Friday, January 14, 2011

Jackets Building for Future

Tonight, Scott Howson and Scott Arniel spent time responding to season ticket holders and the many questions they have surrounding the team, including team success, trades, captaincy, and winning.  While many of the responses had a 'canned' flavour to them, I found that overall, their opinions coincide with what I feel regarding the long term goals of the franchise as opposed to another mediocre season.

One thing that stood out to me was the absolute need from a handful of people to see a trade happen, more notably, one that will substantially change the current team structure.  Be it the coveted first line center, or the powerplay quarterbacking defensemen, people seem to believe that it is now time to make a substantial move to acquire a player of each caliber from another NHL club.  What I don't believe is really being considered here, is just how much effort has gone into producing the current pool of prospects the Jackets have, and just how much it will cost to get the kind of player that not every NHL team has the good fortune of having on their roster.

To those who are ready to make that deal, I strongly encourage you to really consider what you are asking the franchise to do.  If we patiently wait (bearing in mind that the GMDM years are excluded from said waiting game) for some of the younger players budding in our system to develop into NHLers, we have a truly strong chance at becoming a legitimate dynasty in this league.  People can bicker about the struggles of Russell, Methot, Mason, Brassard, Filatov and Voracek, but these are all young players who are finding their game at the National Hockey League level.  It is a very uncommon thing to have so many players on a team all developing at the same time, but it is also a sign that when they do find their respective games, it will mean a great collection of strong, young players for the Blue Jackets.

A secondary option would be to make a big splash in the free agency period this summer.  The Jackets have yet to really become a hot spot of interest for players looking for new homes, but I do think that is slowly changing as some of the players develop.  The Jackets have really dominated a number of games over the last couple years, and in my opinion, most players and coaches take note of those things.  If they can patiently wait for free agency, they can acquire the necessary depth without sacrificing prospects and young players.  I personally believe they still have the tools to be a competitive team without dipping into free agency, and would prefer to see their standings rise be directly related to their prospect development, however, a few signings to replace some dead weight would be of great value in the short term.  With that said, teams like Detroit, who have successfully remained atop the league's best teams for over a decade, do not make trades to make trades.  They do not draft big ticket free agents, and they develop for many years (See: Howard, Leino) before bringing younger players into their roster.  It is that kind of success that takes a load of patience, which it seems, is waining rather thin throughout the Columbus fan base.

There were also some laughable attempts at reminding Howson which players are fairing better than the Jackets first round picks over the last couple years.  Let me just start by saying simply, hindsight is ALWAYS 20/20.  There is no question that not drafting Kopitar was a big bust in the end, but feel free to tell the entire league to look back and explain how Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, two of the league's best, went in later rounds of a draft.  The simple fact is that people work constantly throughout the year to assess incoming talent, and provide the absolute best information they can.  It is perfectly normal that a second rounder ends up having a better career than a first rounder, but it is awfully hard to fault a hockey club for taking what they believe and what the scouts believe to be the best player available to fill their needs.

Another issue noted was the decision to draft Johansen and let Fowler slide (note: Fowler was drafted well after the Jackets picked) to Anaheim, where he is currently having a strong rookie campaign.  It was also noted that the Jackets did not draft Jeff Skinner, who is currently in the running for the Calder trophy as the league's top rookie.  I was very happy to see that Howson responded that they had a player type they were going after, and Skinner did not fit the bill.  Johansen is a big body player who they believe will be the better player by the end of their careers, and I strongly support that opinion.  Regarding Fowler, in reality, how does drafting a defensemen over a center in the first round really benefit our club in the long run, considering our current defensive prospect depth?  Would it not immediately be flipped had the Jackets taken Fowler instead of Johansen?  Would people not complain that the Jackets did not address their center gap?

I will continue to support the decisions and patience that Howson is portraying.  He is well known for NOT making the foolish trades that make short term success just that, short term.  He is making a point to resolve issues through an impressive collection of prospects, and if he is given the right time to do so, will likely start seeing results sooner rather than later.  My only complaint this year has and will remain the lack of killer instinct being portrayed game after game, and that is not something Howson can resolve by making one or five trades.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Possible Trade Looming: Thoughts

A quick note;  This blog does not suggest to know anything more than what you can easily find on twitter. The speculation is and will be left to the bloggers who feel like being full of bull, and the beat writers who actually do hear things.

