Sunday, February 28, 2016

Fear and Loathing in Jacketsville

Renee Bourque, on Waivers
With a huge, multiple stick tap to Hunter S. Thompson for the tag line, things are uncertain now amongst the CBJ faithful.  Thompson's works under the above title attempted to capture a mind-set in my opinion.  A mind-set of uncertainty, yet of expectation.  This captures my feelings as we stand on the brink of trade deadline 2016.  Nervous checking of Twitter, scanning for text messages, these are all characteristics of nervous Jacket fans around Columbus.

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that the CBJ have placed Renee Bourque on waivers.  This is an interesting move.  They are seeing if anyone will take on his contract for nothing in return.  I doubt if this happens, so Bourque will head off to Lake Erie to mentor the younger players down there.

I am unsettled about the Hartnell trade.  I don't like the notion, and I have a high level of respect for the player.  I think he is going to make good on that contract, and whoever takes him is going to get their money's worth.  Yet you want to sell at the top of the market, and that's where Hartsy is now.  I hope he either goes somewhere he likes, or to a contender, and he gets a chance to show his mettle in the playoffs.  I just don't see where or how you replace the 20 goals, and since his game is not predicated on speed, I think he will continue to reasonably produce for the remainder of the contract.

Tyutin came to Columbus in the Nickolai(y) Zherdev trade, and Fedor's incredible resiliency has made that a smashing trade for former GM Scott Howson.  The notion that we might get something for Toots as he moves on to other things is just icing on the cake.  But I will be sad to see him go,as it looks as if the organization is turning another page, and going even younger.  It's a good thing we will restock the minor leagues with this draft, cause there will be a talent drain of minor league players heading towards the parent club.

So I am nervously awaiting the fall out of trade deadline 2016.  It may be an interesting team taking the ice against the Rangers tomorrow at 7:00.


Monday, February 22, 2016

A Shooter's Mentality

Does Cap Relief really replace what you get
from Scott Hartnell??
During the broadcast of the CBJ's 6-4 win over a tired Boston Bruin's club, Jeff Rimmer said that Tortorella had told the team to have more of "a shooter's mentality".  Whether or not Torts actually said that, the team played tonight like he did utter those words.

The Jackets put together three good periods in a very entertaining game, winning a lot of races to the puck.  Boston was just coming in off the road, and their legs showed it.  Better yet, the Jackets took advantage for a good win.  Best yet, this was a game of depth, as contributions came from all parts of the lineup.

Boone Jenner really had it going tonight.  Scott Hartnell really had it going tonight.  Saad scores a late goal to push it back to a two goal lead late in the game.  This was a really good all round team effort tonight.

The CBJ are on national TV tomorrow night against the Wings, and they need to be consistent with their effort in that game.  You want to establish yourself against this Detroit team if you can.  They have assembled a much younger, pretty solid team in Detroit, but its up to us to bring a good game against them.  Perhaps only Tyutin remembers the old days in the Western Conference and our battles with the Wings.  It's a different dynamic now.  Our guys need to bring a good game if they think they can win.  It should be fun to watch.

I have to ask this question before the trade deadline.  Does relief on the salary cap replace what you get from Scott Hartnell?  I keep hearing people say we should move Hartnell for cap relief so we can sign existing players.   Umm, he's a 20 goal scorer.  You are moving that out, but not replacing it.  His contract is not that crazy for a 20 goal scorer.  If you are paying that for Umberger, who has 1 goal, then yes, its too much.  And the sandpaper he has in his game is getting rarer in this league, and if you have aspirations of really winning something you need something like that.

So here's the concern with Hartnell.  He has like 3 years left on his contract, but if he can score ~20 goals this year, he likely can do it 2 out of the next 3 years.  The thing about older players is that they tend to lose a step.  The best thing about Hartnell, is that he never had that step in the first place, so his game is based on something different, and he'll never miss it (in the context of superbly conditioned super fast humans).

