Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Reflecting on the #unsustainabowl; Christmas blog 2018

Torts pushing buttons; mostly the right ones
Merry Christmas everyone!  Here is hoping that you and yours have a wonderful holiday season!  We are on a short hockey hiatus here, and it seems a good time to pause and reflect.  The 2018-19 Blue Jackets are in a good position, sitting a solid second in the Metropolitan Division at the holiday season. 

The Stanley Cup Champion Capitals are a few points ahead of the Jackets, the former Cup Champion Penguins are a few points behind with a lot of hockey left to play.  Needless to say it is important to keep playing winning hockey.  So what does that look like?  The Jackets kinda stunk up a game with the Capitals, and hit a reset button, focusing more on their defense.  Since then they are 4-0-1.  My point is that is what winning hockey looks like. 

Well duh, they won four straight, of course that is what winning hockey looks like.  That's not my point.  My point is that two years ago the Blue Jackets were in the midst of what became a record breaking 16 game winning streak.  Ultimately, that streak became the second longest winning streak in NHL history, culminating in the #unsustainabowl, a clash with a Minnesota Wild team on a 12 game winning streak and a Blue Jackets team on a 14 game winning streak.  The CBJ came away with a fairly convincing win, mainly because they smothered the Wild with amazing defensive play. 

It is important to remember that during 'The Streak', the CBJ were averaging less than 2 goals per game against.  In order to hold opponents to less than 2 goals a game over a double digit stretch of games, you need to have a lot of games where you only allow one, or no, goal(s).  This is startlingly effective defense, and it has been largely absent since the end of 'The Streak' until this recent 'reset'.  Of course Bobrovsky was on fire during 'The Streak', and he is showing signs of regaining that form here recently.  So if the Jackets reclaim that defensive acumen from 2 years ago, the new year should go well for the good guys.  It will be interesting to see.

Another important point for the 2018-19 CBJ is that Bobrovsky played his first back to back just this last weekend.  In the previous two years, the Jackets had used Bobrovsky like a government mule prior to the Christmas holiday as an essential ingredient to staying in playoff contention.  While I think many people feel the CBJ have not played their best hockey yet this year, it was not necessary for the number 1 goal tender to carry the team, as he did the last two years.  New goal tending coach Manny Legace effectively made good on his vow to not play Bob in back-to-back games until Christmas.  This is a stark contrast to the previous two years, which bodes well for hockey in April. 

Yes, there are some issues looming over the team for the long term.  We haven't been able to 'go Vegas' on everyone else as I had hoped back in the summer.  But going forward, the team is poised for success, and a run of play that reflects the defensive performance during 'The Streak' in early 2019 will ensure that will happen.  Since it seems certain the Bob and Bread will test free agency, as is their contractual privilege, it is important for this team to go as far as it can, as currently constructed.  We can sort out the future in June.  On the other hand, if you are going to test free agency, there is self induced pressure to perform at a high level when you play.  So we'll see how that all works out. 

Tom Reed, over on the Athletic had an interesting article reflecting on the instability for the Flyers and Devils compared to the Blue Jackets.  It has been a strange and refreshing year in that I didn't feel the team was playing that well, but continued to sit near the top of the Metro.  I was starting to get a bit worried, in that the wild card teams in the Atlantic had more points than the Jackets, but this last 4 game winning streak has changed that dynamic some.  So the Jackets do look to be a better team overall, not just a flash in the pan.  This is a novel experience for long time Jackets fans, and it is to be hoped that this team is good enough to withstand the loss of a good player to free agency.  But again, that's a future problem, and time spent worrying about it now is unproductive.

But, if I could have one thing for Christmas, it would be an effective power play for the CBJ!  Little help here Santa Claus??!!

Happy holidays everyone!


Friday, July 27, 2018

Embracing Going Vegas on the Rest of the NHL

Columbus Blue Jackets!  C'mon down!
There is something magical about the inaugural season of an NHL club.  The players know they are up against it, and band together into a tightly knit bunch.  Even the inaugural Blue Jackets did that, and Ron Tugnutt established a record for wins for an expansion goal tender until Fleury demolished that record.  There is a bond between the fans and the players, and the atmosphere can be awesome.

