Archive for February 2011

Sestito Deal Benefits Franchise First

In the dying moments of crunch time, news came over twitter from a number of sources stating that fan favourite Tom Sestito had been dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for former Blue Jacket Greg Moore, and last year 3rd round pick Michael Chaput.  Not unsurprising, mass histeria struck half of the Blue Jacket twitter fanbase as the idea of losing a guy who showed solid promise sunk in.

Personally, the deal confused me initially.  Greg Moore was a Blue Jacket only a year ago.  His numbers are fairly standard, and in all aspects, his play is dwarfed by the potential ability of Sestito.  That said, after doing some digging into Chaput, it became fairly clear what Howson was after.

At 6’2, 195 pounds, the 18 year old center has amassed 55 points for the second straight season with Lewiston of the QMJHL.  The analysis at Hockey’s future has this to say about him;

 …the ability to contribute at both ends of the ice. Though not overly physical and needing additional strength, Chaput showed a knack for sneaking through traffic and finding open ice. A solid skater, the pivot took the majority of Lewiston’s face-offs over the year and finished with 51 percent success rating.

Certainly characteristics that look good coming into a bigger, better league.  It is a difficult thing to teach players to find the seam in traffic, and if he works hard, two-way players are always of great value.  Couple those with the dire need for a franchise number one center, and suddenly this trade begins to make sense.

While I can respect the appreciation for Sestito, who has a solid twitter following, along with being a bright spot in a rather dreary month of Columbus hockey, the bar has officially begun to rise in terms of quality play.  With Boll and Dorsett on NHL contracts, the redundancy of Sestito begins to show clear.  Couple that with the addition of Upshall, and suddenly players like Murray and MacKenzie will be fighting tooth and nail to retain relevance with the big club.  Yes, suddenly, a Sestito call-up looks extremely unlikely.

So while I respect the appreciation and favouritsim shown to Sestito, I will respectfully take the road less travelled.  I did enjoy having him on the depth chart, but I believe this move solidifies the necessary potential moving forward that will make this team stronger.  Once again, Howson makes a move that I fully support, and his reasons were clear in the post deadline press conference.  He wanted Chaput last year during the draft, and he finally was able to get him in a deal that did not cost the Jackets in an area they were not already strong in.

Carry the Flag!

Klesla Dealt to PHX for Upshall, Lepisto

The deal finally struck.  After awaking this morning after horribly interrupted sleep (thank you dog + thunderstorm/windstorm) I found myself overly anxious and a bit irritable that trades were not falling by 10am.  In fact, by twelve, I was eagerly hunting for additional twitter followers for some sort of unlikely inside scoop on ANYTHING trade relevant.

…And then it happened.  Scott Howson, very much in Scott Howson form, made a deal out of left field, trading players who arguably were not talked about in any form previous to today, from a team claiming that they would not be making additional deals moving into the deadline.

This deal marks the end of an era for the Blue Jackets, and while I have been openly elated about the trade, I do think it’s a good time to acknowledge Rusty for what he has done for the franchise.  At the start of every year, I helplessly hoped that he would find success without finding the IR, and again, my hopes were brutally shattered.

Sami Lepisto will be a 26 year old RFA this summer.  He is not the powerplay QB this team arguably needs, but he has been fairly solid for the Coyotes.  He has 4 goals and 7 assists in 51 games and is a +7 while averaging over 16 minutes a game.  While he won’t make incredible waves in the defensive core, he will most definitely force the competitive nature in the six active players.

Scottie Upshall is a 27 year old upcoming UFA this summer.  He is a hard working 2nd/3rd liner with 16 goals and 11 assists in 61 games with Phoenix this year. He is averaging just over 13 minutes a game, leading me to believe that he could be a flexible 2nd/3rd liner for Columbus depending on injuries.

At this point I am going to call this trade a huge win for Columbus.  Klesla was a great potential talent, but truly struggled to stay healthy.  Lepisto is an RFA who will bring some depth to the Columbus blueline, and Upshall will bring speed and grit that seems to be lacking in the offensive depth of the Jackets roster.

