Tuesday, December 29, 2009

State of the Team.. Midseason

The overall feel of this post will inevitably be about ten times more optimistic today than it would have been yesterday. Two major rocks broke off the current mountain the Jackets are climbing, including a massive 1-0 win against Detroit in overtime, and a trade that will bring Jurcina and Clark to Columbus.

I should probably start with the negative. Columbus is still knee deep in a slump. With only one win in their last ten games, the Jackets will have to dig deep in an unforgiving, and road trip laden January if they want to bring the team back into the playoff hunt. While the idea of making the playoffs is now wishful thinking, if they can play to their potential, the Jackets could easily go on a couple five game winning streaks. Steve Mason proved last night that he is the defacto number one goalie, and it was only a matter of time for him to return to last years form.

Now, the good. The Jackets welcome two much needed pieces to the puzzle. A hardened vet with heavy leadership experience in Clark, and a right winged, stay at home puck moving defensemen in Jurcina. While neither of these players will be top four or top six players, their talent will benefit the Jackets where they have struggled all year long, in the depth player level. This does make me wonder who gets ousted from the defensive ranks. Obviously with Chimera gone, Clark will fill in a hole in the offense, but where in the lineup he will land is likely going to be based on some line juggling by Hitch.

Looking at the defense, Stralman will likely welcome the idea of having a second right handed shot on the blueline. With Klesla and Methot both out with injury, the Jackets are suddenly well balanced and deep on the back end. Tack that on with the solid play of Roy over the last couple games, and suddenly, the Jackets are going to struggle to decide who sits each game. It seems that either they are hoping to send a message to the current roster, or they are planning something bigger in terms of a trade.

Optimism is what will get our boys through this mess. That, and the appropriate adjustments in team management. I would love to hear what you guys and gals are doing to get through the tough time as a fan. Feel free to comment!

Carry the Flag!

The Streak Ends!

At long last, I can finally return to discussing the Jackets action. After a day full of change, including the Chimera trade, along with not only a win, but an overtime win nonetheless against a division rival, I can finally return thanks to even the slimmest touch of optimism available.

As we all have our traditions and bouts of superstitions, my most recent decision to hold off on my critiquing was solely focused on a lack of interest in hounding this team. With any losing streak, the hardest thing to do is provide positive and reasonable commentary, and unfortunately, that was not the direction this blog was headed. That being said, I am confident we have hit our low point of the year, and I am getting more and more confident that a coaching change will be on the horizon.

While some players still appear to be struggling around the puck, the one wearing the biggest burden (Steve Mason) had probably his best game of the year, returning to a form that won him the Calder trophy not a season ago. He played so well, I felt the banner may as well be of him, considering yet again, he has found a way to bring a 'W' to Columbus.

I am excited to bring to you a state of the team post tomorrow, along with my thoughts on the trade to bring a defender and some much needed leadership to the team. For now, let me share with you my excitement for a victory, and my optimism for the coming weeks, even though they will be rocky.

Thank you Steve Mason.
Good bye Chimmer.
Go Jackets.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Time for some 'They say, I say"

Befuddled is likely the best excuse for the small lull in my blogging week. After forgettable performances against Anaheim and Nashville, and two periods of (from what I hear... --thanks Versus--) 'coulda, shoulda' hockey, there really is not much to be said about this team.

There has been a bit of a critical bubble wrapped around the team. I can't really blame specific individuals for poor play, because the team as a whole has been playing to the par of probably the AHL. I can certainly blame the coach, but I have already done that on multiple occasions, citing his inability to get the team on board with his program, and excited to play each game. I could certainly blame Mason, but that would be short sighted, considering he rarely has a chance thanks to a dismal defensive performance.

The likelihood that a specific piece of the puzzle will fall into place, reviving a third of a seasons worth of terrible play is minimal at best. There are so many holes in the current system, so many blown concepts (the all Swede line, are you serious!?) and stupid line combinations, and so many 'optional' skates, that really, putting the blame on anything would simply continue the current trend.

Bottom line, this team needs to stop finding excuses, and start finding solutions. Here are some of their comments, and my 'what should be said' retorts;

Them: "so and so is not performing, and it will take them rising to the occasion for this team to turn around in that area."
Me: "Our team needs to strengthen itself in the defensive end, whether it takes a certain individual to raise their game, or whether the group as a whole can come together and start playing unified hockey.

Them: "Rick Nash needs to stop trying to trying to beat the entire team by himself."
Me: "While we have certain individuals that are trying to elevate their individual game to raise the scoring opportunities, the best solution in the offensive zone is a strong cycling game with all five skaters moving their feet and opening lanes."

Them: "The situation in net is dismal. Steve Mason is --insert blah blah stat statements pointing out his numbers-- and will need to play better to help this team win games."
Me: "Last year, this team prided themselves on stymy defense and tremendous, unlikely saves by our goaltender. If we want to compete in each game, it will have to be a collected effort to keep the scoring chances to a minimum, and the slot closed at all times. The saves will come with the confidence of not having to think there are players open in all areas of the slot."

Them: "Ken Hitchcock is not at fault, because the players are not buying into his system."
Me: "Hitchcock does not fit the style of hockey that would be suit the talent this team has. They are also skating lazy, and reaping the benefits of countless optional skates, and next to zero accountability when it comes to lazy play. We need a coach that can get these players into the right mindset."

In the end, solutions are the only proper way to resolve a slumping team, not excuses or pointed fingers. The after game interviews are becoming more difficult than the game itself for the players, and that absolutely needs to stop. Accountability in the form of these examples can easily propel this team back into form.

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Hypocrisy of Accepted Mediocrity

There has been some comentary lately about the need for patience from Jackets fans. I know many hockey teams struggle to maintain the interest of their fanbase with a losing team, and I think it is a shame that the NHL has to work so hard for their fanbase, considering how exciting the sport is. I do not, however, think any fanbase should be forced to grow through mediocrity. If you consider some of the greatest NHL fanbases currently, you may as well be looking through time to storied franchises full of excitement and good fortune. The cup runs by the Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, and Chicago Blackhawks of the original six, over decades of dedication, solidified the fans into a lifelong commitment to their team.

Yet, for some reason, there is a new unspoken request to fans for patience through tough times. The request to embrace a team who loses, in hopes of watching them someday win. It seems that mediocrity is meant to be paid for, and beyond the casual fan, people should pay for it throughout the year.

I disagree.

For many reasons, I do not believe that mediocrity is something any club should be able to portray to their fanbase. I believe that all NHL teams can compete, it is simply a matter of conditioning them in the right ways, and producing the appropriate line pairings, specialty teams, and goaltender matchups. In Columbus there is a different animal currently running rampant through the dressing room. Laziness.

Laziness, in my opinion, is the direct cause of their nine game funk. Laziness is a luxury they did not afford themselves last year after bringing in Steve Mason, and it was a lack of that very concept that drove them to the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the body movements of players, both before and after the whistle, you can see a certain sense of disinterest towards the game at hand. It is this laziness that drives a fan like me away from a team.

If an organization wants to preach mediocrity, they do not have a very strong business ethic. Most know that in business, you are either extremely good at what you do, or you work your tail off until you have reached that point. For the Jackets, being full of youth is the number one excuse used by the coach and pundents. If they want to fall back on youth, I will fall back on how youth are supposed to play this game... With speed, tenacity, energy, and a general excitedness that can not be bought on the open market.

They say 'we have excuses' regarding their record. I say 'I have had enough excuses, it is time to see some success.' We have a team that should be more competitive than last year. We have a group of talent that should be able to compete beyond any other team in the NHL. When they show up for a game, it is one of the most exciting things for me to watch, but they need to find a way to do that every game, for sixty minutes. Once that is consistent on a game by game basis, the fans will fill the seats. Once the threat of 4-8 goal losses has been removed, the fans WILL fill the seats. If they do not show passion, they will likely not get any from their fans.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Game Recap: FLA vs. CBJ 12/10

Last night marked the first time in well over a month that the Jackets came out of the gate firing. The wheels were spinning fast and strong through the early going, hammering the Florida defense with a strong forecheck from at least three lines. The offensive combination of Dorsett - Brassard - Torres was by far the most potent, pressing relentlessly and making a statement that no ice time would be easy for their opposition.

Then enter the Nash - Vermette - Huselius line, who were passing brilliantly and coming ever so close to scoring on multiple occassions, forcing the defense to shrink towards the net. While the goals were not being scored, the effort and tenacity that was so badly missed was evident, and none were more pleased than the thousands in attendance.