With that said, here are some of my thoughts on players named as possible trade bait for the Columbus Blue Jackets, likely trying to acquire a top line center or quality defensemen;

Derick Brassard: A likely candidate solely based on his functionality as a budding center in the league, but struggling to find his full capacity as a top line center in Columbus.  I personally attribute this to a learning curve where he will find his shot, but it seems few have the patience to let him do so.  Then again, when he's lined up with Nash, and Nash gets his one track eyesight, there is no real need for Brassard.  Nasher can do that with Dorsett and Boll as his linemates.

Kris Russell:  To me, this is just not likely at all.  Russell is one of the few current Blue Jackets players who can functionally run Scott Arniel's system.  He is also a player who will benefit by having a more useful linemate, and one he can have confidence in making the rush without worrying directly about coughing up the puck.  He needs to be able to go back to the 'nothing to lose' mentality that both he and Mason seemed to share during their playoff run.

Rick Nash:  As much as I would be satisfied with him staying, I really don't see how Nash can benefit this team with his current mentality.  He is notably lazy on the ice, and there have been times where his inability to make the right passes have really truly cost this team.  As a leader on this team, it would seem that his 'lead by example' mentality either needs to be replaced by becoming a vocal leader, or he needs to step his game up in a big way.  For a team full of so many young players, he is a terrible example to lead by.

Jake Voracek/RJ Umberger:  I figure I'll couple these two because of how similar I view them as players.  These are two guys who I feel take the game more seriously than others, and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Trading one of these character guys would impact me more than trading Nash.  If you allow Jake to continue his development in Columbus, I am reasonably confident he will become a top line forward, if he isn't already.  What he needs, is a third linemate along with Brassard to get as creative as those two are, and then let them spend the next three months building direct chemistry with one another. This is something that can easily be resolved in house.

Players I would like to see off the Jackets:

Mike Commodore:  Not that he's not already on the way out, but I will be very happy to see him go.  He made me look silly after bad mouthing him directly following his contract, but followed that year quickly with laughably poor performances in the last two years.

Kristian Huselius:  I am tired of Huselius making a career out of everyone else's hard work, especially one who seems to have a ridiculously hard time hitting the net.  In fact, I can't remember the last time he actually created his own goal, or a goal for a teammate.  They either need to get him and his contract off the team, or drop him to the second/third line for good and force him to become a useful team player again.

Tyutin/Stralman/Hejda: Or at least one of these three.  Assuming we're going to have a decent shake up within the next couple days involving the blueline, I would hope that one of these players will be moved.  None have really been all that effective this year, and all of them are fully expendable.

What do you think?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tidbits: Commodore Requests Trade/Wilson waived

After being scratched for a handful of the recent Blue Jackets games, Mike Commodore has requested a trade from the team.  Both laughable and not surprising, efforts are being made by General Manager Scott Howson to accomodate the request and shore up the defensive woes of the Jackets.

Rather than bore you with the standardized blurbs about why he wanted to be traded and what the team reaction was, I'm simply going to voice my opinion on it.  Commodore has been a horrible burden on the Jackets over the last two seasons, both on the cap, and on the ice.  In his career, he has shown an incredibly ability to play excellent at times, and absolutely horrendous at times.

When he signed in Columbus, I was in large part one of the bigger naysayers about both the contract, and his on ice abilities.  I ate a lot of my words the first year he was in town, as the team found great success pairing him with Hejda as the top shutdown line.  Forward to year two, and finally my frustrations and disdain for him showed in full colour, as he was unable to stay physical fit and deemed himself a scratch due to the rigors and physical demands of the game.  3.75 MILLION dollars on a healthy scratch, it was hard to imagine he would ever return to form.

Enter summer of 2010, and we (as Jackets fans) had the opportunity to enjoy his personality on twitter, an experience I embraced with open arms, even offering him my support on regaining his first year form.  I can honestly say that even when on the ice this year (outside of his injury) he played mediocre at best, proving to once again be one of the more frustrating players to watch.  And yet some still feel sympathy for him.  I happily open the comments section of this post to those of you who feel he never got a fair shot at becoming a top tier defensemen on this team.

It will be interesting to see if Howson can piece together a trade rather than simply waiving Commodore.  At his current salary, with his minimal upside, it is hard for me to imagine that another NHL club will be willing to swallow his contract without taking on a top tier prospect, which is something I am personally not comfortable in seeing happen.  This team has spent years building from the ground up, and I would hate for that concept to be thrown out the door just for some short term potential success.