Go Scott Howson.  Some people may think he is inept, but I think he continues to make the deals necessary to bring this team into the playoffs for a long time.

Carry the Flag!

CBJ Playoff Push – 2/27 Update

In terms of ‘best possible outcomes’ for the Blue Jackets playoff chances, Sunday could certainly use a do over.  Steeped with anticipation over a solid rematch with the Predators, I sat and watched in utter disbelief as they slowly missed out on two points that many would believe were easily obtainable in this game.

Updated Standings including 2/26 games:

As you can see, the hit was rather harsh.  Columbus failed to advance themselves to 70 points, which would have settled them two points shy of the 8th place Chicago Blackhawks.  It comes as a rather clear reminder that no team will make this push easy for the Jackets this year.

Other games that mattered:

Blackhawks defeat Coyotes 4-3 (SO): Ideally, a victory by the Coyotes in regulation would have been preferable.  At 75 points heading into Sunday’s game vs Chicago’s 70, it would be far more realistic to want Phoenix to carry on winning, and teams like Chicago to lose in the process.
Flames defeat Blues 1-0: While St Louis is only three points behind Columbus, it is not a matter of finishing ahead of them at this point.  If Columbus wants to make the playoffs, the success of St Louis should be essentially irrelevant at this point.  Calgary, sitting only three point ahead of Columbus prior to this game, would have done well to be defeated, keeping them only two wins away from being vaulted.
Ducks defeat Avalanche 3-2: With the Avalanche well out of a playoff spot at 59 points, it would greatly help the Jackets if they stole a few wins from conference opponents like Anaheim, who were only one point ahead of Columbus heading into this game.

2/28 Relevant games:

Blackhawks at Wild
Red Wings at Kings

Questions to the NHL Need Answers

It is often easy as a fan to get the feeling as though the referees and the league is out to get your favourite team. Admittedly, I have tried to avoid getting behind this logic regarding the Blue Jackets, even though there have been many games where after watching, I can not help but think that the league officials and on ice officials simply do not offer the Blue Jackets the same level of respect as their opponents.

Unfortunately, two circumstances in the Sunday game against Nashville bring out rather glaring examples of this. Rather than spend a few paragraphs spouting hateful banter against the league, I will try to reasonably discuss the logic of each decision, and consider both sides of the fence.

First, the no goal call on MacKenzie, who appeared to shovel an Umberger rebound past Rinne for a 1-0 Columbus lead. I fully expect video via youtube eventually, and will update at that time, but for now, let me simply describe it. MacKenzie poked the puck with his stick, which disappeared beyond Rinne’s pad (going into the net, obviously, as that would be the only place it could go). A Nashville defender slammed his stick toward the puck shortly after, pressing Rinne’s pad all the way into the net. At that time, the puck was not visible on any of the replay angles, including one angle which showed the entirety of goal line, without an inch of black puck visible.

Secondary to all of this, the referee responsible for waving off the goal was against the boards along the goal line, likely over twenty feet away from the play, and on the opposite side of the net. As replay very clearly indicated, he began moving the whistle to his mouth well after the Nashville defender shoved Rinne’s pad into the net. With that explained, the first question I would like answered, would be how the ref could conclusively claim at that time that he saw and believed no goal was scored? His decision to call a ‘no goal’ was reinforced by the war room in Toronto, claiming insufficient visible evidence to call a good goal. Had the referee been in proper position to view the puck crossing the line, or in other words had he made the opposite call, the goal would have stood.

The last concern I have with the no goal call, and one I would love to have answered by the league, is if there is no visible evidence of the puck either on the line or even near the line, especially with clear video evidence of the entire line unobstructed, how could it not be logical to assume that the puck was clearly in the net, especially with visible evidence some seconds later showing a Nashville player pulling the puck back across the line? Nothing in their logic adds to a fair and logical decision.

Here is the ‘before’ freeze frame, where you can clearly see the puck sitting in front of the post;

Here is the after.  Weird, no puck!

