Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

The Sweet, New, Alternate Patch.  Boom!
The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is in the books.  My greatest hope was that we would just eat the good draft position we earned with an under performing year, and re-stock the development pipeline.  My wish was granted, as the CBJ did nothing crazy, though they tried.  That's perfect.  Thank you Santa Claus! The biggest difference between Noah Hannifan and Zach Werenski is where they are on the arc of the development timeline.  There is nothing to indicate which of them has a higher peak, but undoubtedly Hannifan is further along now than the 17 year old Werenski (turns 18 on July 29, according to what I have read).   In short, he is young, and the time spent in development this next year is time well spent.

The bottom line is the CBJ used advantageous draft position to restock the pipeline in a lot of key areas, which is what the franchise needed for long term health.  If you are willing to accept the end of the season run as something representative of what the team, as currently composed, can do, than this upcoming season looks great.  It's more complicated than that, of course, but there are significant additions already coming into the existing squad we watched play last year, namely Ryan Murray and David Clarkson.  Clarkson brings all of the physical, and 75% of the offense that Nathan Horton was supposed to bring, and tore an oblique muscle in his first shift as a Jacket, so was a non-factor last year.  That is unlikely to be the case in 2015-16.  As near as I can tell, no one is having off season surgery this year, which is a definite step forward for the hockey club.

I like the defensive picks we made, as these guys will emerge when we need them to over the next 3 years, when we hope to really be pushing for something.  I especially like the first second round pick of Paul Bittner, Oliver Bjorkstrand's linemate from Portland.  Things that maximize Bjorkstrand's potential have a real impact on how far this team can go ultimately.  Bittner brings real size to the game, and it will be intriguing to see how this develops in the future.  I love this pick.

Keep in mind the two headed (Lake Erie) monster we need to deal with here.  It is in our best interest to establish a winning culture in Cleveland, with the Lake Erie Monsters, while making a significant push for the playoffs with the parent club.  Having Karlsson (Wild Bill), Dano, Rychel, Anderson and Bjorkstrand down there to get things rolling, and establish a winning culture is a huge contribution to the organization.  Let me say this a different way.  Establishing a winning culture in Cleveland will result in box office success for the minor league club, while prepping these guys for the NHL.  We have a large, vested interest in the Lake Erie franchise, and it is a good time to establish that success while we have a glut of veteran forwards at the NHL level.  ERATTA - Oh yeah, I forgot Sonny Milano.  Doh!

Our team needs to establish itself as a force in the Eastern Conference this year.  We have a veteran group of forwards who will need to get that job done.  If we can establish that this year, we have a pipeline of talent that will help to sustain that position.  And if you are serious about a run for the Cup, you have to be in a position to compete, year after year.  We haven't been there yet, but it's getting close.


Friday, June 26, 2015

First Round Point Producers since 2000 (a cool visual)

The other day I was at the local hockey bar talking with a buddy about the upcoming draft. The discussion centered around this year's draft class and the words "depth", "skill" and "potential" were getting tossed around at rather dangerous levels. While it's fun to talk about how good this class could be, my mind started drifting toward things we could actually quantify.  I tend to do that.

Right away the draft from 2003 came to mind. Rightfully so,  2003 is the year that gave the NHL the next wave of super-stud talent.  The first round alone had 16 players make at least one All-Star game.  Names like E Staal, Vanek, Carter, Parise, Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Richards, Seabrook, D Brown, Horton, Michalek, Suter, B Burns, Phaneuf. 
Now that's a draft class where a GM really can't miss on a player. Well, unless you draft Nikolai Zherdev I suppose.