For me, I was excited. Sitting at home watching the game was a 'gametime' decision after attending the last two home games (aka losses) and I immediately begun to regret opting for the lazy route. Every effort on the puck, and every connected pass reminded me why I dedicate so much time to this team, and it truly got me excited again as a fan.

The unlikely hero in the first period was Jason Chimera. After tucking his head and barrelling towards the offensive blueline, I was quick to get frustrated with him for missing a wide open Voracek streaking wide. Chimera, however, had plans of his own. After throwing a fluttery backhand at Vokoun, he crashed the net hard, tucking in the rebound. The guys finally got the goal they deserved, and took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room.

The second period was forgettable for the offense. A 1-0 lead was clearly the cushion they were searching for, and fortunately, the defense decided to bail out Steve Mason after a couple miserable turnovers lead to spectacular saves. As I had mentioned a few posts ago, Mason was only lacking a fair chance at the puck, and none were more difficult or fair than Kulikov's slapshot, gloved perfectly by Mase. For me, that changed the game. The offense realized that Mason and the defense would hold if they continued their pressure, and the third period was much like the first, up until the refs started making calls.

Now, regardless of whether the calls were fair or not, the edge went to Florida. Once again, Columbus was forced to kill a 5-3 late in the game, and once again, they pulled through. Midway through the third, one of the more media favored (recently) players came cruising down the left side with the puck. Brassard artfully lifted the puck over Vokoun's shoulder into the top of the net, and just like that, the Jackets had their dreaded two goal lead. A strange faceoff win and 'sort of' shot by Sammy Pahlsson sealed the deal, and Steve Mason held on the record his first shutout of the season.

Skill from the playmakers, and strength from the grinders won this game. Proper defense, and a potent offense caused Florida to play smarter, removing some of the offensive efforts that may have been there if the Jackets sat back. They played the hockey they are meant to play, and Hitchcock better take notes. If they play every game like this, minus the second period lull, making the playoffs are going to be the least of their worries.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Line Juggling with the Return of Modin

After watching the last couple weeks of Blue Jackets hockey, it becomes rather clear that a change is necessary to motivate the players. Their play has been subpar, and their motivation has been all but non-existent. Sometimes players need to feel the press of another competitive forward, ready to sweep in and steal their roster stop.

Enter Frederick Modin.

After a myriad of injuries and a miserable couple of years, he is finally coming close to playing condition. He competed well with the rest of the team in an hours worth of practice recently, and the outlook is very positive for one of the next three games. Now, it is well known around my circle that my criticisms of Modin have been relentless, even when healthy. His play on the puck is quite strong, but his lazy attitude while not on the puck needs some serious reworking, especially considering he is a veteran.

That being said, I can think of a few players on the Jackets roster I would love to replace with a healthy Modin. Mike Blunden seems outclassed in the NHL right now, making small but consistent mistakes on a nightly basis, and would do well to return to Syracuse for more conditioning. Jason Chimera is great with his speed, but has rarely used it of late, and has been the cause of many Blue Jackets turnovers. Even MacKenzie, who has seemed to be one of the more consistent players on the latter lines, could be removed for the boost in talent. The problem is, once Modin is on board, where does he fit in?

I have thrown together an assumptive line combination based on how I believe Hitchcock will react to his return;

Huselius - Vermette - Nash
Voracek - Umberger - Modin
Torres - Pahlsson - Dorsett
Boll - Brassard - Chimera

A couple of notes: Umberger should not be playing center, and it is really quite unfortunate that Hitch wants to go that route considering how deep the team is at that position. While his ability to get physical is higher than Brassard's, it is a waste of talent to place Brassard on the fourth line, which should focus on pyhsical play and neutral zone attack.

Here is my preferred lineup;

Huselius - Vermette - Nash
Voracek - Brassard - Modin
Torres - Umberger - Dorsett
Boll - Pahlsson - Chimera

I am really excited about these pairings. That being said, it would have to be generated in a system where the top two lines play talent based hockey, and the bottom two lines play the Hitchcock 'crash em and bash em' hockey he is so famous for. By allowing the skilled lines to work the puck and try for the fancy passing, chemistry and excitement will build within Nationwide. If games are lost, at least fans will be treated to a level of talent that is currently being masked under a tired system. The Torres, Umberger, and Dorsett line really excites me. It will make teams top lines shudder at the thought of facing them, and they are all talented enough to bury the puck if an opportunity arises.

Hitch can make this team work, but he needs a three dimensional view of his talent.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Behind the Numbers: Derick Brassard

Upon first glance, it is not hard to write off Derick Brassard's second full season in the NHL. With one of the teams worst +/- ratings to this point, Brassard has struggled to find his form inside the Hitchcock system. He has also fallen short of management's expecations of playing alongside Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius on the top line. Brassard is a prime candidate for skeptics when hunting for scapegoats, considering the only unmoving position on the top line has been at center.

But what exactly defines a bad season? Brassard is far from a checking forward, standing a mere 6'0 and weighing in just slightly over 170lbs. His assets are his ability to see the ice, move the puck, and move with the puck, and unfortunately, these assets are considered second rate in the style that Columbus has been trying to mimmick for the last couple years. There is no question that Brassard can move the puck. His efforts on the second powerplay unit have been evident over the last ten games, and help to make it much better than the first unit in regards to maintaining possession in the offensive zone. So what is the hangup?

It is simple. Brassard, like Filatov (but to a much less extent) thrives on a non-physical game. His talent and skill far exceed his need for physicality, and on many teams, he would thrive on a fast paced puck possession game. His size and speed directly design him for puck management, not dump and chase, yet these are not the sole focus of any line on a given night in Columbus.

I have been first to bash Hitchcock this year. I will more than happily admit that. I am impressed with his NHL record, but I do not base every opinion on that. Most of the wins he acquired were long before the NHL was modified, and his mindset is shared by few current NHL coaches, and probably even fewer who are actually successful with that mentality. Unfortunately, I have to put this on him as well. Brassard's talent is obvious on the powerplay, when the door is open for possession. Once he goes back to even strength play, he is forced to go to a style that is both below his talent level, and not something he excels with.

Let me take one final angle with this. Rick Nash. Our team captain, and our best player. He succeeds in the Hitchcock system, but he has quietly modified into his own game a way to provide both. His size allows him to get into the corner and gain possession of the puck, but once completing that, begins to possess the puck until he finds an open lane. It is a quiet way of keeping skill in the game, and it generally provides him success on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, Brassard does not have the size to play that kind of game, and it has absolutely had an effect on his output.

I am confident that Brassard can succeed in this league. I am a big fan of his capabilities, and believe that he needs a longer leash when playing. If Hitch can find a way to allow his young stars to be competitive with the puck rather than forcing the dump and chase, he may find a surprising amount of success in a geyser of talent waiting to spill over on the second line.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Setting the Record Straight: Steve Mason

I have spent many hours this season reading articles designed to belittle Steve Mason and his "sophomore slump." While the stats tell the story to any 'fan' who watches the odd game and weighs in, or a hockey analyst sitting a plane ride away, trying to find credible discussions, I would like to take the opportunity to clear the air on some blatant misconceptions regarding our number one.

First and foremost, they are wrong. Not completely, but conceptually, their argument is flawed. While some would argue that he should be playing at the same capacity that he did last year, I argue that he may have been playing some of the best hockey of his career, and anything slightly below that is completely reasonable. He made saves that did not register logically for me. He embarrassed other teams top scorers, and turned aside enough pucks to get the entire fanbase supporting him. He won games for the team rather than the team winning games for him, but he did it with something he does not have this year.


Go to any sports fan and ask them what the key to winning is. Most of the time, they will break it down into two categories; a structured offense with solid weaponry, and a stymy defense that has the ability to deflate even the most potent of opportunities. This year, The Jackets do not have either. I would like to talk about both.

First, the offense. In a word, the best depiction of their offensive chances would be sporadic. Rarely consistent, I have personally watched the Jackets offensive sleep through 45 minutes of a game, only to turn it on for 10 minutes. It has happened in multiple games where they score two or three very quick goals, and then fall back into the Hitchcock coma, allowing the opposing team to get right back into the game. If the Jackets can sustain their powerful offense throughout a 60 minute game, it would not be a surprise to me if they started winning games by a two to four goal margin.

Now, to the defense. Last year, the pride of the Jackets was their defense, lead by the shutdown pairing of Hejda and Commodore. This year, with both being given an excuse to play poorly on account of their injuries, the Jackets lack the necessary pairing to keep the other teams first line in check. Kris Russell is getting more and more confident with the puck, but he needs to be complimented by a defensive defensemen with a mind for his own zone first. Pairing Russell with Stralman is both illogical and nonsensical. Everything this team is built on suggests that a defensive defensemen should be paired with an offensive defensemen, and I believe it is costing them games.

