Tuesday, March 31, 2015

You do this to me, I'll do that to you

Jack with the overtime winner off the backhand
Playing the New Jersey Devils is like going through childbirth.  It hurts, it's sweaty, and you have to live with whatever comes out at the other end.  In this case, the Columbus Blue Jackets kept giving Mike Cammalleri space, and he kept burning them with it, to the tune of two goals, one in the first, and one in the waning moments of the third to tie the game.  In between, Nick Foligno, and Brandon Dubinsky (on a penalty shot) scored for the CBJ, to set up the overtime heroics.

In this case it was Jack Johnson doing the damage, cruising the slot and unleashing a backhand that beat Cory Schneider after the Devils goal tender had turned in another solid game.

The Jackets played tonight like they had winning on their mind, and the Devils were clearly not impressed with the Jackets late season run, so it was a tightly fought and checked affair.  Every time you thought the Jackets had a break going, the Devils would snuff it out, and every time the Devils got it going, the CBJ fought them off.  A late penalty on the Devils caused the CBJ to get lackadaisical on their power play (if you don't move your feet, no one is fooled or impressed by your extra man), and gave up a late shorthanded goal to tie the game.  So there it is, important lessons learned about closing a game out.  Hopefully those will carry over to next year.  As Jeff Little always says, hope is not a strategy.  Oh well.

The season of Unfulfilled Promise and Lots of Injuries winds down, with an entertaining tilt at Nationwide Arena.  I want the playoffs more than I ever have before, but I cannot have them.  I long to hear the thunderous bay of the Nationwide Arena crowd, but it will not happen this year.  That is a deferred reward for good play next year.  The players don't need some lame blogger to tell them the difference.  They know.  And they want it.  It is coming, and next year will be fun.  But for now, we must be patient.  So it goes, with a year of injuries.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Hey Mike Priest, I'm Talking to You

Not long ago the lads over at the Columbus Dispatch printed the rumor that it was possible for the Blue Jackets to acquire the Lake Erie Monsters, who play in Cleveland, as their AHL affiliate.  Is it possible for me to describe how desirable this is?  I have so many friends in Cleveland that are just not connected to hockey, that I could drag to Monsters games and get them totally hooked.  Please, please, please make this happen.  Are you not convinced that I'm begging?  I have to confess that while I am pleased that Springfield made the playoffs last year for the first time in a long time, and that they are battling for that again this year, it would mean so much more to me for it to be in Cleveland.  A road trip to see Springfield is some crazy 15 hour drive, and then what?  Cleveland is awfully close to a 'there and back again' trip, except for the antics that I am likely to get involved with in terms of my many friends up there.

Mike, buddy, listen while I give you an anecdote.  I am a life long Cincinnati Reds fan.  I mean, I grew up with the Big Red Machine.  My formative years were spent with the notion that the Reds played the first game of the year, and the last game of the year.  All that said, I have never actually rooted against the Indians, unless they were playing the Reds, and my idea of Nirvana is the Reds playing the Indians in the world series.  But there is little that could actually make me an Indians fan unless someone decided to bring the Indians farm team to Columbus.  The decision to acquire the Clippers as the Tribe farm team has come close to tilting a life long allegiance for me, because I care a lot about Columbus.  So let's put some pressure on all those Penguin fans in Cleveland, and bring our farm team to Cleveland.

So Mike, please make this happen.  And I promise I will celebrate by shouting:



Sunday, March 29, 2015

No Pressure

Boone Jenner scored last night
I noticed in the post game interviews that a couple of different players were careful to mention that they were under no pressure after the Blue Jackets beat the host St. Louis Blues 4-2 for their franchise record eighth straight road win.  That is an important aspect of this late season winning that should be remembered.  None of these guys are squeezing the stick, so to speak.  When you have to have that goal to make the playoffs, its harder to make those plays that you need to ensure that playoff spot.  We have seen some pretty miserable Blue Jackets teams over the year play well down the stretch, so a tempering of optimism is appropriate.

They keep beating playoff teams, and good ones, which is undoubtedly a good indicator.  But those are easy games to get your head into.  We'll see how they play Tuesday with McEichel rivals the New Jersey Devils.  That should be a rivalry game normally, but now, meh.  On the other hand, the team is nearly as healthy as it has ever been this year, and maybe we are getting glimpses of what it could have, should have been.  But there were times last night that the Blues simply didn't want anything to do with Dubinsky and Jenner, and there has never been any indication that either of those guys plays differently when 'under pressure' than with no pressure.  I took a listen to Hitch's post game comments, and he felt that the Blues didn't sustain pressure in the offensive zone the first two periods, made offensive plays that were 'hopeful', which fed into the CBJ transition game, and in pure Hitchcockian fashion said they didn't win the battles.  Which the last was true.  The Blues started winning those battles in the third period, and as Hitch said, 'if we'd played the first two periods the way we played the third we might have won'.  So the reality is that this was a good effort by our guys.  And not having any pressure probably won't factor into whether you win those one on one battles.  