Curiosity got the best of me and my new obsession was to find a way to visualize how the different draft classes have performed. I started coding, web scraping and building visuals and after a couple of hours, I came up with this chart.  Now while this visual satisfied my craving, it was thrown together really quickly and there are quite a few things to point out prior to you consuming.
  • Goalies aren't going to be very high on here.  Sorry goalies, your value will be measured some other way, but not here
  • Defensive player abilities are unfairly represented on this. This chart looks at point production only.  So the heavy shot from the point on a Power Play may bump you up, but that solid shut-down guy won't find glory in this
  • This starts in the year 2000.  I'm sure there were some amazing draft classes before then, but I had to start somewhere in the last 15 years, right?
  • In the interest of time, I calculated "points per year since drafted" and not "points per year active in the NHL".  I wish I had a better excuse for this, but it boils down to a lot more work to get to that level and I play for "Team Lazy".
  • Using points per year unfairly penalizes a player that misses a significant number of games due to injury. Let's all subscribe to the fact that they live in a galaxy far, far away and move on.
  • Hey look, Rick Nash is a pretty good player from his draft class. That Doug MacLean is a genius!


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Draft Day is Coming

Ever since I took the Union Blue, all I can think
about is defensive depth - Jon Snow
Now that the Stanley Cup festivities are over, and the Blackhawks have salted their modern day dynasty, we can move on to things more relevant to our CBJ, which is the upcoming draft.  If you want to get a flavor for how people think we will draft, the Cannon and BSHockey  have mock drafts posted.  Check them out.  The idea of drafting a defenseman, Provorov, is a good one.  A Russion defenseman to play along side Tyutin while he learns his trade would help.

But I found Jarmo's comments, published in this Puck Rakers story very interesting.  Jarmo said that to abandon your draft board to draft by position, particularly in the first round, is unwise.  The part of his comment I found interesting was where he said that by the time the draft pick broke into the league, your situation might be totally different.  With that in mind, the player that I hope is still available when we pick is Mikko Rantanen.  Here is the Hockey's Future write up on him.  A 6'4", 195 lb right wing would look good alongside any of our many centers, and he looked really good in the world juniors playing for Finland.

With 2 high second round picks, there will be plenty of opportunities to add good organizational defensive depth.  It is my belief that the 'system' of ranking young hockey players does a better job with forwards that it does with defensemen.  Jarmo will therefore rely on his scouts, who will have seen all these kids several times.  It will be interesting to see who they pick.  It's like Christmas in June, with all that new talent coming into the organization.

The draft is a good time.  I'm starting to anxiously await the draft, and the blessing of Development Camp, which will come soon after.  Time for our little mid-summer hockey fix before the long drought of August.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Glass Bangers - Stanley Cup Edition

Since I am sporting a wicked summer cold and confined to quarters, so to speak, I figured I'd knock out a Glass Bangers edition.  Like someone randomly pounding on the glass at inappropriate moments, it will probably be mildly annoying, but with an awkward entertainment value.  It's who I am.

Nationwide Arena

The Dispatch ran an article in today's paper that the fund for upkeep of the arena is essentially dry.  I guess this doesn't really surprise me on a lot of fronts, and I'm not concerned for now.  If it persists for a long period of time its a concern.  First off you have to remember that the financing plan for the Arena was based on the wildly optimistic revenue estimates of the Casino folks, that I never believed for one moment.  The first thing I did when they announced that deal was to look to see what happens if Casino revenue does not meet expectations.  Well, this is what happens.  It's all written in as part of the deal that was signed in the first place.  This was an outcome that was foreseen.  I guess we need more gamblers.  
2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs in
Nationwide Arena

Second the first thing this fund did was to replace the woefully inadequate original equipment scoreboard and sound system with a state of the art system for the All Star game.   A maintenance fund ideally has some time to build before you drop a big dollar investment right out of it.  But it was sorely needed, and the new scoreboard definitely enhances the Arena experience.  Anyone who was there and heard them play In the Air Tonight before Game 3 of the playoff series against the Penguins knows that every dime was well spent.  I still get chills...