Moving on, the other issue I was faced with yesterday was Wilson being placed on waivers.  He has been a reasonable bright spot on the back end of this team, and deserves a fair shot at retaining a roster spot with the big club.  I find it incredibly strange that he was waived over MacKenzie, who is both older, and in my opinion, less suited for NHL play.  I can't help but wonder if MacKenzie's injury caused the brass to think to themselves that he really hasn't proven himself and are giving him the opportunity to do so.

In any case, I am going to try and stay positive today and see what comes of it (if anything).  Howson has not made a hasty trade since becoming GM, and I seriously doubt a guy like Commodore flexing his complaint muscle will change that.  My bigger concern right now remains with the team not being able to play a full sixty minutes.

Carry the Flag.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Frustration: Blue Jackets Lack of Excuses

It may be just as hard to put into words what is bouncing around in my head as it is to try and figure out a suitable title, but I am going to give it a shot in the next few posts.  There have been some interesting revelations in the Blue Jackets fan community that I have been somewhat shouting for over a year now, which both excites me and makes me nervous.  While I like being correct about things, I also realize that what I am right about is one of the harder things to resolve in this league.

First and foremost, Scott Howson has done his job.  Over the past couple years, he has compiled a collection of players that (on paper) could easily compete deep into the playoffs.  From the team he has built, we have seen some incredible (albeit brief) stints of competitive hockey, some that rival the best teams in the league.  He has mixed skill and grit with youth and leadership.  He combined puck moving defensemen with big-bodied stay at home defenders who have shown the ability to cripple offenses, and has put his confidence in a solid goaltending tandem that on nights have made the opposing team whither away.  But for some reason, it wasn't enough.

The issues that run deep with this team could easily be mental.  Getting back-doored and one-timed for the better part of last year, along with the verbal beatings by Ken Hitchcock that Steve Mason took clearly hit home hard, shattering his confidence and ability to challenge the shooter.  So much so that during the course of this year, each time his confidence in the defense shrinks, so does his size in net and ability to suck the puck into his pads rather than leaving big rebounds.  Subsequently, we have watched as a bad goal cripples this team and sends them packing well before final buzzer sounds.

The issues could also be physical.  There is no question the physical demands of hockey are high, and the issue first arose when our highest paid defensemen opted to scratch himself last year due to being incapable of doing his job, citing physical toughness.  Far be it from me to ask the blatantly obvious question, but how is it even remotely reasonable to put together a team of "professionals" and expect fans to drop their hard earned money into the team when they can't even stay physically fit?  Are there not people who are paid to make sure this is a part of the players routine?  Are the millions of dollars spent in contracts not enough incentive for them to stay exceptionally healthy?

The issues could relate to the leadership on this team.  Rick Nash remains one of my favourite players in the NHL to watch, however, his leadership abilities seem to be heavily lacking.  Watching him play a team game, and a shutdown game at the World Championships and Olympics was an absolute treat, which makes me wonder why he puts so much more heart into those games rather than the team/city who idolize him.  No doubt, he was the one bright light this team had for many years, but those years are over.  It is time for him to start making a difference, and not by himself.  The selfish play, the lazy skating, it all needs to stop.

The issues do not relate to the fans.  I have been a fan of a number of teams during my lifetime thanks to moving and relocating, but I have never seen a fanbase like this.  I have watched as this group has become hockey savvy, and I think it's about time the team started giving to the fans what they have bleed for the team for a decade.  We're in year ten, and for some wonderful reason, people still care about this team.  For some ridiculous reason, people still fill the seats to watch the team lay back and let the opposing team embarrass them.  It was one thing when the opposition was simply that much better, but let's be honest... is that really the case anymore?

The issues to do not relate to a lack of talent.  The Jackets roster is full of scorers, leaders, grinders, and playmakers.  Of the Jackets 17 (plus 3 OT) losses, I can probably bet with confidence that only two or three were games they should have won.  Their play is so convincingly bad that it makes me wonder what exactly goes through their minds during the games.  In fact, this small paragraph won't be worth much, because this is the one thing I can flat out say I don't even come close to comprehending.  I have played some competitive hockey in my heyday, and I can honestly say I packed it in maybe a couple times.  People who are this good should be competitive to the core, and this team, sadly, is not.

I would love to hear what everyone else thinks on this.  I'm still carrying the flag, just a little more pessimistic than usual.