Monday, December 12, 2011

Popping The Question

As promised in the prior post, there was one more question that needed to be covered.  Actually, there were two - I forgot to mention that the trade for Nikita Nikitin yielded the largest applause from the season ticket holders, though Howson was very non-committal about signing him for a longer term once his contract expires at the end of the season.  And I mention it here instead of the other post because it helps add to the discussion I'm about to have.

Remember, if you will, a line from yesterday's post...NESN's Jack Edwards saying, "Edwards said many complimentary things about the CBJ, most notably that they appear to finally have settled on an identity in the last couple of years." That last part of the sentence made my ears perk up.

An identity?

Now, let's go a little further back.  In August, when it was announced that the Columbus Blue Jackets had completed the work of an organization-wide strategic planning process, I celebrated the move.  I also had this to say:
On a related note, I've long thought that if I ever had the opportunity to sit down, one on one, with Howson, I'd love to ask only two questions, shutting up and listening after each one: 
1. Can you explain the Blue Jackets' organizational vision to achieve long-term success - both on the ice and in the community? 
2. Position by position, what type of player is needed to achieve the vision? 
Implicit in the second question is "Which aspects of the current roster are in place to achieve the vision?" but I wouldn't be greedy and ask a third question. Howson would need about an hour to appropriately answer each of the first two.
Howson didn't have a two hours to talk, but it was an open question and answer period with the ticket holders. And I wasn't sure if I'd ever get this chance again.  So I raised my hand and took the mic.

(Disclaimer: I did not record this dialogue, nor do I have a photographic memory.  So it's not a perfect recollection.  I wish it was.  I do, however, remember the high points and will share as best I can.  If anyone reading this was present and has a clearer recollection, please comment.)

After fumbling around with the "thank you for doing this...it's great.." pleasantries, I said something to the extent of,
"I'd like to jump back to something Jack Edwards said, that the Blue Jackets have developed an identity over the past two seasons.  Can you share what you consider that identity to be, and suggest what needs to happen on the roster/or and coaching front to fulfill that identity and become a consistently successful playoff contender?" (paraphrased, not a direct quote)
What we heard was both satisfying and unsatisfying.  Satisfying in that Howson attempted to answer a question that - I kid you not - I've been wanting to ask for about two years now, but unsatisfying in that I'm having a hard time reconciling what I'm hearing with what I've seen.

What is the identity of the team that these two men are leading?
Howson answered first by talking about the types of players that the CBJ is trying to draft.  He's looking for talented, smart players.  Then he went into a discussion of what it takes to be successful in the playoffs and suggested that Boston's success has shown that big players are what get it done. 


On the "what needs to happen" front, Howson suggested that he's still not satisfied with the CBJ's defense or goaltending (Joe quoted him as saying, "we've got to get better in goal, we've got to get better on defense")...and that he's still interested in upgrading those areas.  

And that was that.  So where does that leave us?

I suppose the three big takeaway points from an "identity" point of view are:

  1. Howson wants to acquire smart players.  OK, smart is good.  Probably better than dumb players.
  2. Howson wants to acquire talented players.  Another no-brainer.  
  3. Howson wants big players.  Now this is interesting and perhaps sheds some light on recent events.  When Howson traded the diminutive Kris Russell for 6-foot-3 Nikita Nikitin, I suppose he was going for "big."  When he kept Cody Bass around town while Jared Boll was out (and even for a little while after he returned), there's no confusing Bass with the word "small."  Even drafting 6-foot-3 Ryan Johansen, albeit with a leaner frame than Nikitin, makes sense.  Well, that and the "talent" thing.
But here's the catch in all of this: It doesn't sound anything like the pipe dream of three scoring lines that coach Scott Arniel was talking about in training camp.  And it certainly doesn't sound anything like the up-tempo game that Arniel supposedly was brought in to implement.  If anything, it sounds eerily like Hitch Hockey.  Then there's the likely evaluation of the CBJ's recent draft history (T. J. Tynan is 5-foot-8, you know...and Mike Reilly weighed 156 pounds on draft day).  Point is, I'm not convinced that this has been the CBJ's identity for two months, let alone two years...and at year four of the Howson era in Columbus, I'm not sure that's cause for confidence.

There's only so much that one can draw from a quick Q&A, so I best not try to go much farther.  I'd love to go into detail on this with Howson someday, and I'll have a recorder of some sort rolling if it ever happens. 

In the meantime, we're left with the framework of an identity being "Big. Smart. Talented."  As sketchy as that outline is, it's worth asking how the 2011-12 CBJ measures up to even that meager standard.  

3 comments:

  1. Big. Smart. Talented.....pick two?

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  2. With the risk of being overly negative, I would point out that the CBJ in 2011-12 have an identity of a team that you can lean on late in a period and that they will break. Jack Edwards was probably too much of a gentleman to enunciate this.

    In order to prevent my bitterness about this from having center stage, I would point out that this whole thing is getting in the way of some very entertaining hockey.

    Time to zip my lip.

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  3. What's missing here is CHARACTER. The very thing that's missing whenever the CBJ face any kind of adversity or expectations. No surprise. Howson is the guy who traded, as one example, Jason Chimera. Yes, he had had of stone, but unless you're talking about shooting the puck, you could always count on him.

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