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.

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