Once the Jackets shore up their defense, Mason will be given the freedom to build back the confidence lost on account of the blown asisgnments and goals being scored on plays that do not give him a chance to make the save. With the NHL scouting the way it is now, it is not hard for opposing teams to note how much freedom is being given in front of the Jackets net, and until they resolve the gaps, Mason will continue to be scored on. Not a goalie in the NHL will resolve these issues.

Carry the Flag! -- The Jackets don't play again until Wednesday, but stop by tomorrow for another hard hitting piece.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Game Recap: COL vs. CBJ 12/5

The night finally arrived. After two years of hate brewing, adam fo*te (name removed because this blog knows better) finally returned to Nationwide Arena, to a fanbase he offended and abandoned. Much to the dismay of the fans, the team did not quite show up the way we did.

I was there. Section 209, and loving my first opportunity to sit up there. The one great thing about Nationwide is that there is not a single bad seat in the house. The fans were great, booing fo*te every time he jumped on the ice, and we booed even harder when he touched the puck. Of the three or four times he was checked, (Thata boy Boller and Mackenzie!!!) the crowd went wild with cheers, with two years of angst and anticipation finally boiling over.

The first period was a stalemate. Neither team seemed too interested in the game, or making the games first mistake. Commodore threw down with Koci and the fans and myself gave the checkmark to Commodore, with a few solid punches and a decent take down. Credit Budaj throughout the entire game for coming in and making some massive saves, especially on Chimera who seemed snake bitten considering some of the tremendous chances he had.

The second period was deflating. Two blown assignments by the Jackets defense lead to two goals by the Avalanche. Such a common trend for the new Jackets team, an Av was left alone in front, only to get an open net with Mason flailing to stop them. This has become extremely obvious over the last couple games, and it has really put a microscope on whether Mason is really struggling at all this season. His save percentage last night was .842, however, only one of the goals could ever be considered his fault. In fact, take out the defensive breakdowns, and his save percentage would be around .947... Seems like we need to rethink who is actually at fault here.

I will not be touching the third period very much, because it was not consistent with the rest of the game. In fact, the Jackets looked like their old self in the third, outshooting the Avs 15-4 and scoring (arguably) three goals. They poured on the pressure and were really catching their stride, but once again, they proved that playing a 15 minute game instead of a 60 minute game is the difference between winning and losing in this league. I do want to thank my fellow Jackets fans for erupting in a "traitor" chant while the goal was being reviewed and fo*te was the only player on the ice. I hope he felt terrible because of it.

I am ready to call out Fedor Tyutin. His play has been absolutely miserable over the last ten games. He has been a turnover factory, and has passed the puck out in front of his own net probably 5-10 times in the last two games, a couple resulting in easy goals for the opposition. He is unsteady with the puck in the offensive zone, and has been far from competitive in any recent game I have watched. What is unfortunate about this, is that Hitchcock seems to believe that Tyutin and Stralman make a good defensive pairing, even though both seem to be struggling heavily with the puck. I will be putting some time into a piece about coaching later on today, so once again, I will stick to the game as much as I can here.

The final concern I have right now, is regarding the veterans. While the 'youth' has been one of the biggest criticisms by Hitchcock regarding this team, the veteran leadership has been consistently on the ice when the opposing team scores, and have been dragging down the opening section of the powerplay with lazy passing, and next to zero offensive chances. If the Jackets want to start winning games again, the vets are going to have to seriously reconsider their strategy.

That is enough dogging for now. I am optimistic, but not terribly confident that the Jackets can get over their recent slide. They need leadership and their coaching staff to step up big time.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Time for Some Retribution...

Over the last few games, maybe even the last month, the Jackets have shown a major lack in desire when playing. A year ago, there were very few nights when our players opted to 'take the game off' and coast throughout. In fact, the one endearing quality of the Jackets roster last year was that yes, while the talent still needed to develop, at least the level of effort was consistent.

This year, it has been a far cry from consistent from the collective. Mason has tried (and failed) to bail out the team on many occasions, just to be left to dry on account of miserable turnovers and blown assignments for many open net goals. While his play has not been stellar, it is hard to build confidence to a giant thorn in his side.

Yes, it is time for the Jackets to receive a wake up call from someone or some thing other than a brutal loss. With eight losses in the books allowing more than five goals, it is pretty clear that something has to give in order to remain competitive this year. Something has to change to generate the drive necessary to compete in the NHL, and I think I know what that something is.

Saturday, adam fo*te (note: capitalization and full last name removed for hatred purposes) will FINALLY make his return debut to Nationwide Arena. Finally, the Jackets fans can have their revenge on a captain who was not. Finally, the Jackets can hurt him where it counts. If ever a game could generate the rowdiness and hate needed to put a fire in the Jackets players, I think the crowd will be a force all on its' own Saturday.

I will once again be in attendance. I could not pass up the opportunity to see this game in person. I will be booing a player for the first time in my life, and it will be with a lot of other first timers, if I had to guess. It is not so much that I think booing is a reasonable or unreasonable thing to do, I just have never felt such a need to let a player know how much he has affected this team, and the teams fans.

My final tag line has always been "Carry the Flag". I put it there to remind myself why I put the time in to share my thoughts. I add it to every entry because it defines our roles as ambassadors of this team, and it reminds me what I can be thankful for. Maybe it is time the Jackets players started considering their slogan shortly before they hit the ice. Maybe it is time Hitch took the time to remind them.

Carry the Flag!

Game Recap: TOR vs. CBJ 12/3

There are only so many times a team can conjure a loss of this nature before people start to suggest the word 'trend' when looking back at the season. Tonight, once again, the Jackets played at a lackluster level and allowed the Maple Leafs to walk around them and net six goals.

To start, let me note a few things. I was in attendance, sharing the experience with my father and quite a few of his friends (Jackets and Leafs fans). I would like to give the Leafs fans credit for keeping their tongue and cheek comments to a minimum, although while I write this I am forced to chuckle and be reminded about the comment shared to me from "Brocky". In the end, I was not as disappointed as I should have been, and I blame the consistency in which games like this are happening.

Here is a list of games I think should have never happened:

Oct 8th - Loss 3-6
Oct 20th - Loss 3-6
Oct 22th - Loss 4-6
Oct 25th - Loss 2-6
Nov 11th - Loss 1-9
Nov 23rd - Loss 4-7
Nov 24th - Loss 3-5
Dec 3rd - Loss 3-6

Of their ten losses this year, eight of them have been because they have allowed five goals or more. This could be the fault of many factors, but I am not really listing this to point fingers. I am listing this because I am trying to find reasons why losing these games does not stress me out. Frankly, by the time the game reached 4-1, I was so beyond the score, I started actually enjoying myself again.

There is no question that Columbus needs to recollect themselves this year. They can not hide behind a +500 record any longer, seeing that their record is quickly becoming one of the weakest in the Central Division. With the indifference shown in each game by players who are well known for their determination and tenacity on the ice being well beyond evident, some form of accountability must be acquired before these games stop occurring.

Apparently I am a glutton for punishment, considering I will be heading back for the Saturday game against Colorado. Here is hoping they never put Commodore and Roy on the powerplay together then..

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Welcome Back Russell..

Last night was Kris Russell's second game back after a five game stretch of healthy scratches thanks to Coach Hitchcock. His main issue prior to his return was his confidence, and his ability to rebound from a mistake while controlling the puck.

His play on Monday night was exactly what the doctor ordered. Getting immediately involved, he made a great move to get around BJ Crombeen, and shelfed Chris Mason, who appeared to leave the net far enough to cut off the angle. If that was not enough, Russell came out big on his next shift, making a long pass leading to the eventual 2-0 goal by Umberger.

What was not on his stat sheet was what really impressed me. First, one should note that he turned Commodore into a +4 player single handedly. Commodore was able to play his natural game and not worry about sending the puck forward. He also played one of his better games since returning from injury earlier in the season.

The next thing that was noticeable was Russell on the second powerplay unit with Brassard, Torres, Voracek and Vermette. They were by far the better grouping, maintaining pressure in the offensive zone every time they acquired possession, and really forcing Chris Mason to come up big for the Blues.

These positives can pretty much all extend into the Chicago game last night. Russell remained the best defenseman on the ice for the Jackets, and while he lost the initial possession leading to the Versteeg goal, he rebounded with a goal and an assist of his own.