And Vegas this year, launched from a much better starting position than the CBJ, roared into a Stanley Cup Final.  Huge props to the players, the coaches, and the management.  And I think its time for the CBJ to take a page out of their book, and go all in for this year. 

In a previous post I opined that salting the increased value over our investment in Artemi Panarin back into the organization by trading him now was a choice that I favored.  I have been a season ticket holder since about 2005, I'm in too deep to back out now.  I'll probably keep buying tickets.  So for me, I think about the long haul.  But a reality I don't often consider is that people keep talking about the possibilities of Columbus as a market, instead of the realities.

It is valid to state that a rather large sector of the Blue Jackets fandom REALLY needs to see an extended playoff run sooner rather than later.  Therein lies the gist of one of the other options.  It is a high risk option, sure, but there is high reward if you rise above the risk.  That option is to ignore the contract status of Panarin and Bobrovsky as of July 1, 2019, and make a run for the Stanley Cup now.  The best players on the team are under contract until that time, and you make it clear to the team at the beginning of the season that it is time to win a Cup, for the sake of the franchise.

Lambert, over on Yahoo did a pretty solid analysis of this, and one of  his points that intrigued me was that a deep run, such as to a Cup final, would generate enough cash to make it pay for the organization that it was worth keeping Panarin for 2018-19, even if he walked in free agency.  He also pointed out that running into a hot goal tender in the first round could easily derail that strategy.  Which is a good point.  But if you do this approach, it applies to Bobrovsky as well.  Bob may want to be the highest paid goal tender in the league.  If he wants to be the best goal tender in the league he CANNOT let another goal tender best him, no matter how 'hot' that goal tender is.  That is what a contract year means to a player.

There are some advantages to the 'all in' approach.  For one, the team thinks short term, about this season.  They look around the room, and know it will be different next year, so the group needs to write its legacy.  Another is that the coach thinks long term.  A coach only thinks about the next game at some level, but the coaches strategy should also take into account an expectation that 'this is the year' and that a long playoff run is in the offing. 

Another thing that would have to change, is how the fans approach the season.  A lot of fans, like me, who have gone into a season with high hopes only to see it over by Halloween, kind of wait and see what happens.  We wade into the season, and as raucous as Nationwide Arena can get at times, it can be pretty quiet in October, November, and sometimes December. 

If this is a season where we are 'all in', that means all of us.  The fans need to start by bringing the thunder early and often, and be focused on making the home atmosphere a challenge for the opposition.  It will be a lot of work, it will be crazy, and it may well end in disappointment, for the opposition is formidable.  But you would know you left it all out there.

None of the things I have talked about are sustainable here, year in, year out, until we have finally established the reality of this market, and have achieved significant success.  But it is very doable for the short term.  A special season.  But someone needs to call it; To say the way its going to be, such as Babe Ruth pointing into the outfield.

So if we are going to go 'all in' this year, I respectfully request that John Davidson stroll to the lectern on media day, and give a short and simple speech: "Damn the torpedoes!!  Full speed ahead!  We're going for the Cup!"  And then we'll all be on notice that its 'all in'.

And that my friends, would be wildly entertaining!


Friday, July 20, 2018

Why it's Okay to Take Prospects and Picks for Panarin

Hope we don't have to do this with Bob as well!
In recent news, Aaron Portzline over at the Athletic has reported that Artemi Panarin's agent has passed along the word that Bread doesn't want to deal with any contract stuff after September 13, 2018.  At that point, its time to play hockey, and Panarin wants that to be his focus. 

I don't feel any animosity towards what Panarin has done.  I think he believes he is doing his best to do right by the Blue Jackets organization, and I am okay with that intent.  Not everyone will be, which is fine too.  While Panarin is under no obligation to negotiate with the Blue Jackets (he already has a contract), the Blue Jackets are under no obligation to heed this deadline.  However, it does set a waypoint in the negotiation process, and the Jackets can approach it three ways. 

