Tuesday, May 14, 2013
To further complicate matters, the CBJ move to the East next year. This is a new suite of opponents and arenas for the fans, and some of the players. But quite a few of our core players have played significant time in the Eastern Conference, so this landscape will not be unfamiliar to them. So that's a good thing. But what else can we reasonably expect to carry over from the previous season, even allowing for Bill's proverb to come through?
I'd like to be able to say that the team's infectious joy that they showed down the stretch would return, but it won't. That is something that is captured in that period of time, and only the playoffs could have prolonged the mojo that the team had developed. Unfortunately, that spirit will not pick up where it left off, and the team will have to rebuild the camaraderie and carry it through and 82 game season next year. I'm not trying to be overly negative, it's just that these things are not static. The good news is that the team left a great foundation to build on for next year, and as Morgan observed, having once built the camaraderie, the players know it can happen, and its easier to build again.
So what are the foundations that can be used to re-build the mojo?
Well, for one, we have Ilya Bryzgalov to count on. Wait...what? Yup, the Bryz is our ace in the hole. Assume Sergei Bobrovsky wins the Vezina trophy. One of Bob's great assets is his incredible work ethic. What if winning the Vezina takes a little edge off that work ethic? Enter our old buddy Bryz. Bob got buried behind Bryz's big contract before he was rescued from the desert planet of Philadelphia ((C) DKM Hockey), and he didn't like playing second fiddle to Bryz. Then, to top it off, Bryzgalov got himself named number one goal tender of the Russian World Championship team, since Bob was still in a playoff chase. So even if Bobrovsky wins the Vezina he so richly deserves, there will be the issue of who is Russia's best goal tender remaining to drive him. And I believe this issue will be a big one for Bob. So we should be able to reasonably count on Bob's work ethic returning intact. And when your best player is working that hard, pretty much everyone else has to follow along.
One chink that I can see forming in the foundation has to do with whether Jarmo and JD return Vinny Prospal. To me, Vinny is the catalyst that makes all this work. In spite of his age, Vinny lead the team in scoring. I also think that he is the one that creates the conditions to make it easier to have fun while working hard. I really hope they get this settled for Vinny, as his handshake agreement with the organization walked out the door when Howson was fired. It would be ideal to bring him back on a series of one year deals, that retain the leadership (and scoring), yet provide for organizational flexibility. Here's a guy who is getting it done, yet wants to make Columbus his home, after seeing a lot of what this country has to offer. There is a lot of upside to keeping him on the roster.
Nick Foligno is another one of those guys that seems to be able to have fun while working hard. His greetings with Bobrovsky after games became legendary, and they both seemed to have a lot of fun with it. Nick also produced down the stretch on the road, winning a game in OT and setting up another one in the final, crucial road stretch. I like Nick's game.
So here is the funny thing. As I sit and think about this, there is way more than this as a foundation for next year. Dubinsky and Anisimov who can set a work ethic tone. Then there is the whole defensive corps, Jack, Wiz, Tyutin and Nikitin, Prout and Erixon are a very good foundation for the next year.
After the 2008-09 season I just assumed everyone would get better, and we would magically advance in the playoffs. But I can see how this must be earned, and re-created every year, and how each season is its own battle. But the 2012-13 team left us foundations with many different strengths. If one thing does not get better, others will. So with that in mind, there is some reason for optimism for 2013-14, and barring catastrophe, it is likely the season will end in much the same way, a playoff battle to the end. Which is something to look forward to, don't you think?