Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Building From the Back Forward

Ryan Murray and David Savard
A big part of this blog is my personal journey to understand what is happening in front of me when I am watching Blue Jackets hockey.  This upcoming season will be my tenth as a season ticket holder, probably evidence that is admissible in any hearing on my sanity.  But nonetheless, that journey continues.

And of course, this is a time for grasping for understanding if ever there was that time, because few of us, including the 'pundits' expected to be here.  So for maximum understanding I think it is important to ignore the Blue Jackets for the moment.   I will circle back to that at the end.

My basic premise, the wisdom from the old General Managers such as Craig Patrick, is that when you are building a franchise, you build it from the back forward, rather than from the front back.  As evidence I submit the Nashville Predators and the Minnesota Wild as the basic premise, and the Edmonton Oilers and the Atlantapeg Thrashers/Jets as the opposite of that premise.

Realistically, it will be better to summarily deal with the second premise first.  Edmonton has won 3 of the last 5 draft lotteries, and has selected exclusively forwards as the best talent which was pretty much true.  Atlantapeg has traded away or lost to free agency more top line talent than any franchise and their best defenseman is a converted forward, albeit a beast at the defensive slot (Byfuglien).  Between the two of them since the Jackets got serious in the league (post lockout, 2006) the Thrashers and the Jets share zero playoff series wins.  None of the three teams (including the Blue Jackets) have won a playoff series, yet Nashville and Minnesota have won several.  Both teams are in the hunt in the West, yet none of the former (Columbus, Edmonton, and Winnipeg) are sniffing the playoffs this year.

A more graphic validation of the concept could not be found.  Build from the back forward, goal tending and defense, and you have some playoff series to your credit. If you build from the front back, as have Edmonton, Atlantapeg,and Columbus, you don't.  So at some point as a franchise, you eventually have to cross that bridge of defensive priority if you want to be successful.  The Jackets did it this year, trading a sublime center talent for a sublime defenseman.  At some point you have to make the change to defense.

And in this context, the Dalton Prout contract makes ultimate sense.  You can't commit to building from the back unless you have waves of talent coming through.  The Prout contract serves as a bar for making the team for the minor league players.  If you want to make the big dance, you have to outplay Prout, and I don't think Tortorella is done optimizing his game.  With Prout you are trying to sign a young Brooks Orpik type player that will give you that physical presence.  He doesn't play like Orpik, who is now a veteran, instead of a young defenseman.  Orpik had a +/- of -36 in one of his early years.  It takes time.

The David Savard contract makes sense in this way as well.  He didn't have the year he wanted, as did so many Blue Jackets, but he is still a good young defenseman.  In the proper role, he will be a good defensive player with a developmental upside as he continues to gain experience for many years to come.

The Blue Jackets had to make this choice at some point in their history, and Jarmo and JD have opted to tackle that strategic goal now.  From now on, we'll try to slot with those that build from the back forward, and to stake ourselves in that game we'll trade top end 'front building' talent for top end 'back building' talent.  The change hurts us in the short term, but will likely play long term benefits.  Since we screwed up early by losing 8 straight, this is a good time to make the change from 'building from the front' and focus on building the defensive corps.

The Jackets took another step forward in that arena today, signing Zach Werenski to an Entry Level Contract (ELC).  This was craftily done by Werenski's agent and Jarmo, as he signed an amateur tryout contract and reported to Lake Erie as his first step of turning pro.  That places him at Lake Erie, saves a year of his ELC (3 year length by the CBA), and likely helps to shield him from an expansion draft.  Lake Erie is gearing up for a playoff run, and the Jackets are not.  You want him in Lake Erie taking his first steps at learning the pro game.  Following the initial move, they promptly inked the ELC.  This is a good faith showing on all sides.

So now we have Ryan Murray, Seth Jones, and Werenski as top defensive prospects all under the age of 22.  This is a dramatic transformation of the back end for the Blue Jackets, and we will continue to pay the price to build this way, as these guys won't really start to peak until they are 25 or 26 years old.  But they could be really scary by then.

