Thursday, April 16, 2015

Monster Mania!

Ahhhhh!   Look what Icethetics has done!!!!
The lads over at Puck Rakers are forecasting that the deal is going to go down, and that starting tomorrow, the first domino of the transition of the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate from the Springfield Falcons to Cleveland's Lake Erie Monsters will fall tomorrow.  Check out the rendering from Icethetics that I found on a Google search of Monsters images.  How cool is that gonna look!?!  Think of the possibilities!

Gosh I am super excited about this move.  I have lots of friends in Cleveland that are kinda 'meh' about hockey and the Blue Jackets, but with this connection I have many nefarious plans for road trips already starting to come together.  This is a great time for a Cleveland team to get started, as the CBJ have a lot of talent in the pipeline, the pipeline is going to get some significant additions this June, and the affiliate should be a good team for awhile.  The games are played at Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavs, and a very nice facility for an AHL operation.

This is just such a great, natural fit that will allow us to keep a much closer eye, as fans, on the development of our prospects.  This is a very nice move by our business folks, and they deserve an 'atta boy'!

The affiliation with Springfield has been really positive for the Blue Jackets, and for Springfield.  The team made the playoffs for the first time in many years with Jackets talent on board, and it has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.  The Falcons have been good to us, but I really look forward to having our minor league players more accessible going forward.


Monday, April 13, 2015

DBJ's 5 Thoughts on the 2014-15 Blue Jackets

I didn't watch half as much CBJ hockey as all of you (You raise a family with three kids under the age of six and tell me with a straight face that you can watch 80-odd games of 7PM puck drops!), but I've kept abreast from afar and will keep my comments out of the weeds.

Using a familiar format from days past, here are my 5 Thoughts on the season just past:

1. Fire the conditioning and medical staff members.  Now.  Something went terribly, terribly wrong in the way this season came to pass.  That and that alone is the reason why the CBJ are done right now.  When healthy, they were a wrecking ball.  But that was, what, six weeks across the entire season?

Get people into Columbus who can keep a hockey team strong and healthy.  Period.

2. Foligno for Captain on the presumption that he realizes that he's keeping the seat warm for Jenner.  No disrespect to Nick but rather a stated perpetuation plan with a relatively older player and a younger player in the mix.  That's just responsible planning.

Foligno with the C, Jenner and Dubinsky at minimum with the A.

3. My old boss in the corporate finance world had a fantastic saying: Feed the Eagles, Starve the Turkeys.  That should apply with the CBJ.  And in a lot of other places, but we'll keep the focus on hockey.

4. Thank God that giant distraction called the All-Star Game is behind us.  Let's stay focussed on the real prize: The Stanley Cup.

5. Next season will be John Davidson's fourth season with the Blue Jackets, and it will be Jarmo Kekalainen's second "and a half" - he was hired in February 2013.  By any reasonable standard, it's time for the pair to show on the ice what they've accomplished in their jobs.

Playoffs or bust.

"Hope" is a four-letter word.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2015-16: NO EXCUSES.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

CBJ Cannon the Ultimate Anti-Tank Gun

Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets rallied, rallied, again, and rallied again to defeat the New York Islanders 5-4 in a shoot out.  Finishing the season 12-0-1, the Blue Jackets will end up picking 8th in a loaded draft unless someone behind them wins the lottery and pushes them to 9th.  This fits the organizational need well, as we will get good players to feed into the player development system that ensures the long term health of the organization.

Kudos to the 2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets, who were unwilling to leave the franchise record books alone, and established the longest point streak in franchise history, as well as a goal scoring record, along with the record for most man games lost to injury (508; 6/game).  Unfortunately, they also flirted with the longest losing streak in franchise history early in the year, and had multiple long losing streaks, the weight of which collapsed our playoff hopes.  Nonetheless, the players were determined to finish the season in style, and refused to collapse when the Islanders put late goals on them.  That the team has shown growth this year is evidenced by the fact that they lost these games to the Islanders earlier in the season, collapsing when the explosive Islanders hung a few goals on them.  Not so last night.

