A criticism often extended to the Blue Jackets is the lack of team depth. Whether in reference to scoring or support, it has long been an excuse given to the sympathy of Rick Nash’s ‘plight’ in Ohio. It is argued that he has not been given ample line support or an entire supporting cast to fully reach his potential as a scorer in the National Hockey League.
Fast forward to the 2012 NHL playoffs, and we have been forced to witness Blue Jackets players of the past thrive in their new homes. The “#CBJwest” Phoenix Coyotes feature former Jackets Ray Whitney, Gilbert Brule, Antoine Vermette, Rusty Klesla, and Raffi Torres. They have all been visible this post-season, none more shocking than Vermette, who has found a scoring touch Columbus had not seen since his early days here. Other notables include eliminated Sammy Pahlsson playing in Vancouver, Jakub Voracek recently eliminated in Philadelphia, Anton Stralman in New York, and also recently eliminated Kris Russell playing in St Louis (I’ll go ahead and exclude Jeff Carter for too many reasons to list).
Most in that group made a significant impact to their team this spring. Here is a list of players and their points this post season:
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As you can see, they are definitely providing strong depth scoring, and in some cases have become one of the top scorers on their respective teams. With this in mind, I can’t help but begin to destroy the silly argument suggesting a complete lack of a supporting cast around “All Star captain Rick Nash.” But for as much as I wanted this commentary to circle around that argument, I think a more pressing issue is evident here.
I have seen regression in a number of Blue Jackets players over the last couple of years. Nash, Umberger, Vermette, Brassard (at least for a time), Voracek, Commodore… It’s a relatively long list. When Hitch was sent packing, it was because he had arguably lost the room. When Arniel was sent packing, it seemed to be the same issue. Were they square pegs? I suppose, but how much of a bigger issue is at hand?
I look at the competitive play of specifically Vermette, Voracek, and Chimera as prime sample of guys playing at or above their means.
In Vermette’s case, he is shooting and hitting the net in Phoenix, whereas in Columbus he seemed more focused on making the attractive pass or sending a lackluster shot wide of the net. To me, he is doing the right things, the necessary things to make his line effective while on the ice. His effectiveness is either at or exceeding his efforts when he first arrived in Columbus.
For Voracek, it seems like he has dedicated himself to the passing aspect of the game quite well in Philadelphia, taking on a secondary scoring role and producing solid numbers in the post season. For him, I attribute the Flyers team mentality as a driving force of his success, and something that he appeared to lack a bit of during his time in Columbus.
Finally, to Chimera. His loss was palpable in Columbus at least from the fan perspective, and his contributions to the depth of Washington’s roster has been a solid boost. With Chimera it is certainly not limited to his scoring abilities, but his tenacity on the ice, something that comes naturally with select individuals on the bottom six of a deep roster. What makes Chimera stand out in my viewing of him, is how Washington has been able to properly utilize his speed on the rush, sending him directly towards the net for rebounds or tipped passes that lead to goals. This is something that I rarely saw in Columbus, and often found myself frustrated with him trying to carry the puck into the offensive zone.
These all seem to circle around the same concept. These players are being coached properly. They are able to play the style of hockey they are most comfortable with, on lines that are well within their means, and they are all a part of a cohesive unit that has been rising to the occasion throughout the playoffs. What I continued to see in Columbus was a strange combination of success based line promotion and line mis-matching that often disabled the players abilities to perform to the best of their abilities. Chimera being given a greater scoring role, Voracek forced to try and produce on the top line with Nash and Brassard, and Vermette, well, it’s hard to even begin with him.
At the end of it, though, I am optimistic. If we can design an argument to focus the fault and lack of success on the coaching and a select few individuals, it makes the future in Columbus a lot brighter. Obviously Brassard is a top tier case of brutal coach utilization by Arniel, but I believe that concept can be spread throughout the roster. Couple that with lackluster production from the leadership on the team, and an endless cycle of ‘who can play with Nash’ promotions for those having the most on ice success, and they were bound to fail. Removing Nash, providing Umberger with linemates that suit his grind game on a secondary scoring line, and finding a coach and leadership that can promote buy-in (I’m looking at Wiz, Prospal, and Johnson as prime examples) will all work to bolster the cohesive unit the Jackets need to be a successful team in both the regular season and the playoffs.
Simply, in this ‘new era of hockey,’ it’s time for a roster full of players ready to rise to the occasion as a team, not unlike the band of misfits in Phoenix. It’s not about one guy there, it is about the core, and it works. The Blue Jackets have clearly had the right pieces in the past, it’s the execution that needs work.