All these examples should build a lot of confidence in the youngster, especially involving his confidence. I expect another great game from him tomorrow with Toronto in town, and hopefully Hitchcock can manage the lines enough to get him 20 minutes of ice time. He has been averaging 22 minutes since his return, and I do not think there is a person in that organization that would say he does not deserve it.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Klesla Injured.. Line Changes Upcoming

Rusty Klesla has sustained a substantial injury to his groin, which will take him out of the lineup for upwards of four to six weeks. Coming on multiple injury proned seasons, this is the last thing the fans and Rusty wanted to deal with. Making matters worse, he has been far and away one of Columbus' best defenders during this year.

The Jackets have recalled Roy from Syracuse, and the line jugglging will likely continue into Thursday. My personal preference for pairings are the following;

Hejda - Commodore
Tyutin - Russell
Stralman - Methot/Roy

That being said, one can not ignore that Russell being on the same line as Commodore brought the best out of Mike last night, playing in one of his better games of the season and producing a +4 rating. This could play dividends with the coach, leaving him and option such as;

Hejda - Tyutin
Russell - Commodore
Stralman - Methot/Roy

While this does not provide the Jackets with a clear shutdown pairing, it balances the offensive defensemen with the defensive first defensemen, and maintains the Commodore/Russell line in tact. In any case, if the pairings deviate from what I have listed, I will be shocked if we see any sort of success defensively.

Carry the Flag!

Game Recap: CBJ vs. STL 11/30

Last night, the Blue Jackets squared off with the St Louis Blues at Nationwide Arena. While St Louis has not had the breakout year they were hoping to, they are always difficult to handle, and play a similar style of hockey. Columbus brought a five game losing streak to the table, and a serious need to generate some pride for both the teams sake, and their number one goalie.

I felt their pressure and tenacity around the puck was very strong out of the gate. Kris Russell proved to everyone once again that he belongs on this roster as a regular (as I clearly stated in my previous entry) and got the Jackets on the board with a beautiful deke and an even more impressive shot. Moving along in Hitchcock style, when he returned to the ice for his next shift quickly after that, he managed a great stretch pass that turned into a great deflection by Umberger, getting his team quickly on top by a two goal margin.

Now, I really do not know what the deal is with Columbus and a two goal lead. Rarely is there a safe lead in the new NHL, but it seems that the two goal lead is a real killer for the Jackets defense, and it showed late in the first period, and for most of the second period. An injury to Rusty Klesla forced Columbus to run with only five defensemen, and the forced line combinations showed their confusion, allowing multiple odd man rushes, the most notable being the two on one that lead to the tying goal by Paul Kariya.

Yes, the feeling of another inevitable defeat was looming, both in the crowd and in my living room. The kind of situation where one would like to run away and talk about the Ballard slash on Vokoun or the Ovechkin knee rather than continue watching, but the guys pushed on. A forgettable second period lead to a third period worth the time of day, and it was yet another excellent deflection by Umberger that brought the Jackets back on top. Empty netters by Vermette and Umberger (completing his hattrick) sealed the deal for Steve Mason and the Jackets, and put an end to one of the rockiest patches of their recent history.

There was a lot to take out of the game. The secondary powerplay unit of Voracek, Brassard, Russell, Torres, and Vermette were by far the better unit, maintaining possession in the offensive zone and creating havoc in front of Chris Mason. The play of the top powerplay unit was forgettable and a detriment to their special teams all night long. Steve Mason looked somewhat shaky, but held his ground in key moments of the game, turning away a heavy number of shots midway through the game. Kris Russell impressed me last night, not in his play but in his resilience for sitting in the press box for five straight games, and finally getting his chance to make a difference. Believe me, any time you can get your team the boost he did leaves a resounding thud in the ear of the coach. Rusty Klesla's injury is severe enough for a hospital visit, and Mathieu Roy has been recalled from Syracuse. Hopefully his time with the Jackets is traded with Methot only.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, November 30, 2009

The Weekly Burning Questions...

It took twenty five games this season to visualize the words I have been trying to produce regarding the Jackets play. Twenty five games, a dwindling +.500 record, and a whole little at which to look positively. There are a seasons worth of things to blame such as injuries, laziness, and bad coaching. Focusing on one thing or the next, while being sufficient for a given time period, rarely does the trick.

I will start with the coaching. While this is something that I have focused on in past entries, I feel it necessary to reiterate my distaste for the way this team is being coached currently. To begin, the right players are rarely the players that are given the most opportunity. Coach Hitchcock seems to overuse his veteran first mentality up until the boiling point, and will only in a dying effort bring in some youth to try and stoke the fire. Losing Filatov was inevitable based on his attitude toward youngsters, and that is not to say that Filatov does not have a lot of developing to do, but it does say that the wrong people were put in place to develop Niki as a player. Futhermore, putting Russell on the shelf after he single handedly held in the concept of puck moving defenseman late last year seems to be a horrible waste of talent, regardless of whether Stralman is a better all around player.

Yes, I am pushing hard, but so be it. Most of these players will earn more this year than I will see in my lifetime, and while I respect that, so should they. There is no desire for victory, no push for perfection, and certainly no accountability from the coaching staff that maybe their tactics are short of what this club needs.

Let us move on to laziness. There is no question that the better part of each game (especially each loss) is spent with our Jackets firing at maybe 70% of their actual capacity. It was obvious in the Calgary game, when they scored three goals in the final seven minutes of the second period, only to fall back asleep in the third. It has been obvious game after game that these players are finding little reason to force the issue and work extremely hard game in and game out. While this may seem like a trivial pursuit of the flawless victory, I do not believe it is out of the question to expect a high caliber of effort from each of these players.

In the previous couple games, horrible giveaways and brutal blown assignments have cost the Jackets costly goals and unnecessary losses. If the defense held strong, and the offense maintained their positioning in the defensive zone, there is little doubt in my mind that one of Garon or Mason could easily provide the goaltending needed to win a game or twenty.

Finally, we can chat about injury. I have heard and read more complaints about poor conditioning due to injury from some of the players in the Jackets organization than I can personally stand. Take a minute to consider a guy like Raffi Torres, who loses half of his mouth from a puck, and manages to return to form only a few games afterwards. Then, we look at a guy like Mike Commodore, who has complained over and over again about conditioning being a factor. Here is the simply truth. If a player is not in good enough condition to play, then do not play them! There are a multitude of bubble defensemen that would love to step in and play. We are not in a situation where there is a dying need for injured and unconditioned defensemen need to be playing in each game. Forget what the players can and can not do, it is time to start hearing that accountability is the number one factor in every game and practice. It is time to hear that the best players available are playing in each game, and are playing to their fullest capacity.

I am done hearing excuses. This is an extremely talented group of players who are heavily underachieving, despite a winning record they do not fully deserve. It is time to start playing for the fans. We deserve it.

Carry the Flag!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recap: CGY at CBJ 11/28

Coming into tonight's game, most would expect a few things. A smaller than average crowd, a restless crowd with a bitter taste in their mouth, and finally, a Jackets team with the sheer desire for a victory.

To their credit, they did not come out of the gate as the worst team, but it can not really be said that they came out hungry. Lackluster play early and a general sense of disinterest seemed to pull the fans away from the game at times, allowing Calgary to settle in without having to battle the away crowd. The second period started much like the first, and Huselius took a penalty for tripping not five minutes into the frame. Calgary took advantage, and suddenly, the home crowd sensed desperation.

Here is where it gets interesting. In discussing the game with a fellow CTF writer, who attended the game, there was clear angst and disappointment in her conversation. I am sure she could speak for all Jackets fans at that moment by suggesting that our boys simply were not in the game. As we began discussing their obvious falters, they rebounded, and managed yet another familiar burst of genuine effort. Three goals within the last seven minutes of the second period gave the Jackets a two goal lead going into the third, and the crowd AND team were 100% firing.

In pointing out their previous failures, I mentioned a joke that maybe I should walk away while they were ahead. Maybe, just maybe, if I took the high road, they could pull out a continued effort and eventual victory. I did not, and neither did they. Two brutal turnovers lead to goals, and two very stupid decisions by Hitchcock in the shootout lead to another loss.

I could sit here and pour salt on the wound, but I am going to continue on my path of late and take the high road. For the Jackets to compete in this league, they need not only a sixty minute effort, but they need a coach who can put the right players on the ice when the game is on the line. Bringing out two defensemen to take the final two shots in the shootout cost the Jackets, especially considering some of the guys who not only deserved to be called first, but who can clearly make better decisions when 1 on 0. Hopefully, they can shake it off by Monday, when they face off against St Louis.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Game Preview: CBJ vs. OTT

Tonight the Blue Jackets will complete their five game road trip against the Ottawa Senators, who have been playing strong hockey of late. While this could spell trouble for the Jackets, who have allowed 12 goals in their last two games, it may open the door for a high scoring affair, with Pascal Leclaire falling to a facial injury thanks to an errant puck.

