Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Now What?

I used this Bobrovsky illustration by @PREDSmyth again cause I like it.
Here we are, unexpectedly, certainly against all hope, in the off season.  The finale of the season was an incredible high.  Not making the playoffs is a low, but not of the same magnitude for me.  I was reading through the season re-cap in the Columbus Dispatch this morning (I like to have that newspaper in the morning), and I was reminded how many times this season that choices or direction hinged on the results of one game.  The amazing thing about this team, is they nearly always won that game.

Thinking about the time leading up to the trade deadline, and I felt 'gosh, they win a game or two here, and they might be buyers at the deadline'.  Well, they won those games.  Then there was the incredible road trip to end the season in which they went 5-1.  I don't know how many times before that road trip that I said 'stick a fork in them, they're done'.  But the teams resiliency and belief came through time and again, to build up to the fantastic crescendo at the finale.

So now what?

I remember well after the 2008-09 season we were all certain that our core of young players was ready to move forward, and we would be going deeper into the playoffs.  We all know that in that Olympic year, with a compressed schedule, and little or no practice time (sound familiar?), that after a franchise record (at the time) hot start, the team went on a disastrous December swoon, and soon started tuning Hitch out.  That was the beginning of a three year regression, with intermittent bright spots.  And there is a part of me that fears the same thing might happen next year.  On the other hand, there are also some real differences.

For instance, how do you chop the head off an amoeba?

In the 2009-10 team it was clear that opposing teams had the mantra, stop Nash and you can beat the rest.  Faced with that relentless gauntlet, Nash was unable to pull the whole team along with him, and the house of cards collapsed in December.  It didn't help that the goal tender had decided that 'hey, this NHL stuff is easy' and reported to camp in less than Olympic athlete condition, which began Mason's long regression.

So there is a deep, primal hockey fan fear in me that this could turn out the same next year, that this team regresses instead of moving forward.  Look at the Florida Panthers this year.  They won the SouthLeast last year, but are picking second this year, having lost the lottery.  So what are some things that I look for to find hope, instead of fear?

One, I rely on Bob's relentless work ethic, that has been an evident part of his character for years.  I don't think that is going to change.  I believe he will take his No. 1 goal tender status into the summer as a precious jewel because he knows how it can change (see re: Bryzgalov).  I think he will want to take things to another level next year, and I think he will be motivated to make the playoffs.  There will be a pretty spirited battle for the number 2 slot behind Bob between Curtis McHelinney down in Springfield and Michael Leighton, who is not as bad as those people from the desert planet of Philadelphia would have you believe.  We may have a pretty good netminder as number 2 next year, not to mention the young talent in the pipeline (Anton Forsberg, I'm talkin' to you).

Another thing I rely on is the fact that Nick Foligno is saying that this is the most fun he's ever had playing hockey.  Winning is fun.  If we had the first or second pick, he might not be singing the same tune.  This team had a taste of both sides of that coin, losing and working through that to winning.  It gives one hope to know that the core of this team knows that if you buckle down, work hard, and stick with it, that the good things will come on the other side.

The other thing, is this team has great character depth, a subject for a future blog, but relevant here as well.  The 2009-10 team was relying on RJ, Boll, and Dorsett to provide character.  The 2013-14 team has character throughout the lines and pairings.  Its not just Nash trying to lead the way, its everyone (hence the earlier amoeba reference).  This is a large buffer against regression.

I hope JD and Jarmo bring back Vinny, and Aucoin for that matter.  Go that one year contract route.  I thought those guys provided an awful lot to what is still going to be a very young team.  Oakes will miss some time due to injury, its part of the package, but that's just opportunity for the young guys.

So at the end of the day, there are some distinct differences between the 2009-10 team, an the 2013-14 team.  That is what gives me hope that this year was a foundation, instead of an improbable bright spot in a sea of darkness.

GO JACKETS!!!

4 comments:

  1. I definitely agree on Aucoin, he should be brought back if they can convince him to play less. He was the worst +/- defenseman on the team, (JMFJ: "Not it!!"), though he improved down the stretch like everyone else. His leadership sounded huge though. Vinny's non-negotiable, I want as many years of scoreboard points as possible. The new division is going to be brutal though, seems like 1. Pittsburgh, 2. Rangers, and 3. Caps are a lock for next year. That leaves us, Philly, the Isles, Carolina, and the Detroit-esque aging playoff machine that is the Devils fighting for the 4th spot.

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  2. Couldn't agree more. This is a completely different group than '09. Look at how the team got better as a team as the short season progressed. Character and chemistry matter. Bring back Aucoin and Vinny, one year contracts are fine for them at this stage in their careers. They both seem to embrace their roles and are undoubtedly providing excellent balance for the young guys in the room.

    Next season is going to be fun.

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  3. Agree all around here. What that team lacked in '09 was veterans with presence. You can't rely on young guys. They can prop you up for a game or 2, but the vets keep it going for the long haul. They've been there and gone thru it. Vinny and Adrian also help keep the local AAA teams stocked with legacy talent.... However we do need to make room for a piece or 2 so who gets pushed aside or regularly scratched? Good luck Jarmo.

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  4. Capable adults helping guide talented youngsters...that should be the mantra. Probably should be the mantra for every sports team in every league. Can't think of a scenario where that's a bad way to go.

    That, and coming this side shy of giving the store away to keep Bob. I appreciate the impressive compensation that the CBJ would get for losing Bob as a Restricted Free Agent (presuming this 2011 report to hold true in the new CBA, but that's not a given), but I think we can all agree that while there are 30 teams in the NHL...there aren't 30 NHL-caliber starting goalies on the planet.

    Sign Bob, Jarmo. Get 'er done.

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