The Blue Jackets have finally committed to building the back end to a level that could potentially compete in a playoff situation.  To do so, they sacrificed that rarest of commodities, a true Number 1 center.  To get to the Cup, you probably need that piece, and we don't have it any more.  To lay the basics for a Cup, which is regular trips to the dance, you need that back end.  Don't be surprised if that trip to the dance isn't next year.   But I think it is coming.


Friday, March 25, 2016

An Interesting Day in Jackets Land

Wait!  Why Am I Wearing Yellow?
On a travel day lost of interesting news dropped today.  First is the news that Dalton Prout was signed to a new two year deal.  Like many Blue Jackets Prout has had his struggles this year, but he will bring that element of physicality that the Jackets will need going forward now that the Department of Player Safety has decided to run Boll out of the league.  Prout's play has steadied some of late, and he is starting to shoot the puck aggressively, and element that was missing from his game earlier in the season.  A steady diet of Tortorella has solidified some aspects of his game.

The Puck Rakers posted a really interesting Q & A with Ryan Johansen.  It's nice to see Joey moving on, and honest with himself about where his game was.  As much as I believe Seth Jones will make a huge difference in Columbus going forward, I believe Ryan Johansen is just going to have a monster year next year.  I think this is going to look like a good hockey trade for a long time, and it will be fun to see how this goes in the future.  Tomorrow's game should be fun to watch.

I'm trying to let go of the Player Safety thing, but that is a journey.  Just re-watched Nick's video.  The puck is gone.  But Malone is not expected to alter his blindside check.  But Boll's is predatory.  Bah!  If we are going to get serious about player safety, its simple.  You put someone out of a game, you sit until they come back.  Boll would have had to sit for a shift.  Malone would have got 6 games.  Then the players are accountable for each other's safety.  Rant complete.  Trying to let go.  Sigh.

It's strange how a young team at the start of this year has only gotten younger as the season has progressed.  That youth really shows at times, and it is going to be fascinating next year watching Tortorella mold this group.  The guy is really sharp.  But for now, its all about draft position and a little luck in the lottery.  Let's hope Torts brings some luck with him too!


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The NHL's Double Standard

Watch your six Nick!
Over on the Puck Rakers Aaron Portzline is reporting that Jared Boll will have a phone hearing with the NHLtomorrow for his hit on Pierre-Edouard Bellemare.  This will result in an almost certain suspension for Boll, and it should be highly entertaining to watch the department of player safety describe how a hit coming at you from the front, that somehow manages to make incidental contact with your chin is a suspendable offense, while the blind side hit on Nick Foligno that gave him a concussion did not even merit a minor penalty.
This is, of course, because the Blue Jackets set a modern record for futility by losing their first 8 games, and punching themselves out of the playoff race in the first three weeks of the season.  Ergo, a different standard must be applied.  Nick Foligno plays on this team, and is therefore not deserving the protections that must be afforded to other players.  I mean really, who cares if a Blue Jackets player gets hurt?

The NHL officials are active conspirators in this, and have been since the Blue Jackets came into the league.  It's not the 'gosh, we're gonna get out there and screw those guys' kind of conspiracy, but it is a firm reluctance to make any concession that could possibly be seen as aiding this team.  Their reasoning is that it's not the officials job to make this a real franchise, with a real winning team, and they are correct.  However the day to day expression of this results in penalties called on the Blue Jackets that are simply not called on other teams.  Don't read me wrong here, this is not to say that the officials are the cause of our problems.  They are not.  We are the cause of our problems.

So if you think I am full of it, please provide me with a listing of all the major interference penalties that the officials have called this year.  I think it's going to be a pretty short list. The reaction of the officials on the ice is unduly harsh, and is not comparable with their performance on other ice.

So here we go again.


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Broad Street Ballerinas Bring Own Refs, Still Spit the Bit

Bob, the Shoot Out Winner
In a unique interpretation of the hockey rules, the officials tonight repeatedly called roughing on players wearing Union Blue hitting the puck carrier.  Coach Tortorella generously called Jared Boll's hit to the sternum a late hit, but I didn't see it that way.  That's called finishing a check.  From the front.  To the chest.  With the shoulder.  And yet it is called a major for interference, which is farcical on its face, and with a game misconduct on top of it.  In addition, there are two Flyers who dropped the gloves and came in on Boll, which is the automatic ejection for the second man in, yet only a roughing minor is called.  What a flaming joke.  Is it now going to be flag hockey in the NHL, and if you yank off both of a guys flags it is roughing?

