Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Could Jack Johnson Be the Blue Jackets Rod Langway?

In 1982 the Washington Capitals were coming off yet another season where they failed to make the NHL postseason. The organization had been in existence for eight years and had yet to make the playoffs even once. This was at a time 16 of the league's 21 teams went to the postseason. The Capitals organization lacked leadership both off and on the ice and there was serious talk of relocating the struggling franchise. The Summer of 1982 helped turn things around for the Capitals, mostly due to two significant, gutsy moves. First the Capitals hired a young David Poile to fill their general manager opening. Poile was a former standout player at Northeastern University who joined the Atlanta Flames as an administrative assistant shortly after graduating and worked his way up to assistant general manager. Blue Jackets fans probably know Poile better as the man who has been the general manager of the Nashville Predators since their inception. Poile wasted no time making over the team and swung a huge trade within weeks of being hired. The Capitals sent team captain Ryan Walter and Rick Green to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis, and Craig Loughlin. The trade was instrumental in changing the face of the organization. Poile had this to say:

"This trade makes the Capitals competitive," David Poile, Washington's new general manager, said at a news conference at Capital Centre. "We've added four quality players. For the first time in Capitals history, we have a defense."
Sound familiar? How about this quote from Langway:

"Washington got a great deal. Here I know I'll have a chance to bloom."
My favorite quote belongs to Engblom, who was in the Blue Jackets television booth as a color analyst after his playing career ended before moving to OLN and now NBC Sports Network:

"Winning and losing are kind of trends," Engblom said. "You've got to break one to get into the other. It's time for the Capitals to break a trend."
This trade meant everything to the organization. They shipped out two very good players who went on to have success in Montreal (yes, both teams came out well in the trade) and received back the foundation they built their team on, namely defense. Langway was named captain before he had even played a game in a Capitals sweater. It didn't hurt that the team had also just drafted a young defenseman by the name of Scott Stevens who would make an impact as an 18 year-old rookie. The Capitals made the playoffs for the first time the next season, and didn't miss them again for another fourteen years. Although the team has still never hoisted the Stanley Cup, the Capitals shed their poor image and losing tradition in just one season.

I am not comparing Jack Johnson the player to Rod Langway, or Ryan Murray to Scott Stevens or Scott Howson to David Poile. Johnson's defense would have to improve quite a bit to reach Langway's level at his worst, Murray hasn't stepped foot on NHL ice yet, and Howson... tries hard. My point is the parallels are there. The Blue Jackets have a poor image around the league and the only way to turn that around is to start winning games. The team is ready to ship out its captain Rick Nash, and the players they bring in from that trade should help form the core of this team. This trade could be the turning point of this franchise, and right now it's on Scott Howson to get the best deal he can get. I was concerned the way this was dragging out until I read Elliote Friedman's must-read 30 Thoughts column today where he had this to say about the situation:

9. Have always believed Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson's best opportunity to deal Rick Nash will be after Parise's decision. Think some other teams hoped their first-round picks would really appeal to Columbus, but that wasn't the case. My guess is that Nash and Bobby Ryan, if Anaheim wants to do it, get dealt after Parise signs. If Pittsburgh doesn't get Parise, Nash makes sense -- assuming it has what the Blue Jackets want.
 I'm glad to see that Howson didn't value first-round picks in this draft. It was a shallow draft outside the top three, and neither the Oilers nor the Canadiens would have been potential trading partners for Nash. It seems Howson is hedging on either the Rangers or Penguins (or both) missing out on Zach Parise and then feeling pressure to up their firepower, thus overpaying for Nash. It's a sound strategy, unless the opposing team's GMs don't bite or they get their fix somewhere else, like Anaheim. I don't think this team can start training camp with Rick Nash as the captain and expect things to go smoothly, so Howson better hope his patience pays off. If it does the organization could reap the benefit for years to come and gain some respectability in the process. If not, the results could be messy.


  1. RE: JJ - do you think the Kings are exactly crying that he was traded away? Sure, he posted a plus +/- rating after he was acquired - AKA the surge of worthlessness - but, when the other blueline mates were all posting stellar +/- ratings, JJ was a -90 over 343 games. Then there was this:

    It's old hat, sure, but again, the Kings, particularly on defense, flourished after JJ was traded.

