Monday, January 31, 2011

Why are Meaningless Games so Important?

There is a considerable amount of angst among CBJ fans at present. The team is on the brink of squandering a second season with a now annual December swoon. There are those that think because of the difficulty of the challenge ahead of the CBJ, that these upcoming games are a meaningless exercise on the way to another non-playoff season. However, being only 5 points out in the ultra competitive West, writing this team off may be premature. Certainly, no matter the outcome of the season, it would be preferable for the team to go down swinging. On a personal basis, recent evidence suggest that they may have the ability to do this. Pragmatically, they have used up all the buffers and safety factors their hot start gave them, so now they must win. Period. But, this does not render these last 33 games meaningless. That is something we may have to wait for retrospect to truly judge. So to put this in perspective, it seems fitting to review the CBJ's Most Meaningless Game Ever.

To set the stage, we need an opponent. Who else but the gosh darn Detroit Redwings? The scene is Joe Louis Arena, and we are being treated to the indelible scene of Matt the Mask taunting the Redwings fans, being tossed by an imperious Redwings usher, and in a final gesture of contempt, throwing his mask onto the ice. That night the CBJ laid an 8-2 beating on the Redwings like they have never experienced from the CBJ. The Captain, Rick Nash, duplicated a feat that had not been seen since the days of Rocket Richard, an unassisted hat trick. And, like a Greek tragedy, sowed the seeds of CBJ doom by handing Mike Babcock a motivational whip that he has used with great effectiveness for almost two years.

Welcome, gallos!

If you haven't noticed from the byline at the end of the prior post on "meaningless games," there's a new face on the DBJ blog roster.  And let me formally welcome gallos to the team!

Howson and Arniel, watch out...the DBJ blog now offers the
writing team of Dark Blue Jacket and gallos!
Anyone who's been reading this blog for any period of time knows that gallos has been a top-notch commenter.  He's also been what I might call an "informed optimist" - a worthy foil to my all-too-often pessimistic (realistic? pragmatic?) view of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I've enjoyed reading his, "Loved your piece, but here's what I think" comments over the months.  He volunteered to pitch in on writing for the blog as I wrapped up my vacation, and I eagerly accepted.

Beyond that, I've harbored a hope that this blog could eventually be a host for more than just my voice when it comes to the CBJ.  I know that I'm not the most insightful, hockey-savvy guy out there...but I like the Blue Jackets a lot and enjoy sharing thoughts with those who are of similar mind.  (And I appreciate the wisdom of those who ARE more insightful and hockey-savvy, too!)  Now, with the addition of gallos, blog readers get another very solid viewpoint to consider - one that isn't automatically in lockstep with mine...a very good thing, don't you think?

I've suggested to gallos there are no editorial boundaries as long as we adhere loosely to the topic at hand - that being the Columbus Blue Jackets and the National Hockey League.  I hope you are as excited as me to see what a DBJ/gallos blog can become over the days ahead!

Again, welcome gallos!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

On Watching Meaningless Hockey

Hockey is fun to watch. All that speed, skill, and violence flashing before you. Its especially fun to watch live. Its just plain fun to watch. Some hockey is even more fun to watch than other hockey. Watching meaningless hockey is still watching hockey, so by definition it is fun. It may also be disappointing, aggravating, frustrating, and embarrassing (if you have friends or enemies sitting near you). But its still watching hockey.

When I signed up for our season tickets, Doug MacLean was still head coach. I wouldn't pick seats until the next season. Soon, Gerard Gallant was head coach. And that lovable bunch of misfits from the first year still had the franchise record for most points in a season. Watching CBJ hockey after the all star break in those seasons was watching meaningless hockey. I loved David Vyborny, but towards the end, he didn't really start to play well until the pressure was off, till we were out of it. That was watching meaningless hockey, the year we scored 62 points in the season. But it was still fun.