Now, on to my second question. How is it possible that Shea Weber, after being hit by Umberger and getting cut, spending some time on the ice, was able to continue playing the game? Here is the ruling I found in the NHL Rulebook provided by NHL.com

8.3 Blood – A player who is bleeding or who has visible blood on his equipment or body shall be ruled off the ice at the next stoppage of play. Such player shall not be permitted to return to play until the bleeding has been stopped and the cut or abrasion covered (if necessary). It is required that any affected equipment and/or uniform be properly decontaminated or exchanged.

Based on this rule, as Weber had clearly sustained a facial cut which was bleeding consistently, he should have been sent off the ice prior to play resuming with 5.5 seconds left of the clock. Weber was clearly infuriated by the decision to not call a penalty on RJ Umberger leading to his cut, and began to take his frustration out on any Blue Jacket player coming near him, including two rather vicious cross checks on Fedor Tyutin as time expired. Tyutin, bothered by the aggression, stood up to defend himself, at which time Weber threw a very clear suckerpunch, knocking Tyutin back down to the ice.

This dangerous misconduct could have easily been avoided had the referees followed the rule clearly stated above, forcing Weber off the ice for repair. I would hope that the league makes a point of holding the referees responsible for what should have been a textbook decision, and furthermore, make an example of Weber for clearly going beyond the rules to take revenge against the opposing team.

It is a shame that we as fans are forced to lose enjoyment of the game to tolerate these kinds of mistakes by both on and off ice officials. I will not be the person to comment on here about the penalties that were missed (which went both ways) as the game is fast, and those mistakes are much easier to make, but the two concerns I have outlined above are simply not excusable.

Carry the Flag!

CBJ Playoff Push – 2/25 Update

Considering I have spent a substantial amount of time hovering around the league standings are games finish each night, I thought it might be of good worth to update everyone who reads (or I suppose anyone who reads) the blog.

Here are the Western Conference standings with the 2/25 games included;

Here are the CBJ playoff push relevant games played today;

Kings defeat Avalanche 4-3: The win for Los Angeles pulls them 6 points ahead of the Jackets, but Columbus does have two games on them.  Ideally, with the Avalanche nine points back on Columbus, the win would have been far better going the other way.

Stars defeat Predators 3-2: This is one of those games where Columbus would have benefited by somehow a 0 point game could have been awarded.  Dallas and Nashville were both sitting at 70 points, 2 ahead of the Jackets before this game began, which essentially meant that as long as the game did not go to overtime or a shootout, it would be a good result for the CBJ push.

RedWings defeat Sabres 3-2(SO): Color me bold and overexcited, but I am going to leave all teams, top teams included in this review.  Unfortunately, Buffalo could not take advantage of a 2-0 lead, losing to the Red Wings in a shootout.  Detroit now 14 points ahead of the CBJ, all will likely make it impossible to eclipse them this year.

Bruins defeat Canucks 3-1: I’ll be even more brief about this one…  At 87 points, the Canucks would have to have a monumental collapse if they were to ever compete with the Jackets in the standings this year.  That said, we may have had a nice preview of the cup finals in this game.

Relevant games Sunday are as follows (with bold being best option for the win);

Blue Jackets vs. Predators
Coyotes vs. Blackhawks
Blues vs. Flames
Avalanche vs. Ducks

Carry the Flag!!

Matt Calvert

There is no question in my mind that Matt Calvert is a major bright spot on the Columbus roster of late, and could easily be considered the top prospect that has brought the most upside to the main club this year.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to believe anyone who claimed that the 127th pick in the 2008 draft would make such a substantial difference with the big club next year, let alone this year.  His hattrick last night upped his goal total to nine this year, in the twenty games he has spent with the big club.

As much as I am personally excited to see his success, I have focused on a couple different aspects of how his play has made a difference on the team dynamic, and I wanted to share them.

First, this makes Nikita Filatov 100% expendable.  At the beginning of the year, I had a tremendous amount of confidence in the potential star power Fily is capable of bringing to the Columbus top six.  I can admit being both wrong, and was completely devastated when it became clear that he had a great deal of developing to do before he would become a viable top six forward.  What makes him expendable, is the current Jackets lineup.  With the addition of Calvert to the top six, the Jackets first two lines look like some form of the following:

Nash – Brassard – Voracek
Umberger – Vermette – Calvert
IR: Huselius

Not only does this allow Arniel to force Juice down to the third line, it gives him room to bring in a legit top six player if someone is taking advantage of their position with lazy or foolish play.  This lineup of course would be my ideal option once Brassard returns from injury, which should be somewhere within the next two weeks.

