching many of those games, it seemed clear to me that the officials believed that you had to have the talent, strength and personal fortitude to overcome the opposition if you were to succeed in the pre-lockout NHL.  And, the referees did not feel at all obligated to help you achieve respectability if you happened to lack any of those factors.  It was your job to prove you belonged, not their job to help you.  Thus, the established NHL teams often seemed to get the benefit of the doubt on the officiating side.

Coming into the 2005-06, post lockout season, the roster again had some significant additions and subtractions.



In the 2005 entry draft, the CBJ selected Gilbert Brule with the 6th overall pick.  Another measure of new talent to throw into the fray.

Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek departed via free agency to Chicago.

One thing that I neglected to mention in the previous post gains a lot of significance during this period.  On September 15, 2004 the CBJ claimed defenseman Francois Beauchemin on waivers from the Montreal Canadiens.  At that point in his career, the young Beauchemin was plagued by poor conditioning, or at least doubts as to his conditioning, and he played sporadically in 2003-04.  After the lockout, in 2005-06 he was a much steadier defenseman for the CBJ, and was playing well (please note foreshadowing!).

The big splash of the summer though was the acquisition of an accomplished stay at home defenseman, Adam Foote, via free agency on August 2, 2005.  This move was intended to shore up our defense again, and at the time seemed like a very good move.  Foote did indeed play the role of shut down defenseman for several years.

In addition, defenseman Bryan Berard was acquired via free agency prior to the season.

The puck had hardly dropped during the 2005-06 season when Doug started moving players.  On October 8, 2005, MacLean traded Geoff Sanderson and Tim Jackman to Phoneix for Jason Chimera, Cale Hulse, and Mike Rupp.

But Doug wasn't done yet.  On November 15, 2005, a little more than a month later, the CBJ acquired Sergei Federov  from Anaheim for Francois Beauchemin, and  Tyler Wright.  To complete the deal, MacLean waived Todd Marchant who was promptly picked up by Anaheim.  Marchant was very unhappy with this maneuvering.

I can remember being really excited about the acquisition of Federov.  I felt at the time that he gave the franchise an air of legitimacy, and it was fun to watch him play.  He was a very, very smooth skater.

Later, on November 29, 2005, MacLean claimed Ron Hainsey on waivers from Montreal, poaching another defenseman from a D-man deep Canadiens team, to replace Beauchemin.

The season begins with Gerard Gallant having been hired as the head coach after the temporary gig before the lockout.  Another slow start hampers the team, finishing October with 4W-8L-0 OTL (remember the shootout has been instituted).  November goes even worse, with a 3-10-0 record, and once again the CBJ head into December with  only 7 wins under their belt.  They follow that with a 5-8-1 December, and they are done for the year.

During the new year they rally, and go 8-4-1 in January, 3-3-0 in February, 7-7-1 in March, and 5-3-1 in April.  After this relatively strong finish, hopes are high going into the 2006-07 season (more foreshadowing).  They finish the season with 74 points, good for 3rd in the Central Division and 13th in the Western Conference.

With the strong finish, this Gerard Gallant team has now posted the best finish in franchise history.

David Vyborny lead the team in points with 65 posting 22G-43A-65P with a -9 +/-.  Rick Nash lead in goals with 31, posting 31-23-54 with a vastly improved +5 in his +/-.   Veebs lead in assists with 43, and Ron Hainsey lead in +/- with a +13.  Jody Shelly lead in penalty minutes, and Nash lead Power Play Goals with 11.   Veebs and Foote tied for Shorthanded Goals with 2, and Veebs had the most Game Winning Goals with 6.  Manny Malhotra lead Face-Off Percentage with 56.3% wins.  Bryan Berard lead defensemen in points with 32, and lead in goals by defensemen with 12, a Columbus Blue Jackets record for goals by a defenseman.  Both Nash and Berard turned Hat Tricks.

Adam Foote lead in ice time for all players with 24:33, and Sergei Federov (12-31-43, -1) lead in ice time for forwards with 21:01.

In 2005-06 Marc Denis lead the goalies with 49 games.  Pascal LeClaire lead goal tenders in Goals Against Average (GAA) with 3.23, and a save percentage of .911.  Marc Denis lead the goal tenders in wins with 21.

In the 2006 entry draft, the CBJ draft center Derick Brassard with the 6th overall pick.

Doug's efforts to improve the roster, and the emergence of Pascal LeClaire, lead him to trade Marc Denis to  Florida for Freddy Modin and Fredrik Norrena. on June 30, 2006.

