Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lake Erie Advances

Josh Anderson is on fire
Last night the Lake Erie Monsters advanced to the second round of the AHL playoffs, defeating the Rockford Ice Hogs in a sweep, beating Rockford 5-2, 5-1, and 5-3.  Josh Anderson finished the series with a hat trick in Game 2, and a Power Play goal in Game 3 to spark the Monster's to the series win in the five game series.  The next round becomes seven game series.

Joonas Korpisalo was very solid in net, which is a great thing to see for the Blue Jackets organization.  Another really good thing to see was the play of Anton Forsberg down the stretch for Lake Erie.  While Korpisalo was playing well in the NHL, Forsberg shook off a mid-season slump, and was extremely effective in net down the stretch.

This is just a really good thing for the organization, and I am looking forward to the next round.  Grand Rapids is up on Milwaukee 2 games to 0 in that series, so the Monsters have a bit of a break ahead of them.  It's really nice to see the fire power the Monsters are showing.  Hopefully some day that transfers to the NHL.  Way to go Monsters!

A quick note about the summer schedule.  As a one man show, I'm not going to worry about a steady string of content over the off season.  I'll get a thing up here and there, and of course the pace will pick up around draft day and free agency.  And likely I'll pipe up to cheer or moan about the results of the lottery.  And I have another 'Definitive History' piece or two to do.  Probably save that for August, when its really slow.

Good luck in the next round Lake Erie!


Sunday, April 10, 2016

Welp, 2015-16 NHL Season Mercifully Ends for CBJ.

Scott Hartnell Scores his 300th Goal
No sense putting lipstick on a pig, this season that derailed from the start is finally over.  A straight shooting John Tortorella is quoted in the Dispatch as saying the win last night 'doesn't mean squat', which is calling it like it is.  At some point you have to come to grips with who you really are, and Tortorella seems like a guy who doesn't shy from that.  This is a pretty average team, that if things had broken our way, we might have been in a dog fight with Philly for that last wild card spot.

This is also a young team with a lot of future potential, but in a league where success is measured with wins and losses, potential doesn't help you at all.  The guy facing you on the ice doesn't care about your potential, he just wants to beat you.  And the Jackets did not manage that situation well this year.

Tortorella says he is focused on something meaningful, by which he means next year.  He is already planning for next year, and the things that the team needs to accomplish.  That list is long, and he has his work cut out for him.  I find these statements by the coach refreshing, as it helps to contribute to understanding our situation.

On the home front, I really enjoyed last night's game.  I can't believe those knucklehead Blackhawks quit skating after the first period and lost that game.  We were laughing hysterically at the first intermission about coming back and winning that game in our discussion of the standings, and son of  gun if we didn't do it.  I had been counting on losing that game.  Most of the other teams won as well, so we could have finished pretty low in the standings.

But is was really sweet to see the big Blackhawks contingent go home disappointed, and the atmosphere was really raucous last night, which  was a lot of fun.  Hartnell scored his 300th goal, FINALLY, after being stuck on 299 for weeks, and that seemed to ignite the Blue Jackets.  And it was a beauty, as he slid in BEHIND Cory Crawford in goal to gather the rebound off the end boards and direct it into the net.  That is a heck of an achievement, and I am really happy for Hartnell.

Dean Kukan
But where I thought the game turned was when Kane had a break away, and Dean Kukan chased him down from behind and denied the shot.  Kukan has real speed, and the Swiss defenseman could be a factor next year, but I'm not really sure anyone is taking that into account.  This guy is a Jarmo guy, signed as a free agent from Lulea in Finland and adds a turn of speed to our back end.  It should be really interesting to see where he picks up next year.  He has looked really solid in his 8 games at the NHL level, notching +4 games twice.  For now, its back to Lake Erie for the playoffs, and more skating for him.  Good luck Dean!

So we finish 27th.  That gives us a 1 in 4 chance of hitting one of the lottery selections and picking in the top 3.  Every team that finished behind us that hits in the lottery is one less spot available for a team that finished ahead of us to hit the lottery, which is good, because that would push us down a selection spot.   Worst we can pick is 7th, so knowing those top 8 or so selections thoroughly is going to be important.  The lottery itself is April 30, so we have a bit of time until we find out where we really fall.  This is the time when our colleagues over at the Cannon and Buckeye State Hockey pick up the ball, as they have writers who are focused on the prospects.  And needless to say, the second round pick that we need to yield for signing Tortorella, a rule that has since been abolished, should be next year's pick, as I think Torts has every intention of being in the playoffs.