While it is a shame Leclaire can not backstop the Senators against his old team, it will make for an interesting night for Antoine Vermette and Mike Commodore, who have both spent time in the Nation's Capital. Vermette spent many years as a third line center in Ottawa, forced under the shadow of Spezza and Fisher, who maintained the top two centering positions. While this gave Antoine the opportunity to garner more minutes on the penalty kill, it gave little to his confidence and development.

Columbus has won the last three meetings between these two teams, including a 1-0 shutout victory last year at Nationwide. While the Senators home record is quite strong (9-3-3), they will be without the help of their leading goal scorer, Mike Fisher. Alexei Kovalev is expected to be re-inserted into the lineup.

For Columbus, it will be an opportunity to rebound from two very poor performances against New York and Montreal. It will be expected to see Mason in net, and the team will have to come together as a group if they want to shut down some of the bigger names on the Ottawa roster. One thing is for sure, we can expect an emphasis on possession and heavy forechecking AND backchecking by Coach Hitchcock. His blood was boiled after countless turnovers and defensive mistakes cost Columbus the lead in a tight game on Tuesday. Brian Elliott is expected to make the start for Ottawa.

Game time is 7.30pm EST. Drop us a line and let us know where your favorite place is to watch.

Carry the Flag!

Weighing in on the Hitchcockian Style..

Considering I have been one of Hitchcock's biggest critics throughout his recent tenure with the Blue Jackets, I feel it necessary to weigh in on the growing conversation regarding his validity as coach. Whether this transfers well to the overall opinion is something I will hope to gain through comments, but I feel that most of what I will say is reflective of the current season.

When Hitch first arrived in Columbus, he had a quiet dream team of players that fall into his comfort category. Mid-range in caliber, and heavy set grinders who will put an emphasis on the body to make up for a lack of skill. Current Jacket players that reflect their abilities would be players like Andrew Murray, Derek Dorsett, and Raffi Torres. But with the change in head coach, so too brought on a change in management, and management style, with the likes of Scott Howson now pulling the reigns and deciding on the draft and trade future of the club.

Enter Derick Brassard, Kris Russell, Jake Voracek, and Nikita Filatov. Four players who in their youth were quite small in stature, their play was far more reflective of their skill and speed with the puck rather than their capacity to be physical. Enter Huselius, who I am still unsure of whether I have seen take the body, let alone throw a bodycheck on anyone, and raise that a Vermette, who (with his playmaking and penalty killing abilities) is a step above the highly physical Umberger. All players with unique abilities that do not really function under a Hitchcockian system.

It is not that I personally do not see Hitchcock as a strong coach. His record is his pillar, with over 500 wins and over 1000 games coached, he is one of the most storied coaches in the NHL still coaching. That being said, his coaching system has been present for some of the more rough edged teams, like the Stars team or the Philly team he coached very successfully in the late 90s. In the new NHL, the margin for error in a system of his nature is both difficulty small, and displaced among a league's worth of high scoring, high momentum coaching styles that have fed on their style of play this year.

I believe the Jackets are headed in a differnet direction from the Hitchcock style. Their draft class does not correctly match up with his coaching style, and some of the current forwards are struggling to match up with his requested style and their designated linemates. Losing Filatov to Russia on account of low playing time will forever be an issue for me, thanks in large part to the brutal linemates he was given, with skillsets that do not come even close to comparing to what Filatov was comfortable playing with. While he made his share of rookie mistakes, he was never really given a chance to gel with another scorer the way Voracek and Brassard were able to do last year, in their first seasons.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What it is to be a fan of Columbus...

With each passing year, the Columbus Blue Jackets continnue to surprise fans. Early in franchise history, the surprise was how much a team can struggle out of the gate. That transitioned into a surprise of how difficult it is to win on the road, and more recently, they have surprised in their trading and signing efforts.

But last year, the surprise was good. After a forgettable stretch of years that saw very little in the form of a playoff caliber team, a few choice rookies, and a couple new comers transformed the attitude of the franchise into a team that can win. No longer did fans attend games in hopes of a win. Fans now entered Nationwide Arena expecting a strong performance, and inevitably, a two point night for the home squad. With each game a different face emerged, whether it was the stellar play of Steve Mason, the stymy defense of the Commodore/Hedja pairing, the tick-tack-wheredidtheseguyscomefrom?!??! of young Voracek and Brassard, or the "who is this guy and why did we not go after him earlier" comments about Vermette.

This year, I am claiming a mild case of fallout. Frankly, I loved winning. My entire life is based around the concept of winning, whether I am open to it or not. While I do not think this ideology is conceptually flawed, it certainly leaves some reasonable explanation as to why the Jackets play so far this year could put me in such a disparate mood. The fact is, I love competition. I drive myself to be competitive in everything I do, regardless of how much work I put into it. As it reflects on this situation, I expect the Jackets to play each game as hard as they can, with as few foolish mistakes as humanly possible.

The Jackets are one of the league's worst in terms of goals against. In fact, only bottom feeders share the same luck, and yet the team manages a 12-8-3 record. Yes, this largely contributes to a couple 6,7, and 9 goal games that were not in the Jackets favor, but those numbers defend my sheer disdain for their efforts. The simple fact is, consistency, in the form of competitiveness, is all I ask. Winning a hard fought game does no team good when they follow it up with a lazy, 9-1 defeat. In fact, I weighed my options for attending the game against Detroit, and opted out at the last second. I can all but assure you, this commentary would be far more pessimistic if I had been there, paying money to watch that.

At the end of the day, I think it is time to re-insert myself into the regular lineup, but frankly, the team owes me, and all my fellow Jackets fans, a much better all around effort if they want to see their seats filled to capacity.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Bit of Youthful Banter Around Nationwide..

The Columbus youth movement was not just shaking Nationwide last night, but then again, there is only so much that can be said about beating a rather complete Boston roster without the entire first line and four of the top six defenders.

I have said my piece about line structuring for the Jackets, and I can not help but take some pride in the fact that Hitch had my second line assembled last night (Voracek - Vermette - Filatov) and they certainly did not disappoint. What is even more exciting, is the fact that they kicked their quality into high gear, scoring goals and turning heads. While Vermette is not all that 'young' anymore, he is in an interesting position that gives the feeling as though he is currently developing into the career player his initial potential had suggested. Also, playing the ever positive and complimentary Voracek and the young sniper Filatov, Vermette will also get to take a leadership role and embrace some serious talent through his linemates. It certainly opens for the opportunity to carry the puck more and really become a big player.

Also exciting from last night is the way John Moore continues to impress management and pretty much anyone watching. Not only has he prolonged his stay in Columbus with his game, he is getting better every single game, making his case more and more interesting. While he will likely have to continue to blow people's minds to make the roster, he has been the definition of a puck moving, smart defensemen.... Something GM Scott Howson has spent the last year pursuing throughout the league. Regardless of the result of this years training camp, Moore can take solace in the fact that he is far and away the best thing to happen to Columbus this year.

Hopefully some of the players nursing hip flexors will be able to get back to action before the season begins. Columbus needs a deep defensive core, one without injury or excuse. Columbus is back in action Thursday against Pittsburgh and will look to continue their strong play... Go Moore!!

Carry the Flag!!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pre-Season in Columbus..

Last night, the Blue Jackets played host to the Minnesota Wild, in their first home pre-season game of the year. The big line of Nash, Brassard, and Huselius were together, firing on all cylinders, and all seemed well. While Minnesota only had a handful of NHLers in the lineup, Columbus took the opportunity and ran with it, scoring five goals, and taking full control of the game.

While I would normally break down some of the finer points of the game, I think it is time for me to step in ahead of many hockey pundits "chirping away" at what was an 0-3 pre-season record for Columbus. Conceptually, the pre-season is designed to warm up for the season, get the developing youth of the front lines, and experiment with systems. So far, this tactic has been extremely useful for Columbus, as it has really allowed John Moore to stand out and make a name for himself.

Even on some of the Jackets-centric sites I have seen some negativity towards their play, making me wonder if they even bothered reading the scoresheet, let alone watching the game. In at least two of the games, Garon played great hockey until he was replace by an up and comer. In fact, I believe in both situations, the Jackets had the lead up until that point.... pretty impressive for 10-15 AHLers and a backup goaltender.

