Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Question of Courage

In my last post I discussed a question that I intend to try to ask John Davidson in an upcoming season ticket holder open house.  For convenience, I'll repeat my question here: Do we have the organizational courage to leave the young men in Springfield down there to finish the job if there is a truncated NHL season?

One commenter, roadman, raised some really good points.  So first of all, most importantly.  Thanks for reading.  We appreciate it.  Secondly, and nearly most importantly, thanks for taking the time to comment.  I think its important to hear other perspectives, and be able to consider them.  I thought his comments of sufficient validity and weight to want to take some time to discuss them, other than trying to use a cell phone to reply, an inadequate venue, at best.

His first comment went as follows:
But aren't you also selling a number of these young men a little short? Isn't the reason they have worked all these years, to make an NHL team? Some of these guys have already played in the show, as much as a year in the case of Ryan Johansen. Would you deny them their opportunity to earn an NHL level paycheck?

This is a really great comment, and gets to the down side of what I am asking and suggesting.  Of all the people down at the AHL now, the one most affected is Curtis McElhinney.  Here's a guy who has been an NHL goaltender, gotten injured, got traded, and sent to the AHL.  He is a big part of Springfield's success to date, and of all the players down there, probably most deserves an NHL shot.  But I leave him down there, for a couple of reasons.

First, as an organization, we want to see Mac put in a whole season in goal. He's coming back from an injury , sugery (I think), and we want to see if he's good for the long haul.  Second, bring him up for a truncated NHL season, and we have 3 goalies we are trying out, Mac, Bobrovsky, and Mason.  Mason, short of a 0.65 GAA and 0.96 save percentage in extensive work, won't be back.  There is room for Mac to take a shot next year.  If he gets dinged a little, misses some games at the AHL, he has the room to heal up and come back. He gets brought up into a 3 goalie situation, gets dinged, and his career could be done.  Better to have a stable goal tending situation in Springfield, and have Mac ready and able to come up and compete for the number 1 job next year.

Ryan Johansen at Development Camp
Ryan Johansen most certainly played much of last years NHL season, when he wasn't in the press box.  He played the wing, instead of his natural position, center, until the very end of the season, and was a lot less than dominant.  The Johan should have spent LAST year in the AHL, but he wasn't eligible to be there.  The NHL was the only alternative.  He was not exactly dominant, he was a lot like a rookie in over his head.  Right now, Ryan Johansen is exactly where he should be developmentally, playing big minutes on the number one line at center in the AHL, and emerging as a team leader.  Barring catastrophe, Ryan Johansen will have long, and hopefully successful NHL career.  The CBJ isn't going anywhere in the next 5 years without Johansen, and having him in a position to lead his team in a challenge for the Calder Cup will do much more to prepare him for the leadership role we need him to take on the big club than a few more games in the NHL in a shortened season (IMHO).

Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault (JAM) are all kind of cut from the same mold.  The are relatively small, quick skill players.  This is not to diminish in any way their toughness, desire, want, you name it.  These guys are good hockey players.  At the NHL level, you MIGHT be able to get away with two of them on the roster, but that's it.  Don't get me wrong, as a fan I love these guys.  Marty St.Louis isn't big, and look what he's done for the 'Bolts, but you also have to line up against the San Jose Sharks 4 to 6 times a year.  Cam and Matt have done time at the NHL level in the past.  Matt's problems at the NHL level are coming close to derailing his career.  Having one of the largest guys in the game jump you in a pre-season game, resulting in an injury pretty much trashed his NHL hopes last year, along with the CBJ's miserable start, and he didn't exactly tear up the AHL last year.  Another year in the AHL for both of these guys won't hurt them, and will add the maturity necessary to withstand the beating they are going to take in the NHL.

The CBJ have not exactly been stellar in player development.  I would argue that to a certain extent that is a function of being an expansion franchise, and the dearth of talent the comes with the turf when you are in that situation.  So pulling on our experience could be doubtful.  The anecdote I would use to support my line of thought is from Ken Holland, the General Manager of the Detroit Redwings.  In talking about the pre-2004-05 lockout maneuverings when the Red Wings loaded up on high priced veteran talent that all were left to walk in the cap era, Holland referred to the luxury they had of leaving Henrik Zetterburg in Sweden to win a scoring title in the Swedish Elite league.  Obviously, that helped Zetterburg's confidence when he came to the NHL.  My argument is that we, as an organization, have to make that luxury for ourselves, and this year, this time, is the time to do it.  Anything these players might gain out of a short NHL season, they can gain in the AHL.