First, they could go all in on this season by keeping Panarin, and do damage control at the trade deadline if things go awry.  This is the high risk move.  The second way is to try to gauge the market as best you can, and try to trade Panarin at the top of the market.  The notion here is that you are trying to make a deal that has a good player coming back along with a prospect and a pick.  The third way is to shrug, and make your best deal before the season starts, which almost certainly would be a package of picks and prospects that may be of value in the future.  It is this last option that I want to examine.

In my previous post I suggested that the organization had invested assets roughly equivalent to a middle of the pack first round pick to acquire Panarin.  It is the organization's good fortune that the skill and tenacity that make Artemi Panarin a fantastic player to watch on the ice have resulted in that investment blossoming into an elite player.  The Blue Jackets badly need elite players like Artemi Panarin.  It is the organization's misfortune that they will be unable to retain the player, in spite of a willingness to pay top dollar.  So now what?

My point about the third option above is that a way to take the net difference between the cost to the Blue Jackets and the value of the player, and invest it back into the organization is to acquire the picks and prospects that are likely to be offered over the summer.  Portzline reports that there is a legitimate offer on the table at this time.  While it is true that picks and prospects won't help us this year, we have a young and dynamic defensive corps that is going to keep us in the playoff hunt for a while here.  We won't be drafting from an advantageous position.  By investing in strengthening the talent pipeline with picks and prospects we are helping to ensure the team will be competitive for some time to come.  It took the Capitals nine years to break through.  You have to be ready to compete for the long haul.

Right now, one of the strengths of the organization is the scouting department.  By trading Panarin for a prospect or two, and some picks, you give this part of the organization tools to work with to keep us strong for the long term.  The prospects put pressure on our own prospects to succeed, and it never hurts for the AHL Cleveland Monsters franchise to be flourishing.  You want your prospects developing in a winning atmosphere. 

If Panarin was negotiating, I wouldn't even consider this approach.  But he is not.  We get the best value for Panarin by being willing to take picks and prospects.  It is a value that can be reinvested into the organization to keep it strong..  This is the course of action I favor at this time as having the best return.  We will get to see how it all plays out.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Assessing the Cost if Panarin Does a Taveres

Some may be angry...
Well, the initial stages of free agency 2018 are over.  John Taveres, the plum free agent on the market, ended up signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs, spurning the team that drafted him, the New York Islanders.  The Isles lost the value of a number 1 overall pick, and got nothing in return. 

The Blue Jackets are facing a similar problem with Artemi Panarin, who has declined to enter into negotiations with the Blue Jackets, even though he could.  Panarin is set to command top dollar and term when he goes to free agency July 1, 2019, and its possible that he will exercise that right.  So what would the Jackets lose if they cannot sign or trade Panarin? 

Well, we traded Brandon Saad, and a goal tender we drafted (Anton Forsberg, (3rd round(?)) for Panarin.  So there is the value of a third round pick.  To get Saad, we traded Arty Anisimov and Marco Dano and some minor league guys to Chicago.  We got Anisimov as part of the Nash trade (Dubinsky, Anisimov, and a first) and we got Dano as a first round pick from the Kings in the Carter trade.  We got Carter for the first round pick that netted the Flyers Couterier, I seem to remember that being something like 8th to 12th overall.  We also got Jack Johnson in the Carter trade. Johnson walking in free agency is irrelevant to the present discussion.

So total organizational value traded was a 30th overall (Dano)(which we got for half of an 8th overall); a third of a 2nd overall (Anisimov, as part of Nash trade) and a third rounder.  These are organizational assets to be sure, but if we had to take a dead loss, it is not of the same magnitude as losing a first overall, who was a pretty good player. 

If you look at this as the cumulative probability that a player gets to the NHL and plays at least 400 games, your first overall is a near certainty to achieve this.  Second through about third picks are like 80-90 percent chance of meeting this.  After the top 5, this probability starts dropping sharply, with picks 5-10 at about a 50% rate (Editor's note: neither Gilbert Brule or Alex Picard made this threshold) and by the time you get to the thirtieth pick and the top of the second round the percentage levels off at about 10-12%.  By the third round everything is pretty stable at about 6-8% chance of playing 400 games.