I think the best advice I can give about the NHL pre-season, is do not treat it like any other sport might. This is a chance to truly experiment for coaching staffs and young players, and a team like the Jackets would be foolish to not take full advantage of that.

Carry the Flag! Let's bring down the Bruins tonight!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Early Injuries..

Leave it to the Blue Jackets to have the red cross marks etched beside players names only a couple games into the pre-season. While some of the best players have yet to really get involved in the pre-season, early wear has become apparent in some of the depth players.

Jason Chimera, not one shift after getting stitched up from catching a puck with his face, succumbed to injury when Belanger hammered him into the boards. I was not about to see the hit, however, Belanger was issued a five minute boarding call on the play, leaving me with very little need for creative thinking. Reports are suggesting that Chimera is doing well, with all tests coming back negative, but one has to wonder what this will do to his playing time even when he does return to the lineup.

Somewhat of a rogue injury, Freddie Modin is now (once again) out of the lineup with a sprained MCL. They have suggested around 4 to 6 weeks, but frankly, I am absolutely sick of waiting for this guy to get healthy. He has had his chances over and over again, and whether or not this injury was on account of poor conditioning or bad bone structure, it is simply happening too many times for me to ever expect him to be a healthy option for this team. Scheduled at in my books to play on one of the bottom two lines, Modin is going to have some tenacious competition by some of the younger players trying to crack the lineup for the first time in their careers.

Finally, somewhat of a smaller loss, Sestito suffered a head injury when Nashville tough guy Tootoo took him to the ice during a fight. While all tests were negative, it certainly reduces Sestito's chances of making a big splash this year. It should also come as a strong reminder to players like Derick Brassard that fighting is not worth the hassle for some players.

My bigger concern is offensive depth. While the Jackets have a few bubble players, Chimera and Modin provide a lot of veteran presence and that is valuable to no end for a team as young as the Jackets are. Hopefully Hitchcock is pushing for a high calcium and protein diet for our boys..... If this keeps up it might make for a long year.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Columbus vs. Pittsburgh 9/15

There are a lot of ways to look at pre-season hockey. Some teams use the opportunity to experiment with new line combos, other teams like to throw the load on young developing players to see how they handle themselves, and some teams use the experience to simply gear up for the season. I think for most Jackets fans, last night was a breath holder with the new back up netminder Garon between the pipes, hoping the goalie could impress Hitch enough to actually utilize more than just Steve Mason this year.

There was no question Garon could bear the weight. Stopping all 21 shots he faced, including a couple of very strong attempts from Crosby, Garon really built his credibility with at least this fan, and likely most others. While he was the bright spot in net, after removed for the third period in favour of a young Danny LaCosta, it showed that both Mason and Garon are going to have to remain healthy this year.

Pittsburgh brought a lot to the final frame, tying the game twice before winning early into overtime. While it was an unfortunate series of events and a true wakeup call for LaCosta and a couple young Jackets defenders, it was also the perfect opportunity to display the teams resilience. Losing a three goal lead is very hard on a team, and I will take a lot out of them coming back and scoring their fourth goal.

There were other positives to the game. The Jackets abysmal powerplay managed to score two goals on four opportunities. Mayorov had a pair, with Voracek netting the other goal. Young Filatov and Moore both had assists, looking strong on the ice, and Blunden, fighting for a roster spot, managed to impress with a solid game.

All in all, games like these are a lot more relevant in substance than in scoring. It will certainly be more clear how they have developed over the summer once their full roster dresses, but at this point, I am more than comfortable suggesting that last night was a strong success.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Antoine Vermette Signed to 5 Year Extension

As the season draws closer, The Columbus Blue Jackets have made yet another move to solidify the teams top six players. Antoine Vermette was given a five year extension worth 18.75 million. This will pay the Jackets center around 3.75 million per season. He is due to make 3 million this coming season.

In my opinion, this was a move that was absolutely necessary. He will be a great penalty killer and a guaranteed second line center for every year of that contract. While not terribly physical, his tenacity with and without the puck, as well as his fantastic penalty killing abilities, this transfers into a truly logical deal. With Umberger set to make the same amount of money, it really makes sense to get the same average in the long run, and it will guarantee Vermette at a reasonable deal until he is 33.

It also takes another player off the 'to sign' books for the following year, relieving a lot of pressure off management, and giving some of the younger players a feeling that maybe they will be the next player to get signed.

Vermette, new to the Jackets last year, had 7 goals and 6 assists in 17 games to finish out the season. He also was a +5 and averaged just under 20 minutes per game.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009/2010 Columbus Defense

Columbus defensively may be the biggest question this year. With a decent showing last year, and young players like Methot and Russell showing their capacity to function at the NHL level, Columbus certainly has the cornerstone of what could be a very strong defensive core.

Obviously the biggest off-season effort was put into the Rick Nash signing, but I do believe finding a puck moving defensemen was second on their list all the way. While Rusty Klesla has shown signs of being a great player, his inability to stay healthy has cost the Blue Jackets much needed depth on the blueline. If they hope to acquire a quality defender, it is no doubt they will try and package Rusty with a forward (hopefully one of Chimera or Modin). Here are my preferred lines heading into the pre-season;

1 - Commodore – Hejda
2 - Russell – Tyutin
3 - Methot – Klesla

While I do think these combinations show a great deal of depth in their current state, I think it will be necessary for a couple of these guys to step it up and really force their play into the first pairing. I do not think any one of these players deserve the top spot more than another, although I do think their style of play may become a factor.

Commodore and Hejda became the ‘go-to’ pairing for Hitchcock last year. Both were able to prove their critics (including me) wrong and play a strong defensive game. They will have to up their game if they want to avoid losing their spot to one of the young guys still working on developing into their career style and ability.

Russell and Tyutin are a pairing we have seen before. Russell has a tremendous ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and draw pinching forward away from Tyutin. This will allow hopefully for a lot of open point shots from Fedor. While I think both can achieve top line status, I think the most opportunity lies with Russell and the level he can achieve this year.

Finally, we consider Methot and Klesla. Both seem to continuously have something to prove to the coaching staff. There will be no free rife for Methot, although with the release of Backman, it will give him the opportunity to truly own an NHL position. In Klesla’s case, everything rides on his summer development and how he can avoid injuries this year.

As I had previously mentioned, a lot of room for modification to the defensive lines may really force these six palyers to amp up their game. One thing I will personally anticipate is that these lines will look completely different after the first month of the season.

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009/2010 Columbus Offense

One of the Blue Jackets main concerns over the years has been not only their lack of secondary scoring, but basically their lack of anyone scoring outside of the mighty Rick Nash. Over the off-season, the Blue Jackets welcomed Sammy Pahlsson to the mix, said their goodbyes to guys like Malhotra and Williams, and re-signed one of their budding young centermen, Derick Brassard. Also, considered to be this years ‘new face brightspot’, Nikita Filatov, fresh off a summer of weight gaining and conditioning will look to penetrate the roster in a big way.

Here are my preferred lines;

1 – Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Kristian Huselius
2 – Jakub Voracek – Antoine Vermette – Nikita Filatov
3 – RJ Umberger – Sammy Pahlsson – Raffi Torres
4 – Jared Boll – Derek Dorsett – Chimera/Modin

Let me start with line one. Nash and Huselius are somewhat of a staple on the first line, especially this early in the season. Adding Brassard, which is what the coaching staff was toying with before his injury seems like the logical decision to make. He is good for a point per game and sees the ice well. That really translates into the perfect compliment for guys like Nash and Juice.

Moving on to the second line, I think it is important to explain the third line in conjunction, as the style of play from the two lines will be substantially different. Generally speaking, successful playoff teams can play a grit line against the opposing teams top line to stymie their offensive opportunities and wear them down with physical play. Last year, Columbus’ best line in the playoffs was Dorsett – Umberger – Torres because of their relentless forecheck. While I do not think Dorsett is deserving of a third line role, I think Pahlsson is exactly the replacement the Jackets needed. They can use their tenacity and high paced forecheck against some of the better lines in the NHL, not allowing them the time and space needed to make big plays. Because the third line is designed for power, I believe the second line should be built on playmaking. Both Vermette and Voracek seem to really pursue the pass before the shot. Bringing in a guy like Filatov is a perfect way to compliment two play makers. He has the ability to find the seam and get into the right positions, which will open the opportunity for big passes and even bigger goals.