Later in the game Jenner was called for roughing for hitting the puck carrier.  What a total bunch of crpa (I typed it that way, I think I'll leave it for future reference).  Yet when Murray took a slashing penalty (legit call) with less than two minutes remaining, the Flyers quit playing.  And Steve Mason, who had looked impenetrable, gave up a goal at even strength (because the CBJ pulled the goal tender) and with 8 seconds left, Cam Atkinson scores the tying goal.

At that point, Bob went Bob on the Flyers.  In an exciting overtime period, where both teams took penalties, Bob really got dialed in.  And from there, they had no hope.  Through the overtime, through 5 shooters deep in the shootout, Bob was locked in, and finally sealed the win.

This was a weird, stupid game on a lot of fronts.  We shoulda gone ahead and lost the damn darn thing for our draft position and the Flyers got no business quitting on that game.  But there it is, a lesson about playing the whole game.  I liked Tortorella's comment that he wished this meant something, as the lesson would have been stronger.  Lesson for the Jackets, play till the whistle blows.  Lesson for the Flyers, don't be content with the refs giving it to you, go out and close the deal.   I wonder if the negative lessons are more potent at this time of year?  Well, only the Flyers can answer that, because they were the only team playing for something.

Jackets beat the Flyers 3-2 in a shoot out.  Who would have thunk it with 2:00 remaining in the game?


Sunday, March 20, 2016

Bjorkstrand Breaks Tie with First NHL Goal

Oliver Bjorkstrand scores the game winner!
In action yesterday evening, the CBJ chased a New Jersey Devils goal tender early, let them back in to the game to a tie, and then pulled away for a 6-3 win in Nationwide Arena.  Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the game winner 34 seconds after the Devils tied the game early in the third period.  William Karlsson scored 11 seconds later to ice the win, while Bjorkstrand followed up with the second goal of his NHL career to close the scoring.

I've been watching Bjorkstrand coming up through our system for a long time.  The Jackets took their time bringing him through the system, and he repaid their patience in Juniors by exploding for 60 goals in his last year.  At the AHL level he had the setback of an injury, but has put together a solid if unspectacular year.  But speed is a premium at the NHL level, and Bjorkstrand showed it at several times last night, blasting up the wing.  He brings a dimension of skill to the Blue Jackets that is absent except for Cam Atkinson, and adds a lot to the team.

Two games does not an NHL career make, but he is on the board and will get a chance to gain some experience before going back to Lake Erie to help them in their playoff push.  Today he will get to experience what an NHL club does when you beat them, and will find out how quickly other teams will do things to stifle you.  That experience will help him continue to grow, and is an important part of his development.  This is what a clever draft pick patiently developed can do for you, and we have a few of these in our system now that will begin to emerge in a few years.

I am really excited for Oliver, and it will be interesting to see how today's game goes.  The downside of this is that Mrs. Gallos is already tired of hearing me talk like the Swedish Chef from The Muppets.  Bjork! Bjork! Bjork!


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Bjork! Monster Contingent Called Up

Bjork, Bjork, Bjork!
Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch is reporting on Puck Rakers that 3 Lake Erie Monsters have been called up, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Michael Chaput, and John Rammage.  These players have been playing well at Lake Erie, and are deserving of some NHL ice time before they go back down to compete for the AHL playoffs.  This is a straight development move, and I like it.  Porty said Rammage was sure to play, as the CBJ are short a defenseman.  Bjorkstrand could slide in at right wing with Wennberg and Dubinsky, and it makes me drool to think of those two playing together.  Wennberg might be reluctant to shoot the puck, but Bjorkstrand seems to suffer from no apprehension on that issue.  Wennberg and Dubinsky should be up for the coverage issues that Bjorkstrand likely brings with him at this stage of his career.

