Friday, May 23, 2014

Umby: Bleed Union Blue, or Traitorous Cur??

This Beak is Made for Walking
(Nancy Sinatra, 1966) Hah!
Happy Memorial Day Weekend everyone!  We here at the Dark Blue Jacket hope you have a safe and awesome holiday weekend.

 Last week the news broke that RJ Umberger had asked for a trade.  OK, first and foremost, wherever Barry Trotz is hired, that's where Umby is going.  OK?

AND, you know you are a local hero when the DKM fellows seranade your nose. At that point you know you have it made in the local fan base.

Now that we have the preliminaries out of the way, it's time to process the whole thing.  First off, Professor @OhioHockeyDog, my essay response (scroll to bottom of article for the essay assignment) will follow.   As a basic 'sad fan boy' (Puck Daddy, 2014), it's very difficult for me to think like a General Manager.  It helps to have a catalyst.  Umby asking for a trade is a great catalyst to start thinking about how you will make this trade.  So as a blogger, I'm grateful to Umby for some off season content.

As a fan, I think he is a no-good, traitorous cur; or a hero.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Regarding Gaborik

Marian Gaborik while in training camp.
A buddy of mine is seething in frustration about the trade of Marian Gaborik.  While it is true that we got an especially fine bag of pucks in the trade, along with draft picks (I am uncertain, but I believe a second round and a third round), it is also true that Gaborik has performed well for the LA Kings, with his playoff statistics standing at 9 Goals and 6 Assists for 15 Points (9 G-6 A-15 P) in 14 games.  Keep in mind that his regular season statistics are 11-19-30 in 41 GP, with 6-8-14 in 22 GP coming with the CBJ and 5-11-15 in 19 GP for the LA Kings.

So in 14 playoff games Gaborik has almost equaled his regular season output.  A very impressive performance, especially for an unrestricted free agent with a phenomenal injury history.  And my buddy projects that performance into a CBJ uniform, and wonders if the Blue Jackets would still be playing today if they had not traded him at the deadline.

And frankly, if Head Coach Todd Richards (HCTR) would have had the ability to roll a sniper like Gaborik out during the thunderous comeback at the end of Game 6, it certainly would have increased the odds that the CBJ could have tied that game, and I'm not sure the Pens would have won the series if that had happened. The thought of Gaborik isolated on Fleury in that moment makes me slightly sick to my stomach.  But as Dandy Don Meredith always said: "If 'ifs and buts' were 'candy and nuts', we'd all have a Merry Christmas."

This is a dangerous brand of speculation, mostly because it will drive you crazy.  But frankly, I don't think you see those numbers from Gaborik playing on the CBJ, even in the playoffs.  The Blue Jackets have tried to play a puck possession game this year, deliberately moving up the ice with good passing, and getting in deep on the forecheck and grinding on the other team.  LA can play that kind of game, no mistaking that.  As Hitch would say, they play a very heavy game.

But as I watched them dismembering Anaheim last night, I noticed that it was with a quick strike, stretch game.  Anaheim was trying to get in on the forecheck  like the CBJ like to play, and Drew Doughty, arguably one of the best defensemen in the game, was shredding them with lightning quick stretch passes to breaking forwards.  That is Gaborik's game, but it is unwise to think that the CBJ have the same capacity to play that game, especially in a playoff environment.  When the CBJ are throwing stretch passes up the ice, they are playing another team's game, and likely losing.  They have gotten away from their identity.  LA has the talent and experience to change up to that kind of game if that's what the situation demands.  They also have the experience and talent to out-grind you if that's what the situation demands.  They are a very versatile team, and Coach Darryl Sutter does a masterful job with their line up.

On LA, Gaborik is one of many threats.  On the CBJ he is one of the main threats, and much easier to defend and shut down, especially in a playoff environment.  He now is playing on a much deeper, much more experienced team, that has won a Cup recently.  And realistically, it looks like they are on their way to another one, as they are a deeper team than Chicago, especially with Gaborik on board.

When Gaborik came back after the Olympic break, I do feel he gave Arty Anisimov a big bump in production by creating more space for him by his presence on the ice.  And, I didn't feel it was a huge risk in keeping him.  But what then?  You traded two number one picks, Brassard and Moore, and a beloved player in Derek Dorsett for Gaborik.  I think Jarmo felt he had to recover some assets, even at a reduced price, for that investment.  A general manager looks really bad when you have that kind of investment walk out the door.  Think LeBron James.  The Cavs really should have traded him, if they wanted to remain competitive, because that way you come away with assets.  They lost that multi-million dollar investment, and now they are in the cellar.  You just can't let that type of asset walk out the door.  Back to Jarmo's situation, you may lose on the deal, but you recover residual value where you can, with the possibility of making a great pick in the future.