The stretch run with this team was extremely entertaining.  As I have mentioned many times, I've watched lots of these strings get played out, and you can tell when people are going through the motions.  They show up, they try to play hard, but if the other team wins, well, meh.  This team just kept battling last night, extending their season by 5 minutes and a shoot out, before coming out with the last regular season win in the venerable Nassau Coliseum.  

New players like veteran Scott Hartnell, as well as new comers Alex Wennberg, Marko Dano, and Jeremy Morin have been assimilated into the work habits and 'never say die' attitude that served the club so well last year, and that they were unable to re-create for long stretches of the season this year.  Next year David Clarkson will need to be assimilated, but to me, the Blue Jackets style is a good fit to his game, and with more realistic expectations, he should be a good fit to the group.

As a literary tool, foreshadowing can be effective device for creating good writing.  So here is some foreshadowing of a subject that we will repeatedly visit over the off season.  The need for stability.  Let's get Letestu and Calvert into the fold, and the line up for next year is essentially set.  The players have made a convincing argument that the room should be preserved, and management should back them up on this.

By the time the dust had settled after the CBJ failed to make the playoffs the year after our first playoff appearance, we had done a complete roster turnover.  That seems unnecessary this year, and rather as an antidote to the early season struggles, we might want to attempt stability at least once in franchise history, just to say that we have tried it.  If you sign Letestu, Calvert, and McElhinney, you have your team going in.  There is not a darn thing wrong with establishing a veteran team that forces the young talent to kick the door in.  Injuries will happen, the young guys will get their chances.

If this whole Lake Erie Monsters thing comes through, we will want a good team there as well.  Karlsson, Rychal, Bjorkstrand, Anderson, Forsberg et al need to establish a winning culture in the AHL, and prepare to kick the door down in 2016-17.  If they want to jump to the big club, they need to jump over people.

Even though it may not feel like it, this team made progress this year.  It is to be hoped that we reap the benefit of that progress next year.  I am disappointed by the fact that we didn't make the playoffs.   But the players did the next best thing down the stretch, and as a fan, I appreciate that.  Way to fight to the last.  Well done gentlemen, well done indeed.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Here I go again...

What more do we want from Nick?  Oh yeah, leadership!
I wanted to make my blog title something like 'Nick Foligno, Captain of the 2015-16 Columbus Blue Jackets', but there is a real lack of decorum in that choice.  That is an announcement that belongs to the team, not some two bit blogger venting his spleen.  But I think Nick is going to be the captain, mostly because he has earned it.  And let me assure you of my bias.  I bought a Nick Foligno jersey at the midway point of the last season.  It's one of those things I've never regretted.  I also have a Sergei Federov third jersey, because he will be in the hall of fame, and a Derek Dorsett third jersey #becausehesawesome, but my Foligno Jersey is an every day home jersey.  Not autographed yet, but I have my hopes.

In another fit of disclosure, I also have a Nick Foligno all-star captain jersey, but that is more of a celebratory purchase.  I got Nick's home jersey last year because that was what I wanted to wear for the grind of the regular season.  Nick has rewarded that choice with stellar play, all while playing within himself and within the team structure.  A great team has guys who score all through the line up when their turn comes up.  I think we have seen that team out of the Blue Jackets these last 10 or so games.  These guys will shamelessly feed whoever is hot, cause that's how you win.

And that is what we need.  Wins.  Lots of them, especially early in the season.  This team is trying to make a demonstration to management that in spite of the results, that they deserve to stay together.  And they are assembling a compelling argument.

So how does naming Nick captain change anything?  First and foremost is I believe he has the respect of the locker room, particularly those guys that are natural leaders like Dubinsky and Johnson.  They have to be able to accept a captain.  A captain has to be someone who is respected by all in the room.  If you are a young guy who has already scored thirty goals in a season, what do you need to see to make them someone you respect.  Of course a guy who also scores thirty goals is going to get a listen from you, which highlights the importance of Nick's achievement this year, as he is currently sitting on 31 goals.  In summary, Nick is the right guy for the job.

Late game, time for bed.  But first, congratulations Nick.  This is another job that you will handle with grace and effectiveness like you have approached everything you have touched for the last two years.  Seriously Nick, you are going to make a great captain.  It's time to embrace the role.