    As for Howson making the right call on not biting on Snow's offer, all I can say is this: He'd better hope to God that Murray is the next Paul Coffey. Even if it was a weak draft, overall, even for this organization, who couldn't develop Pam Anderson with 50 lbs. of silicone in each breast - how does Tyler Wright still have a job much less get promoted? (my money on dirty pictures of either JPMac, MP or SH) - to have 12 shots at a target vs. 6 is, once again - see Mason, contract extensions, firing Hitch, et al - the mother of all screw ups.

    The next solid move Howson makes WILL be his first. Although, Mr. Detroit Blue Devils (JPMac) does call his 'learning, intelligent, OJT' - this is 'year 5', isn't it? - GM.

    So, expect this statement over the next several sesaons:

    "With the 1st overall pick in the 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 draft, the CBJ select..."

  2. Jack Johnson could be... but Howson needs to get rid of Mason and not sign Boll and start getting new players in the organization

  3. Change in an organization, whether it be attitude or direction, comes from within. the kings benefitted from having the HOTTEST GOALTENDER in the playoffs at the right time. That team still only averaged two goals a game. Johnsons stats mean little to nothing to me before he became a Jacket. If he plays well here, and the small sample we've seen so far suggests a change of scene was what he needed, then it will be good for the franchise.If Nash is still s Jacket, he needs to EARN HIS PAYCHECK. If not, the value that comes from a trade will need to be significant. It should be an interesting next week or so.

    1. Nash has earned his paycheck... ten years on a bad team. Nash's job is not to save the franchise, or even make his teammates better. It was to score. The failure of the franchise lies with management and their poor decisions.

    2. The Kings actually had a 2.85 goals per game average in the playoffs. They had the highest goals per game average in the playoffs barring the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia teams who players without defense in the first round. Quick did not need to be spectacular in the first round. If you think the Quick you saw in the playoffs was hot Quick, then what you are looking at is a goaltender who is hot 75 games or so a season plus the playoffs. On the Kings, Johnson was the weak link on defense. I wish him all the best on the Blue Jackets, and what Kings fans and pundits have been saying for years is that he needs to be in the spotlight to shine. Behind Doughty, he tried to be Doughty. He isn't. Whenever Doughty was injured and Johnson became the number 1 defenseman, he thrived. He played his game and that's what made him succeed. Johnson will be a very good player, but he never would have been on the Kings.

  4. So glad you touched on the need for cultural change in addition to the curious historical parallels.

    It's pretty clear that this club isn't going to get any help righting its ship from anyone of value (Sorry, Isles, but appreciate the offer of your 2012 draft), so they're going to have to pick themselves up and fix it by their lonesome.

    To do so requires a sea change shift in the team's culture and expectations.

    1. To what end was that change one of culture? Or was it instead one of coaching, one of talent, one of goaltending, one of defensive schemes? That Caps squad drastically cut down the goals against when they made the jump. Does culture alone change your defensive talent, or did those new players change the ability of the team to defend?

      I think the idea of a winning culture is misleading and follows from a winning team, rather than the other way around. Did the Blue Jackets have a winning culture in their playoff year, or did they have the best goal differential (and total number of goals) in franchise history? Does culture alone cause that improvement, or do the system and those executing it make the shift?

      It's a matter of a coach being able to coax the most out of his players, and having enough talent in players at every role (top flight scorers/playmakers, excellent shutdown guys, good-to-great goalies) to get over the hump. And maybe you'd view the coach thing as a cultural impact, but the rest of it seems like a matter of having a good roster rather than a set of Boll, MacKenzie, Boyce, Gillies, Steve Mason, and relatively few shutdown d-men.

  5. On Parise/Nash/Ryan merry-go-round: My hope is that Pittsburgh lands Parise, and New Jersey picks up hometown boy Bobby Ryan to replace him. Then New York looks around the division and offers the drastic overpayment for Nash that we have all been looking for.


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