John Rammage
According to Scott Tennant over on the Cannon John Rammage has been playing really well in Lake Erie, and this call up seems to be a reward for good steady play.  With Prout suspended for a game, and Jack Johnson out for the season with shoulder surgery (as reported by Todd Jones over at Puck Rakers) the CBJ are short a defenseman for a game.  It should be interesting to see if he demands to stay up here with his play.

Michael Chaput has been having a really good season down at Lake Erie, and whether this call up is for developmental purposes or as a reward, either way it is deserving.

Assuming that all three of these players are in, here are the lines I guess project they will play.  As I said above, Bjorkstrand with Wennberg and Dubinsky.  I think Chaput could be centering the fourth line with Campbell and Bourque as his wings, with Boll in the press box.  I think Rammage probably pairs with veteran Fedor Tyutin as a steadying influence on the young player.

I like these moves a lot.  A good enrichment of solid seasons for the contingent that have been called up.  A different line up against a Red Wings team looking to even up a recent loss at the hands of the Jackets.  It should be a fun game tomorrow night!!!


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Making Greg Louganis Proud

Tonight, Tampa Bay Lightening goal tender Ben Bishop took over a game between the Blue Jackets and the Bolts, combining a physical game with a wimpy, diver game to discombobulate the Blue Jackets and leave them in the dust by the end of the game.  While it is true that the NHL should have a quiet talk with Bishop about his diving, which drew two crucial penalties against the Jackets, it is also true that Bishop had nothing to do with the two short handed goals that the Bolts scored against the hapless Blue Jackets power play.  And the dude pitched a shut out.  Which has little to do with Ben Bishop's prowess, and a lot to do with the team in front of him.  The bottom line is that the Jackets failed to generate significant pressure around the crease, so Bishop was left to fielding lazy pop flies launched from significant distance.  Props to the Bolts D-Corps, they simply denied the net to the Jackets.  And that was the game, not Ben Bishop's theatrics.  

So if you wondered if Tortorella was going to retain the assistant coaches he inherited from Todd Richards, I'm guessing he is going to want to go with his people.  The power play is in a death spiral, and has given up more goals in the last few games than it has scored.  In addition, they are trending in the wrong direction.

Let me assure you, that this is not the first time I have wanted to yell 'decline the penalty' from the upper bowl, and it likely won't be the last. I have seen some futile CBJ power plays in my time, and this one ranks with the most futile.  These things tend to be cyclic and an undo amount of panic over these results is not appropriate.  However, 3 short handed goals in 3 games (if my math is correct) is a problem.  Your power play is supposed to giveth, not taketh away.

Tonight we saw a team that went to the Cup finals last year, playing against a team that is not ready for that task.  This is part of the journey that our players are on, if developing a team that can contend for the Cup, and tonight's game was illustrative of how far we have to go to get there.  Tampa Bay won battles all over the ice for the majority of the game, reduced the CBJ to launching shots from the top of the circle because that's all that was there, and ultimately made them press so hard that they gave up goals that they have no business giving up.  So props to the Bolts.

At the end of the day, the worst thing the Jackets could have done is win this game, as it has definite implications on our draft future.  Our team is not as bad as it looked tonight, but there is real room for improvement.  But for the most of the game this was pretty compelling entertainment, and Bishop's antics kept the crowd engaged until Tampa's defensive performance caused the Jackets to come unglued.  The difference between a veteran play off team, and a team still finding itself.

So a tough one for the fans and the team to choke down, but so it goes.  Stamkos took this game over, and the Bolts take home tonight's prize.  Rally, and get ready for Thursday's game against the Red Wings.  They will be happy after our last game against them, I'm sure.  Conflicted feelings about winning and losing is not good this time of year, but its the reality of some NHL fan groups every year.  There is no free pass.


Friday, March 11, 2016

The Mouth Breathing Was Epic

Back in the Saddle
Tonight the Blue Jackets succumbed to the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2.  I'm not a big Penguins fan, but when a team scores a couple of greasy goals, based on effort and battle, they deserve the win.  Such was the case tonight in an animated barn, with Penguins fans slightly outnumbering the CBJ fans.  This resulted in an energized atmosphere as the fans responded to the numerous challenges.