So if we try some ersatz ranking system we come up with:

Taveres, No 1 overall = 95%

15% (Dano), + 10% (half of an eight overall converted to a 30th overall correction factor), +30% (Anisimov, one third of 90%) + 8% for a third rounder (Forsberg) = 62%, or roughly the equivalent of an 8th overall. 

Since Panarin has blossomed into an elite player, you might well get a first round pick and a couple of young assets on a trade and sign deal this summer.  In that case the CBJ would break even or come out ahead in the long run.  If we can't get what we want for him, and Panarin walks in free agency, it is roughly the equivalent of a draft day flop on your first round pick after a fair to good season.  It hurts, but it is not as crippling as losing a first overall. 

Tom Reed wrote an excellent article over on the Athletic urging the 'trade Panarin now' position.  I tend to agree with him.  Having Panarin in a contract year next year would be awesome, but acquiring some young assets in exchange would work nicely, and keep the team growing at a good pace as it gets better and the draft pipeline gets a bit thinner.  So I agree with Reed that you do not have to get an equivalent player for Panarin; top young assets and high picks are a very good return for this player.

We will see how this saga plays out.  Its not a bad thing to have Panarin playing for us in a contract year, so the short term results may be worth the middle of the road long term impact.  But if you can get what you want on a trade and sign deal, than Jarmo should pull the trigger.

Feel free to call me on any details of these trades.  I likely have some of it wrong, but it gives you an idea of the relative values we are working with.  It's summer, and it is okay to make stuff up.  Ha ha ha!

Stay cool everyone!


Thursday, June 21, 2018

Regarding Panarin

C'mon down, Artemi Panarin!!
Hi!  Just a quick note before all the craziness of the draft starts, and this gets swamped with other news.  The Blue Jackets want to sign Artemi Panarin.  We should not interpret the recent news that Panarin's agent is unwilling to start negotiations now as a sign that Artemi does not want to be in Columbus.

We should definitely interpret it as Panarin's agent (Dan Milstein I think, apologies if I am wrong, I'm on the run) has an affirmative obligation to his client to see how the whole John Tavares saga plays out at the New York Islanders before he begins negotiating.  Tavares may garner some unusual and creative twist in his contract, not to mention setting the market for elite, unrestricted free agents. 

It would be borderline criminal negligence for the agent to start negotiating now. The Panarin camp sent a signal to Jarmo that it is not important that he see an offer on July 1, the first day they could sign Artemi to an extension, as a token of the Blue Jackets interest.  They are saying "we know you are interested, my feelings won't get hurt if I don't have an offer on July 1."  This prevents the Jackets from unwittingly making an offensively low offer. 

Free agency MUST play out before the market is set, and Panarin's agent set the timing for things to start.  As Jarmo said, there is plenty of time to work this out. 

The worst case scenario for the Jackets is for Panarin to sign a lucrative, long term deal, and then put it into glide mode.  Maybe not win some of those puck battles, etc.  This is a critical year for the franchise, and as a long suffering fan, I want nothing more than to see Panarin bringing the thunder in a contract year.  We'll know by the trade deadline if this is working for us; I suspect it will be working just fine.  And the trade deadline is a loooonnnggg way away. 

So enjoy the summer, party for the draft, and watch the free agency show unfold.  That will tell us what Panarin can likely command, and at that point, they may be willing to open negotiations.  We shall see.


Monday, April 23, 2018

Achilles Heel - The Power Play

LOL - Dubois and Jones a year ago, 2016
training camp.
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in the sixth game of their play off series, allowing Washington to advance to their inevitable clash with the Penguins.  Still bitter, so don't really want to comment on that series, the wrong things will come out. 

However, the inescapable truth for the Blue Jackets is that their power play, which languished between 31st and 30th in the league cost them this series.  When you go Oh for Four Games on the power play, against an opponent with a lethal power play, you are pretty much done.  And that is what our CBJ did this year.  We could not overcome that goal differential 5 on 5. 

