For a team that can't seem to dig themselves out of the league basement in goal scoring, the Blue Jackets seem awfully concerned about sturdy, grit players. Dane Byers is on emergency recall from Springfield on account of the Dorsett injury, and you better believe he won't be coming up to score highlight reel goals. Behind Byers in Springfield sit Matt Calvert, Tomas Kubalik, and Cam Atkinson, three players who have the ability to score goals but are young and in need of 'quality development' prior to being relied on in a call up situation.
At the start of the year I thought they had this luxury. Long has Columbus been tagged as a team who rushed talent, none more visible than Steve Mason, who is about five years below the league average goaltender age, yet sits on a three million dollar contract and up until Curtis Sanford decided to be a quality goaltender, had the franchise resting on his shoulders for a good two years. In fact I can't help but wonder if the team is not just avoiding, but fretting another scenario like Brule, or Picard, or Boll, or Filatov, etc etc where they bring in a young player and force him into a role that is beyond his means.
With that said, I am really not sure the franchise can tolerate the patience needed to take development to the level of teams such as the Red Wings, who bury players in the minor leagues well into their mid twenties before calling them up to the big club. In fact, this boost in 'stiffness' thanks to call ups of Giroux, Bass, and now Byers are probably directly accounting for some of the league worst scoring totals the team now rests on. If you have not been to some of the sites lately, here's a grim look at what they are dealing with..
Goals for :: 2.4 per game average :: 27th in the league
Goals against :: 3.3 per game average :: 28th in the league
Power play percentage :: 12.6 :: 27th in the league
Penalty kill percentage :: 73.3 percent :: 30th in the league
A quick inspection of these numbers leads me to one simply conclusion: Score more goals. In fact, three of the four categories would suggest that Columbus' major issue lies directly in putting the puck in the net, which should indicate the absolute need to generate offense by calling up offensively gifted players, yet the club shows absolutely no signs of calling up players who are capable of scoring on any sort of regular basis. It's an absolute surprise that they have given Johansen this long of a look in the top six after suggesting that his development would be painfully slow, similar to how Boston treated Tyler Seguin with limited minutes in order to get the full NHL experience.
It also leads me to wonder why they are pushing so hard for gritty forwards. It makes me think that Columbus is getting man handled on the ice and needs that extra 'stiffness' in order to not get pushed around. With that, I checked their last ten games to see where the hit totals were (unfortunately I can't find team totals anywhere) and here's what I found..
Columbus (28) - Boston (14)
Columbus (25) - Nashville (26)
Columbus (29) - Montreal (21)
Columbus (11) - Edmonton (16)
Columbus (15) - Calgary (13)
Columbus (22) - Vancouver (25)
Columbus (27) - St Louis (28)
Columbus (18) - Buffalo (15)
Columbus (10) - New Jersey (12)
Columbus (28) - Calgary (24)
Now I can draw a couple of conclusions from those totals looking solely at the scoresheet. First, Columbus has been far from man handled this season. In fact, it appears they are averaging 20 hits or more in most games and are regularly on par or beating their opponents in that category. Secondly, it has essentially zero relevance as to whether they win the game. They doubled Boston in hits only to be beaten 5-3, although they appeared to benefit from pushing around a somewhat smaller Montreal team.
With these numbers in mind, I want to throw out a suggestion. After playing (and losing to) Edmonton, a number of folks in the #CBJ twitter world praised Edmonton for their "quality drafting and developing" of players who contributed in that evenings win. But that got me thinking, as Edmonton has done very little to protect their more recent draft picks (Eberle, Pajaarvi, Hall, Nugent-Hopkins) from the rigors of the NHL. Why doesn't Columbus do the same? Johansen doesn't have the impact of a Hall or a Nugent-Hopkins (yet) but he's a fully capable second line player who will develop into something special if he continues on the right track. Cam Atkinson has one heck of a shot and finds ways to get into the open lanes, and Calvert was a complete fireball in his time in Columbus last year. Also, players like Kubalik who can be a force in front of the net with some gritty upside, as well as defenders like David Savard who showed signs of brilliance out of camp could make a real difference.
So maybe Columbus should take the Edmonton route. Forget deep development in the minors (Springfield is doing relatively awful anyways) and give the kids a shot to play in Columbus. Not only will it benefit them, their exciting play with put fans in the seats even though the team may lose a handful of games, not unlike Edmonton did. This will give them an exciting but mediocre season, followed with a great draft pick and the opportunity to build with a solid core of young players. Here's the lineup I have in mind:
Nash - Carter - Prospal
Atkinson - Vermette - Johansen
Kubalik - Brassard - Letestu
Calvert - Umberger - Dorsett
This gives the team the opportunity to deal players like Pahlsson, MacKenzie, Boll, and Huselius for picks in the upcoming draft or prospects (or a legit top four defenseman <-- obviously a pipe dream) while giving the youth an opportunity to excel in a three scoring line format. It also provides a shutdown fourth line that is offensively gifted while being relatively solid defensively, and frankly they can go back to utilizing Nash on the PK in order to deal Pahlsson. Letestu and Brassard can battle out the third line center position, and if one excels he can move into Vermette's place on the second line as Vermette is a better two way player. While Dorsett does not have the tools to be a heavyweight fighter, that time in the NHL is exhausted in a big way. He can fight to get the team going if need be, but these scripted, "Hey fight me because that's what we're supposed to do" bouts serve no real purpose anyways.
The other nice thing about the lineup shown above is that it's reasonably flexible. Prospal can be moved off the first line if someone earns a spot up there or the youth need some schooling, and guys like Vermette and Umberger can be moved around to better suit the team depending on their play. I know it hurts to see a soon to be 4.6 million dollar cap hit sitting on the fourth line, but frankly, he's not playing like he's worth that money, so why treat him like he is? Provide the team with three offensive threats, and see what they can do. It really can't get any worse, with more losses leading to the best option in the draft next year, so why not give them a shot to try something new with players who could use the experience?
Carry the Flag.