The pressure will really ramp up next year, in terms of making this team, especially as a forward.  Consider the following possible lines.


Missing from that groups are:
Anisimov (editor's note, an alert reader pointed out I forgot Arty)
Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano

There is going to be real competition at forward on this team next year.  If they can play some winning hockey in the autumn and early winter of this year, it could be a scary group.  Just where does Conner McDavid fit into all of that?


Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Difference Between Picking 6th or 9th

Recently a reader chastised me for my constant harping on our draft position, and suggested that I embrace the Blue Jackets current run of good play.  I think the reader's attitude misrepresents my track record, as I think I have waffled back and forth from agitating for tank mode to insisting that a 'winning culture' is more important on an almost game by game basis.  In other words, the reader implies a certain constancy that I don't think I have shown.  So why waffle?

Before I go further, I am relying (i.e. poaching) from on Mike MacLean (@mejmaclean) over on the Cannon, particularly his mock draft post back on March 13th.  Part of my waffling has to do with the potential to sink into the top five picks, which we flirted with earlier in late February and early March.  That puts you in position to draft a pretty darn good player, probably choosing between Dylan Strome, Noah Hannifan, or Mitch Marner, depending upon who was available.  But once you drop out of that top 5, the urgency over a particular draft position drops.  In the top 5 you either will, or have a great possibility of getting a player that is NHL ready.  Once you get out of the top 5, the chances that you will have a player who is ready NEXT YEAR starts to diminish.  That doesn't mean you won't get a really good player, they just may need a bit more development time to get into the NHL.

In the 6 through 9 slots you are likely looking at some of the following players, in order of Mike's anticipated draft order -Defenseman Zach Werenski, Forward Kyle Conner, Defenseman Ivan Provorov, Forward Mikko Rantanen, and Forward Lawson Crouse.  The common thread here is that these players will probably go into the developmental systems, but these are still a bunch of good players.  So the reality is that there is probably not huge difference in the 6-9 draft positions in terms of there immediate impact. At some level you increase your odds to strike gold with McDavid, but those odds aren't great either way, so you wouldn't want to base your strategy on that.

If you look at the Columbus Blue Jackets right now, the urgency for getting a player who comes into the lineup next year is rather low.  We have several young players who are slightly older who are ready to break into NHL roles, and once we start getting people healthy, its going to be a real challenge to crack the Blue Jacket lineup as a youngster.  In addition, Oliver Bjorkstrand finished his major junior hockey career with a bang, winning the scoring title in the WHL, and scoring more goals (63!) than anyone.  It is going to be interesting to see what happens when Wennberg is playing with Hartnell and Dano on his wings, and Karlsson is playing with Rychal and Bjorkstrand on his wings.  (wipes mouth because of uncontrollable drooling).

So I have come around to where I can pretty much accept anything that happens down the stretch here, so I want to watch entertaining hockey and I want the team to win.  I don't think at this point that it would make a dramatic difference on the teams long term prospects, so why not win?


Hattie for Atty

Hat Trick for Cam Atkinson Tonight!
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2.  This was a really good game, representing continued progression by this group of players.  In the lockout shortened season, and to a certain extent last year, the CBJ did not deal well with teams that brought speed into a transition game.  In spite of all of the injuries, it seems clear that team speed continues in the right direction.  Teams like the Blackhawks or the Oilers gave us trouble with their speed, but this year we have seemed to be able to deal with this the situation much better.

Last year we had trouble with the elite teams.  This year we have played them much better overall.  This season went off the rails early, but when they are healthy, they are a pretty good team.  I liked Craig Hartsburg's comment during the broadcast: 'When we skate, we're a pretty good team'.  The CBJ were really skating tonight.

As evidence of the team's continued progression this year, there were two franchise records set tonight.  For the first time there were back to back hat tricks, with Scott Hartnell getting one in the last game, and Cam Atkinson getting the hattie tonight.  The other franchise record, of more importance, is a franchise best 7 consecutive road wins.  The ability to win on the road will take a team far.  Nothing more clearly illustrates the frustration of this year than the dismal record at home, and there is probably nothing easier in hockey to correct.

Tonight the Blackhawks scored first, but Ryan Johansen counterpunched, stealing a puck up by the blue line and walking in alone on a breakaway for the tying goal.  Cam got his first goal next off a deflection of a Cody Goloubef shot to put the Jackets in the lead.  Chicago scored to tie the game, then Kevin Connauton banged a poor clearing attempt into the net, and Cam followed with a shortie and an empty net goal for the hat trick.

A fun but late game, after a trying week.  Time for bed.  The take away message is that in spite of the injury chaos, this team continues to progress.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Hattie for Hartnell

Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Anaheim Ducks 5-3 in Nationwide Arena.  Scott Hartnell had a hat trick, scoring 3 goals.  Just think, if we still had RJ Umberger we could have Conner McDavid all locked up.  Don't get me wrong, I always liked Umberger but Hartnell has 25 goals!  Crazy stuff.

