Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Making the Monsters Great Again; The Acceptable Futures Trade for Panarin

The Monsters' Count Down to the Calder Cup
With the big news being Artemi Panarin will go to the post season to evaluate his options, Jarmo Kekalainen must make some hard decisions.  We discussed in the last post some of the consequences of that decision, and the notion that 'losing Panarin for nothing' is a relative term.  As we saw with the Gaborik trade, that can happen at the trade deadline as well as on July 1.  Since a trade deadline deal will almost certainly involve futures rather than a player, you have to ask yourself what type of futures deal is worth making the move?  To me, the easy criteria for evaluating the move is: Does it make the Monsters great?

There are not a lot of teams out there that have the resources to do that.  In order to do my best to see this clearly, I am going to be relying on an article published on August 30, 2018 by Corey Pronman of The Athletic.  Please note that the Athletic is a subscription sports news service, with an incredible variety of awesome content.  If you can afford it, I recommend a subscription.  They have deals out there, you won't be sorry.  In this particular amazing article, Pronman ranked all 31 NHL teams farm systems.  Pronman is the NHL equivalent of @CBJProspects over on the 1st Ohio Battery, except he covers the whole NHL.  So I will use his article to evaluate possible trade partners with the CBJ for the talents of the Breadman, and possibly Bob as well.  Note that Pronman ranked the Blue Jackets farm system as 23rd overall, which I thought was right on the money.  Most of our young talent is in the NHL, and not at the farm.

Two teams that I think might well be interested in Panarin for the playoff push are the Nashville Predators and the Boston Bruins.  They both could use the offensive boost that Parnarin will bring, and particularly in the Predators, you have a team with its sights legitimately set on a Stanley Cup.  Unfortunately for the evaluation criteria I am talking about here, the Predators, as well as Boston, rank behind the Blue Jackets in Pronman's rankings.  Since it seems likely that we will want to focus on center depth, neither team seems to have much to offer that would move the needle for the Monsters, much less the CBJ, even with some patience.

Pronman cleverly ranked prospects in the following manner: Special Prospects (e.g. Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo), Elite Prospects (e.g. Elias Pettersson, Vancouver), Legit Prospects, Have a Chance, and Depth Notes.  For comparison sake, Pronman ranked Vitaly Abramov as a Legit Prospect (a fair ranking).  Nashville has a center that Pronman wasn't content to rank as simply legit, but wasn't ready to call Elite, so settled for High End Prospect with Eeli Tovanen, a right wing playing for Jokerit in the KHL.  Not a great match with the Jackets needs. 

Boston has a Very Good NHL Prospect, again a half step higher than a Legit Prospect, but not Elite.  This is a center, Ryan Donato, playing for Harvard in the ECAC.  Pronman had a lot of nice things to say about this prospect.  But does he drive a deal for the Breadman?  I don't really think so.

One team that has potential for a deal, is Florida.  I covet their top center prospect Henrik Borgstrom, whom Pronman rates as an Elite Prospect, but not the finished product of a Pettersson.  They also have a legit prospect at center in Aleski Heponiemi, playing in the WHL.  If you put together a package of picks, with these two prospects, and took their backup goalie in exchange, you might be able to ship both Bread and Bob off to Florida.  They sit 10 points out of a wild card spot, but its still January.  You add Bread and Bob to your lineup, push Luongo to the backup role, and make a run at the wildcard.  It's definitely doable.  A bold move on their part, but I think they have excellent prospects for being able to sign both players.  South Beach baby!!

Plopping an elite Center prospect into Cleveland once his college season is over could have a real impact on the Monsters.  Other prospects would emerge over time.  One of our organizations strengths is scouting, and this is where it has to come to the fore.

It's time to make the Monsters great again!!  And if what other GM's are offering you isn't going to do that, then you don't want to do the deal, you stand pat, and take your medicine, along, hopefully, with the playoff success for the Blue Jackets.  There is talent on the Monsters roster now that still needs development before its ready for the big show, but it is coming along well (e.g. Abramov, Milano, Stenlund, et al).  And reinforcements are coming next year (Elvis will be IN the building!!).  But it would be nice to be able to move the dial now, if you can!



Friday, January 25, 2019

Lessons from the Gaborik Trade

Marion Gaborik back in his CBJ Days
There came a time in the history of the CBJ where it was thought that trading Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline was important because he was an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) at the end of the season.  It was considered important to get assets for him instead of taking a dead loss in free agency.  That was the thought.  We'll review the trade in a minute.  The unfortunate reality was that later that year, down a goal to the Penguins late in an elimination playoff game, the guys we had coming down the ice were not 'high danger' guys.  Good players, but not players you feared would wing the puck by you into the net before you could react.  Gaborik is a guy who could do that, but he was long gone, off to win a Stanley Cup with the LA Kings, because he winged the puck by guys a bunch of times in the playoffs.  Now he's dead weight on LA's salary cap, but would you exchange that for a Stanley Cup?  Every time. Errata:  LA unloaded Gaborik on Ottawa.  LOL.  But you get my point.