Alexander Wennberg during 2013 Development Camp.
Yesterday, the CBJ and the Puck Rakers announced the signing of Alexander Wennberg to an entry level contract.  If we sign Marian Gaborik to an expensive free agent contract, we have someone who is a proven scorer, with a proven injury history.  And he will be looking for the big money.  On the other hand, we have a bright young Swede coming in to the system on an entry level deal, instead of the $6-7 million per year Gaborik wants.  All he needs to do is a.) make the team, and b.) put up better than 6 G-8A-14P and he's better than Gaborik was for us, with the added bonus of a bright future ahead of him.  We sign Gaborik, and Wennberg stays in Sweden for another year or two, because Gaborik is likely occupying the spot he would fit in the line up.

I do agree with Jarmo that Gaborik didn't quite fit in the CBJ system that was played this year.  I'm not real sure Brassard would have either.  I think he is much better off with Alain Vigneault as a coach.  Which is not to belittle HCTR, I just think Vigneault is a better fit for the type of player Brassard has become.  But I digress (again).  Jarmo's job is to look out for the long term interests of the organization.  The Gaborik trade was a high risk, high reward trade, that ended up being a loser on the risk side, but had the side benefit of completing the locker room purge of the players who quit on Hitch.  With talent like Wennberg coming into the system, you don't want to be tied to a high cost aging veteran, so you recover the assets that you can.

Over the short term, Gaborik might have helped us out of the first round of the playoffs.  On the other hand, the team made the playoffs without him, a validation of HCTR's system, and the work ethic of our players.  This issue CANNOT be understated (he shouted).  This years players have established the performance baseline for the CBJ, that starts with an indefatigable work ethic.  This is the baseline that Wennberg, Kerby Rychal, and Marko Dano will see coming into the organizaton.  Bring your skill if you want to make this team.  But you better bring your lunch pail and your work ethic if you want to stay on it.  You can't have anyone exempt from the work ethic.  A high priced free agent may, or may not have that work ethic.  Young talent coming up through the system will see that as the baseline for everyone, so will accept it as normal.  The good news is that the team structure is there to assist them in that learning process.

Gaborik is having one helluva playoff.  I think that happens in LA.  I don't think it happens in Columbus.  Nothing in this post is intended to be a criticism of Gaborik.  It just didn't work here, but it seems like it will in LA.  But we get a number 2 pick on the deal.  I wonder if we can get another Boone Jenner?

This year we were privileged to see that best team in CBJ history.  Coming into the 2014-15 season, Nathan Horton will be healthy coming into training camp, Wennberg will have a shot to try to make the team (not to mention Rychal and Dano) without the pressure of having to be a star, the team will have the experience of knowing they can make the playoffs if they play their game, and more importantly, the experience of playing together another year.  Stability is not a bad thing for the CBJ right now, and signing Marian Gaborik does not contribute to that in the long run.  So I think we are better off where we are now.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Bar is Raised

Former GM Scott Howson
"The bar is raised" quoth Scott Howson following the 2008-09 playoff season, perhaps foreshadowing the disastrous years to come for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Not ten months later, the winningest coach in Blue Jackets history was fired, and the team was on a downward spiral that would only stop at rock bottom, 30th place in the league.  A grim reminder of how things can go bad on you fast in this league.

While Howson retains a measure of credit for the players he brought in that took the CBJ to the playoffs this year, we must remember that Craig Patrick influenced his decision making in a dramatic fashion.  All that said, Howson listened to Patrick, to his credit, as well as pointing out that John Davidson's contract situation would make him available.  Thus, Howson's contributions to the organization's current success are real and significant.  Balanced against that are the disastrous hiring of Arniel, who was not ready to be an NHL coach, and the plummet to 30th place.  Both of these are squarely his responsibility.  Even though Howson was astute enough to know that the expectation bar had been raised, his teams failed miserably to even make traction towards those heightened expectations.

So it was interesting to see Jarmo Kekalainen's take on the season, as reported by the Columbus Dispatch, and other sources.  Jarmo was quick to point out that the team barely finished in the top half of the league, pretty much in the middle of the pack, or 'mediocre'.  He was also emphatic that the team was not satisfied with this finish, and felt they had a higher ceiling.  I think these are healthy attitudes.

As hard as the CBJ worked this to make the playoffs this year, they have to work harder next year to make the playoffs.  If you want to advance beyond the first round, you have to improve your play AND work harder.  Fortunately this team seems wired to tackle this kind of work as a challenge.  The 2008-09 team did not respond to success by working harder, and the results were disastrous.  Hopefully the hard wired work ethic of this iteration of the Jackets helps them to climb the mountain again next year.

Hitch has stated he squeezed everything out of that 2008-09 team, and it is one of his favorite teams because he felt they 'maxed out'.  They were unable to repeat that level of effort.  I think Todd Richards got everything available out of this year's group, but I don't think he 'squeezed it out of them'.  I think he created a situation that allowed them to deliver the effort at least semi-voluntarily (Richie can be demanding at times).  I believe that is a scenario with a much better chance at repetition than the squeezing approach.  Hitch's players just couldn't climb the mountain again.  So long as our young players are racing each other to the top of the mountain next year, things should be just fine.

But these seasons never end up the way you expect that they will.