I'm cranking this out from a remote location, so need to be brief today (10 fingers are faster than 2 thumbs), but this team keeps making strides.  Hartnell has been integrated into the team's core, and if they can show some urgency in October and November next year they seem poised to have a good run at it next year.  Rimmer mentioned last night that 'Wild Bill' Karlsson was the 18th guy to make his Blue Jackets debut this year.  I didn't think much of that until I reflected that there is only a 23 man roster.  Yeesh.

But development proceeds apace for this team.  I love Marko Dano, and he has played well, but he was finding the going a bit rich at times last night.  Which is okay, that's part of the growth process.  It's too bad that Kerby Rychal has been down with a concussion in Springfield.  It would be nice to see him getting some NHL minutes too.  But Springy is fighting for its playoff life, so hope he starts getting in down there.

Good thing we have Chicago and St. Louis coming up, or we would be in danger of catching Philly and NJ.  Whew!


Monday, March 23, 2015

James Wisniewski: Keeping a Promise

James Wisniewski: Blue Jacket for Life
In late June, 2011 Scott Howson traded the Blue Jackets 5th round pick to the Montreal Canadiens for the right to negotiate with James Wisniewski immediately prior to free agency.  Wiz, as he was come be affectionately known by the fans and media, was pleased that someone would trade for his rights, and signed a lucrative free agent contract with Columbus.  At that time the known defects with our team was at the center position and the right side of our defense.  The acquisition of Wisniewski solidified that situation.

Wisniewski came to the Blue Jackets with a reputation as a physical player with a cannon of a shot.  His defense had its question marks, but he was brought here to score, not to be a shut down defenseman.  Wisniewski did everything he was advertised to be while he was a Columbus Blue Jacket.  Yes, that included the imperfections in his game, but his imperfections were known when he came here, and he delivered the goods at the other end of the ice.

Wisniewski lead the team in assists in 2013-14, in the successful campaign to the playoffs.  He also shattered the record of points by a defenseman in 2013-14 with 51, surpassing the previous record of 45, set in 2002-03 by Jaroslav Spacek.  Wiz battled injuries during his stint with the CBJ, as was advertised before he got here.  Many of those arose from his propensity to block shots on goal with any body part available, and were more a testament to his grit and determination than his fragility.  I wonder how long it will be before a defenseman eclipses that mark?

Wisniewski's other significant accomplishment while with the Blue Jackets was propelling Brendan Shanahan to a position of power in the NHL in the Department of Player safety, which he ultimately leveraged to the lucrative post of president of hockey operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  No matter the extent of the injury, NO PLAYER has been assessed a suspension the magnitude of Wisniewski's for delivering an elbow to Diving Cal Clutterbuck.  You could ruin a guy's career, and you wouldn't be suspended for the length of time that Shanahan suspended Wisniewski to "set an example".  Shanahan, you owe Wisniewski a job after hockey, because you stole so much money from him to set yourself up.  Wiz took this debacle by the NHL with a stiff upper lip, which needs to be remembered when he retires.

Wiz, I'm not a big fan of this trade.  But there it is.  Whining won't help either of us.  I will cheer for you loud and long Tuesday night when we have your tribute.  But next year, you're the enemy.  I know you'll forgive me for that.  But Wiz, when you retire, you're a Blue Jacket.  I am grateful for the energy and passion you brought to your role here.  You are who you are.  You were that before you got here, but you delivered while you were here.  I'll never forget your slap shot, nor will I see one like that for awhile apparently.  So it goes.  I wish you well James Wisniewski!


Saturday, March 21, 2015

Canadian Cornucopia

Today the Columbus Blue Jackets completed a franchise first, winning all three games of the western Canadian swing through Edmonton, Vancouver, and Calgary.  This is a very unusual event and one of those little signs of continued progress amongst the wreckage of this season.  Presumably Head Coach Todd Richards is intelligent enough to not say something dumb like the Arniel quote of 'what have you been doing around here?' when they swept L.A., San Jose and Anaheim in the 'glory weeks' of his coaching stint.  Did Arniel ever win another game out in California in his head coaching career with the CBJ?

Anyway, Rene Bourque potted two goals, one the game winner in overtime for the 3-2 victory. sandwiched around an Artem Anisimov, no-look-face-the-other-way-to fool-the-goalie-backhand goal.  The franchise achievement of a sweep wasn't necessarily accomplished by dominating the other teams, it was more about playing with a lot of will against adversity, as the team experienced plenty of adversity in the three games.  I guess what I am saying is that this sweep does not necessarily mean that we have a good team this year or next.  But I think that collective strength of will the team showed is something that is reasonably portable, and will help you in a lot of different situations.  It is also a prerequisite for being a team that will do some damage in the playoffs, and I think we fancy that this team has that kind of run in its future at some point.

