My buddy Bill has a saying that the hockey season never turns out the way you expect it to in the preseason. This has been made abundantly clear to me over the last few seasons, where my preseason optimism is crushed by the reality of the season. Things just don't always go the way you want them to go, which is why they play the games.
In early 2012, ownership said that they were intent on reshaping the team. The team the Columbus Blue Jackets are currently planning to field for the 2012-13 season (if played) has seen a lot of change since the 2011-12 team. From the perspective of a season ticket holder, the upcoming season (if played) stands to be very entertaining. While the team has not experienced a great deal of success in the past, there is a very new bunch of players that will take the ice. Win or lose, it won't be the same cast of characters, which should be entertaining, and it will be completely different.
The only people who are currently predicting the fate of the 2012-13 CBJ are the 'know-it-all' national pundits, who predict the team will fail abysmally in everything it does. While I might counter that "Not Winnin' for McKinnon" is a viable long term strategy for a franchise with 3 first round draft picks in what is looking to be a very strong 2013 draft, this type of argument is a lot like having "games in hand". They don't mean anything until you do something with them. So that will be a subject for some future post.
The reality of the 2012-13 season (if played) is that the team HAS been reshaped. And I'd like to talk some about how it has been reshaped after the jump.
However, by the time the dust had settled in July, there has been a shift in the strength of the team, from the forwards to the defensemen. Out of morbid curiosity, I took a look at some numbers, and found some interesting things.
I looked at the number of points accrued by defensemen, by team. I took into account Jack Johnson's move to Columbus, Suter's move to Minnesota, and Lidstrom's retirement from Detroit (which was a fairly big hit for them in this analysis).
I started by looking at each team's top two defensemen, as ranked by number of points scored in the 2011-12 season. I added the two ranks together, then ranked the teams lowest to highest by that combined rank. Interestingly enough, the CBJ finished eleventh in this assessment, behind, in order of rank: Vancouver, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Florida, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Jose, St. Louis, NY Rangers, and Toronto. This is based on the strength of Jack Johnson's scoring, with the added scoring punch of....Nikita Nikitin! Intuitively, I would have thought that James Wisniewski would have filled that role, but his season was so shortened by suspension and injury, that he finished third in scoring by defensemen for the CBJ.
Which lead me to the next phase of my assessment, in which I looked at the top 3 scorers for each team, as ranked lowest to highest by the combined rankings of the top 3 scoring defensemen. While the deck was shuffled in the top ten, the CBJ jumped up to tenth in this assessment, jumping over St. Louis. Top 10! That's not too bad. But running over the numbers led me to the next phase of my assessment, the top four defensemen.
By adding up the combined ranks in point scoring of the top 4 defensemen for each team, then ranking the team from lowest combined ranking (like golf, a low score is a good score) to highest combined ranking, the Columbus Blue Jackets jumped up to fourth place!! This is with the addition of Fedor Tyutin to the combined scoring rankings. By looking at the scoring by the top four defensemen, the CBJ trailed only Vancouver, Ottawa, and Philadelphia.
Wow! Fourth best defense! Well, not so quick. There's also that whole defense thing that defensemen are supposed to play. So I extended the same analysis to the +/- statistic. It is admittedly imperfect, but over a season tells you some things. To make a long story short, the CBJ finished 28th in this statistic. The only redeeming factor to this result is I think it can accurately be stated that no other team in the NHL had their Plan D goal tender starting in goal by October. There were teams such as Washington that did not have plan A work out, but no one had the combination of ineffectiveness and injury that the CBJ had. Any NHL team with Plan D in goal is in a world of hurt. At no time did the guy behind the guy behind Bernier, who is behind Quick play for the LA Kings.
So when people look at the 2012-13 Columbus Blue Jackets, and wonder where the scoring is going to come from, its going to come from the back end. All you need is people who are willing to go to the net, because the puck is going to get there. And while I think that quality may now be present in the lineup of forwards for the CBJ, that is a subject for a different post.
The national pundits are basing their predictions for next years failure on last year's team. That team is no more, so how accurate can they be?
The reshaping is complete. The defense has now become the strength of the team. And if you doubt that, I refer you to an excellent interview with James Wisniewski posted over on the Union Blue. Excellent work Alison!