Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bon voyage, George Matthews

The Columbus Blue Jackets announced that its radio voice since day one of the franchise, George Matthews,  will be stepping aside after 13 years for other pursuits closer to home.  The release suggests that he won't totally abandon the mike, but it's largely Bob McElligott's party now.

There won't be any huge retrospective here - just an expression of sincere admiration for George.  I'm not sure I entirely understood what he was saying some of the time (which usually corresponded with a Blue Jackets goal or highlight reel save), but there was no mistaking his love of the team and the sport.  How many nights I strolled through the XM, looking for the Blue Jackets game, only to smile when I heard his unmistakable voice!

If (when?) the Blue Jackets establish a Ring of Honor, I hope that the team has the good sense to save a spot for George.

Good luck on the next chapter of your life, George.  And thank you.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Dark Blue Podcast - 2013 Season Wrapup (Part Two)

If you recall, Morgan, Mike and I took over the DKM Hockey Podcast studios for an evening to kick back and try to process the madness that was the 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets season.

Our latest segment gets personal...we share our individual reflections on the season and gaze at our navels for a while.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Glass Bangers - Memorial Weekend Edition

This is for @osujoe, the notorious (not famous)
Brassacek Jersey
Yesterday was an interesting start to the Memorial Day weekend in  Blue Jackets land.  So I thought I would summarize some of it, and muse on it a bit.

First and foremost, the CBJ announced that goal tender Curtis McElhinney was signed to a 1 year, one way deal.  CMac had a great year this year leading Springfield to the second round of the AHL playoffs.  He posted a 29-6-3 record, with a 2.29 GAA and a .923 Save Percentage.  These are very good numbers, that eclipse the relatively pedestrian numbers he has posted in prior service in the NHL.  CMac will be coming in to compete for the backup goalie spot behind Bobrovsky.

CMac came to the organization as an injured goal tender as part of the 2011-12 late season purge that sent Antoine Vermette to the Phoenix Coyotes.  At the time he was recovering from major surgery.  The CBJ signed him to a two-way deal last year, and he spent the entire year in Springfield.  Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch is quoting Jarmo Kekalainen as saying that CMac earned the contract with his play in Springfield, and the one way deal was pretty much what was necessary to keep him in the organization. At 30 years old, this is probably CMac's last real chance at the NHL.  We need a back up goal tender who is committed to performing, and will win us some games while relieving Bobrovsky.

On the 'let the wookie win' front, the CBJ signed Finnish defenseman Ilari Melart to a one year entry level deal.  He is a 24 year old, 6'3", 227 lb stay at home defenseman, who has some thump to his game.  This ensures that Dalton Prout has some competition coming into camp.  This should prove interesting.  While I can't recall the source at this moment (apologies to that source) when following this on Twitter yesterday, Jarmo basically implied that people will have a hard time getting away from him on the smaller North American ice surfaces.  Not to say that he is merely a goon, but he is a large, physical defenseman.  I think this adds some real depth to the CBJ defensive corps in an area that we are not deep.  This is a good signing by Jarmo, capitalizing on his knowledge of European players.
Anton Forsberg in 2012 Development Camp

In another development, the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the CBJ signed goal tender prospect Anton Forsberg to a 3 year entry level deal.  Forsberg will likely play in Sweden this year, where he has a chance to compete for a starting job with Modo in the Swedish Elite league.  Forsberg is probably furthest along of all the bright goal tending prospects in the system, and its possible he'll make the jump to North America for the 2014-15 season.

Bobrovsky is still not signed, but Bob's agent would be a stone cold lunatic for signing a deal before finding out whether Bob had won the Vezina trophy for best goal tender of the year.  So that won't happen at least until after the second game of the final, which is when the Vezina award will be announced.  Patience it the watchword here.  Keep calm, and vote for Bob in the EA Sports NHL14 cover vote.  So far he is in the semi finals.

Have a fun and safe Memorial Day everyone!  Take a moment to reflect on those who have fallen to keep our Country free.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Thoughts on Joey's Benching

Ryan Johansen in Development Camp
Puck Rakers and today's Columbus Dispatch are reporting that Ryan Johansen was benched for Game 4 of the Springfield Falcons' second round series against the Syracuse Crunch, in which the Crunch swept the Falcons.  This was Brad Larsen's call, but according to the Puck Rakers report he did consult with upper management before benching Joey.  But I think they all concurred.

What an emotional roller coaster for a young player. The stirring battle to the end for the CBJ, the disappointment of missing the playoffs, then back to the AHL playoffs.  But the benching sends a message throughout the organization about accountability, which this fan finds heartening.  Developmentally, the CBJ had this 100% correct to send Joey and Prout back to Springfield. And for Joey, its about coming to grips with being a pro.  You may have ridden an emotional roller coaster.  Maybe you didn't show up for Game 1.  By the end of Game 2, when the coach has talked you up to try to get you ready, and you don't respond in Game 3, then you should be benched.  A pro ought to be able to hit that reset button, and get engaged after that first game.  So, lesson learned, we hope.

Management has made it clear that Johansen should focus on a great off season in order to make a strong push to make the NHL club in the fall.  Johansen should note that his spot on the big club is not a given, and that with the depth at center, and Boone Jenner's almost certain push into the mix, that he will be challenged to make the club.  Hopefully some time off, and then getting back into preparation for the season will help him to make the mental adjustment.