I don't think any major damage was done to our draft position, we are still locked in that 6-7 range now, and that's where we should end up.  That should get us some really good players.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Late Night Twofer; Capra hircus Line Rolls

Dano on an amazing roll
Capra hircus is the scientific name for a goat, a new twist on the old gag of a 'Goat Line', with two kids and an old goat playing on the same line.  The Hartnell-Wennberg-Dano line has continued to play fantastic hockey, going 4G-4A=8P, through two late night tilts on the West Coast, as the Blue Jackets beat the Oilers 4-3 in a shoot out two nights ago, and beat Vancouver 6-2 last night.  A lack of stamina and conflicting priorities were among the reasons that I was unable to watch all of these games, catching the first period in each game.

In both games, the faint hearted (moi) would have gone to bed early, thinking the late season tank job was in good hands.  Against Edmonton, an early 2 goal lead looked like it had been squandered, but a quick goal by Letestu set up the eventual shoot out.  The late charge last night was a surprise for this morning, and would have been fun to watch except for the lingering effects of the earlier OSU and Cincinnati games.  So it goes.

No matter the outcome of this season, or the draft, we have seen a steady progression from Dano and Wennberg as they improve.  And for Scott Hartnell, I am really happy.  It had to be a tough off season for him, but he has responded with a really good season.  He's keeping it simple, going to the net with his stick on the ice and Dano and Wennberg keep finding him.  Against Vancouver, this line was 4G-2A=6P, which would mess up any team in the league.  This all came in the second half of the game, after the mid-point of the second period, though I thought Dano looked dangerous in the first period when I was watching.

I know the folks over at @PlanetCBJ are blasting me (and I mean this in a good way, seriously) for weaseling on my McTank for McDavid stance, but I was finally able to find the Dave Lozo article that made me think twice about it.  That article was written about the Carolina Hurricanes, but it is really apt for the CBJ as well.  It took two GMs and a complete roster turnover to eradicate all signs of the 'country club' atmosphere that was reputed to exist in Columbus, and you just don't want any of that to creep back into existence.  The injuries are record shattering, but this season's outcome cannot be regarded as acceptable in any fashion.  So seeing a couple of good games like this doesn't bother me as much as it did a couple of weeks ago.  I want to see these players play well, because I expect to see them play very well next year, and to become a force to be reckoned with in this league.

This is part of the problem with Edmonton.  Losing became an acceptable approach as part of their 'rebuild' attempt.  The players who have come to understand that losing is an acceptable approach, are having a hard time with the 'OK, its not acceptable to lose anymore' change.  That is not something you just switch on or off.

Ken Hitchcock once said about the 2009-10 Blue Jackets, during a vicious December swoon, (following the then best start in franchise history), 'this team will never compete effectively until they learn to hate losing more than anything else'.  The implication was that team was able to see losing as an acceptable outcome.  Since no one goes undefeated in the NHL, everyone has to grapple with losing.  And you want to have players that burn to flip it around to the winning side.  After torching the roster that quit on Ken Hitchcock, the CBJ now have several players who have that burn, and who will lead/drag the team into the battles necessary to get the wins.  The problem for this year, is that is was hard to get those players on the ice due to the injuries.  But the foundation is there, and you never want these guys to think that losing is an acceptable situation.

Fortunately, we have some good things in play.  First of all, the players themselves know the situation.  At this time last year, Nationwide Arena was building up toward a deafening crescendo of noise that peaked in the playoffs.  This year, its a pretty quiet place, urged on by a dismal home record.  The CBJ road record is actually quite respectable.  Perhaps the easiest thing to fix in hockey is your home winning habits, and I expect that to change next year.  If your home record is all you need to fix to make the playoffs, you are in pretty good shape, and I think big picture wise, that's where we are.

We are going to get good players in this draft that are going to help us for the next several years, and we have a reasonable chance for a lightening strike.  Given that, protecting a culture of winning is perhaps the highest priority down the stretch for the CBJ, followed closely by a priority on developing the young players.  It could be a lot worse than this.


Sunday, March 15, 2015

So What Do I Do With This?

Dano.  Really?  Jeez-O-Man he put some moves on tonight.
Bah.  I don't know what to say.  The Blue Jackets lost tonight in highly entertaining fashion in a four point game against Carolina who trails the CBJ in points.  A Western road trip looms for our guys, and the yin and yang of wanting to win and wanting to lose gains more weight.

Promise to self.  I'm not gonna look at the standings to see where we might pick.  In the absence of a 13 game winning streak, we are gonna pick well.  Either we hit the lottery, or we don't.  I'm okay with that.  But games like this help, no matter what.

Ok, I had fun tonight, and in the swirl of renewing season tickets, I lost track of Carolina drawing ahead.  In spite of that, the Jackets kept playing pretty good hockey.  The Wennberg-Dano-Hartnell line was dangerous all night, and Dano put a really sick assist on Hartnell's goal.  Gosh darn, I know other teams are going to watch tape, but Dano undressed defensemen a couple of times in this game.

