So the trade deadline has come and gone. We’ve got three-ish familiar faces out the door, with four fresh faces headed to CBJ-land. In all, I think the Jackets fared well. While I may not have gone in any of these directions, I understand each deal and think each one represents good value.
Well that was a disappointing way to get back into things. The Jackets were thoroughly outshot through the entire game, with the final tally of 35-19 . At least they were consistent, getting outshot by five or six shots every period. Oddly, I didn’t feel like New Jersey was actually dominating the play. For parts of the first and third periods, and most of the second period, the Jackets looked like the better team. They did look to be off in the positioning, and were definitely off in their passing. Those are both related, as I felt the team did an extremely poor job tonight of supporting the puck carrier, forcing players into making tougher passes than necessary. Oh well, not like this was a divisional game against a team they are battling for a playoff spot. Oh wait, New Jersey is now only two points back. Super. Continue reading Three Stars & Game in One Picture: CBJ @ NJ
The big picture is considerably more ambiguous than the small picture. It’s easy to look at my post from last week and agree or disagree with my thoughts. In fact, many did in various forms and places. But almost ever single one of those disagreements was focused too intently on the specific player I referenced, or the exact dollar figures for a free agent, etc., etc. The fact is, the small picture was almost totally through the filter of my ideas of the big picture. That sounds strange and confusing, so here is a more specific example:
Derek MacKenzie. He seemed to be the most divisive player in the reaction. I don’t underrate Derek MacKenzie. In fact, a major reason why I suggested they move on from DMac was because I rate him quite highly. I think he’s a player that will fetch decent money on the open market. A (close to) double digit goal scorer that kills penalties, works his ass off, and is a great guy? Every team in the league can use that. He’s also about to turn 33 years old this summer. His interest in signing a one year deal is probably low. If I’m him, I’m aiming for a three year deal, fully one-way, initially asking for something close to $2m. Does he get that? Probably not, but the cap is going up this summer and it only takes one desperate team.
How does this reflect the big picture though? Derek MacKenzie is a fourth liner. He’s a solid fourth liner, but he’s not the anchor of a good fourth line. Put two solid NHLers out there with him, and he performs admirably. Put him out there between Jared Boll and Colton Gillies and you have the worst line I’ve ever seen get regular shifts in the NHL. If he’s more than a team’s 12th best forward, that team needs to get better bottom six forwards. So what is the value of a 12th forward? Next to nothing, completely replaceable. He brings some value on the penalty kill, but the Jackets happen to have available in house replacements that would not be a large drop off.
So there it is. My analysis of Derek MacKenzie’s future has very little to do with Derek MacKenzie, but more to do with how many resources should be devoted to a teams 13th forward based on time on ice.
Let’s pull back even further for the REALLY big picture. Who do the Columbus Blue Jackets want to be? There are two franchises that I would be looking to, and both bear striking similarities in a number of ways. First, let’s travel back in time to the era of The Dead Wings.
The Olympic break is just that. A nice little break to take stock of the season so far. Looking back so far over the season, there are really two Blue Jackets squads. There is the injury riddled, under-performing bunch from the start of the year. Then there is the top ten team from the last couple months. Is any of this really that surprising though? We knew Nathan Horton would be out to start the year. We knew Sergei Bobrovsky would regress. We knew this was one of the youngest rosters in the league, one that had barely played together over the last couple of years. That has all the makings of a slow start.
However, the first few months of the year probably went worse than would be expected. Just check out the Jackets’ goal differential from the first few months (where they played like a borderline playoff team, with only a -2 goal differential through December 22nd), to now, where they have played like a legit playoff team (currently +9, good for 10th in the NHL). So injuries plus weak goaltending provides results worse than should be expected. That’s all the makings for a turnaround. Aka the last two months are not a fluke.