The next year, the game before Thanksgiving, with my fun loving brother-in-law in tow, Hitch was announced as the head coach. What a buzz that was! And that was a fundamental change in the nature of post all-star break hockey for the CBJ. After that first partial year, Hitch kicked and cajoled the boys till they were at least in the hunt, then Captain Coward pulled his vanishing act. But we got RJ on the deal, so maybe it was worth it. Unfortunately, last year was a return to meaningless hockey, as we were clearly out of it up to and after the Olympic break.

So the all-star break is done. The most talented team in the history of the franchise seems to be getting a little mentally tougher. They could be out of it quick, no doubt. But they also seem to be building some character, and the way you find out about character is in a playoff race. We'll know by the trade deadline.

It seems a good bet that there will be frustrating, exhilarating, up, down, hockey yet to be played by the CBJ this year. And it will be fun to watch. But it won't be meaningless.

Carrying The Flag. Literally!

Fresh off their impressive win in the recent Motown Cup - conclusively proving that good hockey can be played outside the State of Michigan - the Fort Wayne (IN) Squirt AA Komets hockey club will invade Nationwide Arena this weekend in style!

If I understand correctly, the Li'l K's will be playing a game against their Columbus-area peers earlier in the day on the main ice...but a few of the kids, including my nephew, and their coach also will be Carrying The Flag prior to the February 5 Columbus Blue Jackets game against the Edmonton Oilers.  They will be wearing their Komets sweaters onto the ice.

This is unbelievably cool on a host of levels: 
  1. It is yet another demonstration of the Blue Jackets' ongoing commitment to supporting youth hockey
  2. By having the kids wear their K's jersies, it is a great way to remind the CBJ home fans of their team's minor-league affiliation with the CHL Fort Wayne Komets.  
  3. My nephew is perhaps one of the biggest supporters of the CBJ in Fort Wayne...he's been rooting for his hero, Rick Nash, for years through thick and thin.  To Carry The Flag...this is a dream come true for this little man.
Will I be wearing my own Komets jersey to Nationwide on Saturday in solidarity with my nephew and his team?  You bet I am!

(Somewhat) Tanned, rested and ready for the second half

My two week "All-Star Break" has ended, and I'm back in the States after a great, long vacation with Mrs. DBJ, the Dark Blue Toddler and DBT's grandparents.  As you can see, the CBJ ball cap (with a stylishly pre-weathered bill) has seen a little bit of fading from the sun at 20° 37' 0" N / 87° 4' 0" W.  It was great, however, to see the many other hockey fans down so close to the equator.  There were tons of Canadians out there, worshiping the sun during the day and watching CBC and TSN hockey of their favorite teams all night long at the open-air sports bars under palapa roofs.

Two week vacations are a gift from God.  If you ever can figure out a way to combine both the money and vacation time from your jobs, I highly recommend such a break.  It's soul-cleansing.  On a one-week vacation, you're travelling for two days and don't really start mentally "unpacking" from The Real World for a couple of days, so that means you only really get two - perhaps three - days of true relaxation.  In a two-week vacation, you can add a whole seven days to the decompressed time.  And it's really good...I find that you don't dread returning home after a two-week vacation like you do after a one-week vacation.

But enough of this self-indulgent crap.  You come here to read about the Columbus Blue Jackets, not my ruminations on how long one needs to air out the mental dirty laundry.  So let's catch up on what happened while I was away...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Going off the grid

While I'd like to think that this message has something to do with today's Dark Blue Birthday, it doesn't.

On the bright side, it also has nothing to do with my monumental frustration over the current state of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nope, I'm just taking a couple of weeks off from the blog to spend some time with family.

Here's hoping that things look a lot brighter when I get back into the mix.

And don't forget that, while I'm gone, there are some great Columbus Blue Jackets-related blogs listed in the right-hand column that deserve readership and support.  You've got an extra five minutes a day, seeing as I'm not posting...why not check them out?

See you real soon!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Game 43/Phoenix: My Take

Finally home after a winless, four-game road trip, the Columbus Blue Jackets failed to capitalize at Nationwide Arena and lost, 4-3, in regulation to the Phoenix Coyotes.