The second really good comment roadman made was this:
While there is something to be said about working together at the AHL level there are also a number of players on the "Big" club that they can be learning to play with as well. They are going to be around them a lot more years than they will most of the guys in Springfield.

I think this is a really good comment, although I would qualify it. In about 10 of our clubs 12 seasons (assuming a truncated season this year is one of them), I think this comment has a lot of value.  In between the 2007-08 and 2008-09 seasons I'm not sure it would be true, due to the amount of turn over in the roster.  Of course the other year that would be true is the 2012-13 team.  There has been a complete overhaul of the  CBJ roster.  No one on this team knows each other, and they have to learn to play with each other on the fly this year.  While its possible the youngsters could integrate well into this chaos, its definitely a risk.

On the other hand, taking a long term view, Ryan Johanson, Cam Atkinson (or JAM or Calvert), Tim Erixon, John Moore, David Savard are almost certain to form the CBJs core group going forward over the long term.  With Springfield sitting atop the AHL in the standings, you have a unique opportunity to imbue your future core with experience with winning.  To be frank, this isn't likely to happen with the big club this year.  Keeping these guys together to forge a winning attitude for the future is a priceless opportunity.

Roadman's other really good comment concerns filling the roster and AHL players on other teams:
You have to fill out the roster, the CBJ will need at least 2 Forwards and 2 Defensemen. and to me you ice the best team you can, anything else is just pure and plain TANKING. Do you really think there are 2 forwards and 2 defensemen out there better than Atkinson, Johansen, JAM, Erixon, Savard and Moore? Should EDM leave Hall, RNH, Schultz, and the rest in OKC? Should Huberdeau stay for seasoning? Would you give Holtby another year to mature? The list is extensive.

Well, to answer your question, yes, we do have to fill out the roster.  I do think  our strategy should be to back fill the roster with veterans who will do as well as our young guys for 48 games.  For instance, you could bring back Jody Shelley, a guy in the last year, of his last contract as a glue guy for the locker room.  He is still immensely popular in Columbus, and you could make a place for him in the organization.  Is he better than our young players over the long term?  Of course not.  Might he not fit well in a shortened season?  Very possibly yes.

Secondly,no, I am not suggesting that it would be appropriate to keep Hall, RNH, and Shultz in OKC.  They don't play for the Columbus Blue Jackets organization, and their situation is completely different.  First of all, OKC is in about 4th place in its division.  Second, you are talking about a bunch of number 1 overall picks.  I'm talking about Blue Jackets players.  What I am saying applies very uniquely to Columbus, and rests a lot on the good work that our prospects have already done this year.  If Springfield was a middling team, or near the bottom of it division, I would agree completely with you.  I am talking about a unique opportunity for these young players to pursue a championship.  We should let them take that chance.

And, in keeping with your comments, I think it is important to communicate this goal to these players.  "The big club is in transition.  Your goal is to try to win the Calder Cup.  We promise to support you in that, and minimize the disruption to your team.  Don't worry, we'll be paying attention".  I also personally think that John Davidson is uniquely qualified to deliver that type of message to these young men, and to inspire them to pursue that goal.  That is a critical part of what I am saying.

Lastly, I'd like to express my deep appreciation to roadman for expressing your comments.  You forced me to explain myself more fully.  I certainly hope you do not perceive this commentary to be negative.  Lastly, you may have noticed that we have this lockout on, and content is hard to come by.  Thank you for the inspiration.



  1. It's simple, Gallos. History has shown that rushing the kids to The Show doesn't pay off - at least in Columbus. Why not let them grow at a more normal pace?

    Were the CBJ expected to be a strong team this year with them? (Here's the answer: The Hockey News predicted the CBJ to be 15th in the West, so the answer is No.) If not, then why bungle another promising crop of kids? Why not force a veteran-heavy team of current and prospective free agents to hold down the fort for a year or two while the kids grow into their NHL careers?

    But hey, that's my opinion.

  2. Thank you for the Kind words. I do enjoy reading, don’t always agree, sometimes I strongly disagree. But it is always worth the read. And a discussion about Hockey and the CBJ in particular is always time well spent. So let’s continue; again assuming we are under the scenario of a truncated season of some kind.