So keeping Scott Hartnell is an investment in your organization having the chops and boldness to win something that no one believes you can win.  And in today's NHL, $4.8 million for that isn't a crazy number.  I don't think he will be here after the trade deadline, and there is a part of me that wants to see Hartnell go to a team where he can win something this year.  But I'd much rather see him win it here at some future date.  Just sayin'.


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Time to Lose 'the Hug'

Boy has Nick Foligno had a rough year.  For everything that went right for him last year, things have gone wrong for him this year.  The puck won't go in this year, whereas it always found the net last year.  Part of his success was an uncharacteristically high proportion of minutes on the top line due to the slew of injuries last year, and he made the most of the opportunity.

At the end of a different late season surge following the lockout, Nick took to giving the crazy new goal tender Bobrovsky a big hug when he won.  The marketing folks loved it, and it was a big part of the organic, emotional surge that lifted the team into the playoffs the following year, and it became something of a ritual.  At this point, the ritual's connection to that organic emotional time has been completely lost.  Bob is out until who knows when, Nick is struggling, and this is an ideal time to let 'the Hug' pass into the history segment of our organization.  Take the mantle of 'the Hug' off Nick's shoulders, and free the interaction between the goal tender and the team Captain after a win from the clutches of the marketing department.  Let it go.

There is a lot to be said for ceremony and ritual.  It helps to cement long standing ties in a group of people.  But something that started as a wild reaction to the crazy goal tender with the crazy name who was playing lights out, should not be channelized into a forced ritual.  Let's let it go, and we can remember with fondness the times when that crazy group of overachievers played so well for a couple of years.

Shockingly, our team has gotten younger through this process, which didn't seem possible.  Their course will be different now, with Torts at the helm, and a lot of our future success has been tied to relatively recent drafts.  The last thing you want is to force two of your core players to do some ritual recalling the past when they both have had such struggles recently.  If it happens, it should happen out of the flow of crazy celebration of a win which invokes that reaction.  Let it become organic and wild again.  It's time.

The marketing department will find other things to use.  They haven't even had the chance to dial up the Seth Jones machine yet.  Hee hee, wait until they get going on that!  Time to focus on the fresh young talent that will lead the way in the future, and make this change when no one will really notice.


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Don't Make Wennberg Shoot

Tonight the Boston Bruins committed a strategic error by hauling down Alex Wennberg on a breakaway, and forcing him to make a penalty shot.  Stripped of anyone to pass to, the Swede buried the Jackets only goal, early in the first period.  Finally the game went to overtime, and the Bruins potted a sweet back door play in 3 on 3 to gain the extra point.

These are not the same Bruins as the last few years.  They have more flaws, but they are certainly in the playoff hunt, and they are certainly dangerous.  Their goal to tie it was a one on one play with Bergeron and Korpisalo, and the veteran won the contest.  But after that, the teams traded chances, and the Jackets did a good job of playing within themselves.  The Bruins have enough strengths to make you scramble, and they did that to the Jackets many times tonight.  The Jackets took a lot of holding penalties, some bogus, some not, which means they were trailing the play for a lot of the time tonight.  So a good game, against a good team, and we got a point.  This type of game has relevance in a playoff hunt, so is important experience for our very young players (Korpisalo, Wennberg, Karlsson, Rychel).  In the context of this years season, this was a great game, not too good, but not too bad.

Before I take a moment to comment on my comparative idleness, I want to comment first on the Nationwide Arena crowd, of which I am one (occasionally obnoxious, which is totally not my fault).  This time of year, in this season, the crowds can be very quiet.  It's what it is.  No booing of our players if things aren't going well, but a quiet patience. The beast slumbers quietly, waiting for a team to awaken it.  Or, if you are a fan for the opposition in our barn, and you want to start a cheer for your team.  That's the easiest way to awaken a crowd in Nationwide these days, but the time will come when that's not the case, and I do assure you that you want to make plans to experience that.  But, that is something for the future, not the present.  Week day games are about elbow room, and having the pleasure of watching an original six team square off against the Jackets.  Never forget how cool it is to be in the Eastern Conference.  We will make our mark, but that lies in the future.

