Saturday, June 28, 2014

Pipeline Primed

Today the Columbus Blue Jackets completed the priming of the pipeline by adding a draft full of prospects to their development pipeline.  These guys all need more development time, but are a good complement to those already in the pipeline.  3 forwards, 3 defensemen and a goalie.  The writers over on Puck Rakers give a good break down.

First round pick, Frank "Sonny" Milano is a forward, with sick puck handling skills.  Search up the YouTube video from the 2014 draft combine.  The lad has a feel for the puck.  He is currently committed to Boston College in the NCAA, which is a more than adequate path.  He will develop there facing good competition.  Plymouth owns his rights in Canadian Major Junior, and Jarmo has indicated that they would sit down with the family and review his options.  To me, if you think he will be NHL ready after a year of junior, then that is the route to take.  If it is any longer than that, I'd prefer he go to BC, as I think it will aid his physical development.  We'll see what the family and the CBJ come up with as the best path.

Our second round pick is 6-foot-5 defenseman Ryan Collins.  Another Collins, and another Ryan.  Hmm, this could get challenging in a few years for the inebriated fan.  At any rate, this stay at home defenseman is committed to University of Minnesota.  Like Sonny Milano, Collins hails from the US Development team.  This is a solid defensive depth pick.

Our third round pick is goaltender Elvis Merzlikens, from Latvia.  Elvis has played a lot in Switzerland, and according to the Puck Rakers story is a good puck moving goalie.

Our 2nd third round pick, taken one pick after Elvis is defenseman Blake Siebenaler, who appears to be a pretty good puck moving defenseman with some speed.

Our fourth round pick is Left Wing Julien Pelletier, who looks like he will be playing for Cape Breton in the Quebec Major Junior league next year.

Our fifth round pick is right wing Tyler Bird, who will play for Brown University next year.

Our seventh round, and final pick, was defenseman Olivier LeBlanc, who plays for St. John in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

All of these players need development time, and can develop at their own pace.  This is a solid, if unspectacular draft, and we should expect to see players starting to emerge from it about 3 years from now.  I'm feeling good about the way this went down.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Draft Eve, Big 43

Draft Eve.  A great two way player, good hands, thinks the game quickly, she's not afraid to mix it up in the corners.  Or, the day before the draft.  You make the call!

On a more serious note, tomorrow night is the first round of the 2014 NHL Entry draft.  With Columbus picking 16th, any player selected is likely to have some development needs.  We are making the transition to a franchise that can afford to give players the proper amount of time to develop, and in my mind this draft is just another shot in the arm to the pipeline.  We have a group of players emerging from juniors and the European leagues converging on Springfield for some AHL development time.  This draft will result in a restock of the players developing in Juniors.  The rule of thumb for all of these players is that you must kick the door down to make it to the big club, because all seats are occupied.

Its possible that a trade could emerge, but I kind of doubt it.  And I am happy with the notion that we use the picks we have, and take advantage of the group of scouts that Jarmo has assembled.  I like the notion of back pressure in the pipeline.  It's very healthy for the franchise.

The other thing that emerged today is that Scott Hartnell has decided to wear number 43.  I think that is interesting, as the players who have worn this number before are a group of unremarkable tweeners (between the AHL and the NHL).  Hartnell has an opportunity to make that number magical in CBJ lore, and his charity #Hartnelldown already has shirts for sale with the number.

Speaking of that, the Dispatch writers on their Cannonfodder podcast revealed that Hartnell's charity has already paid for 10 AAA Blue Jackets to attend an elite hockey camp this summer.  The guy is already investing in youth hockey in this City, which is a great thing to see.  Kudos there Hartsy.  Well done.  I also loved the quote that Jarmo tossed to Porty.  We'll see if he uses it in his write-up on Saturday.  Yes, I know I am doing 'things that make Morgan mad' by using those nicknames, but I'm too lazy to write it all out, and the prose becomes too stilted anyway.  So deal with it.

The offseason has picked up pace lately, and is becoming more entertaining.  We get a lot more to think about in the next two days, and then free agency hits.  Gonna be a fun week.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Reflections on the Hartnell for Umberger Trade

Today it was announced the the Columbus Blue Jackets traded RJ Umberger and a fourth round pick to the Philadelphia Flyers for Scott Hartnell.  This to me is looking like a pure hockey trade, one team has a 32 year old guy who wants out, the other has a 32 year old guy who they want gone.  The money is about the same, the CBJ take on two extra years of term for a player who has tended to score the way we always thought RJ would score.  Ironically, both teams say they got faster.  Jarmo did indicate that he thought Hartnell 'thought' the game quickly, which sometimes seemed a frustrating aspect of RJ's game.  Hartnell seems a better fit for the brand of hockey the CBJ are playing now.