There is a part of me that says this team should have recovered more than they did after the awful start.  On the other hand, that was an historically bad start, the worst start in NHL history that didn't happen during war time.  A new coach 7 games into the season.  Whew.  This one was a real lulu.  So in some ways it makes sense that things were so far off the rails.  This was the first time a lot of our young guys experienced having a coach get fired.

So I guess the players will find it liberating to hear the coach say it doesn't mean squat.  Next year means something now.  And that is Torts' sole focus.  We'll be back.  But today and tomorrow are hard truth days for the players, as they go through exit interviews, and get their summer conditioning assignments.  And we'll see where Torts wants to take his staff.  Some of those changes should be interesting.

Another one in the books.


Saturday, April 9, 2016

Winding it Up

Brandon Saad becomes second Jacket to score 30 goals.
Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets and youngsters beat their second minor league team in a row, pulling away from a Buffalo Sabres team starting a number of rookies, and a goal tender making his first NHL start.  The gnashing of teeth and anguish shown amongst the fan base for this win hurting our 'lottery odds' is significant.  Folks, if we are going to gnash teeth over late season standings, let's save it for when we punt when we are trying to get into the playoffs (see Flyers, Philadelphia).

The reality is that if we pick in the first 4 picks, we get an impact player.  Two of those picks are Finns, probably highly coveted by Jarmo.  So to avoid more gnashing, lets look at how much we really hurt our odds.  Because this is a new format, lottery for the first three picks, the odds are calculated some what differently.  And, for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that the lottery for the number one overall pick is actually random, instead of going to Toronto as Shanahan certainly pre-arranged with Bettman before he left DoPS.  The NHL will want it to appear random, so we'll go along with their PR branch for this discussion.

I am relying on this website for the calculations on these odds, and this website  for the odds of hitting in the lottery depending on how you finish.  Since hitting in ANY of the lottery choices is a victory for the CBJ, we have 3 chances to hit.  In the first website if you scroll down to the example of playing the lottery, that is the formula I have used, basically #of times you lose based on finishing percentage, divided by number of overall times played, and the result of that cubed.  The following are the overall chances of us hitting in the draft lottery.  I omitted last place because we can't get there.

Place     Overall Odds
29                35%
28                31%
27                26%
26                23%
25                21%

So remember when you think about these odds, that if we go through this exercise 10 times, the chance we lose is 7 times if we tank harder, versus the chance we lose being 8 times if we win a few games.  My point is that we are not seeing huge shifts in the odds of getting what we need, with the added bonus that for every team that finishes behind us that hits on their longer odds, the closer we come to the 4th overall pick, which will likely be Matthew Tkachuk,who will also be an impact player.  Calculation of the odds that would happen would get incredibly complex, and would best be done by a statistician.  Our odds of that fourth pick are helped immeasurably by the aforementioned conspiracy between Shanahan and the Commissioner.  So why complain?

My point is, the gnashing of teeth over our inability to tank effectively matching our inability to win effectively is probably an over reaction.  At the end of the day, what will be is what will be.  And Tortorella's notion of what is due the hockey gods is probably every bit as thoughtful as the tanking discussions, and perhaps more realistic.  Karma is a bitch.

So Brandon Saad becomes the second Blue Jacket to score 30 goals this season, setting franchise record in which two Blue Jackets score 30 goals in a single season.  This means they are unlikely to hit that plateau again next year, but there are a number of other Jackets who might step up to that gap, including Cam Atkinson, but that is a post for another day.

Today the Jackets will play a real NHL team in their finale, and this is not likely to be real pretty.  But it will be fun, and I plan to go and celebrate the last day of our season.  Then comes the difficult chore of breaking this thing apart and looking at it over the off season.  But for now, relax and enjoy!


Thursday, April 7, 2016

20 versus 10, the Myth of the Tank

Listen to me boy, when I'm talkin' to ya!
Boy's about as sharp as a bowling ball!
These are agonizing times for Blue Jackets fans.  The team is well out of the playoffs and the only thing to look forward to is the draft.  Last night, a Blue Jackets team with a healthy spicing of Lake Erie Monsters whip-sawed a Toronto Maple Leafs team composed largely of Marlies in the 3rd period; scoring 4 goals to ensure that the Blue Jackets could finish no lower than 28th.  This means the CBJ have roughly a 10% chance of winning the lottery for the number one pick.  Yes, you can quibble about the difference between 13.5% and 11%, but it's still roughly a 1 in 10 chance.

I feel bad for the tooth gnashing from those CBJ fans that wanted us to lose last night.  The myth is that somehow we could out tank Edmonton and Toronto, and magically finish last, and get a wonderful 2 in 10 chance of winning (20%).  Let's flip this around for perspective.  If you manage to sufficiently disgrace yourself to finish last, you only lose 8 out of 10 times instead of losing 9 out of 10 times.  These are not great odds folks.