The point is, when the CBJ most needed a player of that ilk, we didn't have him because we were 'worried about losing him for nothing'.  Jarmo Kekalainen is a pretty astute man.  This lesson did not escape him at all.  Hence the concept of 'renting him to ourselves', a way of internalizing the cost versus the value.  Obviously, all of this has relevance to this year, as we look at possibly renting a couple of high value players to ourselves, potentially at great cost.

But what cost?  Here, looking at the Gaborik trade in depth makes sense.  In that regard I am indebted to Pale Dragon over on the Jackets Cannon who posted this  Ranking of Jarmo Trades.  I've been thinking of this post for awhile, but I was hung up because I couldn't remember exactly what the trade was.  Pale Dragon bailed me out on that regard.  And there is a thread in the comments on his article that flirts with what I am trying to get at here, so I wanted to take a moment to give credit where due.

According to Pale Dragon, we traded Marian Gaborik for Matt Frattin, a 2015 second round pick (Travis Dermott) and a 2014 3rd round pick (Dominic Turgeon).  You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy... Oh wait, wrong epic.  Anyway, Matt Frattin made it to the NHL for 135 games.  That's nothing to scoff at for any old hockey player growing up.  But as a significant piece of a trade for an aging top player?  Meh.  The other two pieces played zero role in the CBJ's efforts to become respectable.  So overall, it's fair to say we got nothing in the trade.  Except for the loss of a scoring threat when one might have been useful.

There were other issues with Gaborik.  CBJ management (JD and Jarmo) were distinctly unhappy with his apparent influence on Cam Atkinson.  The investment in Cam's future (hello Mr. All-Star!) may have made this a great trade in hockey ops balance sheet.  But Jarmo learned this lesson well, and he will be using the experience he gained with this lesson to make tough choices as the 2018-19 trade deadline approaches.

If you subtract Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin from this team, you are certainly going to be looking at situations in the playoffs where their skills will be dearly missed.  Can their skills take you to a new level this year if you keep them?  Only 20-20 hindsight sees this clearly.

I sure hope the Breadman signs.  I love watching the dude play.  The lesson above says, if you aren't getting a large return, you keep him.  Matt Frattin, a second and a third, neither of whom panned out?  If you are going to come up empty, I'd rather take my chances in free agency with Panarin, and reap the benefits of what he will bring to the playoffs.

Bob is tougher.  But I think the market is bad, and you have to have goal tending if you want to do anything, so you keep him, and take your chances competing in free agency.  Likely he'll be gone.  But you have to have him if you want to make any noise.  And the pressure is on him to perform.

Summing up, the lesson from the Gaborik trade is that these guys are probably worth more to you than what you will be able to garner on the open market.  Trust your ability to convince them in free agency, and move forward with your sights on really making some noise in the playoffs.  It won't be easy.  This is high risk, high reward stuff.  But you just gotta take your shot when you can.  And now is that time for the CBJ.  It's going to be a fun finish to this season!!



Saturday, January 12, 2019

Why Hoisting Nash's Jersey Soon Makes Sense

Nash in Todd Richards First Practice.  Another Coach.
Yesterday, Rick Nash announced his retirement from the NHL.  As has been discussed in many venues, Nash holds many records for the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise.  As was also discussed earlier in the year by The Athletic's Portzline, Reed and Lukan, Cam Atkinson is poised to assault many of Rick Nash's CBJ records.

Certainly Nash has been an influential player for the CBJ.  In our first trip to the playoffs in 2008-09, Nash pretty much carried the team the whole way under the able whip hand of Coach Ken Hitchcock.  What is beyond question, is that Nash left everything he had on the ice that year.  The team's reward was to face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings in the first round, on their way to a repeat confrontation with the Penguins.  The exhausted upstarts didn't really have a chance.

Nash just wasn't able to climb that mountain again in later years.  While I should confess to being critical of him at the time, the reality is that one guy can't just keep pulling an entire team along, year in, year out.  A current example is Taylor Hall last year for the New Jersey Devils.  It's the same phenomenon.  Both players deserve ultimate credit for that accomplishment.  But its not the type of thing that is often repeatable.

All of this is really cool, and these are reasons to hoist Nash's jersey some day.  They aren't really an argument for doing it sooner, rather than later.

To me, the argument for doing it sooner is twofold.  First, it represents the maturation of our franchise.  That we could draft a guy, and he could go through his career, and get his jersey hoisted is one of those things that shows stability in the franchise.  Admittedly, this is a pretty self serving reason for the CBJ.

Secondly, raising his jersey sooner is a means of celebrating his footprint in the record books of the NHL.  He has a lot of the records for the CBJ.  But what has he done that puts him in the NHL record books?  First off, he is the only Blue Jacket to ever win the Rocket Richard Trophy for most goals in a season.  That trophy is a great accomplishment, and similar to Bob's Vezina trophies, a good reason to hoist his jersey.