And tonight, in the series clinching game, the power play kill still yielded a shorty.  At the end that glaring deficiency cost them dearly, and they were never able to solve it all year.  Until the can solve it, they won't advance in the playoffs.  You can bet that hockey operations will dissect that problem over the off season, and make changes.

Nonetheless, I'm pretty proud of this group.  Not the best team in franchise history, though they left their mark. But they showed a lot down the stretch, going from the outside looking in, to making the playoffs after the trade deadline when it is heavy lifting around the league.  They won more than their competition, which is saying a lot, because all the competition won as well.  They made the playoffs, but they are not ready yet for a 3 time Metropolitan Division Champion.  So we lost. 

In future series we need Oliver Bjorkstrand and Sonny Milano to make statements in these games.  I thought both players got their feet wet in the NHL this year, and look to take further strides next year. 

I haven't listened to Torts yet.  That should be informative.  I thought he did a great job down the stretch. 

Welp.  The 2017-18 season is over.  It was a good one.  Just wait till PLD is a year older.  Wowza!


Monday, April 9, 2018

Moving the Needle; Adding Texture

Playoff Ice in Nationwide Arena
The 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets are returning to the Stanley Cup playoffs in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.  In this space I opined early in the season that making the playoffs was an organizational imperative.  Mission accomplished. 

Previous iterations of the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs, only to fall back off the pinnacle, and start the struggle to return again.  Making the playoffs in consecutive years shows that you have 'moved the needle'.  That you have gotten better over time.  Stick tap to Jarmo, John Davidson, John Tortorella, and the players for this significant accomplishment.  At times it looked shaky this year, but the team powerfully drove through to the playoffs, and finished by playing some of their best hockey of the year. 

I like the match-up with the Washington Capitals.  Not that it's any kind of gift, they are a very good opponent.  Sort of an 'out of the frying pan into the fire' kind of thing.  What I like is going into a round with another team, which adds texture to our team history.  It should be interesting to see how it all plays out.  I thought Washington was going to take a step backward this year.  Instead they won the Metropolitan Division.  They are also entering the playoffs on a string of very good play; late in the season it looked like Pittsburgh might catch them, but then they pulled away and won the Division.  Good stuff.

The Blue Jackets are an interesting bunch.  The best rookie in franchise history (wow!), Pierre-Luc
Dubois, a trade for a dynamic winger, Panarin, and a Norris trophy candidate, Jones, carried the team to a successful season, aided and abetted by the trade deadline acquisitions of Cole, Vanek and Letestu.  Bobrovsky had another good year, and Zach Werenski was starting to emerge from his sophomore slump by the end of the year.  Nice slump, tied for most goals by a Blue Jackets defenseman, with his partner Jones who set the record for most points by a defenseman,.

Cam Atkinson comes into the playoffs on fire, and one of the big wild cards going forward is Thomas Vanek.  Throughout his career he has been a goal scorer, and he could easily get hot in the playoffs.  I think the chance for hardware matters to him, and I think he will play well.

Playoff bound.  How cool.  What a good time this is going to be!


Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Deadline Moves Resonate

Ha ha! An old pre-Gaborik Letestu,
2013 Training Camp
At the trade deadline Jarmo Kekalainen added veteran depth to the roster at little cost, shoring up multiple parts of the lineup.  Shopping at the untrodden end of the rental market, Jarmo conserved top draft picks and spent mid-draft picks in the third and fourth round in multiple years.  He accomplished two things; he told his existing roster he trusted them and he brought in reinforcements to prop the team up.  For me as a fan, I was really pleased by these moves.

Letestu's story book return to Columbus, scoring a goal, and having an obvious impact in play sets a feel good vibe that hasn't been around the club much this year.  2017-18 is a season burdened with very high expectations, and the young team has seemed to struggle with that weight, while showing obvious potential.  So how do you help?  Add veterans.