Ok, it's late, and I have to work tomorrow.  A top six pick is a really great pick.  A top 5 pick and there is a darn good player available.  A top four pick, and we get our choice of darn good players.  I still think we'll be picking 6 or 7.  But an improbable loss at home tonight, puts us in a good situation.  Make no mistake, the loss of Wisniewski is noticeable.  Teams have no fear with challenging the points on our power play.  It was that way before Wiz came here, it is that way now that he is departed.  There is no substitute for a cannon from the right point.  Wiz had that.  We don't anymore.  When was the last time you saw a penalty killer writhing in pain on the ice?  Anyway, that is water under the bridge at this point, and a trade that Jarmo has yet to overcome.  I'm a big fan of the GM, but the Wisniewski trade was misguided.  I'll address that more fully when Wiz comes back to town as a Duck.    Rant complete.  Time to get some rest.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Rumbling in the Gut

Alex Wennberg, last night's shoot out winner
This week there has been some rumbling down in the bowls of the NHL standings, with the Blue Jackets riding a 3 game win streak all of a sudden.  It hasn't been pretty, but they are showing a lot of pretty dogged 'never say die' attitude, which is good for this time of year.  And the Jackets are starting to look a bit like the class of the tournament of the damned, winning against Carolina and Edmonton sandwiched around a very solid game against the Redwings.

Last night's game was a feast of the yin and yang of a good team that is lower in the standings than it should be.  I'm not saying their lowly status was not earned, it was, but that I think they are better than that.  So you want them to lose to improve their draft position, but you want them to win because its a ton more fun than losing.  As you may have noticed, I have been all over the map on that issue lately. The notion that we could sink low enough to get a really good player is enticing, but at this point, I think, unrealistic.  But when that puck bounced crazy off the boards last night, and Edmonton tied the game I thought, boy if we could lose this one...

However, I do think that window is closing.  It looks like we are locking into the 6-7 range of picks overall, and not much is going to change that.  So we might as well win to make it fun.  We're heading out west later this week, and those trips haven't always gone well for us, so things will even up.  We'll see.  Got Carolina coming into town tomorrow in the next round of the tournament, and I just can't see any gain in losing to them.  I don't think we could sink down to their level in the standings.

Gosh, I hope you are having as much fun as I am watching that Hartnell, Wennberg, Dano line play.  Richie was dumping Wennberg out on the ice for critical faceoffs down the stretch in last night's game, which is fantastic.  Here's why.  In developing a young player, there is always the quandary for whether to keep them in the AHL and play big minutes in responsible positions, or to play fewer minutes, perhaps not in your ideal spot in the more difficult NHL.  Wennberg started out the year somewhat lost, playing wing instead of center (not ideal), with fairly low minutes in third line duty.  That's not where you would project him.  Now he is playing big minutes at center in a top six type role towards the end of the year.  That experience is huge for him going forward, as he is gaining experience in the proper role.  So one of the huge benefits of all the man games lost in this crazy season is that it has probably advanced Alex Wennberg's development by a year.  He is now playing in the situations that you would want him to play in the AHL, but he's doing it at the big dance.

The whole way the Hartnell trade went down is kind of surreal.  But boy am I glad to have that guy on our team.  A nice 20 goals season, the big cat still has it, and it looks like he's having a lot of fun playing with those crazy rookies.  Marko Dano has been playing really well, and that's been a lot of fun.  It got started last night, the Marko........Dano echoing through the crowd, the play on the old kid's game, Marco Polo.  It was very subtle, but it is not hard to project to a playoff atmosphere, which will be fun, and really crazy.  I can't wait.

The young talent is starting to get the job done.  There is a lot more good young talent in the pipeline, which will continue to push the situation.  And we get to reload the system this year.  There's a possibility that we won't see a system talent reload like this for many years to come.  Even though this is a lost season, I do think that the organization, and the players on the ice, continue to move forward.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Slow Start, Late Charge

Pretend this is a really super photo of Scott Hartnell
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets prevailed in a shoot out against the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-3.  The CBJ started slow again, but came back to tie the game, and push it to overtime.  Ryan Johansen scored a really nice goal on the shootout to take the game.  This pushes the CBJ into the 6th overall draft pick, barring a miracle, with a two point lead on Carolina and Toronto in the tournament of the damned as the teams jostle for final draft position.  So it goes.

Where would this team be without Scott Hartnell this year?  Picking first would be a valid answer, but that is not how you build a winning culture.  Hartnell has been a stalwart this year, suffering the obligatory broken finger, but mostly being in the lineup all year.  With two goals tonight, he helped lead the way to the victory.  Good greasy goals, put backs on rebounds off the goal tender for goals number two and three.  Well done Hartsy.  Sorry about the pic, I'll work on that.

I think I started out a couple of posts ago a little negative on Rene Bourque.  This is a guy who has had a really up and down career.  He has one more year on his contract with which to do something.  Part of my negativity has to do with my uncertainty about the Wisniewski trade.  Bourque had some pretty big years earlier in his career, but has fallen off the last few years.  At best the expectation for him is going to be about a 20 point guy, single digit goals, maybe low double digit assists.  This is a guy who needs to take a hard look around the CBJ landscape.  It would not be that hard to be an established fourth liner on this team, and with Letestu as your center, your 8-9 goals and 10-12 assists in a fourth line role are very doable.  The question is can you play sufficiently physical (which does not mean dropping the gloves necessarily) to help control the puck on the boards.  I don't know if that's his game, I'll be watching that to see.  This is not the time for visions of grandeur for this player, its about embracing a gritty role that is hugely important to this team going into the next year.  We need a more dominant fourth line next year.  Will Bourque play that role?