At the end of the day the game turned on a series where Bobrovsky, in his first game back from an extended absence, kicked several rebounds back up into the slot, and naturally one of those ultimately turned into a goal.  So it goes.  Bob tightened up noticeably as the game progressed, as was to be expected, but Fleury basically wouldn't allow himself to be beat twice by Cam Atkinson, and poke checked away his second attempt at the same move.  That's the NHL, you win on a move once, it's not there the second time.

Lots of Pens fans tonight.  The tag line is in honor of friend of the blog, @Rockmanhalo.   You could here the whistling as they drew in breath for their pitiful "let go Pens' which was quickly drowned by the thunderous chant of CBJ, CBJ.

Then Pens have rallied from a slow start to be back in the hunt for a wild card, with a Tortorella protege behind the bench.  The similarity in the teams games was noticeable, and that is going to add some texture (thanks Hitch) to these games in the future.

A fun game, in a raucous barn.  But we improve our chances in the lottery.  Not a bad night at the rink.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Is There Anything Better Than a Red Wings Game?

These are not your brother's Red Wings.  These guys are the Grand Rapids Griffins, augmented by a crazy young goal tender, currently injured, and a couple of aging, amazing veterans (think Jager).  Pavel  Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, and a bunch of guys who came up through the system.

I resented the Red Wings of yor, when the coach could pencil in the Hall of Fame defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom.  It was like penciling in 'win'.  The guy is totally deserving, and some day I will come to terms with the notion that I got to watch Lidstrom while his team beat mine silly.  But that is not the 2015-16 season.

This Red Wings team came up through the system, based on wise, but low, draft picks, and sound development.  In my mind, they deserve the playoff position they currently hold, especially in light of the fact that they have been handicapped by opportunities that have been afforded to our organization (high, but fruitless draft picks).  Nonetheless, I hate them because they are the Red Wings.  And I feel good about that.  I should hate them.  Thus, is good hockey born.

Tonight was a good hockey game.  Those crazy Red Wings, unable to accept the fact that we were laying a beat down on them ( I like that, sorry), pulled their goal tender with abundant (3+ish) minutes remaining in the game, trailing 4-1, and were rewarded with several effort based goals, while the CBJ were unable to find the empty net.  That makes for fun hockey, I don't care who you are! Better yet, the home team (good guys) prevailed over the misanthropes from Detroit (good people trapped in a bad situation), and everyone from Columbus went home happy.

There's nothing better than a Red Wings game!


Monday, March 7, 2016


Oleg Yvenko gets a 2 Way Extension
Over on Puck Rakers Todd Jones, a new comer to the beat crew, announced that the CBJ have re-upped Oleg Yvenko through the 2016-17 season on an AHL/NHL contract.  According to the 2015 training camp roster, Oleg is 6'-7" and weighs 235 pounds.  He currently leads the Lake Erie Monsters in penalties in minutes (PIM), and is a mountain of a man.

Over on the Cannon, Scott Tenant is the Lake Erie correspondent and he loves Yvenko.  This new contract must be a reward for his assist the other night.  Although this takes up one of our 50 allowable contracts, I think this is a low risk high reward move.  If Yvenko develops into an NHL player, think Zdeno Chara.  You will need to be patient with his development, but the Jackets have seen enough progress this year to want him back next year.  Way to go Oleg!  I'll look forward to seeing you in training camp next year!


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Yin and Yang

Making those open looks count, David Savard
I've been in a bit of a tiff with my season ticket rep for the CBJ.  Two years ago he delivered our tickets to us with David Savard, and Savard had a great season.  Last summer they didn't do that, and look at the year he's having!  Since this is certainly some sort of cause and effect relationship, I think Savvy needs to bring my tickets for this coming season.  Don't you think?

Last night's game against the Oilers was one of those 'must lose' games in terms of drafting position, but a 'must win' game in terms of 'fan psyche' after they zipped us 5-0 in Conner McDavid's return from injury a few weeks ago out on the west coast.  So I was up for any outcome in last night's game, and have to confess that I enjoyed the game immensely last night.  Such is our life at this time of the year, in a lost season, so you might as well have fun at the barn.  And that was fun.