When Scott Arniel gifted us with a massively failed hockey team, built around the illusion that Colorado was a good young hockey team (a coach and GM combination working there) and we finished last, we still lost the lottery.  Edmonton has gone on an odds shattering tear of winning the lottery, which has gotten them what?  A spot lower than us in the standings!  This is not a model for success.  Why?  Because HOCKEY IS A TEAM GAME!!  Sorry for shouting, but jeez, even Mike Arace drank the Kool-Aid.

Part of the myth of tanking is that this was the path to success for the Penguins.  They got Sidney Crosby is a rigged draft [adjusts foil hat to protect brain waves] which has netted them one Stanley Cup.  If memory serves me correctly, both Crosby and Malkin were out for extended periods the year they won the Cup, and the team won anyway, suggesting that Marc-Andre Fleury is a lot more important to them for winning a Cup than Sidney Crosby.  They also had a hard working team that won without the stars (Jordan Staal slid up the lineup at center I believe).  They had a good team!  It wasn't about their draft position.  Once that team got broken up, how many Cups have they won because of that draft position?

Edmonton has won the lottery 4 freaking times in recent history!  Where has it gotten them?  No where!  Because their team is top heavy at forward, and has no back end.  Let's run down the list of sure fire franchise savers: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and now Conner McDavid.  Every single one of these guys was supposed to be a sure fire franchise savior.  The reality is, no one player ever saves a hockey team, because hockey is the ultimate team sport.

So let's think about this.  We lose the lottery.  All three of them, because we have a 90% chance of losing each draw.  I figure Shanahan already made a deal with Bettman, and totally wastes a tank because they were going to win it anyhow.  I don't care how good Auston Matthews is, he is not going to make that hot mess we watched last night a playoff team next year; which is what I think Toronto fans expect.  Edmonton wins one of the lottery spots because it's what they do (thanks Geico).  Another Canadian team wins one because Bettman is sympathetic, and the CBJ pick fourth.  Worst case we pick sixth.  Then in the second round, we revert to our finishing position, which is the important thing.  Drafting relatively high in the later rounds is what allows you to build a team through the draft.

No matter what happens, we get to push another load of better than average talent into our developmental system.  The Lake Erie Monsters are not just a one man show.  There have been key players pulled out of their lineup all year long, and they have managed to keep winning.  There is depth down there.  We have more good players coming up out of juniors to join the ranks of the Monsters next year.  We are getting ready to load another round of good players into juniors.  THAT is our benefit from this year.

We will get a really good player to add to our team.  Ideally we draft at least fourth, and we may get an impact player.  Otherwise we'll get someone who might need and extra year of development.  It is the cumulative impact of the group of players that makes a difference, not the one.

Lots of our young players have sniffed the NHL this year, to give them a feel for what they need to be.  That they go back into the development system is a normal course of their development into NHL players.  We already have a very young team.  Teaching them to lose is the last thing we want.  Teaching them to win is what we want.

I am not crushed that we eliminated ourselves from having an 80% chance of losing, and now we have a 90% chance of losing.  We've had an 80% chance of losing before, and shockingly, we lost!  We also tend to lose when we have a 90% chance of losing.  I will say that we have played the game enough to have lost those 10-11 times, so the pressure of the odds are building in our favor.  But Shanahan took care of that before he left DoPS, so the odds won't really figure in this one.

Interestingly though, we do get three rolls of the dice.  That is a new dynamic.  So we shall see.

Don't drink the Kool-Aid.  The tank is not the answer!


Monday, April 4, 2016

Torts Opts to Play Rangers Hockey

Nick Makes the Rangers Pay Attention
My biggest take away impression from tonight's 4-2 loss against the Rangers, is that John Tortorella used his rookie players to play Rangers hockey against the Rangers.  That New York won that battle shouldn't be surprising.  That the Blue Jackets youngsters kept pace with that should be informative.  So in the end, for a seasoned ticket holder (yow!) it was a fun game to watch, while cherishing a high draft pick.  Anything in the top 4 will work just fine; can you say Tkachuk?

Which is irony, writ large.  Our faithful beat writers for the Columbus Dispatch, Aaron Portzline and Mike Arace remember well when Keith Tkachuk ruined Kevin Dineen's knee, finishing the old Hartford Whaler's career while he was playing with the CBJ.  The most ironic possible ending for this would be for Matthew Tkachuk to take this team to the promised land.  Based on his World Juniors performance, Matt Tkachuk would be like adding a second Boone Jenner to the roster, creating depth at the skill and tenacious play positions (you can't get enough of that).  It is possible that coming up dry in the NHL lottery is a trend that will continue for the CBJ, but numerical odds are an implacable foe in the grand history of things.   Whether you hit in one particular lottery or another becomes irrelevant when you are present in the long run.  The statistical hold that Edmonton has possessed must break at some point, and they will have to use those assets to build a complete team.  The problem is that they will be selling at the bottom of the market, and a package of Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout might be attractive for Edmonton for someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a former Crosby-esque savior of any franchise.  As mentioned earlier in this space, at some point you have to come to grips with building a back end of your hockey team.