Unfortunately, the NHL 2006-07 season starts poorly for the CBJ.  They post a 3-5-1 record in October, a 3-10-1 record in November to come into December with a mere 6 wins.  MacLean is feeling the pressure, and he gives the quick hook to Gerard Gallant, firing the coach on November 13, 2006.  Assistant coach Gary Agnew takes over as interim coach, but does not even move into the coaches office.  Then, on November 22, 2006, the course of the franchise changes, and Stanley Cup winning head coach Ken Hitchcock is hired.  Hitch had won his Stanley Cup while with Dallas, and instantly raised the level of respectability for the franchise.

The CBJ respond to Hitch's hiring by going 9-5-2 in December and 6-6-1 in January.  February is a tough month, as the other teams are stepping up their play on playoff runs, and the CBJ can't answer.  They turn in a 3-7-2 record for February, but follow that with an 8-6-0 March.  They finally falter, and finish with a 1-3-0 April.

The 2006-07 team had a lot of injuries down the stretch, but Freddy Modin played inspired hockey, and was an absolute force, finishing 22-20-42.  Tragically, that was the last good stretch of hockey that Freddy played for the CBJ, and injuries overwhelmed his effort and abilities in the following years, including fractured vertebrae in his back.  Ouch.

The 2006-07 team finished 33-43-7 good for 73 points, and the distinction of being the second best team in franchise history at that point.  That was good for 4th in the Central Division, and 11th in the Western Conference.

Once again, David Vyborny lead the team in points, with 64.  Rick Nash lead in goals with 27, and posted 27-30-57, -8 as his season statistics.  Vyborny lead in assists with 43, and posted 16-48-64.  Anders Eriksson lead in plus/minus with 12.  Alexander Svitov lead in penalty minutes with 145.

Rick Nash lead in power play goals with 9, and Sergei Federov (18-24-42) and Jason Chimera (15-21-36) tied for shorthanded goals with 2.  Rick Nash had the most game-winning goals with 5. Manny won face-off percentage again with 55.1% won.

Ron Hainsey lead defensemen with points at 34, and also scored the most goals by D-men with 9.  No Hat Tricks were scored.

Adam Foote lead all players in ice time with 24:44, and David Vyborny lead the forwards in ice time with 20:20.

Fredrik Norrena lead goal tenders in games played with 55, GAA with 2.78 and a save percentage of .904. He won 24 games to lead the goal tenders.

Doug MacLean was fired at the end of the season, thus ending the MacLeanian Epoch.

Conclusions


The later Deludian period of the MacLeanian Epoch was marked by steady progress in attaining team characteristics that would have been useful in the pre-lockout NHL.  The addition of players like Foote, Svitov, and Modin gave the CBJ big rugged players, when speed and skill was coming into higher demand.  The main delusion that we were suffering from is that we were substantially increasing the talent level on the roster when realistically the talent level had plateaued at the level of the 2002-03 team, but a lot of the names had been changed.

Again, this is part of the growing pains of an expansion franchise.  Unless you acquire talent by free agency, you pretty much have to draft talent to obtain it.  Even if you have Fort Knox at your disposal, you still have to attract the prime free agents, and the CBJ did not have much to offer as a destination.  We got Adam Foote because Colorado thought he was asking too much; it wasn't that he wanted out of Colorado (more foreshadowing of course!).  So drafting and developing your talent is the best way to improve.

The MacLeanian Epoch started ending when Ken Hitchcock was hired as coach.  I wrote a letter to the editor at the Dispatch at the end of the year saying that if Doug could show that he could work with Hitch, he should be retained.  I think John H. McConnell knew that Doug was not going to be able to work with Hitch, and so he was let go.  Doug MacLean finished with no winning seasons to his credit, and a final record of 172-258-62.

In retrospect, the MacLeanian Epoch started with no NHL in Columbus.  It ended with a franchise that had some bright spots, but was still trying to grow beyond its initial birth pains.  The talent had been upgraded somewhat, but a revolving door of coaches and players provided for instability.  This is a lingering problem with the franchise today, but the roots of instability were established in the MacLeanian Epoch, starting with the day that Dave King was fired as coach.  The other lingering problem is that by attracting the second tier free agents the club was able to sign, MacLean was able to forge a hockey club that wasn't good enough to make the playoffs, but was good enough not to utterly fail, and thus obtain the top talent that was consistently going in the number 1 and 2 overall draft slots.  So the club ends up stuck between truly terrible, and not good enough to make the playoffs throughout McLean's tenure.  And, at the end of the day, there was no real plan in place to change that, so he was let go.

Next up: The Hitchcock Restoration.

Remember the heroes of 9/11!!

GO JACKETS!!

1 comment:

  1. A truly great piece of work thus far. It has an Orwellian feel to it ,managing to capture the "man behind the curtain" while reminding us of the hood that was being pulled over our collective heads. Can't wait to read more.

    ReplyDelete