Second, it makes Huselius expendable.  I have long badgered his lazy play, and I feel like Calvert is about as non-Huselius as a player can get.  The kid flat out hustles, taking great advantage of every opportunity he is given, and forcing the issue when the opposition has the puck.  While his size would lead you to believe he would be more of a finesse player, his 5’9 frame actually ends up giving the presence of a 6’3 player the way he throws his body around on the ice.  Essentially, this roster swap changes the ‘patience’ of Juice to the frenetic, exciting play of Calvert, a player who was noticeably on the shoulders of the entire fanbase Friday night against Phoenix.

As it stands, Calvert has 9 goals in 20 games.  He also has 5 goals in his last 3 games, and 6 goals in his last 4.  These numbers are not familiar to fourth round picks who are brought up to the main club as a rookie over halfway into the season.  It leads me to my final comment about his rise with the Jackets, and it relates to the quality drafting done by the Jackets over the last few seasons.  Notably, on their current roster, they have (of those they have drafted) Methot (168th – 2003), Calvert (127th – 2008), Clitsome (271st – 2004), Dorsett (189th – 2006), Boll (101st – 2005), Murray (242nd – 2001).  Obviously excluded are the players drafted in the top 100 who are finding great success (Nash, Brassard, Russell, Mason, Voracek) on the roster and most of whom are signed to fairly reasonable extensions with the club.

Why the Jackets Should Not be Buyers or Sellers at the Deadline

In tonight’s game the Jackets absolutely dominated the Phoenix Coyotes for the majority of the game. This has been the standard over nearly the last two months. What is even more notable about tonight’s game was the play of Rick Nash. He was invisible. When he was visible he was turning the puck over or making poor decisions. This may have been Nash’s worst game of 2011. For much of the Jackets history, Nash had to play great or the team had to grind out a win over a better team. Lately, the Jackets have simply been better than their opponents. The Jackets team that we have been watching over the last twenty games or so has been the best Jackets team in franchise history.

Those are weighty words that sound hyperbolic. Yet they are not. While part of this is related to Doug MacLean’s reign of terror, the other part has to do with the well balanced team currently being iced by the Blue Jackets and the maturation of their younger players. It would be really tempting for the Jackets to make a major move at the trade deadline. This would be a mistake. A hockey team is a fickle experiment in chemistry. Right now, this Jackets team is clicking in a way that makes them very dangerous. A major addition to their top nine forwards or top four defensemen could very well do more harm than good.

On the other hand, the Jackets have a number of upcoming unrestricted free agents. Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark and Jan Hejda are the exact type of player that could be dealt to a contender for picks or prospects at the deadline. Instead, the Columbus front office should be looking at these players as the Jackets deadline moves. The only type of addition that makes sense for the Jackets are the exact type of players they already have. Simply keep those players.

There has been a lot of discussion lately on adding a top six forward or a top defenseman. That would be a mistake. As great as the Jackets have been lately, this is not a championship team. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not make the playoffs. This team should make the playoffs. Any deal to bring in a player to significantly upgrade the top six forwards or top defense pairing would cost the team in players that will be needed in the future. The core of this Jackets team is locked in for a significant amount of time (Jake Voracek excepted).This team should be competing for the Cup in two or three years, with John Moore, Ryan Johansen, David Savard and their other top prospects as part of that team. To give up those pieces now to make it to the second round is asinine. It’s short sighted.

On the other hand, they need to make the playoffs this season. Young teams rarely win right away in the playoffs. They need to make the playoffs a couple of times and lose. They need to get those playoff reps. Once the talent and experience mesh, the team will truly be a contender. Nash, Brassard, Voracek, Russell, Calvert and company need to get that playoff experience now. Clark, Moreau, Hejda and Sammy Pahlsson are important parts of this team and necessary to make the playoffs. While those players likely won’t be in Columbus when the Jackets are Cup contenders, they will play a big part in getting them there.