The callups once again made their mark.  Matt Calvert played in his second straight game (Surely, no insult to those who were on the roster on opening day...) and drew a critical holding call in the waning minutes of the game.  Grant Clitsome, fresh off the plane from Springfield, swapped in for the maddening Anton Stralman...and was refreshingly competent.  Not fantastic, but simply competent.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Game 42/Los Angeles: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets started off the second half of the 2010-11 campaign with a 6-4 loss to the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center.

I gave in to fatigue after the end of the second period - these 10:30PM starts are just brutal - so my catching up after waking up tells me that there may have actually been two games last night.

For the first half, the main highlight was wunderkind forward Matt Calvert's first goal.  While not exactly a Davidgian "Goal Scorer's Goal," it offers proof that keeping your nose for the puck yields benefits.  Wisdom for the entire squad from the mouths of babes...

Past that, there really was nothing meaningful to discuss.  The Kings - who themselves are reeling through a slump - pretty much had their way with the CBJ.  And Mathieu Garon proved that while he's a good backup goaltender, he can't carry the load with a couple "goals he'd like to have back."

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dispatch's Tom Reed goes there

I don't want to make more out of what Tom Reed has stated so well (a must read, by the way), but I feel compelled to offer a blogger salute to my hard copy media counterpart.  Wait!  I'm media?  Oh jeez...

It's one thing for a guy like me to toss water balloons around on my blog.  I'm a partial season ticket holder and a fan with no overt connection to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  By that, I mean that I don't get media credentials from the club.  I don't base my personal livelihood on access to the games, players and coaches.  As an employee of the Columbus Dispatch assigned to cover the Columbus Blue Jackets, Reed does.

Big questions

Yet another blowout loss forces this fan to sit back and ponder...

  1. In retrospect, what allowed the Columbus Blue Jackets get out to a 14-6-0 start? Considering what's happened since Thanksgiving, is it possible to get that back this season?
  2. Really, which team do we have on our hands? The promise of 14-6-0 or the disappointment of 6-12-3?
  3. Does this team really lack skill?  Is it a skilled team that lacks the ability to execute?  Or do they just lack the will?
  4. Could any goalie be successful in front of this team's defense?
  5. How long do you let a young player play (poorly) before deciding to move along?
  6. Why are the CBJ forwards unwilling to get in the opponent's crease?
  7. Presuming he hasn't lost the locker room already, how long can Scott Arniel keep playing the "bad cop" with his roster until that happens?
  8. How much of this roster will turn over between now and the beginning of next season?  How much should?
  9. What is it about this franchise that allows such mediocre to poor play to continue?  And what is necessary to change it for the foreseeable future?
  10. When will the player leadership get the level of scrutiny that the coaching and front office has had?
  11. Are the coaches in over their heads?  Collectively?  Individually?
  12. Should there be any sacred cows when it comes to the trading block?

Tough questions, but the times demand that they be asked...and hopefully answered, if the negative momentum is to be reversed in time for the CBJ season to be considered successful.

What big questions do you have?  Or might you have some answers?

Game 41/Anaheim: My take

The Columbus Blue Jackets closed out the first half of the 2010-2011 season with a 6-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks at the Honda Center.

While the CBJ fanbase bristles with anticipation of the rumored but probably unlikely mega-trade on the horizon, I can't help but ask: Can enough players get traded to make a difference in this season?  That being the case, are we starting to look at the closing of the playoff qualifying window for the Blue Jackets already?

Unbelievable.  I never thought that the season would go this far south, this early in the season.

Friday, January 7, 2011

This morning's Twitter rant

I guess I do have a little time to blog today, so I'm copying this over for posterity.  Note that Twitter limits you to 140-character message bursts, so this might come off a little choppy.