There is a part of me that wants to be cautious about this because of the Carter trade.  But this looks and feels a bit different.  So I think what you see is what you get, but the CBJ just got an edge to them like they have never had before.  And we certainly need someone who is really comfortable on the left wing.  It's the weirdest thing, in the MacLean era all we had was left wings.  Now we have centers and right wings.  Heck, we even switched Nash to right wing for goodness sake.  But especially when Gaborik was here, everything was on the right.  So this actually adds some balance to our top six.

Don't get me wrong, I've had a long time simmering dislike for Hartnell, that goes back to his days with the Predators.  But it never bloomed into an outright hatred, cause its hard to argue with results.  So now he's on our team.  I'll still be looking for the results, but Hartnell brings an edge that is going to look really good in a Blue Jackets uniform.  The other positive benefit is that the games with the Penguins just took on a new tone, which I gotta love.

So I view this as a good hockey trade, that helps both clubs, and both players.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Liking Me Some Larsen

Brad Larsen at 2013-14 Training Camp
A few days ago the news broke that Brad Larsen, the Head Coach of the Springfield Falcons would come up to the parent club and assume the Assistant Coach spot vacated by Dan Hinote.  This is a really good thing for the Hockey Club.  

First and foremost, let me say that Dan Hinote was always a positive asset to this organization.  Hinote left, citing private, family reasons, for his departure.  I wish him well in all aspects of his family and personal life, as well as his professional life.  But with the news that Craig Hartsburg was getting extended along with Head Coach Todd Richards (HCTR), it was clear that there would be little mobility within the Blue Jackets organization.  Hinote is at a point in his coaching career where he needs head coaching experience.  Ideally, the organization could have swapped Hinote and Larsen to give him that chance, but that has the unavoidable appearance of a demotion.  It was time for Hinote to step away, and he will re-enter the game in another organization with more opportunity for head coaching spots in their system.  Personally, I'd recommend Vancouver, because they just asked the Rangers for permission to talk to Scott Arniel, and we all know how that's going to end up.  So there are likely to be head coaching opportunities in the future in that organization.  Just sayin'.  I wish you well, Dan Hinote, in all things personal and professional.  You served our organization well.  Best of luck.

With that out of the way, I really like this addition to our coaching staff.  Keith Acton filled a very large role in the coaching staff in the abbreviated 2012-13 season.  Following the near play-off position of that year, Acton left to take a promotion in the Flames organization.  Hinote appeared to fill in well, based on the results, but his resume is totally unlike Acton's.  Brad Larsen fills that gap a little more solidly, having coached the Falcons into the playoffs in the last two years.  In 2012-13, with the lockout pushing NHL talent down to the AHL, Larsen proved he could use that talent.  In 2013-14, he had none of that talent to use, but made the playoffs anyway.  That was a hell of a coaching job.  Players coming up from the AHL routinely fit seamlessly with the parent club, and contributed significantly in the injury riddled early days of the 2013-14 season.  They were ready to play.  And Larsen is responsible for that.

So I think this move adds great depth to the coaching staff.  I like this move a lot.  I think it bodes well for the 2014-15 season.

So I'm liking me some Larsen.

Monday, June 16, 2014

So What Was Jarmo's Role in the Stanley Cup Final?

Jarmo Meets Fans at Cannonfest
Perhaps more than any one single General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen arranged for no less than 4 players to take part in the Stanley Cup final over the last year and a half (dating to the trade deadline of 2012-13).  All of these personnel moves for the Jackets revolved around the abortive attempt to obtain a game changer in the name of Marian Gaborik.  Now Gaborik has his name on the Cup, and the nature of the free agent pool on July 1 has changed dramatically.

Who would have thought back in 2012 that Derek Dorsett would play in a Stanley Cup final?  Much less Derrick Brassard, who was eaten alive in the face off circle in the final.  John Moore on the other hand, seemed to hold up well to the pace of a Cup final, and is the piece I most regret sending to the Rangers for Gaborik.  He will end up being a very solid defenseman for the Rangers.

And Gaborik?  The 14 goals scored in a Cup Run is sure to haunt the dreams of some General Manager, who plops down the long term, huge money contract in July, for years to come.  There is a slight possibility that the Columbus Blue Jackets role in Marian Gaborik's career was to send him to the right doctor to finally fix that wonky groin.  On the other hand, he may remain injury prone, and an unproductive drain on the cap space of some unlucky team in the future.