Some Thoughts on Mike Commodore

In an attempt to bring a bit of clarity to my personal opinion of Mike Commodore, and an overall disinterest on my part to feel any sort of empathy for the guy, I am going to lay out my thoughts on his situation in Columbus, rather than saying little to nothing in 140 twitter segments.  This whole idea came about when I got a friendly direct message from Dark Blue Jacket noting some of his thoughts, who I believe to be one of the stronger Blue Jackets bloggers and advocates out there.  I seriously recommend bookmarking the blog, found here (and in the CTF blog roll).

To begin, I have always had a bit of a notion that Commodore was a bit sluggish to be considered a top 4 defensemen.  He showed excellent promise in Carolina, but during his time in Ottawa (a team I often watched growing up) he struggled to keep pace, and was often on the wrong end of plays.  In fact, I claimed a number of warnings when Columbus took a chance on him, and happily ate a giant load of crow during his first year with the team, as he and Jan Hejda made a very clear case as the teams number one pairing.

Fast forward to year two of his five year contract, which runs the Blue Jackets at a cap hit of $3,750,000 annually.  Early season struggles by the team showed some major gaps in a number of team areas, none more glaring than the defense.  Commodore only saw 57 games in that season, after deeming himself unfit to play at the pace and rigors of the NHL, and that is where he lost me.

—- Now, I wish I could put a spoiler in here so those un-interested in my own personal history could skip forward, but I do feel it is necessary, especially after the discussion that lead to this post.  Like most average people, I am not what you would deem a ‘skilled’ hockey player, however, I do have a lot of playing experience.  That said, my talents (and bank account) found competitive inline hockey to be the most feasible for my lifestyle, and I enjoyed two years of high school inline hockey (won the league MVP my senior year), two years of Division 1 competitive inline hockey traveling up and down the East coast with the Cincinnati Storm (our best finish was 4th place at USA u17 nationals hosted by “the Cooler” in Alpharetta GA), and Cincinnati Fighting Hellfish, as well as 3 years of Division 1 inline hockey with Miami University (of Ohio), one of the years which found our team finishing 14th place in the Country, Nationals being hosted by the beautiful city of Boulder Colorado.  In my experiences playing inline hockey, I was consistently a second or third line player (outside of high school), rarely having the teams success fall directly on my shoulder.  In each tryout, I would have to fight for a roster spot, and have a very distinct understanding of the feeling that those who unsuccessfully fight for NHL roster spots feel.  The major difference of course being that I paid to play, while they get paid to play. —-

The relevance there, is my complete lack of sympathy for Commodore’s poor conditioning, which I believe to be one of the major contributors to his lack of success with Columbus over the last couple seasons.  I am well aware of the rigors of conditioning, the level of commitment it takes to be in peak physical shape, and the ridiculous hours of time that are put in by those who take it seriously.  For me, I simply can not respect or understand the lack of commitment made by Commodore, who literally took himself out of the lineup, – one that he was paid millions of dollars to perform in – to get himself back into shape, which I do not believe ever happened.

The one unspoken comment is that I do feel bad for him as a person for taking the heat he has over the last two years.  It can not be an easy thing to deal with the level of scrutiny he has been subjected to, but I am a firm believer in people being able to chose their own path, and short of giving the money back, he does owe the franchise his best effort, which I do not personally believe he has given.

Another major complaint with his overall appearance of someone who does not care, is the negative role model he becomes for some of the other players in the locker room, especially considering he was at one point in time deemed a team leader.  Matt Wagner had a very good piece on Voracek over at The Cannon, where he went into detail noting that Mike Commodore had become a major off-ice mentor of the budding winger.  While I do feel like Voracek has largely benefited from the experience, it was noted that his conditioning was possibly hindered by the Commodore weight training regimen.  It certainly remains to be seen whether that will be a hinderance on Voracek as he continues to grow, the concern for a player to slack on conditioning in favour of weight training or another aspect of the game is certainly a cause for concern.