As background, there's scuttlebutt that Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson is trying to put together a deal that...well...let's allow noted NHL trade prognosticator Eklund (who is wrong way more often than he's right, granted) to say it with typical Eklund hyperbole:
The Blue Jacket [sic] are involved in trade talks which could rock the hockey world.
To be fair, there are others with more credibility that are essentially saying the same thing.  So I Tweeted away with my thoughts on what I'm picking up.  Read 'em and weep.
  • Wish I had time to blog today. Won't happen 'til MUCH later tonight if at all. So here's my CBJ trade thinking...
  • If your team can't beat other teams consistently, especially the good ones, why in the world would you have ANY sacred cows?
  • Should marketing and the Blue Line be allowed to decide whether a team wins or loses? I say no.
  • If your plan is broken, and I'd suggest it probably is, then put everyone out there and see how you can build a better mousetrap.
  • So if Howson has Nash and R.J. in the mix, fine by me....but he'd better have a better team when he's done with his work.
  • We keep saying that winning cures everything - and then say, "Don't trade [my fave]!!" Forget it. Give me WINNERS, and I'll root for them.
  • That being said, I'll echo everyone who says that such a theoretical deal is near-impossible to pull off. But Howson's smart-he can do it.
  • So hopefully the shock effect of even CONSIDERING this magnitude of a shakeup gets the CBJ out of their "happy place" and sets things right.
  • End of Tweet-rant. Enjoy your day, everyone!
What are your thoughts?  (And understand that the marketing/Blue Line reference was just a "slight" exaggeration for effect.  I may be dumb, but I'm not stupid.)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

An early spring cleaning

First, let's sort through the chatter out of Nationwide Boulevard for the day:
Never thought I'd be using THIS graphic again...
It's clear that something is afoot in Blue Jackets land.  Or maybe a couple of somethings.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Columbus is a REAL good hockey town

Put your Commodore and Wilson thoughts aside, step back from the Columbus Blue Jackets entirely, and think about this:

The 2011 NHL Winter Classic had better TV ratings in Columbus than all but 8 other NHL U.S. markets.

Yup.  Better than New York City.  Better than Chicago.  Better than the sunbelt hockey outposts.

Sure, it had something to do with the fact that Columbus has a healthy Penguins fan contingent.  But I submit that it had more to do with a town that loves its sports and has grown to love NHL hockey over the past 10 years - despite the on-ice performance of the CBJ.

This news, perhaps more than any other since the whole Arena stuff hit the fan, gives me hope that the CBJ will be around for a long time to come.  The NHL would be crazy to give up on this market.

Kyle Wilson waived - What's going on?

What in the wide wide world of sports is going on over on Nationwide Boulevard?

I'm not talking about the Mike Commodore trade request.  That apparently happened last week (though we only found out about it today).  Plus, that's a player-initiated move.

No, what I'm talking about is the waiving of Kyle Wilson as part of his demotion to Springfield, this after being told by team management that he was going to stick around for the season.  This one's on the team - on Scott Howson and presumably Scott Arniel.  As such, it's much more significant to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Mike Commodore and the Arniel/Howson CBJ

Quite an anniversary year this 
has turned out to be, eh?
Word has come out that defenseman Mike Commodore has asked team management for a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Quickly on Commie: Like many CBJ fans, I like what I've seen of the guy.  He appears to be the type of guy you'd love to hang out with and watch sports.  If he and his agent are smart, they'll start angling for him to get television analyst gigs lined up.  He'd be awesome.

Beyond that, he seems like a stand-up guy.  Last season was a crappy one for him, and he seemed to have figured out why...and then, having acknowledged the problem publicly, addressed it as well.  You can't really ask for more from a player or a person.

The larger question is that of the Arniel/Howson Blue Jackets, and what Commie's request for a trade means.  Is the request a damning indictment of the Arniel system?  Of Arniel as a coach?

Game 40/Phoenix: My take

The Columbus Blue Jackets traveled to Arena in lovely Glendale, Arizona and lost to the Phoenix Coyotes, 4-2, in regulation.

The refs were abysmal.  The Jackets got mauled.  And wouldn't you know, the CBJ actually scored a power play goal - which suggests that the Boys in Union Blue could have actually made the Doggies pay for their transgressions had the referees chosen to call some of the slashing and other penalties that we saw on TV.