    First concerning your comment that the prospects in Springfield “are almost certain to form the CBJs core going forward over the long term.”, I would assert that the core for the foreseeable future is already in place, from a leadership, contract and age perspective. JJ, Tyutin, Wiz, & RJ are signed long term at 5 and 6 years apiece and are 25, 29 28, & 30 respectively. Unless they fall completely on their faces or an offer you can’t refuse comes across the table I just don’t see any of them going away, for better or worse. Dubinsky, Foligno, Dorsett, & Nikitin are all 25 & 26 and on 2 and three year deals (Foligno and Dorse just signed), these strike me as we’ll see, but again doubt they’re headed out the door. So that is your “core”. Is it cast in stone? Of course not, but it is there. And with it in place, an organization can slot in the younger talent as it is ready and as it is needed. So while I do understand your point of them working together to “win a cup” band of brothers’ thing, I just don’t see the group all coming forward in a block but rather one at a time.

    Having said that and looking at the roster as is stands a couple of things jump out. First there are a lot of questions and questions that can only be answered by putting the group out on the ice.
    One of, if not the biggest one is in goal. Can BOB or Mason step it up, grab the reins, and be at least a serviceable #1. I think that both of them would have to be aware of the kind of opportunity sitting right in front of them; Mason in particular has to know this is it for him. I expect at least one, if not both, to provide an adequate solution. So on this point I agree with you McIlhenney should stay in SPR continue to provide them with the huge boost he has given them. If he can maintain for a full season then I would assume that he would get a shot next year if not with Columbus then someone.

  3. Part TWO

    Next it is fairly apparent that while there is talent, the squad does lack highly skilled scorers. There are individuals that can play on a top line and be effective but most probably slot better on a second line. To field a top line one can trade for the pieces or draft and develop them. The realities of an NHL small market would seem to dictate the draft and develop method. This would seem to be borne out by JD’s one brick at a time mantra. There are players in SPR that could provide that level of skill, key word could. And until such time as they play NHL minutes on a top line, that key word will remain just that, could. Such is the conundrum of prospect evaluation. Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson, are probably the best bets currently at the AHL level to step into that role. Johansen has the potential to provide the Jackets with that most elusive of players, a #1 center. Time is on his side, as there pieces in place to allow him that chance now that he is playing center again to determine just how far he can go. Again I find myself in agreement with you and leave Ryan in Springfield. Cam is a different story. He seems to possess just that skill set needed and has already (to some degree) the ability to bring to the NHL level. At the very least he will attend camp, brief as it may be, my guess he will be the top line right wing.

    Finally, there are four roster spots that have to be filled; Cam takes one of the forwards leaving a forward and 2 D slots. You almost had me on filling in with vets until you named Jody Shelly. Love Shelly as do most CBJ fans, but his day is past. If you want a simple filler and leave the skill players fine, there are guys in SPR that can do the job, Cody Bass or Ryan Russell would serve just as well and provide them with invaluable experience. As for the D, best of Erixon, Moore, Savard etc coming out of camp gets the six slot, next best gets the seventh and sets up a rotation with the other and Aucoin. Or the seventh can be a filler.

    Well that’s my take, long winded as it may be. I don’t think it’s a matter of organization courage as much as it is wise management of personnel. I thank you for your time.

    1. Good stuff Roadman. Now ya done and gone made me have to think again. I owe @AlisonL a little promo work here, but let me think over what you said. Good points. Thanks for your thoughts, and I may return to this subject soon. You'll know.

  4. I think I agree with certain points by both Gallos and Roadman. I really want to do nothing to Springfield at the moment because if we can breed a winning mentality (which we've NEVER had with either CBJ or SPR) then that can only be a boost to future years. You could see at many times last year that Johannsen, Atkinson, Savard and Moore were all not ready to be in the position they were in, but it couldn't be helped. With the signings we've made in the offseason, if we were to have a shortened season we could just sign a few vets on one year deals and ice a team that's there to fill the gap. But think of how disheartening that would be for our new players in Johnson, Foligno, Dubinsky, Nikitin and Anisimov. They came here to compete for a Stanley Cup, not wait on a bunch of kids. It's a catch 22 at the moment, do we sacrifice a year now for a possible good future or go for it now when players are in their prime.