Sunday, December 4, 2011

DBJ's lingering thought about Game 26: Edmonton

I know we're still a day away from the final game of the Columbus Blue Jackets' Canadian "road" trip in Montreal, but I can't get Friday's Edmonton game out of my head.  And no it's not because the CBJ gave up an inexcusable five goals in the third period.

Nope, it was the overall impression that the Oilers left me.  Surely it was in part because Mrs. DBJ had the TV remote and a DVR that came close to overflowing due to our being out of town, which forced me to watch the game on my computer.  My feed was pixellated garbage - worse than the "waxed paper" look that standard definition telecasts offer on a high-def screen - which rendered my Scott Arniel Lineup Bingo card useless (that and the fact that Jeff Carter was scratched while occupying a square in the middle of my board) because I couldn't make out the jersey numbers.  In many ways, the game kinda felt like I was watching a real-life version of Iriz Pääbo's animated short, HA'Aki:

I mean this in the best possible sense.  Rather than locking in on a player or players (because it was pointless), I sat back and observed the flow of the game.  The bright blue and orange jersies of Edmonton scurried around the ice like waterbugs against the less forceful white, blue and red sweaters of the CBJ.  It was the type of game that Scott Arniel, he of the "unlimited pasta bar offense" of tossing caution to the win and chucking wet noodles - errrrr, pucks - on goal and hoping that some of them stick in the back of the net.  But above all, it was nothing but motion...pushing the puck up the ice, with fast break after fast break coming from Edmonton.

And that's when it hit me: The way that the Oilers were playing was the way that Blue Jackets apparently want to play.  Unlike Columbus, however, Edmonton had the personnel to pull it off.  So it goes deeper than just execution.
In many ways, the Oilers of the very recent past resemble the Blue Jackets of past years.  Edmonton's been at or near the league cellar for years, stockpiling its rosters with high draft pick after high draft pick.  You can say a lot of things about the Blue Jackets, but you can't say that the team hasn't had the opportunity to improve itself through the draft while it has avoided the playoffs in all but one season since coming into the league.  The Blue Jackets have had a top eight pick in all but one year since its inception. (Understanding that it traded its 2011 first rounder for Jeff Carter, of course.)

It's not just coaching.  It's not just scouting amd drafting.
To win, a team needs the whole package.
Edmonton added the likes of Jordan Eberle (1st round, '08),  Magnus Pajaarvi (1st, '09), Taylor Hall (1st, '10 - who did not play the other night), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (1st, '11) and more.  These incredible youngsters are backstopped by veteran leaders Ryan Smyth (1st, '94) and Ales Hemsky (1st, '01) with goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin (and, when a lesser light like Columbus hits down, Devan Dubnyk - who was drafted 1st in '04, just saying) to protect against the youngsters making their inevitable mistakes that teenagers learning on the job make.

Columbus has a whopping four of its eleven first rounders not just on its NHL roster but in its entire system.  Go look at the team's draft history - Moore and Johansen are with the big club, but the CBJ have already severed ties with three of his first and second round picks: Nikita Filatov, Jakub Voracek and Stefan Legein.     The balance of Scott Howson's draftees largely are working their way through the minor leagues, juniors, college and prep schools.  Don't forget that so many of the Doug MacLean-era draft picks are gone, and I'm not talking just about Douggie Mac's atrocious first round history.

The ability to identify, draft and develop its young talent is allowing Edmonton to drag itself off the carpet.  I suggest that the inability to do the same with any consistency has kept the Blue Jackets on the mat.

As a result, I fear that the Blue Jackets have been passed by yet another team with a sharper upward trajectory.


  1. It's a lot easier to draft well when you're picking first overall. I would put money on it that Voracek would still be in Columbus if we had Hall and Nugent Hopkins.

  2. Anything's possible, Andy, but keep in mind that the Oilers we saw on Friday night were without Hall. That places the two teams even as far as number one overall picks are concerned...except that their number one overall, Nugent-Hopkins, was in his 26th NHL game while Columbus's number one overall, Rick Nash, is in his ninth season and was playing 618th overall game.

    Go look at the NHL draft history page and see for yourself. Edmonton has not had as advantageous a draft position as Columbus (and, because I'm comparing against Friday's game, I'm still discounting Hall). They've just done more with what they've had.


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