Past that, the game was largely forgettable.  Our defense was porous, our forwards were out of sync and Mathieu Garon was OK but - like Steve Mason in other games - had little help on the backside.  Rinse, repeat...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Time to Step Up: Loyal, but not a lemming

Frustration has now deeply set in for your somewhat-trusty blogger as it pertains to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The events since Thanksgiving have exposed five glaring weaknesses on the squad:
  1. A set of forwards who seem embarassingly ashamed to take a shot on goal, as if it would hurt them with the all-important style points that the Eastern Bloc figure skating judge gives out.  (The Romanians love to see passing, apparently.)
  2. A set of defensemen that redefine the term "square pegs in round holes" with their inability to implement Scott Arniel's hoped-for defensive scheme.  They can't push the puck up the ice, can't pass the puck up the ice and can't defend the goaltender like, well, just about any of the NHL teams that they have played this season.
  3. A pair of goalies (one a post-adolescent mental case, the other a capable backup) who appear to often lack the ability to carry the team on their backs as top-level goalies occasionally do.
  4. A coaching staff that may or may not have been ready for the toxic combination of the above - combined with a team mentality that apparently accepts withdrawing to a "happy place" where wins and losses don't matter as much.  
    1. Head coach Scott Arniel knows what's wrong (personnel, culture) and appears to lack the tools to fix it, not that he's not trying.
    2. Defensive coach Brad Berry probably will need counselling by the time this season is over.  He could be a great coach, but we'd never know because his defensive corps simply can't do what needs to be done.  On the bright side, his penalty killing has looked decent.
    3. Offensive/power play coach Bob Boughner has not demonstrated that he is ready for NHL prime-time.  Goal production is pitifully low, and power play goals are few and far between.
    4. Gauging his behavior with the media, goaltender "coach" Dave Rook appears to be more interested in protecting his professional reputation and apparently more important consulting gig than in bringing his star pupil back to his Calder Trophy-caliber level.  (Note that said trophy was earned in a season when Rook was not around.)
  5. A front office that, while doing an admirable job (re?)stocking the AHL-level talent pool and exhibiting remarkable patience considering the implosion that they are witnessing at the NHL level, cannot bring themselves to make any of the potential personnel moves that are necessary to get this team on the right track.  While I grant that "it takes two to tango" in any personnel move outside of an AHL demotion, I also note that teams have actually made trades for players of reasonable substance during this season.  Ask Montreal, Los Angeles Colorado and their trade partners whether it's impossible to make a meaningful trade mid-season.  And don't try to tell me that there aren't teams out there that are ready to deal.  I submit that Ottawa, Toronto, Calgary and the Islanders appear from media activity to be ready to make something happen.  If I thought about it harder, I bet I could come up with more.
And so, seeing the team going nowhere on Sunday night en route to a totally unnecessary loss against a division rival that has been suffering from poor defense all season long and that was missing its top two scorers, I turned off the television set.  Since starting to watch the Blue Jackets seriously just prior to the announcement of Ken Hitchcock as head coach, I have never done that voluntarily.  I just could not take it any more.  I saw nothing, and I mean nothing, from the CBJ that would have given me hope that the team could turn that game around.  In fact, I'm surprised that they kept it to a three-goal game.  

Since that debacle, I have reflected upon my attitude and actions vis a vis the team.  Am I overly negative?  Am I contributing to the "culture of whining/losing" that some might suggest exists in the Blue Jackets fan base?  

No.  Let's make this clear, there's a huge distinction between my criticism and that of a "whiner".  

Mine is 110% pure frustration.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Game 39/Nashville: My Take

After demolishing so many jinxes and curses in the prior game, the Columbus Blue Jackets succumbed to the most lasting of their hexes and lost, 4-1, to the Nashville Predators in Whatever They're Calling That Arena Today.

This was the first game all season where I had a green light to watch the entire game but made a deliberate decision not to.  The Jackets clearly chose to call it a game after a terrific first minute of the first period, so I hung it up after the fourth unanswered Nashville goal, with roughly 14 minutes to play.  Made me sad on one hand, but the Dark Blue Toddler enjoyed having his dad give him his bath and read him bedtime stories - always a good thing.