Now to the fourth line. A lot of Jackets fans probably do not agree with my snubbing of Modin and Chimera, but I assure you, it is well warranted. Chimera playing well last year was a direst result of his linemates in Brassard and Voracek. Rather than placing him on a scoring line, why not throw him on an energy fourth line with Dorsett and Boll, and really let them pour on speed and punishment? In regards to Modin, I really think he is as relevant to the Jackets roster as Malhotra was. There are entirely too many confident and ready young players to sacrifice a roster spot for an aging, injury prone winger.

Collectively speaking, the quality of these lines may be mildly sacrificed by what I believe their main goal is, but at the same time, it may be the perfect way to distribute the talent and really play a 60 minute game.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Welcome to the 2009/2010 Season!

Welcome to what appears to be another great season of hockey! After a fantastic summer, Carry the Flag is back to the grind, getting ready to weigh in on all things relevant to the Blue Jackets.

As you all know, early October is home to the start of the NHL regular season, and Anna and Brian have already laid claim to many Jackets home game tickets, and will hopefully provide some in depth coverage on the overall atmosphere of the Arena from game to game. Anna has also taken it upon herself to train and become involved in this years “Tour de Pink” which involves a substantial bike ride, one that would be too grueling for most people. Anna has the full support of Carry the Flag and many other Blue Jackets fans. If you would like to help support her cause, please visit her blog, “YSC Puck Bunnies” and make a donation. She is forfeiting the Jackets home opener, so the least we can do is donate a bit of ‘green’ to support such a great cause. We are so proud of you Anna!

Brian is already in full “Go OSU” mode, but I believe that is only brewing the Jackets fan inside him. I am anticipating some serious hard hitting from Brian this year, especially regarding the newly built rivalries in the Central Division. He has also been pivotal in pushing Anna through her training, which is what I call MAJOR commitment!

Money, our resident ‘know more than you would think’ and future NHL general manager has found his path towards greatness by applying himself this year in Law School. While this could spell the possibility for only a couple contributions this year, I suspect they will be full of insightful sentiments, as he breaks down some of the more intricate parts of the game.

As for myself, short of being absolutely pumped for the release of NHL 10, I can not think of anything better right now than getting into another season of Columbus Blue Jackets hockey. With the off-season decisions, re-signings, and necessary goodbyes, I am terribly confident in the potential of this team. Obviously there are questions that will have to be answered, and gaps that only certain players are expected to fill, but never has a Jackets team been so packed with talent at this juncture of the season.

Can they do it? I think they can! Raise those flags Jackets fans! It is time to come together once again for another great season of Jackets hockey.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Methot to Arbitration

Columbus defensemen Marc Methot has filed for salary arbitration, as reported by multiple sources over the last day.  This is a very normal trend for unsigned RFAs and typically those who file for arbitration are able to reach an agreement with their team long before the date of their arbitration hearing.

Columbus fans should be confident that his number will not be that substantial, considering his role on the team last year.  Not only was he benched at times for arguably better players, he rarely moved past the position of 5/6 defender.

I can hardly anticipate this will be any sort of cut throat negotiations between the team and Methot, and I definitely think this will get done before the hearing.

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nash Signed..

Expectedly, over the last couple of days, I have taken some serious heat from reputable (at least in the spectrum of my life) Blue Jackets fans over my hard nosed opinion of the value of Rick Nash.  While I fully anticipated the flak I would receive, what I did not expect, was the way in which it was received.

I do believe they overpaid him.  Based on a number of contracts currently in the NHL, Nash could have easily signed a contract for 1-1.5 million dollars less and been comfortable knowing he was in good company at that salary.  It is rather hard to argue that statement, considering it is a fact throughout the NHL.  I also will not ignore the fact that based on a clearly inflated 'fair market value' system spewing around the NHL right now, Ricky boy could have easily scored closer to 10 million with a team he had zero history with.  Again, my opinion rests solely on the home discount I believe he should have accepted (and others CLEARLY have) in order to see Columbus succeed not this year, not necessarily next year, but the years following.

What IS true in all of this, is that Rick Nash is to Columbus what Gretzky was to hockey in the United States after his move to Los Angeles.  Nash has had a number of highlights that have single handedly made fans out of naysayers in that city, and his legacy as a Jacket will be long standing within the organization and fanbase for the foreseeable future.  I never once questioned his talent, and am fully aware that he remains the best player on this hockey team, although I absolutely have and will question whether one of Columbus' prospects will eclipse him prior to or directly after their next contracts come.

My main issue with the last couple days was the way he slapped the organization in the face after the first offer.  Yes, it was 100% a reactionary decision by Nash, and likely one that was spoon fed by his agent to really shake up the negotiation process, but it does not bode well as the captain of Columbus, nor should it in the eyes of every fan who had to deal with what players like adam foote did to the organization.  It was a big red flag for me, one that I will not soon forget when thinking about what Nash has done for this team, and no, I am most certainly not ignoring what he has done for the community as well.

I hope this provides some clarity into my reasoning.  There is absolutely no question that I value Rick as a part of this hockey team, and I do believe that he is a big piece of the puzzle when talking about going deeper into the playoffs, but for me, I feel that he could have given the organization a break when dealing with him, although, based on some of their more recent contracts, they overpay for pretty much everyone (see RJ, Commodore, Huselius)

Carry the Flag!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nash and His "Reaction"

Most everyone knows at this point about the contract offer sent by Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson to all-star captain Rick Nash.  Most also know, thanks to our friends at the Columbus Dispatch, that Nash was extremely vocal in dismissing the offer, suggesting that the going rate for a player of his caliber was substantially higher, and that if the offer was not adjusted to a reasonable number, he would have no issues heading to free agency next summer.

Let me premise my response by saying, simply, bad move Rick.

The first issue that arises here is his intent to vocally belittle Blue Jackets management.  I do not be they would come to the table with anything less than a reasonable number, as they suggested their main off season priority was signing Nash.  There are appropriate ways to interact with a hockey club as that team's captain, and I believe we saw signs of adam foote in the way Rick acted Wednesday night.  He is not, nor will he ever be bigger than the team, and he needs to fully take that into account.

The second issue I have with his argument, is his source.  He is citing free agent signings that many fans are laughing at.  Gross overpayments are running rampant in the NHL, and Nash needs to understand that if he wants to play for a competitive hockey team, his salary must be comparable to those players who choose team over max dollar.  He can quote at least four contracts handed out on Wednesday that could value him in the 8-9 million dollar range, but frankly, that is only one side of it.

Consider the contracts of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, the Sedin twins, Mike Richards, and Ilya Kovalchuk.  These players are worth substantially higher contracts by "Free Agent Market Standards" but in reality, they remained with their original team at a contract that allows their team to sign other players and remain competitive.  The numbers of these palyers are easily comparable to Nash's, and their contracts do not exceed 6-7 million per year.  If Howson is smart, he will offer Nash a lengthy contract somewhere in this range of 6-7 million, and hope Nash uses some common sense when responding for the second time.

My final issue is regarding where the team is headed.  Not only do the Jackets have to worry about RFA contracts of some of their best young talent over the next two years, they have to make sure the holes are filled around them.  Nash is their best player at the current moment, but that could quickly change with development of players like Brassard, Voracek, and Filatov.  Nash may believe he was the teams saving grace over the past 6 years, but frankly, things are changing quickly.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Let's Play FA in Columbus..

Taking a look at this years TSN favourites for the upcoming free agency period made me really consider what Columbus should focus one outside of their obvious priority of re-signing Captain Rick Nash.

Based on TSN, their forward all free agent team includes;

Forwards - Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Marian Gaborik, Mike Cammalleri, Daniel Sedin, Henrik Sedin, Saku Koivu, Alex Kovalev, Alex Tanguay, Brian Gionta, Mike Knuble, Nik Antropov

Defense - Jay Bouwmeester, Scott Neidermayer, Rob Blake, Mattias Ohlund, Johnny Oduya, Mike Komisarek, Sergei Zubov

Goalies - Khabibulin, Roloson, Biron

Now, I am fairly confident that while the Jackets have three solid centers in Vermette, Brassard, and Umberger, it might be a solid idea to keep RJ on the wing with Vermette, and bring in another strong centerman.. That being said, the only sniper on that list is Koivu, which will likely mean many teams will be in the hunt to acquire his services. More importantly now, with the strength clearly being on the wing, the Jackets will need to consider their other options.

First and foremost, Columbus needs right handed players. Filling that void would be Gionta or Knuble. Personally, I would prefer having Knuble because of his consistency, which could add some serious depth to the roster. While the Jackets are in need of quality scorers, filling the gaps in the middle of the roster is an issue that has taken quite a few years to resolve.