Detroit is up next.  The hell with the chess match for draft position, let's beat those guys!  Unfortunately, that's much easier said than done.  Once again Babcock has done a great coaching job in Detroit, and has a totally revamped team in position to keep the playoff streak alive.  This is a new hand of cards for Babcock, and he's played them well.  He has my vote for the Jack Adams this year (editor's note: I don't get to vote, but there it is).  However, this is another great reason to not be in the Central Division of the Western Conference; our games against the Redwings are a rarity rather than an insurmountable obstacle.  I prefer the former.  

Murray may return to the line up soon.  Connauton returned tonight.  Maybe some day we'll get to have something that is not a shell of our real team.  Hope springs eternal!


Monday, March 9, 2015

Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!

Ven de Oliver he score de goal,
de Swedish Chef says: Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!
Something pretty cool for the Columbus Blue Jackets is happening in the Western Hockey League in Canadian Juniors.  According to @cbjprospects in his post over on the Union Blue, Oliver Bjorkstrand, of the Portland Winterhawks has scored 50 goals in consecutive seasons.  As of this time, according to @cbjprospects, Bjorkstrand has 52 G-45A=97P in 51 games.  This is nearly a 2 point a game pace, which is phenomenal.

Oliver had a very strong showing at the World Juniors, and really looked pretty decent in the preseason this year.  Thank goodness they sent him back to Juniors, or the poor guy would probably be hurt.  This is a late round pick that is starting to look like he might be a diamond in the rough.  Oliver seems to play a reasonably sound 2 way game, and looks like he will make the jump to the AHL next year at the least.  The 'Great Dane', as @cbjprospects calls him is looking like he has some real potential.

On another facet of the potential front, the Jackets face another 'must lose' game tomorrow night in Carolina.  I was joking about this with another fan today, and we decided it was a four point game, for all the wrong reasons.  Look, I maintain that the CBJ are a good team in a tough position, but while we're down here, sinking low enough to acquire the number 4 pick is not such a bad thing.  So while I want our guys to play well, I'm not really focused on the outcome.  We are looking at a veritable battle of the questionable down the stretch, as we have 2 games with Carolina, 2 games with Edomonton, and games with Toronto and Buffalo before we are done.  Whoever wins the McEichel tournament is going to deserve it.

This is such a weird place.  Losing is contagious, and I think we have been developing a winning culture in our organization, but it sure isn't happening this year.  I guess what I will be looking for is for us to maximize our benefit from this lost year, and then come in to next year with a real chip on our shoulder.  Believe it or not, this team has made some real progress in some areas this year, but that is over shadowed by some really brutal losing streaks.  Meh.  Enough of that.  Tighten your belts Jackets fans, grit your teeth, put your head down and work through this stretch.  I've watched a lot of lost hockey over the years, and this looks different, as you can see guys like Wennberg and Dano growing before your eyes.

Oliver Bjorkstrand is a bright spot in our development system.  If we have done one thing well this year, it is not unduly rushing young talent.  And a lot of that young talent is going to start percolating to the top starting with next year.  Add Bjorkstrand to the list of that young talent that looks poised to help our team like we have never been able to see in the past.

But for now, we wade in to the 'tournament of the damned'.  May the best worst team win!!


Saturday, March 7, 2015

I'm Not Sure What That Was

Neither fish nor fowl.  The Blue Jackets were shut out tonight in a game where the CBJ put 44 shots on goal, but that wasn't enough to even scratch the board.  I've seen games where they had lot's of outside, crappy, shots, where the shot total did not come close to representing the level of effort.  The CBJ had multiple wicked scrums in front of the net, but could not get one past Varlamov.  A frustrating state of affairs for our team, but definitely the right medicine for our draft position.  Right now we are drafting sixth, but a slide into the top four would be ideal.  Toronto is a steaming hot mess, one point below us, and Carolina doggedly refuses to win.  These issues have huge long term ramifications for the organization (for instance, Colorado selected Landeskog before we picked), so we want to sink as low as we can while maintaining entertaining hockey this year, and our team's spirit.  I continue to maintain that this is a good team in a bad situation.  Which is not to say that I agree with the Wisniewski trade, but we'll address that when the Ducks come to town.

Several things were definitively established tonight.  By game time, there wasn't really a cook in town that was left standing, due to the demand from the Arnold.  We salute those stalwarts, who made our town look so good.  If you want to try something interesting, go out tomorrow and try to order a boneless, skinless chicken breast.  Good luck with that.  Tonight, it didn't mean you couldn't get good food, it just meant you couldn't get it fast.  As a consequence, we arrived at the game about 10 minutes late.  That was sufficient for the CBJ to be behind 3-0, and the Avalanche never looked back.