So, I feel bad for the long time between posts, but that is a bit of writer's block, and a bit of confusion about what it is we are actually seeing.  Not that I am a particularly astute reporter of that, I'd refer you to Jeff Little over on the Jackets Cannon for that.  I suppose I'm probably on the level of the less astute fan, but experienced, who is trying to understand what they are seeing.  And this is a weird year for that.  Which is a lot coming from me, because I have seen Nicky Zherdev skate through the barn without a care in the world, and that is plenty weird.  But I digress, as is common.

So here is the weird thing about this recent run of good play.  Earlier in the year I was concerned that we were wasting an outright terrible year on the first year in which the draft order is determined by a lottery for the top 3 picks.  Of all the years to suck unexpectedly, and be in 30th place only to lose the lottery was going to be a lot to take.

However, we are not in 30th place any more.  Our recent streak of decent play (thank you Mr. Korpisalo) have raised us in the non-playoff standings, and all we are sacrificing is the number of balls we had in the lottery.  Since having the most number of balls in the lottery has never served us well in the past, it is a poor model for future success.  However, it is certain that Edmonton cannot win all three of the lottery picks, and all we need is one of them this year.  So.  Play to win, and to develop our young guys is a theme that works particularly well with the draft format this year.

The Jackets are belatedly playing competitive hockey now.  The question becomes, can they carry it over to next year?  History says no.  But Tortorella is our coach now, and he can be scary.  Like making up the training camp schedule while he is in the hospital with broken rib scary.  Like, serving notice this year what camp will be like scary.  I tell ya, I am definitely warming to the guy.

John Tortorella has experienced abject failure recently.  He views this experience as an opportunity, and all that failure did was provide perspective to a thoughtful guy (NOT my impression of him from afar).  I think John Tortorella will be here for awhile.  Now I've been wrong, before, and I will be wrong again, but that's my opinion.  Let's review our last few Coaches from the lens of 'might win a Stanley Cup if things break right, and you have the players to do it'.  Hitch, yeah, could be.  Arniel?  Nyet.  Richards?  Maybe, but that is pretty hopeful.  No real sign it was going to happen.  Torts?  Well, he's done it before.  He seems to be centered at this time of his career.  I've seen worse bets....


Monday, February 8, 2016

The End of the Season Surge

Alex Wennberg
This post has been kind of simmering for awhile, under a different name, but recent conversation has been on the subject of tanking, so I thought I would restyle the title a bit.  One other notable end of the season surge was in 2013, when there was a very deep top end of a very deep draft.  Indeed, in only his second year in the NHL, our top pick from that draft, Alexander Wennberg is doing quite well.  As I recall Nathan 'quit winnin for' Mackinnon was the top prospect of the draft, and he went to Colorado, who won the lottery.

In 2010, in what many considered a lesser draft, the assumption was that the CBJ would take Cam Fowler in the fourth spot, but Howson took a gamble on Ryan 'baby moose legs' Johansen, who would turn into a 30 goal scorer in the NHL.  While one might argue that the organization would have been better with Fowler, I would argue right back that the organization is far better off with Seth Jones.  For you see, in the Johansen-Jones trade, Jarmo effectively traded up to the 4th spot in the 2013 draft.  Better yet, this pick was seasoned in an organization steeped in defensive attitude compared to, well, our organization.  Joey perhaps had a better opportunity to spread his wings with the CBJ, so I think that is a fair trade in seasoning and experience as well.

So now we have Jones, Wennberg, Rychel, and the departed Dano from the 2013 draft.  That, my friends, is a really solid draft class.  And from an organizational perspective it is a draft that will serve us well for many years to come.  And it is a little early to be writing Alex Wennberg off as a number 1 center.  First things first, you have to play well enough defensively to stay on the ice.  Johansen took two full years to get that down. Next year we may see that offensive push from Wennberg, and we'll get a better feel for what his top end might be, though it may be a couple years until that is fully expressed.  I expect Karlsson to essentially mimic this track, though there may be some differences.  When you talk about a core to build around, the 2013 draft is not a bad way to start.