So where do we go from here? I’ve got two views of it. The first, to follow in this post, is the small picture. It’s the trade deadline and this current offseason. You can’t fully discuss one without talking about the other. Player re-signings, rentals, prospects, draft picks; they are all just so intertwined, it makes sense to discuss both. The other view is the big picture, coming later this week. It’s based around a not-so-simple question: who do the Blue Jackets want to be?
With that being said, let’s look back to the current roster. Per CapGeek , the Jackets are currently sitting on around $2.5m in cap space, although they will have about $4m by the deadline. That means they can add up to that much in salary without sending any out. Basically, unless the Jackets are targeting one of a handful of premium rentals, they don’t need to move out anyone of significance. This picture gets even rosier this offseason. The team will have about $22m in cap space for next year, with ten forwards, four defensemen, one goalie signed. That is a lot of room to work with, and considering the young age of the roster, GM Jarmo Kekelainen and President John Davidson can take this team in just about any direction they want. I’m not Jarmo or JD, but here is the direction I would like to see them take, broken down by player status.
Robyn Regehr? Seriously? Robyn Regehr? Ugh. That part of this game sucked. Coughing up another late lead sucked. But on the bright side, the Jackets have taken three of four points so far on the California trip, and sit one point back of Detroit for the final wild card spot, one point back of Philadelphia for third place in the Metro, and two points back of the Rangers for second in the division. Oh, and they have a game in hand on each of those teams. So yeah, beat the Sharks, and get right back in that thing. Since it’s late, let’s get to the stars.
3rd Star: Jake Muzzin
Muzzin scored a goal. So he gets a star. I wrote Reghr’s section before I wrote Muzzin’s. Muzzin also was terrible territorially tonight, routinely getting outplayed. But at least he was crushed with defensive zone starts (only two o-zone starts all game) and was matched up against the Johansen line. They crushed him but he scored. So he gets a star.
This post is a little scatterbrained. There isn’t really a common thread here, it doesn’t really fit into any kind of “narrative” whether that’s the Jackets season as a whole, their current playoff battle (currently 3rd in the Metro Division!), or even a narrative within itself. It’s just a bunch of video, a screenshot, and some commentary a few smaller items that I’ve noticed from the Jackets over the last couple of weeks. As with their play, it’s predominantly positive. There’s a couple of negative plays, so let’s start there. Beware, there are a LOT of videos, so this may take a minute or thirty-seven to load.
So the Blue Jackets have lost three games in a row now. But these weren’t your standard Blue Jackets losses. These weren’t cataclysmic events of magnificent ineptitude, despite what Twitter would have you believe. All three were just hockey games. Against Buffalo, they pretty much controlled the play and lost the goaltending battle something fierce. That happens. The Carolina game was a dud, a game where pucks were bobbled, the PP differences helped swing the game, and nothing else seemed to go right. It only came across as disappointing because they jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Against the Sens, the Jackets had the slight edge in controlling the play (well in terms of shots, it was basically a dead heat in shot attempts), they just couldn’t pull it off. A couple of pucks hopped over a sticks, a couple whiffs, a couple of good bounces for the opposition. These games happen. They happen to every team. This is a good team now. They legitimately won eight games in a row. They now lost three straight games. If they win four, lose one, win two, lose one, win two more and then lose another one, they would still be 8-3 in their last 11 games. But I think the perception would be much different.
My point here is that this is NOT something to be too worried about. This isn’t a total collapse. No reason to hit the panic button. The very best NHL teams lose 20 to 30 games per year. They rarely crap the bed, but they lose games where their goalie just doesn’t have it, or the opposing goalie is on fire, or they don’t get the bounces, or the opponent gets the bounces, or its the second night of a back-to-back, and third game in four nights. These last three losses suck, as it hurts them in the standings and takes a little wind from their sails. But those games were “good team losses”. They were the kinds of games good teams lose, which is good in a strange kind of way.