I didn't feel bad about our effort, but my understanding of the 5 on 3 early was that we let the game get away at that point.  So I have some strange observations about the game.  My first observation was that Cody Bass' game had really gone to heck. Then I was informed that number 32 was Renee Borque, newly acquired in the Wisniewski trade.  Dear Mr. Borque.  That play does not meet standard.  Please bring something else next year. Your friend, DBJ.

This year has been a disturbing reminder of how pedestrian our team is when they suffer some injuries.  If we want to make noise in the playoffs, as stated by Jarmo ( and secretly lusted after by yours truly), we need to be able to play our brand of hockey no matter the injuries.  We have not done that this year.  And that starts firmly and squarely with our number 4 line.  It is an adventure to have them on the ice, and the only thing you have is hope.  If we want to have success next year, we need to surround Mark Letestu with speedy, heavy effective forwards.  Last year Derek MacKenzie pulled that line along with his speed and tenaciousness.  Letestu doesn't have the same speed, so you need to give him the forwards that will provide that speed, as well as scoring punch along with a sandpaper game.  Those players will come from within, or from free agency.  The current crop does not match the last years accomplishments, and is a fundamental reason for the slide of our team (along with the injuries).  The fourth line needs to be a match up we win, right now, that's not happening.

The funny thing is that we don't need stupid, opinionated bloggers to convey this to the team.  They have ears.  Last year, Nationwide Arena became a fabulous place of thunderous fan response.  It is not going to happen this year, And they can hear it, and they know what is gone.  These are the things I hope drives our team over the off season and through the dog days of December next year.  The thunderous roar of CBJ!! CBJ!! CBJ!!  That is a fan response that is earned, not given.  Rather than rehash why it is not there this year, the players should focus on that for next year, and use that incentive to help them through the grueling off season.

Our team is in transition all of a sudden.  I'm not sure where it will take us, but I'm hoping a deep playoff run is part of it for next year.


Friday, March 6, 2015

This was a Good Win

Marko Dano Scores a Goal
The Jackets played a solid game tonight against New Jersey tonight, prevailing 3-2.  Following a fight filled loss against the Caps in the last game, the CBJ had another very physical game.  Falk, Dubinsky and Dano scored goals, and it was enough to carry the game.

This is a good game to win.  Yes, we might have jumped back over Toronto in the draft derby, but there is nothing about that steaming hot mess that you would want to emulate, so you ride with it.  New Jersey was 6 points ahead of us, so they are not much of a threat to sink to our level.  In spite of the rather grim position for this season, this team continues to grow and learn, particularly the young guys.  Dano in particular has looked good.

I have to run, and will type more later.  But the trade deadline is behind this group, and they are what they are.  You want them to play entertaining hockey down the stretch while not losing draft position dramatically.  This game was perfect for that.


Monday, March 2, 2015

Trade Deadline Fail....Or...

Jarmo finally gets rid of the other guy's players
At the trade deadline this afternoon the Columbus Blue Jackets traded the booming shot on the right point of their power play for a second round pick, a prospect (decent), and a player (below average).  Now Jackets fans should familiarize themselves with the opposition putting heavy pressure on the power play points, without the fear that they would wade into one of James Wisniewski's slap shots, and thus be reduced to a quivering heap on the ice.  That aspect of our power play is gone, and we don't have a replacement for it.  We never had that quality before Wiz arrived, and we don't have it now.  This is not a good hockey trade, and the organization is weaker for it.  This is two trade deadlines in a row with Jarmo getting absolutely schooled on a deadline trade by his west coast counterparts.

The Clarkson trade I can see.  That's a hockey trade, where both organizations benefit.  The Leopold trade was the right thing to do anyway, and his daughter's letter was the icing on the cake.  Once again, that was a hockey trade.  Jordan Leopold came in when we had a bunch of D-men hurt, and he provided good service.  He was then frequently scratched, but handled himself like a pro.  We owed him the destination that made sense for him and his family, and the Wild was that destination.

The Wisniewski trade doesn't make sense.  Why get rid of him now, for less than he was worth?  Could you have gotten more in the summer?  Or do you think this draft is loaded enough clear to the bottom of the second round (doubtful if its THAT loaded) that it's worth it for an extra second round pick this year.  It's hard to figure.
Mike Reilly, the alternative explanation
The only thing that I can figure out, is that once Minnesota is out of the NCAA Men's Hockey tournament, Mike Reilly is eligible to go pro.  And chances are you need to have an NHL spot if you are going to get him to sign, otherwise, he waits till the end of summer and becomes an unrestricted free agent.  When you think of Reilly, you think of a Kris Letang kind of defenseman, not real big but incredibly mobile.  He has 6 goals and 31 assists for Minnesota this season.  Even if you give him a generous contract, it is going to be far less than Wisniewski's.  If he is ready to be a mobile scoring defenseman at the NHL level, than this may have ended up being a good move.  I think that is a pretty big leap at this point, but they have seen this guy in development camp for a few years, and have scouted him for sure.  So maybe it is Mike Reilly time.