So what did the Blue Jackets get in return for all of these Stanley Cup players?  Coming out of the 2010-11 season, the Blue Jackets needs were clear.  We needed to upgrade the defense, and we needed to get stronger up the middle, especially at the center position.  By the end of the 2011-12 season, both Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski had been acquired, as well as Brandon Dubinski and Artem Anisimov.  As Mike Arace mentioned in his column in today's Dispatch, the latter two players are the difference between a Cup and second place for the Rangers.  Do you think Jeff Carter has a great series against Dubi?  He sure did against Brass.  But, at the end of the day, with all that player movement, the CBJ has addressed two glaring needs, strength up the middle, and defense.  We have other needs now, which is a normal course of events for all hockey teams.

More importantly, the CBJ have shown that they are a playoff caliber team 'as is', and they have a year of playing together, which they didn't have before.  Stability is important right now for this team, and I think that's what we'll see in this off season.

If you want to win a Stanley Cup, you need to have a little luck.  The Kings got the longest injury free and most productive runs out of Gaborik that he has had in the last three years.  It is unlikely that he can reproduce a sustained level of play like that, projecting the past forward.  On the other hand, he did have a couple of 40 goal years for the Rangers.  If he can stay healthy, he could reproduce that.  But that 'if' is the 900 pound gorilla in the room.

We got two draft picks that bring a cumulative 10% chance that they will produce an NHL player that plays 400 games, and an AHL player.  We gave up two former number one picks, and one of the aforementioned 10% chance players to get that.  By any measure, Jarmo got schooled on the trades.  However, we also still have that 10% chance, and an AHL player with 'a great shot', whereas if we had hung on to Gaborik, we would have zero (0), because we won't pay him what he is going to want, and probably get.

At the end of the day, we addressed our needs to make the CBJ strong in the future.  LA and NYR addressed their needs for the present.  The next few years should make for some interesting 'story lines' for the future.

So was Jarmo the most influential GM in this year's Stanley Cup?

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Confessions of a Doe Eyed Fan Boy, Reflecting on 2013-14

Nash and Umby in 2011
During the McConnell Cup Playoff
As I was reading over on the incomparable Puck Daddy last week, either Leahy or Lambert made some comment about 'doe eyed fan boys' who couldn't believe their team actually lost.  The line cracked me up, because in my history as a Blue Jackets fan it's safe to say I've chugged a few gallons of Doug MacLean's Kool-Aid, which definitely makes me qualified for the moniker.

However, throw in a few good hockey learning experiences (see Hitchcock, Ken) and a few bitter hockey learning experiences (see Arniel, Scott), and I'm creeping towards some sense of perspective regarding the home town Blue Jackets.  Since taking the plunge on season tickets right before the 2004-05 lockout, I've seen a lot of hockey down at Nationwide Arena.  Some of it was down right ugly.

We've had teams that couldn't seem to connect a pass (a tape to boot pass, rather than a tape to tape pass), and have spent more than a few occasions urging the CBJ coaches to 'decline the penalty', as our power play was more of a scoring opportunity for the opposition.  Pressure to the points on our historic power play, and you had a good chance for a short-handed goal.

A lot of that changed with the 2013-14 team, which turned in an extremely entertaining year of hockey for the fans.  There were ups, and there were downs, but there was sustained progress after several years of sustained regression following the 2008-09 playoff season.  All of that has contributed to making it very difficult to provide content during this early summer, because the reservoir of bile and frustration that I usually draw on is absent this year.

It has been a summer of contentment for this 'doe eyed fan boy', so now seems a good time to look back a bit at the 2013-14 season, the most successful season in franchise history <blissful sigh>.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

2014 Stanley Cup Drinking Game for Blue Jackets fans

If there is one thing I like as much as confusing Penguins fans with satire, it’s pointing out the angst over former CBJ players playing in the Stanley Cup Finals.  This drinking game preys upon the players who were traded from the Blue Jackets to either of the teams playing in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the fan vengeance surrounding those player’s departure, and the fan vengeance against the fans who have no vengeance against the former Blue Jackets players  playing for either team.  Stick tap to my DKM compatriots, Joe Reader and John Kemp, for their contributions to this list.  For good fun, be sure to follow the very best Kings account @theroyalhalf and their crew  along with @NYR_Fulltilt @MikeSobo79 and @TheNYRBlog of Rangers ilk.  And you stats gurus are sure to follow @NYRunlimited

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Penguins Eulogy - SECOND EDITION

I really enjoyed by opportunity to eulogize the Penguins' on Puck Daddy.  I've enjoyed writing for the Dark Blue Jackets the past two seasons and have formed great friendships with Tom and Mike in the process.  While Tom is pseudo-quasi-semi-retired from blogging, I felt honored that he and Mike left the duty of Eulogizing the Penguins to me.