3rd Star: Cam Atkinson
Cam had good boxcare numbers against the Sens. Goal, assist, three shots, four blocked shots. Sounds like a solid game. Problem is the offensive production came on the powerplay. At even strength Cam was buried in the Jackets end, to the tune of a lowly 42.9% corsi. Considering Cam’s offensive role, the four blocked shots should have been a dead giveaway. He was 50% on offensive zone starts, so he wasn’t buried that way, nor was he tasked with tough matchups, as he played most of his time against Eric Gryba, Coling Greening, Zack Smith, Marc Methot, and Chris Neil. Side note: I really want to see Cam fight. This only comes up now, as seeing him jostle with Nate Gerbe against Carolina got the thought in my head, and Cory Conacher causing ruckus last night kept it there.
That was a hockey game. Wait, that doesn’t really say what I’m trying to say. That was hockey game. One of the best games I’ve seen in a while. Both teams play such similar, hard styles, that when both teams play well, it’s just beautiful hockey. Had the Jackets managed to lose, I still think I would have greatly enjoyed watching that game. Made me wish the two could somehow meet in a playoff series. Imagine seven straight games of that? Man, that would be intense. Anyway, yeah the Jackets earned a hard-fought, well-played 5-3 victory over the LA Kings. It really was a true team effort, with pretty much every line and defense pair contributing at times, and Sergei Bobrovsky coming up with a few huge saves. With that being said, some Jackets shone brighter than others.
Third Star: James Wisniewski
Wiz was solid tonight with two apples (although Murray deserves both assists on Johansen’s goal). However, I’ll take him here as a stand in for the powerplay in general. They only went 1/3 on the evening but the puck movement was very solid, and they came away with ten shots. There was some nice trickery on the backend that they haven’t used as much in the past. A lot of movement away from the puck by the two defensemen and one of the forwards. It helped create a lot of space, best seen on Umberger’s powerplay goal, and when Letestu managed to get in all alone on Jones (he had five hole but pushed past it trying to go around Jones).
Continue reading Stars of the Night and Game in One Picture: CBJ vs. LA
You can’t support the Blue Jackets and not be ecstatic with tonight’s game. The Jackets were right there even strength with the Coyotes, were the better team on the powerplay, the better team on the penalty kill, and got the better goaltending. Don’t sleep on Phoenix either, as they are currently a playoff team in the tough Western Conference, and their 49 points would be second in the Metro division. Of course, I’ve buried the lede here, as Nathan Horton made his Blue Jackets debut. That went pretty well.
3rd Star: RJ Umberger
I have no issues with his placement here, even though he had a solid, if unspectacular game (outside of his goal of course). I tend to think of Umberger’s placement here as a vote for his entire line, which just continues to click. Foligno and Johansen were just as great as Umberger was last night, and while I’ve been hoping to see Horton take Umby’s spot on this line upon his return, RJ seems to be doing everything he can to hold onto it. He’s up to 11 goals on the year now, which puts him on pace for a very solid 22 goal, 46 point season. Continue reading Stars of the Night & Game in One Picture: CBJ @ Phoenix
Another game dominated by the Blue Jackets at even strength where they leave empty-handed. Fun fact: the Avalanche went 3 for 3 on the powerplay. And I’m not talking about powerplay opportunities, but powerplay shots. They scored on every single powerplay shot. Not good. But hey, five on five the Jackets absolutely crushed the Avs. The best measure of who is controlling play is 5v5 close, whether you use Fenwick (69.8%), or Corsi (62.7%) or Shots For percentage (66.7%), the Jackets absolutely destroyed Colorado. But terrible goaltending and special teams can put that all to bed easily.
3rd Star: Semyon Varlamov
Varlamov is probably a little low here. He should probably the first star, all things considered. Without his contributions this game would have been a Jackets win. I understand it though, as he did give up three goals, but when a team gets so thoroughly dominated at even strength, how do you give top billing to a player who contributed to said domination (in a negative way of course). I dunno either. Anyway, yeah, Varlamov is good and probably should have been the top star.
Continue reading Stars of the Night & Game in One Picture: CBJ vs. Colorado