James Wisniewski has always played hard for the Blue Jackets.  He has done the things that he was brought here to do, and the flaws in his game were known when he came.  I wish Wiz well on the West Coast, and at this point I hope he is the latest Blue Jacket to be the 'last piece' to a Cup winning team.

I like the Cam Atkinson signing for two main reasons.  First, is because he is a good player, and he's going to score some goals in the NHL.  Second, because he serves to keep our young talent down in the developmental leagues until they can prove they can be better than Cam.  If we have young talent coming up that can prove they're better than Cam, then that's a good thing for us.  So I like that signing as part of trade deadline day.

On the home front, the CBJ are faced with ferocious tanking all around them.  I guess we just need to keep up with the Joneses if we are to preserve an advantageous draft position.

Ultimately, there is one other message that Wiz's trade deadline deal sends.  And that is the message that this year's results do not meet standards.  The injuries are vast, and debilitating.  There is a fine line between a reason and an excuse.  But there have been long stretches where it is hard to argue that the guys on the ice have played well, in spite of the injuries.  So the message is that the result is unacceptable, and that a price must be paid, no matter what.  In that regard, Wiz may be taking one for the team again.  But this is certainly not how we want to spend next year.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Penalties Aid Pens

Johansen scored a nice consolation shorty 
The Blue Jackets most recent tail spin continued tonight as they fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3.  The CBJ played a good road first period, and carried a lot of play, ending the period tied 1-1.  The Penguins roared out of the gate in the second period, and a series of brilliant saves by Curtis McElhinney momentarily kept the Jackets in the game.  After the last save, the puck was lying in the crease, and to clear the puck to the side Wisniewski had to loft the puck over the sprawling McElhinney.  It ended up clearing the glass for a delay of game penalty, and early in the ensuing penalty kill Tyutin tried to lift Crosby's stick and high sticked him.  The 5 on 3 effectively ended the game as the Pens scored two goals in short order on the power plays, to take a 3-1 lead.  The silly penalties continued, and the Penguins scored another power play goal to end the second period 4-1.

The CBJ started the third period by yielding a soft goal to make it 5-1, and the bleeding stopped there.  The penalties continued, and with Jack Johnson off on a cross checking penalty, Ryan Johansen stole the puck at the top of the defensive zone while on the penalty kill, blew by both defenders on a break away, and neatly scored on Fleury.  Later, Corey Tropp took a boarding major against Simon Despres, and got tossed from the game, and may well have a chat with the folks from player safety next week.  The CBJ managed to kill the major, but it took most of the starch out of their game.

With less than a minute remaining in the game, Nick Foligno reminded Fleury that he will continue to score on him with routine shots, by putting one past a defenseman and into the net.  While not affecting the result of the game, it was a good reminder to the Pens that they trail the season series 2-1.

Tuesday's game will be 7 games in 11 days for the CBJ.  They are starting to run on fumes, and with no momentum to help them with this stretch, they are having a hard time putting together complete games, and their breakdowns are costing them.  Arizona flushed their roster today, Edmonton is still a joke, and Buffalo is uncatchable.  Toronto, Carolina, and the CBJ are jockeying for draft position after that.  We'll see how that all turns out.

It was a tough night for the good guys.  The trade deadline is at 3 pm tomorrow.  I won't be sorry if the CBJ don't make any moves.  I think this team can win as constituted.  It just isn't going to happen this year.  But we will know tomorrow how it all turns out.


The Devils in the Details

I'm having a hard time pulling this one together.  Last night's game was an interesting one, in that it was a near perfect example of New Jersey Devils hockey.  The game turned on a shot lobbed from outside that was spot on, far corner top, and a defensive clamp down like only the Devils can do.  I joked about this being a 'must lose' game in the race for advantageous draft position.  Thus my friends were perplexed when I was yelling at the ref for not calling an egregious hook.  Well, I want entertaining hockey as well.

The line up churn continued last night, with Calvert and Dubinsky both being diagnosed with concussions.  This on the heals of a trade that repaired one of the injury spots, so the net affect on the injury list was that it got longer.  New acquisition David Clarkson played well enough for being thrown in with a team that he barely knows.  This guy could be a good fit in our lineup, but it won't be until next year until the full potential of his contribution can be realized.  He'll get another chance this afternoon to get more familiar with his new teammates.

On the draft position front, things go well.  We are a mere point ahead of Carolina and Toronto, and if they both past us we could be looking at a third overall pick.  That's gonna be a darn good player this year.  I know the losing kind of sucks, but I really don't think its going to play out this way next year, and the draft position is a big deal for the future of the club going forward.  We'll see how this plays out, but if ever a team needed to have a 'reset' button hit, its this team.  The lineup churn mentioned above just seems to keep them from developing any kind of rhythm as a group.  Oh well.

This afternoon, the face the Penguins in Pittsburgh.  That should get their juices flowing!