I knew immediately upon receiving the invite from Greg Wyshynski at Puck Daddy that writing a eulogy this season about the Penguins couldn't be done without identifying the team through the fans.  When the Penguins were eliminated from the playoffs this season, the fan base would devour itself and ultimately my eulogy.  That's what Pens fans do.  The narratives surrounding the pain points of the Penguins have been covered ad nauseam on blogs, twitter, and bathroom stalls enough that I felt I wasn't able to add unique perspective. 

Seriously, how do you mock a 50+ win team that had the the league MVP?  A team who had players who battled through serious health issues without sounding cliche or sociopath? Some say the eulogy should mirror "Why your team sucks?"  Crosby didn't score and Fleury is soft - there, a much shorter eulogy.   The Pens have two first lines and a bunch of dudes from the ECHL.  What else could I add to that?  That makes for a very bland eulogy if you ask me - and it was the topic of many a Pens eulogy the past three seasons, even when Crosby scored out of his mind. 

Reading through the comments of my Penguin's eulogy, most Pens fans seemed disappointed I didn't go after Crosby's concussion history, Letang's stroke, and Bylsma's battle with erectile dysfunction.  I'm pretty confident that if Puck Daddy wanted a blog piece that sounded like it was written by a single, bitter 25-year-old Reddit moderator with a chip on their shoulder, they would have held a contest on twitter to look for that person. If you take a couple minutes to read through this blog you'll soon understand that we don't sink to the lowest common denominator to sound cool or prove a point.  No superhero movie and video game references here.
Alas, here we are again as Dark Blue Jacket, explaining satire to a grieving Penguins fan base.  I really didn't care if my eulogy was "the best" or if it was considered "the worst."  I wrote a piece I was happy with.  In it, I made fun of how the Penguins fan would grieve.  It was impossible to illustrate that point without describing how visiting Pens fans are perceived and to do so a fictional composite of a stereotypical Pens fan was created.  Simply put, I didn't make fun of Penguins fans, I made fun of how Penguins fans would react to the perception of being antagonized after their team went out like a bunch of punks.  Mission Accomplished.  My one regret? that I deleted my "they should just hire Pierre McGuire" one-liner.

And in case you're still wondering...

SATIRE (noun) - the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people's stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

Monday, June 2, 2014

Bad Guys vs Good Guys?!?

Derek Dorsett and Fedor Tyutin in Todd Richards
First Practice as a Head Coach.
And why is DD wearing a '5' helmet?
Well, the die is cast for the Stanley Cup final.  Improbably, the New York Rangers, and their cast of former CBJ players will face off against the L.A. Kings and their cast of former CBJ players.  So who are the good guys, and who are the bad guys?

Jeff Carter made few friends here in Columbus, though his on-ice performance for the Blue Jackets was pretty much what he gives the Kings when he was healthy.  And Marion Gaborik continues his amazing 'sucker play' in L.A.  He is taking advantage of finally being healthy for a short stretch, and making a good run at that UFA contract he wants.  Here's the thing about Gabby.  He had never ending groin problems.  The surgery he had at the end of the 2012-13 season was to correct a former surgery.  The broken collar bone was just bad luck, so he could be finally healthy and ready to return to form for several years.  Or not.  Should be hilarious to see which GM's bid on that one, especially if he goes nuts on the Rangers and wins the Conn Smythe trophy.  That would make the free agent season interesting.

Then there are the Rangers.  John Moore, Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett were all pretty well liked by the fans when they played here.  Then there is Rick Nash, a somewhat polarizing figure.  I wonder if making it to the Stanley Cup finals becomes a very liberating thing for him, and he goes all monster on L.A.  I kinda doubt it, I mean, Drew Doughty is a seriously good defenseman.  But now that they have gotten here, I don't know if Nash feels much pressure.  He could be the real wild card in this thing.  One thing for sure, all these former CBJ guys are used to playing against the Kings.  Not too many surprises here.  Additionally, Alain Vingeault has coached against these guys more than a few times.

But I wonder.  That was a heck of a Chicago team that L.A. beat.  But the Rangers don't play quite the same game, whereas Chicago and L.A. were going head to head with the same stuff.  And Lundquist is definitely the better goal tender at this point, which could make a huge difference.

I am at peace with the players in L.A. and New York.  We have what we have, uniquely CBJ players that we got in trade for the guys who are in these other cities.  Those moves resulted in the best season in franchise history.  We had always hoped for the same success for all of our former players, but it didn't quite happen here.  Now they are having success in a new destination and I am glad for them.  I look forward to DD head butting someone in the Stanley Cup Final. Just cause he can.

I'm going to enjoy watching this Stanley Cup Final.  Odds are the Kings are going to mow down the Rangers like so much tall grass.  On the other hand, you have to play the games.  Which is what it is all about!

Which team will you root for?