Tuesday, July 23, 2013

There is preseason hype,but is there October hope?

There's nothing offensive about this picture, is there?
It’s July in Columbus, Ohio and it means one thing – that Blue Jackets fans must suffer increasing coverage of the Ohio State Buckeyes men's football team in print, TV, and digital media coverage.  As Bobby Boucher's foozeball season approaches, the small, but loyal core of CBJ fans here in Columbus band together and look forward to Cannonfest, then the start of CBJ training camp, followed by lame pre-season games, and then finally - the start of the NHL season in early October.   Not uncommon, there is the usual excitement surrounding the team this season with player acquisitions/retention  - and an added unfamiliar feeling of credibility as the team heads into its first full season with a legitimate front office.  As an early adopter to the CBJ, I remain cautiously optimistic.

In 2011, I was the only person in Columbus who hated this picture.
Today, I'm the only one who can  laugh at it.
As the old adage goes, you can’t win the Monaco Grand Prix in the first lap, but you can certainly lose it.  Borrowing from another sport that is largely foreign to most parts of the US, it’s a statement that simply means ‘A bad start can ruin your whole race.’  Truly, the signing of Bobrovsky, the addition of Nathan Horton, (don't forget Marian Gaborik), and the retention of most of last year’s hard working team are all positives that even I am excited about.  But it’s October and November that are preventing me from guzzling the CBJ Kool Aid and placing them third in the Mesopotamian Division.  Now let me tell you why…

1.       The Blue Jackets have chosen NOT to sign their leading scorer and catalyst from last season, Vinny Prospal, for the 2013-2014 campaign.  There is still a chance they may, but my CBJ Boomer themed magic 8-ball says, “Outlook Not Booming.”   The intangibles aside, when you choose not to sign your leading scorer from last season, even if he was 82nd in the league, you are asking a largely low scoring and inconsistent offense to fill some big skates.   The Jackets relied on 90’s style defensive tactics to make it tough for skilled teams to advance the puck through the Neutral zone.  The offense seemed to be derived from passing around a sign-up sheet before each game to see who was going to score goals that night.  Odd seeing as you have almost a third of your payroll tied up in Umberger, Dubinsky, Gaborik, and Commodore.  Gaborik will only be a net positive if Mark Letestu proves not to be a one-hit wonder and streaky Artem Anisimov becomes consistent.  This team's current strength is not offense.  And considering the intangibles, the work ethic remains the same sans Vinny, but the dressing room is certainly missing it's spark plug. 

You said she was a real spark plug?!  No Jarmo, I said buttplug.
2.       Bobrovsky can’t play all-world every game.  He is a legit NHL goaltender for sure, but it is unrealistic to expect him to win every game for the Blue Jackets this season.  What was really remarkable to me last season was Bob’s ability to avoid what goalies call ‘fighting it.’  Every goalie will tell you there are four or five games a year where you just fight the puck all game.  You’re not seeing the puck, you’re not seeing shots, and everything is a screen.   Last season down the stretch, Bobrovsky seemed to have tithed, rubbed a sacred rock, or thrown enough darts at Glenn Beck pictures to have fortuitously avoided any such nights where he was 'fighting it.'  Goalies will have off nights, and Bob can’t be all world for 70+ games this season.  Yet, my expectations for him remain high. 
3.       Horton hatches and extended stay on the IR.  Nathan Horton won’t be around until the end of November.  Not much here to sizzle, nothing we can do, he just won’t be around until after America’s Thanksgiving.  Oh, and imagine that, Marian Gaborik's abdomen has had another conjugal visit from a scalpel this offseason.

So what do the Jackets do?  Where should they turn to fill the scoring dearth created by the absence of Vinny and the convalesced Horton?   The answer is simple, and it's not Gaborik. It's the Power Play.


Pow-Pow-Power Play...  First off, the power play the first 2/3 of last season was awful.    The CBJ set up offensive schemes that could easily be defended by four players.  There was little creativity in the power play and I wanted to gouge my eyes out every time I saw Gaborik standing in front of the net a la Thomas Holmstrom.   The PP strategy has to improve and should be the focus going into camp.  Being in a perpetual state of hip flexor repair or not, if you give Gaborik time and space with the puck, marvelous things will happen.  If the power play sucks like it did early last season, start firing people.  I don’t care who – fire somebody.   But I don't hold Gaborik to be the singular cog in the power play success, in fact I feel he is tertiary, even quaternary.  The success of the power play, to me, lies solely with the two mid-Westerners patrolling the blue line and peppering the glass behind the net with pucks – Jack and Whiz. 