But returning to current events, I really enjoyed tonight's game.  Tortorella attempted to match speed against speed, which is the Ranger's strength.  Who should know better than Torts?  And at some point, Bjorkstrand, Milano, and Kukan were going to have to face the Rangers.  They have that under their belt at this point, which will be good experience for next year.  Torts will use this game to illustrate that they can do this against the Rangers if they maintain their poise, and he will be right.

Tortorella is a damn good coach.  Don't lose sight of that.

I, personally, am truly sorry to see Scott Hartnell benched tonight. He lingers one goal shy of 300 goals, but I don't think Tortorella has served him wrong by benching him.  That is John's way of saying 'get it done' and I think Hartnell will. Outside of this God forsaken season, I think Hartnell is a huge asset for this team.  He may not like Tortorella's approach to his playing time, but he can't argue it is not justified.  I love Hartnell as a player, but I am in Tortorella's camp on this one.  If you don't earn your time, you don't get the time.  Tortorella didn't come here to finish last, I promise you.  This year was cast in stone before he arrived (NHL worst start ever if you throw out WW2).  Worst.  Start.  Ever.  That is the inescapable stink of this year that we will thankfully shed in another week, other than wearing it for the rest of our lives.  Tortorella gets it, and will make sure it doesn't happen again.
So.  Note to fans.  I love the start of training camp.  I'm jonesing for hockey, its fun to see them flying around the ice!  Get over that.  They will be lucky if Torts lets them have a puck in the first three days.  Hey, I have a training camp T-shirt!  I'd rather have a winner.  Torts, do what you gotta do brother, I got your back.  At this point seeing them bake in training camp will be as entertaining as watching them glide around thinking they are bad-asses.  The start CANNOT suck Torts, and anything you have to do to make that happen is fair game,

Looking forward to taunting some Black Hawks fans as they fail to show for our finale.  So...


Friday, April 1, 2016

Sonny Starts, Isles Finish

Sonny Milano
In a near perfect result for this dismal season, the CBJ got skated off the ice in the first period, but still scored the initial goal on their lone shot for much of the first period (Sonny got the other shot), while the Islanders pumped in 3 goals.  The CBJ rallied, and tied the game by early in the third period, gave up another, but were unable to tie the game in the waning moments.

The loss puts the Jackets tantalizingly close to the cellar spot, and the maximizing of lottery odds, which is all the remainder of this season is good for.  Torts isn't looking for moral victories, and neither is the team.  But they saw exactly where a 15-1-1 run at the end will get you (nowhere), and that effort is not there any longer.  I don't blame them, I don't have a problem with it.  Two home games remaining, make those entertaining or win them, no matter, we have done what we can on maximizing the odds.  We've done the cellar dweller thing before, lost the lottery, but won the war since we got Murray.  We just need to hit once when it matters, and it is to be hoped that the hockey gods hear our wails of anguish.  Drop Auston Matthews on this team and you've got something newsworthy.  Drop him in Edmonton and it's more wasted talent.  Arguably, since this is Toronto's league by the way, you get more news coverage in Toronto, but they are blowing that thing up and I'm not sure it will recover as quickly as a CBJ team that is poised to go somewhere if they will simply quit shooting themselves in the foot.

So throw us a bone hockey gods.  Torts is here to make sure it won't be wasted.

I didn't get to see the game, but listened to it while sitting in traffic for an hour and a half near Louisville on the way to visit the Predator-in-law, and it seemed like Sonny did okay in his NHL debut.  This is good work by the Jackets management, giving lots of guys a taste of what the NHL is, while maintaining a winning squad up at Lake Erie.  I sure hope they solidify their playoff position, and the taste of the NHL should keep them motivated for more.  The reality of this year is that it is about getting some reps for the young guys, with the knowledge that the reps will pay off in the long run.  Seth Jones may have 200 games in the NHL, but these are his major reps as 'the man', and the experience will help him a lot moving into next year.

The sun is setting on this season for the CBJ, but the beauty of the game is that it rises again next year, and we start with a clean slate.  We recognize that this year, where perhaps we were deluded last year on this issue.  But we get to enjoy a few more games before summer, and that will be fun.