So my point is that how we end up the season, and where we draft in a particular draft is not that critical.  We are not having a good year.  We are going to have a relatively high draft pick, and we are going to get good players in the draft, to restock the system.  That's what really matters at this point.  And you absolutely want our players out of the 2013 draft focused on winning hockey games, versus our draft position.  At the end of the day, if our position in this draft is that critical to the organization we can try to adjust the position at a later date, like we did in the 2013 draft.

So Jarmo, in case you had really wanted to hear it, the 2013 version of Gary Bettman says:  We have a trade to announce!


Friday, February 5, 2016

Connecting the Dots

Sergei Fedorov was inducted into the Hall of Fame this year, a well deserved recognition.  Back when they released the original third jersey, I got one with Fedorov's name on it, a real beauty that I have worn pretty much all year in celebration of his accomplishment.  In what I think is a somewhat ironical note, the only Blue Jacket or former Blue Jacket official that Fedorov invited to his induction ceremony was "Big Summer" Barry Brennan, the former strength and conditioning coach during the Maclean era, and replaced by Kevin Collins during the Howson administration.  Collins joined the organization in June of 2010.

I started thinking about this a lot after I listened to the DKM Hockey Podcast #51.  During an interview on the podcast they talked about some of the longer term issues with the franchise, and it piqued my interest.  The coach with the longest tenure in the organization is the strength and conditioning coach.  Technically, this is the guy that should have the least amount of clout as well, and I know nothing as to whether this is the case, or not.  But he has survived the firing of both Arniel and Richards, and the results during this time have certainly been checkered.

The fastest start in franchise history occurred in Collins first year, when Scott Arniel's team started with a franchise best start of 14-6-0 in 2010-11.  However, Collins did not come on board until June, so the off season training would have already been set.  The following year, the CBJ had a disastrous start, and in 2011-12 the Blue Jackets were out of the playoffs by Halloween.  Scott Arniel did not survive this season, but in a familiar refrain, the CBJ finished strong under interim coach Todd Richards.  In 2012-13, the CBJ started poorly, but roared down to the finish of a truncated season following a lockout to miss the playoffs on a tie-breaker.  The strength and conditioning coach was unable to influence the players conditioning, and the CBJ certainly touched the bottom in 30th place that year before they got rolling.

In 2013-14, the CBJ started poorly again, but not so poorly that their annual late season charge was enough to get them into the playoffs.  In 2014-15, the CBJ got off to a miserable start, in 2015-16, they got off to another miserable start, which Todd Richards did not survive.  Now John Tortorella is coach, and is finding the teams conditioning wanting, and the CBJ were out of the playoffs by Halloween again.  Even if the CBJ made a move on this, Collins will still set the off-season regime again this year.  Torts is probably going to have some influence on it however.

One thing is clear.  The collective bargaining agreement does not require the players to pay attention to the strength and conditioning coach in the off season.  Joey was free to train in Vancouver.  Bobrovsky trained in Russia.  I think Cam Atkinson was skating with Marty St. Louis (could be wrong about that).  Several of the young guys stayed in Columbus and trained, and they seem to be doing okay.

So there is a fairly conclusive body of evidence that the team is simply not ready to play at the start of the season.  There's a lot of people with skin in that game, and laying it on the guy who stands on the bottom rung of the ladder just seems wrong.  On the other hand, this is a results driven business, and the results have been consistent and bad.

Jared Boll would never have made the Blue Jackets if he hadn't stayed in Columbus one year with "Big Summer" Brennan, and he had a huge summer, and made the team.  When was the last time you heard about someone on our team having a big summer?  So it makes you kinda wonder.