Stay on target.  Stay on target.
I know Wisniewski loves to blast the puck from the point, who doesn’t?  But the Blue Jackets’ version of “Wild Thing” Rick Vaughn needs to bring some knee high heat.  Perhaps some Controlled Controlled Chaos?  The shots from the point have to be on net or deflectable in front in order to be an effective scoring opportunity.   Sailing the puck 7 feet wide at 90 MPH – maybe not so much.   James’ offensive skill are there without a doubt– the execution just needs tweaked a bit.  If I were James Wisniewski’s pee-wee coach, I would have him tone down the slapper just a tad, and bet him a milk shake that with more shots reaching the front of the net, he picks up 6-8 more PP points per season - and those points lead to wins.  E’rybody loves wins.  Especially the ticket sales peeps.  More snappers, less slappers.  And yes, that's a complete double entrendre.

Sorry Gandalf nerds - enjoy
some British humor instead.
And as for JMFJ...  Mr Jack Johnson, you’ve been in Columbus for parts of two seasons now.  Digging pucks out of your skates and having pucks blow up at the Blue Line should no longer be problematic, it should be second nature.  When you see a puck coming at you high and hard, channel your inner Black Knight and tell that puck – “None shall pass!” Get a stick, hand, skate, or tooth on the puck and settle that beast down.   Also, while we’re teasing Wisniewski a bit, maybe you should put on the ‘don’t shoot me’ orange hunting vest when you’re on the point with Wisniewski?   Or in case Dick Cheney stops by.  Just sayin’
As speculation of extemporaneous superlatives run amuck amongst my blogging contemporaries between now and opening night, I look forward to the product on the ice delivered by the team when the regular season starts.  When the puck drops in October, and as the forwards adjust to their new roles after a handful of largely meaningless preseason games, I hope the team has put renewed emphasis on establishing an effective power play.  It starts with the boys on the blue line, and that’s who I hope fills in the void until the forwards can start producing consistently (CC:  RJ Umberger, Brandon Dubinsky, and Nick Foligno).  If the CBJ have the power play clicking around 20% come late-October, there will be lots of smiles on this blogger's face for sure.

Past performance does not guarantee future results.



  1. Great article...
    The Jackets' scoring has always been a need. And, yes, I'll miss Prospal, too, but I expect Gaborik to lead the team in scoring next season. And all the other guys haven't hit their prime yet, so I think they'll improve on their point totals, too.
    But who picks up that leadership role? The oldest guy on the team is Derek MacKenzie (31?) now...

    But next year, like last year, will be all about the D. I could argue that it's one of the top 10 in the league. For the first time in franchise history, the team scored more goals than it gave up...But that leads to the glaring hole in Columbus: who's Bob's back-up? I don't expect him to play 70+ games. What if they need him for the playoffs?

  2. That's one fine post, Gallos. Still shaking my head over the Prospal non-signing...and sharing your concerns about injuries and goalies that drop back to earth.

    Todd Richards is going to earn his keep this season, that's fer sher.

  3. Er, didn't Morgan write this article? A very good write up for the up coming season. Down to earth and keeping it real. I think Jarmo made two big mistakes this offseason. 1. Keeping Umberger and 2. Not signing Prospal immediately. Umberger did have his moments last year and created opportunities for others. But, he is tying up way too much cap space for that role. If he isn't putting pucks in the net or carrying the team on his shoulders, he needs to go. Vinny was the leader in the locker room and often on the ice. He held the team to task on bad nights and got their young heads pointed in the right direction. On top of the leadership, he put pucks in the net and set up others constantly. His line was always leading the charge. I know he is old, but not signing him just seems stupid from a team chemistry perspective.

    I'm scratching my head and hoping it doesn't bite the team hard come October.

  4. Really risky business keeping Umberger around and not signing Prospal; 18 should have been the first to be bought out; nobody is going to want him and his contract at the trade deadline. This could all look pretty amateur-ish if Jenner fails to secure a roster spot due to having an overcrowded locker room.

  5. Wow...it seems like there's a lot of hating on Umberger...he did sign a chunky no-trade contract and have an off-year [he chose to spend the lockout in Columbus with his family and helping OSU's hockey team out, I believe], but that's no reason to buy out the guy and send him off. RJ has played 99% of the games since he joined the blue jackets 5 years ago. Last year, he had the most ice time of any forward. Sure, his point totals have been down the last 2 years, but he's still a great player to put in front of an opponent's net. He brings non-statistical intangibles to the game...Buy him out? What's that gonna cost this team? $12 million for him not to play?

  6. Personally I don't hate on RJ - however this past season's performance puts the spotlight on his contract. If RJ returns to the 20G/45+ pts a year form he's proved he's capable of, it's certainly money well spent. If not, yeesh. The Jackets still have the June 2014 window to use their 2 compliance buyouts.

    Interesting thought though, is it JD's M.O. to saddle a team with the long term affects of a compliance buyout? I think the cap, more than player performance, may force the front office's hand in that regard. The buyouts give the team cap room, but the Columbus Red Ink Jackets can't afford 4-6 years of buyout money that is taken from the bottom line.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.