I do not personally think that taking a risk on a player like Havlat is the best idea, but I would not mind enjoying the benefits of a healthy year for him. He is a prolific scorer that can wear his emotions on his sleeve, and can really bring a team together with his abilities on the ice. He would not be brought in for leadership, but he can certainly use his talent to lead by example. If he is willing to strike a reasonable deal, I would always welcome his (healthy) name on the roster.

Defensively, Columbus could use a healthy number one workhorse, which Klesla struggled heavily with over the last year. Certainly Bouwmeester could fill that void for the Jackets, but his hype could throw a huge shadow on his name considering the number he will likely command. I would prefer the Jackets avoided the older players unless they accept a short and reasonable contract number. Obviously some of the names on that list could really provide leadership, and that is something that was also questioned last year.

Obviously Steve Mason can not play another 78 game season (pro-rated from last year of course) but the Jackets should not be looking for high quality goaltending during free agency. Expect a mediocre goalie signed to a one or two year deal, allowing LaCosta to get one more year in the minors before coming up to support Mase.

I would love to hear what your thoughts are on this.. We are edging closer to some of the more exciting moments of the off-season, and I have not heard from any of you lately!

Carry the Flag!

Monday, June 8, 2009

What Will it Be Nash?

I spent the last year presuming that Nash would be the future of the Jackets for many years to come and that the franchise would rise and fall with his efforts on the ice, but frankly, based on some of the younger players entering the system like Brassard, Voracek, and Filatov, it really makes me wonder what real value there is in signing Nash to a huge contract.

A lot of the highest paid NHL players don't earn what they are paid. There is a mess of hype for a given player prior to them entering free agency, and they end up with a fat contract that they can never meet the expectations for.. Nash could easily fall under that category where his reputation should and likely will garner him numbers in the 8s and potentially 9s of millions if he were to slip to free agency.. But frankly, how many overpaid players in the NHL these days have shown a true level of commitment to their club?

I respect that a lot of Jackets fans have their number for Nash. You guys spend a lot of time speculating what Howson will offer him and whether it's worth it based on current market value for what he does, but frankly, shouldn't we be looking at this with a few more angles?

First off, Columbus is practically a sanctuary for Nash, having the opportunity to grow with the franchise and rarely having expectations on his shoulders that he can't meet with a good interview or a sweet deke here and there.. They finally made the playoffs this year, and the fan base as a whole seems overjoyed just to have the experience and I fully agree.

Secondly, he is a committed leader on the team. The guys seem to look to him to make the difference, and finally, ever so slowly, he's getting the secondary support that is really going to propel this team into a great position in the post season very soon.

Finally, it's his hockey team. If he goes somewhere else, people aren't going to idolize him the way young Jackets fans do. They aren't going to embrace him when he blows an opportunity (oh, hey breakaway, maybe next time) and they aren't going to give him the respect Jackets fans have given him his entire career.

Frankly, Nash should be only willing to take what the club can offer him, and at this point, unless he wants to be the only one on the team with a big contract, or he doesn't want them to dip into FA, he needs to look to other teams to see what their big players are doing. My prime example for this is Pavel Datsyuk, who is currently sitting on a 6 year, 6.7 million cap hit deal.  That is the epitome of a team discount. He is one of the league's best players, and has all the tools in his arsenal to challenge just about any other player in the league.

If Nash can't find a way to accept a deal like Datsyuks, I personally think the Jackets should trade him for a crapload of young talent at the deadline and see if one of them will.  If they decide to pay him the ridiculous money he does or does not think he is worth, I will be curious to see if the Jackets growth is stunted, just as Chicago's was by signing Brian Campbell to a ridiculous contract and totally smothering their cap hit.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The "Jim Day situation" - Blue Jackets' TV

Greetings all! Don't know about you, but I'm missing the Blue Jackets already! Training camp can't come soon enough.

If you haven't heard, Jim Day has been let go from his duties as the 3rd person on CBJ telecasts. Personally, I always thought Jim did a great job for Fox Sports Ohio. More concerning is the way Blue Jackets management may have handled this situation, as detailed by Aaron Portzline in the PuckRakers Blog. Being let go for using the term "disappointed" after a loss? Or talking about the CBJ's struggles over the years and Mr. Mac when they clinched the playoffs? That's just doing his job as a reporter/analyst. All the Jackets fans I know want to be told the truth about their team and real emotion, not some sugar coated version that's been "approved" by management. At the very least, Jackets management needs to respond to the details reported by Portzline. Clearly, it wasn't the job Jim Day was doing or his qualifications, as why would FS Ohio kept him on to do the Reds telecasts? I encourage you to sign the online petition I started a few days ago to "Keep Jim Day". Let's send CBJ management a message from the fans! Below is an email I sent today to Mike Priest (CBJ President) and Russ Mollohan (Director of Broadcasting).

Good afternoon. I am a die-hard Blue Jackets fan, have attended approximately 20 games each season the last 3 years and attended the playoff games this year. Additionally, I contribute to a blog with some other Jackets fans http://cbjfans.blogspot.com/ and we have a twitter feed http://twitter.com/carrytheflag. This past season was easily the most fun I've ever had as the fan of any sport! I'm very excited about the direction the Blue Jackets players, coaching staff and front office is heading.
That being said, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak with you or someone in the Blue Jackets organization about the decision to no longer have Jim Day on the CBJ TV broadcasts. I am not a friend of Jim Day, I shook his hand one time before a game, that's it. When I heard he was being let go from the CBJ TV broadcasts, I was very disappointed, like a lot of people. I've really enjoyed Jim's coverage of the CBJ for the past 8 or so years. Then, when I read on the Puck Rakers blog about some of the reasons he MAY have been let go, I was even more disappointed. Soon after that, I set up an online petition to "Keep Jim Day". So far, in just 5 days, 130 people have signed this petition. http://www.petitionspot.com/petitions/keepjimday/ As I'm sure you're aware, the Blue Jackets organization has received some unkind press coverage (nationally, beyond the Dispatch - see links below) about this situation and I am hoping you'll speak with me to get an idea of the "fans" perspective on this issue.
Best Regards,
Brian Cluxton
Columbus, OH

Friday, April 24, 2009

Loss Nothing to be Ashamed of...

Well Jackets fans, the year ended sooner than I had anticipated, and the feeling of shock and numbness of a playoff loss reverberated throughout Nationwide Arena last night as the final horn went and the Jackets had saluted the best crowd they will ever play for.

A loss that was not reasonable, a feeling of remorse that should not be there, and a feeling of being robbed should be on the back of ever fans mind who was at the game.  The Jackets outplayed Detroit for most of the game, but got outplayed by the refs and Detroit's ability to score garbage bang in goals.

Not only was their resilience tested early after a bad break goal off Tyutin's leg, their feeling of being on the wrong side of the luck train was clear after a shot bounced back from the angle it came (basically impossible if you consider the laws of physics) to be easily buried.  So many things seemed to go Detroit's way, even after Columbus stormed back from two goals down twice on tremendous efforts by some of their secondary scorers, and a crowd that seemed relentless in their quest to make Osgood want to crawl under a bed and hide.

Two years ago, I hated the people who fought with the officiating of a game.  Two years ago, I believed that regardless of how the game is called, teams make their own luck.  Since then, I have really opened my eyes to see the Jackets get the short end of the stick on entirely too many occasions.  Situations arise where the calls are not being made, and then finally when the ref opts to make the call, it is on Columbus.  There have also been glaringly bad calls made on Columbus for lifting guys sticks to play the puck, where there simply was a bad misread on the part of the official, putting the Jackets down a man at a critical juncture in the game.

Last night was no different.  Columbus received twice as many penalties in the game, even though they were by far the cleaner team of the two.  There were missed calls on Columbus including Vermette being checked from behind and then in the same play sticked in the face.  Nash all game was grabbed and pulled by players who could not match his intensity, all of which got ignored even when Nash was hauled to the ice.

Most notably, both teams were jumping early on their line changes.  So bad, in fact, that at one point in the game Detroit's man who replaced a player played the puck prior to that player getting off the ice.  The same exact thing that happened when Modin played the puck before Jake got off the ice, leading to the final penalty of the game.  Absolutely mind boggling, and just another sample of how the Jackets were never given a fair shot at that series.

I hope this does not deter Jackets fans from being as awesome as they were last night.  Being at Nationwide was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.  Our team was resilient and exciting, and we are only going to get better as our young players progress in their development.

I hope to break down some of the finer points of the Jackets season over the next couple week, and then maybe give you some information on some of our younger players with a few profiles during the off-season.  I look forward to seeing what Howson can do this off-season to make the Jackets even better!