In addition to Letestu's positive impact on the fourth line and special teams, Jarmo added Ian Cole and Thomas Vanek, a strong defenseman on one hand, and an accomplished scorer on the other.  For these players, they all come from a situation where their team was out of the playoffs (Ottawa for Cole), to a team that is in playoff position, if tenuously.  For Vanek this is a real opportunity. A new contract is probably less of an issue for him than an opportunity to take a shot at hockey's big prize.

So in the end, I think, these pieces make the Blue Jackets a much more dangerous team in a playoff round.  The playoffs are a different beast, and these veterans bring a variety of experience and talent to the equation that could make the end of this season very entertaining.  And if the rentals don't work out, you fall back on the team that got you this far.  It is a very advantageous position for the organization to be in, as they try to move toward being a perennial playoff team. 

And boy oh boy am I happy for the Letestu family.  Welcome home folks.  We've missed you.


Saturday, February 10, 2018

On the Outside Looking In

Dubois, Anderson and Wennberg, circa 2016
There is something kind of surreal about being a long time Jackets fan, and hearing the phrase "the CBJ dropped out of a playoff position for the first time in a year and a half."  Nonetheless, an unprecedented run came to an end last night at the hands of the Capitals, and the Blue Jackets are not in playoff position for the first time in a long time.  Which, at this stage of the game, is probably healthy.  If there were 4 days left in the season instead of a looming trade deadline, it would be time to panic.  This, however, is not that time.

No matter how poorly they played in January, the CBJ just could not seem to drop out of that third slot in the Metropolitan Division.  Now that they are actually showing signs that they can play hockey, they can't seem to win.  I think it will come though, as they are actually starting to forecheck effectively.  So we will see what happens tonight against the Devils. 

The Jackets have a run of Metro teams to try to handle here in February, so this is a good time to try to win some games.  One of the excuses for not bringing your best just went away though.  Now that they are looking up at playoff position, it shouldn't be too hard to get motivated.  The veteran core is showing signs of life, and Atkinson looks like he is getting ready to get hot and start scoring.  We will see if that pans out. 

The games matter from here on out, which should make for some compelling hockey.  I'm looking forward to watching these games down the stretch.  It should be fun.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why the Jokinen Acquisition is Such a Strong Move

Jarmo hanging at Cannonfest
Today the CBJ acquired Jussi Jokinen off of waivers from the LA Kings.  Jokinen is roughly 34, has scored in the past, harmed us in the playoffs when with the Pens, and is coming off a knee injury at Florida last year.  I feel really strongly that this is a good move.  The fact that it is a no cost move may move it into the great move category, depending on how it all turns out.  No assets were given up, there is no risk to this move, but possibly a really decent upside for this particular CBJ team. 

I had been thinking that a really good move  would be to acquire a couple of veteran checking wingers/centers at the deadline for the stretch run.  There is a legitimate need for a more productive fourth line, and going rental veteran is likely a pretty solid strategy to upgrade that line's performance.  But it does erode those lower round draft picks if you have to make a trade and that's where Jarmo and his crew of scouts make their money (see re: Nutivaara).  So even though they are low round picks, they are valuable to the organization and should not be given up lightly.

But Jokinen fills this role, for free.  And while I think he can hold this role down, there is potentially an upside that could make him even more valuable.  So I feel pretty good about this move.  And for a young team under duress with injuries, the sight of reinforcements coming over the hill may give them a needed spark. 

So from what I have seen in the twittersphere today,  he is apparently good at faceoffs (a huge need) can play any forward position (we need centers), has played center in the NHL(!), and is 2 years removed from a 60 point season.  So the biggest question is how much is left in the tank, and a waiver wire claim that is an upgrade for your team is a great way to find out.  I did note that RJ Umberger tweeted that he could be over in 20 minutes if Jarmo needed some help.  You gotta love that!  I'd love for RJ to have that chance, but probably not gonna happen.  I don't think RJ ever had the speed you need in today's NHL, even at the prime of his long and fruitful career.

So it's a good day in CBJ land. 

Coach Hitchcock comes back to town on Thursday.  I am really happy for him.  We never shoulda fired Hitch in the first place, but I am impressed with what Tortorella is doing.  That last Jack Adams wasn't for nothing.