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An A** Beating of Biblical Proportions

How Do You Spell Shut Out?
Two teams out of the playoffs, heading opposite directions clashed tonight.  In our pregame scrum I whimsically predicted an 'A** Beating of Biblical Proportions; you know, 2-1' as my prediction.  Instead, the Blue Jackets laid an A** Beating of Biblical Proportions on an original six team by beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0, significantly eclipsing my prediction.

This message is from me to Brendan Shanahan, President of Hockey Operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The rest of you can check out if you wish.  First of all, you owe Wiz close to a million dollars in lost salary in your gambit to obtain your current position.  Pay up dude.

Second, as a long term Blue Jackets fan, I know how effective it is for the General Manager/President of Hockey Operations to have a significant presence in the locker room, and by that I mean showing up once.  It will only take 2 or 3 coaches and a complete changeover in front office personnel to move past that gambit, if the Blue Jackets experience is any measure.  You gained exactly one win, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, by showing up to tell everyone they were optional.  You got nada out of the same team a few weeks later.  Way to think long term dude.  

I have taken a certain amount of well deserved flack for flip flopping on the whole tanking issue.  In a moment of clarity, Dave Lozo's article on the issue of a winning culture struck home with me.  You could not have had a more succinct example of a winning culture playing against a 'culture of rebuilding' than the game tonight.  Talent wise, there is no way Toronto is a 'lose 5-0' team.  In terms of team structure, where one team has been told losing is acceptable, and another team where losing is unacceptable, a 5-0 score in the favor of the losing unacceptable folks makes complete sense.

If losing is acceptable today, how then do you propose to inform your players that losing is unacceptable tomorrow Mr. Shanahan?  Do you think that pronouncements from on high will be sufficient?  Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.  Seriously.   Snicker, snort.  Really?

I will give JD and Jarmo and HCTR props for consistency of message.  Losing is not acceptable.  Our team has been making a statement down the stretch that they believe is a clear message to management that it is desirable to maintain the existing team structure.  As a fan, I think this message is compelling.  As a fan, I expect a playoff run next year. I don't see it happening without players like Letestu and Calvert on the roster.  Jarmo, as a fan, I don't see a competition for the fourth line as a path to the playoffs, I see that competition as defining our chances, and I expect proven NHL players on that line, not tweeners.  If the young folk can displace the vets by Christmas, so be it.  And frankly I expect the fourth line to be Matt Calvert, Mark Letestu, and Morin/Borque or a demonstrably superior alignment.  We need to be 'in the playoffs' by Christmas (see Penguins, Pittsburgh for the fraughtness fraught of being ahead early).  Screw it.  I'll take my chances of kicking a** early and riding it out.  But that's another post for the off season.

Nice tank job Toronto.  An A** Beating of Biblical Proportions is always a good thing for your opposition.  But you get a draft pick.  Sort of.  Good luck with that.


Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Overly Invested

Matt Calvert Got it Started With Sheer Hustle
Sorry about the delay.  That one stung a bit, and I just wasn't quite ready to write about it yesterday.  I really wanted the Blue Jackets to win that game.  I should know better.  I've watched them play out the string, sometimes with decent success, and I know it is not a forecast for next season.  But I wanted that one bad.  It happens.  It's hockey.  But still....

Props to the Rangers.  One thing that really annoys me is when a team comes in with an air of superiority, like they don't really have to try to beat you...cough, Penguins, cough.  The Rangers brought their 'A' game yesterday, and won a hard fought battle.  That part of the whole thing doesn't bother me.  But I really wanted that one, and two bang-bang plays and it's gone.  So I had to let it simmer a bit.

I think the Blue Jackets management thought they would create some competition for the fourth line this year when they didn't bring some people back from the 2013-14 play off team.  I've got news for everyone, the competition for that fourth line role in 2015-16 just went through the ceiling in the last few games.  The line of Letestu, Calvert and Morin has been playing with speed and verve, and was winning its match-up last night.  And that's one thing about Todd Richards, if he's got a line that's winning its match-up, he's going to dump them on the ice.  I don't know if that fourth line wins any fights for you, but the fighters are going to have to chase it, which is a match-up problem for the fighters.