The other reason I am pleased about this has to do with our missing out on those lottery players in the 2013 draft which was caused by the CBJ's playoff push.  Nathan MacKinnon or Seth Jones would look really good in a CBJ uniform, no doubt.  The interesting thing about those high draft picks is that they are going to pretty much jump from juniors into the NHL.  They have the talent, and while there will be ups and downs, the teams picking these guys will make room on the roster for them.  With the CBJ picking 14th, and with two more picks in the first round, the order yet to be determined by playoff finishes, we will load 3 really good prospects into the development track.  Rather than 'making room on the roster' for these guys, they are most likely to finish their junior careers, then jump to the AHL before we will see them in the regular season in Columbus.  But it will be a shot in the arm for our development system, and soon Brad Larsen will get his chance to mold them.  These players are unlikely to be the 'high risk, high reward players'. By the time they get to Columbus, we should have a pretty good idea what they are going to bring to the table, similar to the track that Boone Jenner has taken.

All of which should make this year's annual draft party a really good time!


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Carry Over

My buddy Bill has a saying that he uses before each season, which is 'these hockey seasons never turn out the way you think they are going to turn out'.  Nothing could illustrate that saying more completely than the 2012-13 Columbus Blue Jackets, picked by all to finish last, yet missing the playoffs by a single point.  Things just don't turn out the way you think they will.

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?

The Dark Blue Podcast - 2013 Season Wrapup (Part One)

Morgan, Mike and I took over the DKM Hockey Podcast studios for an evening to kick back and try to process the madness that was the 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets season.

Our opening segment covers the team's actual performance this season...on all fronts.  Enjoy!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Part VIII: The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ; Completus Occidentali

@Skrauts photo of the end of the season celebration
When we last left this history, the 2012-13 season was hanging in the balance due to a labor impasse, I still had my original arthritic knees,  and the Columbus Blue Jackets were firmly and definitely ‘THE LAST PLACE TEAM’ (emphasis not added) in the minds of the hockey intelligentsia.  By the time the dust settled after an abbreviated 2012-13 season, the CBJ players and coaches had treated the fans to one of the best story lines in all of hockey, coming a mere point short of making the playoffs after a furious charge through the western conference.  One wonders if in future segments of this history whether we will look back at the courage and tenacity of this year’s roster as a turning point in the franchise’s fortunes.

Labor Peace
At long last, after months of tooth grinding frustration by fans, the NHL and the NHLPA agreed to a collective bargaining agreement in early January.  The new agreement called for an abbreviated 2012-13 season of 48 games following a one week training camp.  This arrangement did not bode well for the CBJ, as the short training camp would not allow much time for the sweeping roster changes to jell.  But labor peace brought a more seismic change to the Blue Jackets.  The 2012-13 season was to be the last that the CBJ would play in the Western Conference.  In 2013-14 the CBJ would be playing in the Eastern Conference.  In their division would be Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Washington and Carolina.  Out of the proverbial frying pan of the Central Division of the Western Conference into the fire of the Leaders, er, uh, Legends, er, uh, Atlantic, oh, okay, Division D of the Eastern Conference (yet to be officially named).  This is a huge benefit to the CBJ fans, for who the number of away games that start at 7 PM will go up drastically as opposed to the 10 and 10:30 PM starts.  In that regard, we will have no more of those than the rest of the league, as the 2012-14 season calls for a home and away with every team in the league.  In addition, our fellow Atlantic Division (estimated name) teams are much more natural rivals then most of our current Western Conference brethren.  Of course if you want to be a rival, you have to be more than a door mat, which leads us to the 2012-13 season.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Early reactions to DBJ's 2013 CBJ MVP award

In case you missed it, I awarded Vinny Prospal my 2013 CBJ Most Valuable Player award over at FOX Sports Ohio's Dark Blue Jacket Plus blog.  Go on over and check it out.

I've received a couple reactions since posting, perhaps from as distant perspectives as you can get.  Thought I'd share.

Twitter's @Zekebud, perhaps the Blue Jackets fanbase's most adept user of advanced hockey statistics, tells me that he awarded his MVP to goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.  Here's a bit of his rationale (but I strongly suggest you read the post to best appreciate his point of view):
In this the first installment of the CBJ 2013 Review, we’re going right for the empty-netter, the obvious one. Although that metaphor doesn’t actually translate to the player we’re talking about. Instead, his contribution is a more literal ferocious effort between the pipes, a relentless, stalwart force, unrelenting and nigh-impossible to solve. Oh, and at times he made it look effortless and calm. He should be the Vezina winner, and he could be seen as a serious Hart candidate. He is Sergei Bobrovsky. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Missing the Playoffs, again.


I haven't felt like writing much about the Blue Jackets the past couple of days.  I'm excited that NHL playoff hockey is here, and I watched three games last night.  But the Blue Jackets and their inability to make the playoffs again, much derived from my 'heart on the sleeve' midget years, has left me with a bit of  a void.   In most hockey  tournaments, the Championship games are played on Sundays.  Since the Jacket's were eliminated from the playoffs, I've been in a funk that feels very much like the ride home from a hockey tournament on Saturday night.  Being done playing hockey before the other teams have finished is never any fun.  I want to play hockey, not watch it.  The ride home on Saturday night always seems like it takes twice as long as the drive in took.  The ride home is always dark, always quiet.