In a team of dangerous scoring threats, and shaky defense, the Oilers never seem out of a game.  But what was really fun about last nights game is that after staking the Jackets to a two goal lead, our shooter ALWAYS answered the Oilers if they managed to get one past Korpisalo.  Cam, Savard, Tyutin, Jenner, Hartnell, Savard, a nice 6 goal flurry.

Last night the Oilers were playing their 3rd game in four nights and coming off a back to back in which they beat the Flyers in Philly.  The Oilers just didn't have it.  If you recall, our schedule gave us these gifts early, such as starting the season with 3 in 4 days, while Toronto had 2 games in the first week.  I think we got Toronto in our 5th game in 7 days 8 days, or something like that, while they were playing their second after 4 days off.  And thus the death spiral was cemented.  Well, the Oilers are seeing that part of the schedule now, later in the season this year, and they looked like the early season Jackets last night.  Boy did they give up some open looks at the net. (I'd firm all the above up, but the schedule page on the Jackets web site won't open, which is a pain)(OK, corrections above, I checked it on my phone).

You have to credit our shooters last night, they were launching them when they got the chance.  And someday, please, Alex Wennberg, shoot the puck.  Though to be sure, your pass to Hartnell for his goal was sublime.  And Hartnell, true to form, got the shot off quickly and on net.  Dang I'm glad we still have Hartnell.  Ha, ha, speaking of a Yin and Yang player.  He has those great offensive instincts, but he can take the odd dumb penalty, though Torts certainly has gotten his attention on that front.  Although honestly, I think it takes some edge off his game.  Maybe the boys in the room can figure out a way to gift him a dumb penalty or two, just for fun, and to give Torts some coverage on the issue.

Anyway, there were actually some signs of life in Nationwide Arena last night, a Yin and Yang thing if ever there was one.  The barn can be really quiet sometimes. as it was for much of the game last night, but there is nothing quite like the thunder of Nationwide Arena when the team is playing well and the crowd is like a pack of hounds in full bay.  And as amazing and awesome as it can be (see Game 4, playoffs, doesn't matter which one), I think there is more.  But that is a journey for another season.  Last night, late in the game though, the puppy gave it a tentative try.  We'll see how that develops.  But its been pretty quiet of late.

Jackets on the road at the Flyers tonight.  Should be some good clean fun!


Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Taking Stock

Still got these 20 goals
The trade deadline has come and gone, and the CBJ stood pat, as I am sure you all know by now.  I am quite nervous about the salary cap, and our ability to get Karlsson and Seth Jones under contract.  If that can be done, I think it leaves us in pretty good shape going into next year, especially since they got the Jenner deal done.  It's not like we need to be leading the NHL come Halloween, a simple .500 record would be fine.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Last night the CBJ dropped a tough one to the Rangers, which helps keep us from climbing the futility standings too quickly.  It was a good game, and I was not terribly disappointed by the outcome.  The team is starting to play well with some consistency, which is what they are going to need in the future.  Winning now is meaningless, but it beats the crap out of losing, and you want the team to have a winning attitude.

I'm really enjoying watching this growth phase by Seth Jones.  That is one of the most productive things about this stretch of games, building that experience and continuity in the defensive ranks.  Murray and Jones look like a real first pairing with the upside to take the team places.  A couple of years from now this could get pretty interesting.

What I like about keeping Scott Hartnell at the trade deadline, is that I think you need to have guys like him on your team if you are going to make some noise in the league.  That character will take you a long way, and I am not as scared of Hartnell's term as some people are.  Hartnell came to training camp ready to go, and was one of the first guys to take the conditioning test.  He'll be ready to go next year, as well.  Hartnell's game is not predicated on speed, and the loss of a bit of a step impacts him less than other players.  And if you make it to the playoffs, this guy will be gold.

I like how this team is shaping up.  We are still going to draft relatively high, and have 3 chances to win a lottery.  We only need to win one of them, and we're in great shape.  Even then, we'll be restocking the system and we'll see what that will get us.

Lots of home games here in March.  Pure and simple, its more fun when they win.  So here's hoping the boys play well, and we'll see what we see.