Calvert and Letestu are both unrestricted free agents this year(Errata: Calvert is an RFA).  Gosh there is pressure from the young guys below, but you have to have guys that can play at the NHL level to start the year next year, not have an ongoing competition.  I could see that Calvert and Letestu might want to test the waters of free agency, but for us to do some real damage next year we need a fourth line that can really come out and buzz.  These are really tough contract choices, but in spite of the fact that I really like our young guys, I really like the notion that they have to jump over people like Calvert and Letestu if they want to play for this team, and that is no low bar.  Injuries happen.  The young guys will get their chances.

Nick Foligno said that the team was trying to make a statement that they deserve to stay together.  I think they've made their case.  This team needs to come out of the gate next year like a rocket off a launch pad.  That starts with a fourth line of proven NHL players that can pull down big minutes in a game of speed and possession.  This is not the time to be trying out 'tweeners on our fourth line.  Sign Letestu and Calvert.  It's going to cost you some dinero, but that's an investment in a playoff run.  With Letestu, Calvert, Morin and Borque fighting for playing time on the fourth line, we are really going to have something.

Richie LOVES to roll four lines.  It's time to give him those lines Jarmo.  Maybe the contract negotiations don't work.  But at least give it a whirl.  Set this team up with a lineup with a proven track record for 2015-16, and make the playoffs early.  Then worry about how much damage you can do when you get there.


Saturday, April 4, 2015

Bait and Switch

Nick Foligno, a hat trick and 30 goals
Tonight the Blue Jackets spotted the Pittsburgh Penguins two goals, feeding their, and their fans, superiority complex before responding with four goals to take the lead 4-2.  The Penguins responded with a goal, and the Jackets responded with another goal and a slew of hats, as Nick Foligno recorded a hat trick in the 5-3 victory.

I lost a really sweet hat tonight, but was able to race downstairs to the Blue Line and cop an excellent replacement of the same ilk.  I have been wearing that hat all year, and unfortunately missed the game when Hartnell got his hat trick (though I did buy an 'after the fact' hat for the summer because it was my birthday), so had a lot of fun tossing a much loved hat tonight.

Nick Foligno.  What can you say? A hat trick to get to 30 goals for the first time in his career.  It makes a guy who bought his jersey last year feel really good.  What a year!  The funny thing about Nick is that I don't think those things are what defines him to himself as a hockey player.  Whether he gets to 30 goals next year is not a measure he will use to gauge his play next year, it will be how solid is his play.  Well done Nick, well done indeed!

Another lively barn tonight, as the Pittsburgh fans, fated to be disappointed (LOL), tried to establish themselves as the dominant fan base in the arena.  And indeed, there was quite the roar as Crosby, who actually showed for this game in Columbus, scored the first goal (stick tap to Mrs. Gallos for that crack).   At the midway mark of the second period, off another goal tender interference that wasn't called, the Penguins scored on a goal tender who had been spun around in the crease and had his back to the puck.  Unfortunately for the Penguins, Bobrovsky faced the puck for the rest of the game.

With time winding down in the second period, I can remember thinking to myself 'if we can get out of the period only down 2-0 we'll be good'.  Then I reflected, and realized that that was the best way to be down 3-0, so revised my thought to, 'we need to get one at the end of the period to get us into this game!'  Well, the CBJ executed, with goals by Foligno and Calvert to end the second period and tie the game.  This totally changed the crowd dynamic in Nationwide Arena, as the home fans started to assert their dominance.

The Jackets opened the first half of the third period with 2 goals to take a 4-2 lead, with goals by Foligno and Hartnell.  Pittsburgh answered the second goal, but ultimately, Nick Foligno canned the empty netter to secure the 3rd hat trick in the recent winning streak by the CBJ, as well as the win.  Their was no question as to which fan base was in charge at the end, as the Pens fans streamed to the exits.