Finally, I am a firm believer in comebacks and second chances.  If Mike wants to go out of his way to try to bring himself back to form, I will strongly support it.  I would love nothing more than to see him earn every cent of his contract and entrench himself back in the top two defensive pairings, but at this time, it is awfully hard to give the guy the benefit of the doubt.  Until that time, all I see is another guy who is making his millions, not respecting the value of being an NHL player, and letting down the Columbus fans and players.

(..and for the record, I would absolutely love rebuttals to this, so please share your thoughts!!  I’ll be happy to share links if you opt to share on your own blogs)

Vermette Creating Flexibility in the Top 6

With the recent play of the Columbus top line, a thought of “don’t fix what isn’t broken” immediately floods the brain.  Thanks to the injury to Derick Brassard, the tinkering was unavoidable as we watched Antoine Vermette return to the top line, a position he has managed well for the Blue Jackets in years previous.

What surprised me, was the rather seamless transition that occurred as the top line continues to roll, scoring key goals against difficult matchups over the last two games.  In fact, what it makes me wonder, is whether this opens the door for Scott Arniel to generate a two line powerhouse once Brassard returns from injury without forcing the young center back to both top line matchups, or top line minutes.

What excites me about the possibility of dropping Brassard, is the opportunity to give Umberger a fast paced, pass first center who can force the play towards the net.  While Vermette has been solid on the second line, it is my personal opinion that he stands to gain more both on the ice and on the scoresheet by playing with Nash on line one, all the while providing the top line with arguably the teams most capable faceoff winner.

Extending on the potential second line, an injury to the generally mediocre, lazy Huselius opens the door for Arniel to get creative and bring in a guy like Calvert, who has shown remarkable poise and speed for a rookie just learning the NHL game.  By introducing two elements of speed to the second line, it will undoubtedly force opposing teams to get creative with their matchups, and if they are successful, lightening the rather substantial load that is commonly thrust upon the first line.

It could certainly be argued that I am getting ahead of myself a little bit with Brassard still injured, and the team potentially adding bodies before the deadline next week, but it is an exciting possibility to generate speed and a legitimate scoring threat from a secondary line in Columbus.  It reminds me exactly how far along the team has come since the days of bad press complaining about a lack of a supporting cast for Nash.

JPM Congratulating Players Shows Satisfaction With Team

A lot was made about owner John P McConnell (JPM) openly embracing the team after a hard earned victory on Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators.  Twitter opened the door to discussion that he is ‘finally on board’ with the team.

For the Blue Jackets, the game was a must win, playing against a divisional opponent essentially making it a four point swing.  It was also against an opponent who has in no short notion dominated the Blue Jackets over the teams short history playing one another.
I personally, think Portzline said it best;

RT @Tony_CBJF: @Aportzline maybe J.P. is starting to come on board w his dads team / Or maybe he’s been there all along, unbeknownst

It was at that moment that it all really sunk in for me.  Forget that the Jackets ownership have opened their wallets in the past, trying to generate success from overpaid free agents who would never actually pan out in a Jackets uniform.  Forget that Howson likely got the go ahead to be a ‘buyer’ at the deadline after the convincing win against Chicago on Friday.  What JPM was responding to last night, was a collection of players who went out and got the job done as a team.  Not just Nash forcing the issue, or Mason hung out to dry.  A team effort, generated at long last by the safe, calm, and reasonable rebuilding process of Scott Howson.
Now, I can accept that many of you may think I am jumping the gun here, as Columbus had shown some pretty serious vulnerabilities this season, but I think JPM sees exactly what I do.  The team, as it is currently structured, is perfectly capable of contending in the NHL.  It may take some time for some of the more popular/talented prospects to bud into the NHL, like Moore, Calvert, and Johansen, but has the team ever really been able to sit back and expect a quality on ice product in their short history?
No team is perfect, and I do think there are some holes worth filling while some of the younger guys sneak into the more relevant spots in the lineup, but it’s hard not to show some serious optimism for the teams future when you see what the Jackets have done as a team during certain stretches of this year.  That’s what I see, and I think, at long last, that’s what JPM sees.