Speaking of the Dispatch

The word dropped this week that the Wolfe family has sold the Columbus Dispatch to New Media Investment Group.  It is to be hoped that New Media are hockey fans, and maintain the excellent newspaper coverage we get of the home town hockey team.  The Dispatch has maintained two beat writers, Aaron Portzline and Shawn Mitchell (who replaced 'the Condor', Tom Reed) and a columnist, Mike Arace.  This results in excellent coverage, something that I have always really appreciated.  I'm an old school guy.  I like to start my morning with a cup of coffee and a hard copy sports page with a lot of hockey news in it.  If it weren't for the fact that summer is just basically awesome, this would be a very difficult time of year for me.  The Dispatch has an awesome sports page, with great coverage of a lot of things.  If you doubt this, pick yourself up a copy of the Nashville Tennessean, and see how bad it could really be.  We want our hockey news, New Media.  Please maintain this excellent tradition.

Regarding the Captain

The more I think about Nick Foligno as the Captain of the team, the more I like the idea.  Of course it is a role he will grow in, but this is a wise choice.  When last season was going off the rails due to injury early in the year, the team was able to field credible line ups which should have been able to win, but couldn't muster the will to play Blue Jackets Hockey.  The aforementioned style of hockey is physically demanding on the players, and the subconscious of the human brain defaults to conserving energy, and must be overridden by conscious will.  Our players have that will, to be sure, but in the doldrums of the early season, when three quarters of the schedule lie before you, that will can become uncertain.  A stronger team structure will help in times of uncertainty.  

Nick is a pretty unique guy.  I think he is going to excel in this role, and he's the right person for the job.  Here's a little anecdote about Nick.  It was in late May, the year of the lockout shortened season. You'll recall we missed the playoffs by a point. I had had major knee replacement surgery, and it was the last Friday while I was on disability before I had to go back to the salt mines, so I paid a visit to Front Street Friday.  Nick was there signing autographs.  Well, the line was long, I didn't have anything for him to sign, so started checking the rest of the festivities out.  

After hanging out a bit, I noticed that the line was dramatically shorter, so I figured 'what the heck', I'll jump in line and figure it out as I go.  So who's in line in front of me?  Dancing Kevin.  So I''m thinking this should be fun.  And, while I was in line a kind member of the Jacket Backers gave me a program with Nick's picture to sign, so I'm all set.  When I get up to the head of the line, Kevin naturally has Nick sign 'the belly', and they get a few pictures of that which requires Nick to get up and leave the table, and they all have a few laughs.  Then Nick comes back, sits down, and he's ready for the last guy in line, me.  

So I gave him my program to sign, and told him that as a season ticket holder I really appreciated their stunning run at the end of the season, and that they had done a really good job.  You know, the regular blah, blah that I'm sure the players hear from the fans a lot. But on this warm May morning, and incredible transformation came over him.  His eyes just started burning with intensity, and he got excited, and he emphatically told me 'We're gonna be even better next year!!'.  Well, yeah you got that right,Nick!  First home playoff win ever.  What are you going to say?  

That was two years ago.  Nick has come miles since then.  He's the right guy for the job.

The Clorton Effect

The whole dynamic of the Nathan Horton for David Clarkson deal has yet to be really felt in Blue Jackets circles, and it will be interesting to watch that develop this year.  I have seen at least one discussion this year where an author forgot to include Clarkson in his projected CBJ starting lineup.  I think it highly unlikely that we will see a lot of a Hartnell, Wennberg, Dano line this next year because of the pressure of Clarkson's presence.  As well as the young guys played down the stretch last year, they are going to have an even harder time cracking the CBJ line up this year.  Add to that an expected level of regression in the form of a sophomore slump, and you get an expectation that some time up in Cleveland playing for the Monsters for Dano and/or Wennberg would be considered a normal part of their development.  

As far as expectations for Clarkson, a physical presence, and some goal scoring.  I'd pencil him in for about 17 goals, based on dropping his high year and his low year, with a hope for 20 goals or more.  I think Blue Jackets Hockey fits his style of play, and I think he will achieve a level of comfort with it pretty quickly.  Things in Toronto did not go the way he wanted them to.  I think he will be pretty motivated to have a good season, which could bode well for the CBJ.

Well, that should be enough for today.  Looking towards the summer milestones, the draft, and free agency.  Have an awesome summer everyone!