Friday, October 14, 2011

Making up for lost time

It's been an interesting day-plus in DBJ-land.  Fresh off the euphoria of one of my Coolest Games Ever from a strictly fan perspective (great seats, cool friends, hard-fought game), I was smacked in the face by a cold glass of water called reality:
Coach Arniel running through his system with
the Columbus Blue Jackets once again today.
  • The Columbus Blue Jackets were 0-3-1
  • Over a third of the team had yet to register a point - even a second assist, which means that you touched the puck sometime last week
  • The team is Oh-fer the season on the power play (currently 0-20)
This was very tough to take, and - honestly - hard to reconcile with the experience I had on Wednesday night.  (Which goes to show you - your game watching experience can be greatly enhanced by hanging out with great people like Matt, Greg and Alison.)  Especially when you peel back the layers and see that it's not just the "new" half of the roster that's scoreless.  It's Blue Jacket veterans like R. J. Umberger (he of the $23 million contract extension and a $4.6 million cap hit), Antoine Vermette ($3.75 million cap hit), Marc Methot ($3.0 million) and Derick Brassard ($3.2 million cap hit).  These guys have been around the block and performed under coach Scott Arniel's system last season.  They've been rewarded for past performance by general manager Scott Howson.  And none of those guys have put a single scoring point on the board in 2011-12 thus far.  

Anyway, my continued analysis led me into the darker blue recesses of my Dark Blue Mind.  And it was getting close to time to blog in anger.  But then I took in practice.

- - - - -

Assistant coach Dan Hinote took Ryan Johansen and Matt Calvert
aside during drills at today's practice for a few minutes

and did a little in-practice player development.
The Dark Blue Toddler and I arrived about 30 minutes late this morning, and the team was deep into practice.  And what were they practicing, you ask?  The Power Play.  They were working on it for a while, and assistant coach/power play guru Todd Richards was overheard on more than one occasion shouting, "SHOOT!"  (Which I think is a great idea.)

Another drill was focusing on quick passing the puck out of the defensive zone.  Yet another spent time on the defense-to-forward exchange followed by the forwards crashing the nets.  Arniel was occasionally shouting directions to players.  Whistles were blowing fairly frequently.  When the drills ended, the team circled back around Arniel and his whiteboard, and Arniel proceeded to drive home key elements of his system.

It was back to basics time at the Ice Haus.

- - - - -

I once was in a job where the work team was staffed with pretty bright people, largely well-regarded in their fields.  Problem was, the task was new and everyone had different forms of learning to do...even the management.  In fact, the management may as well have been speaking Swahili while the team members spoke all the other languages of the United Nations.  It was really rough at first, but over time the team gelled.  It took a couple "back to the drawing board" moments, and occasional moments of clarity, but the team eventually started moving in the right direction.

More and more, that's what I've concluded is happening with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  But to stop there masks the frustrations of this particular fan.

This is, comparatively with a number of NHL teams, an expensive roster.  As such, you have to think that these are talented players.  I appreciate that $5.5 million cap hit-munching defenseman James Wisniewski is out on suspension for another 10-ish days, and he was going to be relied upon to spark some offense from the point - particularly on the power play.  Still, Wiz's loss doesn't excuse the lack of production from the veterans mentioned above.  It doesn't excuse the power play, which has become so bad that a fan at the Colorado game suggested that the CBJ would be best off declining the man advantage and sticking with even strength hockey.  And it doesn't excuse that the Blue Jackets have picked up a whopping single standings point in four NHL games when teams that are undermanned by comparison (at least salary-wise) are performing better thus far.

Training camp surely was a blur of conflicting and
competing priorities for Scott Arniel and his staff,
youth talent development among them. 
Over at The Cannon, Andy Newman made a very pertinent comment as he sorted through the early season carnage, one that's stuck with me: "I have to wonder how prepared some of these individuals were for the season, and by extension, how well Arniel's training camp helped them develop as a team."  Yeah.  This.  Even if every member on the team showed up in shape (and I know nothing to suggest otherwise), that last concern rings true.  Perhaps half a team being new, and upwards of half a dozen rookies in the mix right up til the end of training camp, was just too much for our coach and his staff.

The last couple of days surely have calmed me down.  They've also sharpened my focus.  And what I've concluded is this: This Blue Jackets coaching staff clearly recognized that "back to basics" needs to be the order of the day with this disjointed squad.  They have to make up time that may have been lost over training camp and the first four games of the regular season.  They need to speak the same language out on the ice.  They need their collective moments of clarity. They need to gel.

This team will win their share of games in 2011-12, without question.  It'll take time, though...while the clock is ticking as the Columbus Blue Jackets stumble out of the gate.  This season is not lost by any stretch of the imagination, but Arniel and his staff have plenty of work to do in short order to keep things from getting out of hand early.

Thus, the question at hand appears to be, "Can you force on-ice chemistry to happen quickly?"  A "yes" answer, through whatever means Arniel uses to get his team to that point, could be the key to the Columbus Blue Jackets' 2011-12 season.

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