But the one event that to me says, 'do this soon', is to commemorate that night in the 2008-09 season, where the upstart CBJ went into Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, and just destroyed the Red Wings.  It was one of those nights for the 'Wings.  We weren't that good, they weren't that bad.  It was just one of those nights.  That's hockey.  But on that night, Rick Nash scored an unassisted hat trick, the first player to do so since the incomparable Rocket Richard.  The first player to do so in more than 50 years.  It was an unbelievable accomplishment.  And that is the reason why I believe Nash's Jersey should be raised to the rafters of Nationwide Arena sooner, rather than later.

With the inexorability of a Greek tragedy, Mike Babcock never let his players forget that they let Nash do something that only Richard had done at that point; contributing heavily to the Red Wings decimation of the Blue Jackets in the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs.  But it gives you a glimpse of the level to which Nash had risen in that year.  And I think that singular accomplishment is something worth celebrating.

I'm not implying that it has to be done this year.  Given the unusual nature of this year, with looming free agency, I think you let all that stuff play out.  You don't want those things to detract or distract from honoring Nash.  But its something to get on the agenda for next year, and get it done.  This franchise is trying to run with the big dogs, and in the end, this type of celebration shows that they belong in the crowd.

Congratulations on a great career, Rick Nash.  Likely we'll be seeing you around in a different role, which we will all look forward to seeing.  Sorry that it had to end this way.  Nash played in an era where you had to physically overcome your opposition.  In the 2008-09 season, he did that to the whole league.  So let's raise the jersey and celebrate, because we can!



Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Looking Ahead to 2019; Reviewing a Prospect, a Player and a Pick

Not surprisingly, I waffle back and forth on the subject of Artemi Panarin.  The dude has the silky mitts.  Even when I am grumping because I don't think he has been nearly as hard on the puck this year as he was last year, I still think that he drives the offense on that top line.  Should Jarmo find himself in a situation where you just HAVE to trade him, I wonder if Bjorkstrand can fill that role to some extent.  Bjork is not the same player as the Panarin, but I wonder if he could fill that role. 

All that said, I think we have the equivalent of a late first round pick invested in Panarin.  Say Sonny just doesn't make it in the NHL (which is not what I am saying); it would be roughly the equivalent of Sonny whiffing in terms of an organizational impact.  Not at all like losing a number one overall, such as Taveres.  So it wouldn't be the end of the day if we kept Panarin, and lost him to free agency.  You can only do that math in retrospect. looking to see what was accomplished in the playoffs.

But what could you get at the deadline, for a short term rental?  You want something like a prospect,  a player, and a pick for someone of Panarin's caliber.  What would that look like?  So, my buddy Bill said something funny along these lines the other day.  He just blurted out Bittner, Sedlak, and a pick.  Paul Bittner is a solid player, has had some ups and downs, but still firmly on the developmental path.  We don't know how he will turn out yet.  Definitely a prospect.  Not an Abramov, but still a prospect. 

Lucas Sedlak is an NHL player.  I personally love the player, especially in the rose tinted glasses of the Calder Cup Championship he helped win by being on fire in the playoffs.  But he's a player, and you could put him on your roster and roll him out there, probably in a bottom six goal.  But if you were responsible for selling him there are a lot of possibilities: "look at those playoff goals in the A!  Won a championship!, All he really needs is some top six playing time... etc, etc".  Other teams have players like these as well, and the trick is to get you to believe they are something more when you are making a trade.

So for a hypothetical exercise, let's assume Jarmo decides he has to trade Panarin, and he is negotiating with Jarmo2, who has the CBJ system at his disposal.  Jarmo2 is hoping to get Jarmo to take Bittner, Sedlak, and hopefully the 31st overall pick for Panarin.  It may be a faint hope that Jarmo2 can re-sign Panarin, but he is willing to give it a shot, and he hasn't mortgaged the franchise to do so.  Jarmo, on the other hand, is trying to get Abramov, Bjorkstrand, and a pick out of Jarmo2 in order to part with a prized player.  If he could get that from Jarmo2 you would like to think that you have bolstered your long term franchise depth in order to move a player who won't sign.

This is a really difficult position for Jarmo.  But if the best you could get would be the former combination of players, it just wouldn't be worth it to trade Panarin.  You keep him knowing that you are going to eat the loss.  And it will hurt.  It's like whiffing on a late first round pick.  But it happens, and you move on.  Likewise, if you decide not to move Panarin at the deadline, you hope to have some tangible hardware to show for that decision.  Maybe not the cup, but certainly not a first round exit. 

I noticed something funny during the Ottawa game on Monday night.  It was late in the game, and Ottawa had come back and tied the game.  And I saw the Jackets get a little mad, and really start bearing down on what they were doing.  At that point, you knew they were going to score, and low and behold they did.  So as a long time Blue Jackets fan, it is interesting to me to see that this team has another gear.  Back in 2008-09, the first playoff year, I knew the team had nothing left to give.  They left it all on the ice to get to the playoffs, and there was no other gear available.  This team has that gear.  How effectively they use it remains to be seen, and they have to sort out how to be operating in that fashion when the playoffs arrive.  It's not the kind of thing you can just turn on, you do need to be running at that level when the playoffs start.  That will make this second half of the season interesting to watch.

Here's wishing everyone a safe and prosperous 2019!