Monday, October 17, 2011

Get off my lawn



Columbus Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert was sent down to the CBJ's American Hockey League minor league team, the Springfield Falcons, this morning.  In five games, Calvert was credited with a single assist and no goals while averaging under ten minutes per game of ice time.  This, following last week's demotion of forward Cam Atkinson (4 games, 1 goal, -4 plus/minus) to Springfield.  The Purge of the Youth is on.

But let's be realistic: The simultaneous promotions of four rookies to the CBJ's NHL opening day roster could have resulted in any of a number of scenarios and potential outcomes, including:
  1. The team performs well on the ice, and the youngsters contribute - The ideal situation. Full speed ahead!
  2. The team falters on the ice, yet the youngsters contribute - Start looking at creative use of the waiver wire and trading for vets.
  3. The team performs well on the ice, and the youngsters falter - Suck it up and deal.  You're winning games, for pete's sake!
  4. The team falters on the ice, and the youngsters falter - Banish the kids to Springfield and avoid risking losing any vets or getting fleeced on trades.
And, of course, we're in scenario number four.  Had to be that way.  Sigh.

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I had to guess, Ryan Johansen (2 games, 3 scratches, zero points) would have gone down to Springfield if he was allowed to do so.  But for the NHL-CHL (Major Junior) agreement, the 19-year-old would be centering the Falcons.  However, the NHL has agreed to keep sub-20 year olds out of the AHL and instead send them back to juniors. So the CBJ are presented with the no-win scenario of having him struggle in The Show or getting bored in juniors.  What they do at this point is your guess as good as mine.  (I already expressed my opinion in the preseason.)

Which brings us to our last of the Freshman Four - David Savard.  He's played all five games, contributed an assist and has a -1 plus/minus.  I've mentioned that I think he plays a reasonably solid game - at least for a rookie, despite getting his hiney stapled to the bench in crunch time.  He's not perfect but is benefiting from playing on a unit that - well, has veterans who aren't as good.

- - - - -

All is not lost, however - at least for the youngsters.  The Falcons are 3-2-0, tied with Norfolk for tops  in the AHL in goal production thus far.  (The defense, not so strong.)  Springfield appears to be on a positive trajectory toward building a culture of success.  And as I've said:
A winning environment is the best environment for talent development 
I wrote back in April that one of the major problems with the talent development system is that the Blue Jackets young "stars" have been reared, professionally, in a losing environment. In a nutshell, they've been rushed beyond their skill and maturity into positions where they cannot win. They never taste meaningful success, become accustomed to losing, see their competitive edge erode over time and stall or even retard their professional growth. 
Losing hockey isn't the best place for a lot of things, developing young players included. And while the Blue Jackets have made impressive strides this offseason in improving the club to withstand (dare I say succeed in?) the brutal NHL Western Conference, they haven't won any more games yet as a result. So would it not make sense to get that winning thing down before injecting a promising yet still fairly raw youngster into the mix?
So go away, Matt Calvert.  Get off my lawn, Cam Atkinson.  And have fun down there at Springfield.  Play some hockey, score some goals, kick some butt around.

We'll just keep popping antacids in Columbus.  It's nothing new to us.

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