The Penguins know in their heart that they are the much better of the two teams.  The early lead fed into their superiority complex.  Unfortunately, the CBJ players didn't drink the Kool-Aid, and proceeded to lay 5 goals on them.  This loss wasn't about Marc-Andre Fleury.  He actually played very well, and kept the Pens in the game early.  This was about the guys playing in front of him. If they want to do anything in the playoffs, its time for them to start respecting their opponents, and their abilities, and coming to play, realizing they may not be the best team.  Crosby scored tonight, but they lost.  Wait.  Did I say that?  No, seriously, the Penguins are a much better team than the Blue Jackets, and they will pretty much always win.  Trust me.  I know what I'm talking about.  No need to change a thing.  Ha ha ha ha!  It's important to stay the course.  After all, we will have to play these superior beings next year.  Snort. Snicker.  Harumph.  Yeah.  They sure are good.  Chortle.

Tonight the Blue Jackets set a franchise record winning streak.  This erases one of their early season losing streaks, but too little too late, as they were mathematically eliminated by a Bruins victory after the last CBJ win.  Next year they CANNOT let the losing streaks happen early.  It's ok to lose.  It's going to happen.  You can't let those 9 game losing streaks happen.  This team has set plenty of franchise records.  Next year they need to set a franchise record by winning a playoff series.  But much work to be done between now and then.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

Life in the Barn

Jack Johnson scores again
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets won their eighth straight game defeating the playoff bound New York Islanders 4-3 in a shoot out.  This game had some very interesting dynamics.  Basically, in all three periods the CBJ coughed up an early goal.  Then they would sort of grind their way back into the game.  The Jackets were successful in limiting the Islanders high power transition game, something that we have not been able to do in the beatings they handed to us earlier in the season.  Then they seemed to grind their way back into the the game as each period went on.

The Jackets tied it in the first after surrendering the traditional first goal.  It's what they do at home.  Dalton Prout bounced one in off of Dubinsky's boot to tie the game.  After a mostly back and forth affair, the Islanders got the next two goals, and one had to wonder if the Jackets late season run was about to come to an end.

But the Jackets kept at it, while the Islanders kind of quit shooting.  This resulted in lot of pressure in the Islanders end, which they successfully fought off for quite awhile.  But finally, shortly after the midway point of the third period, the Jackets broke through.  In the midst of a scrum, where it seemed like Wennberg put the puck on net twice, Hartnell once, Foligno came screaming by on a strafing run on the crease, and finally Jack Johnson was the unaccounted man, canning the fifth attempt as he crashed the net.  This was a big goal and a funny thing happened.  The building woke up.

To put this in perspective, these late season games have shown a very normal reaction in Nationwide Arena.  We have watched many a Jackets team play out the string, and its normal for the building to be fairly quiet, cheers start slowly, and don't have a lot of oomph.  It's the way the building is under these circumstances.  Indeed, that phenomenon is partly why the crazy atmosphere of last year was so late in blooming, its not what we are used to.  But truly, to anyone who experienced last year's playoff run, it is difficult to forget the thunderous atmosphere in the Arena.  But it is not to be this year, it derailed long ago.  Well, OK.  Been there, done that.

But a funny thing happened tonight after that Jack Johnson goal.  The crowd really woke up, and made some good noise.  Which is something these players need to hear.  Part of me wants to say they deserve to hear it, but that's not quite right.  If we were in the playoffs, they would deserve it.  We can't have that, but it's important to remind them that it is there if they can go out an take this thing next year.  And the Islanders are a good reminder of all of this, as they pretty much put themselves in playoff contention with their early play this season, and have held on to that, so they will get the reward.

Back to tonight, the crowd was getting loud and the Jackets were responding.  Late in the period, Jenner took the puck behind the Islander's net, fed the puck out to Savard who sent a shot in that Cam Atkinson tipped on goal, and Ryan Johansen came in from the back door to bat the puck home for the tying goal.  After killing off a bogus delay of game penalty late, the Jackets sent the game to overtime.

The overtime period was thrilling, with the CBJ putting a barrage of pucks on net as the Islanders had to kill an OT penalty, but to no avail, so the game went to a shootout.  Letestu and Johansen scored, Bob said Nyet!, and the win was in the books.

I was glad to hear the loud crowd tonight.  This winning streak is a day late, and a dollar short, but still is something of worth.  The players should hear that we value their effort, and they heard it tonight.  Don't get me started about Wennberg.  This guy is starting to look like a really special player.