General Manager

Playoff Preview: CBJ vs. Pittsburgh

Posted by The Coach on April 16, 2014
Coaching, Columbus Blue Jackets, General Manager / No Comments

It’s pretty crazy to think about how much has changed since the Jackets last playoff appearance. Steve Mason was the savior. Rick Nash was the franchise. Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek were the future. RJ Umberger looked like a steal. Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda were a beloved shutdown pair. Ken Hitchcock was coaching them up. Scott Howson looked like a genius. Well Mason is the savior in Philadelphia. Nash is the franchise in New York. Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard are the present in New York and Philadelphia. Mike Commodore is somewhere. Jan Hejda is a beloved shutdown defender in Colorado. Ken Hitchcock is coaching up St. Lous. And if you are paying attention, Scott Howson actually still looks like a pretty good GM. Make no mistake, this is Howson’s team. He brought nearly every single player on this roster into the organization. The most prominent player expected to play in this series that was a Jarmo/JD pickup is probably Blake Comeau. Both goaltenders were Howson pickups. Seven of the eight defensemen who might see time were Howson pickups (Nick Schultz being the exception). Comeau, Jack Skille and Corey Tropp are the only Jarmo pickups at forward (plus the injured Nathan Horton). I’ve already dwelled on this more than I planned on, I just wanted to make sure it was out there that this team was built by Howson. Moving on.

The Pittsburgh Penguins. Funny how the Jackets first two playoff opponents have been Detroit and Pittsburgh. I know some fans are concerned about Pens fans taking over the building. Think back on that last playoff series, and remember the atmosphere. Nationwide was rocking with CBJ fans, and I expect the same this time around. If Detroit fans couldn’t overtake the rink, I don’t see how it should be much different this time. As for the on-ice product, I expect this to be a very close series. At even strength at least. The two teams are actually very close when it comes to 5v5 play. In shots for percentage, they rank 13th (Pittsburgh) and 14th (Columbus). In Fenwick Close, they rank 12th (Columbus) and 16th (Pittsburgh). In Corsi Close, they rank 13th (CBJ) and 16th (Pit). In goals for percentage, they rank 8th (Pit) and 12th (CBJ). On other words, the Jackets are slightly better at controlling the play, while the Penguins score a tiny bit more. Which makes sense, considering the talent they have, as Crosby, Malkin, and others have shown they (and their linemates) can consistently score on more of their shots than league average. But then again, the Jackets have Bobrovsky. Like I said, this should be a very close series at even strength. Pittsburgh has been quite a bit better on special teams than Columbus. So on the surface, the edge lies with the Penguins. Let’s look deeper, comparing the forwards, defense, goaltending, and special teams. And maybe we’ll see how the Jackets might be able to pull of the upset.
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Observation Time — All Star Style

Posted by Staff on November 04, 2013
Coaching, Columbus Blue Jackets, General Manager, Team Discussion / 2 Comments

asg123457_325In the wake of home-and-home losses to Pittsburgh, the usual cacophony of reactions are evident — ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.  Today, we’ll try to take a relatively dispassionate look at the club, the recent efforts, and dust off the crystal ball for some thoughts as to what might come down the pike.

First things first, however.   Shortly before game time, I caught a TSN tweet indicating that Gary Bettman was at Nationwide for the game, and a second tweet indicating that he was in the company of Mayor Coleman.  Rudimentary arithmetic led me to one conclusion — All Star Game — a fact confirmed about 30 minutes later, when the lights dimmed, Greg Murray advised the crowd of a special announcement from John Davidson, who then appeared on the scoreboard screen with Bettman.  The announcement that the 2015 All Star Game was coming to Columbus on January 24 & 25, 2015 was almost an anti-climax at that point.  Still, it was terrifically positive news for the franchise, the city and the 18,634 assembled fans.  The NHL made good on its promise to “do right” by Columbus after the lockout trashed the All Star Festivities  for the 2013 game.

The most surprising aspect of the announcement was the timing.  Traditionally, the venue for the All Star Game is announced in January, or at least in conjunction with GM meetings.  That the announcement came so far in advance is a credit to both the NHL and the progress that the organization has been making at all levels.  Kudos to all concerned, and Columbus fans can now tuck those 2013 All Star Game pucks away, waiting for them to appreciate in value.  (Just kidding…sort of)   So with that issue put to bed, time to return to the ice.  The intent here is not to provide a game summary of the Pittsburgh battles —  @Canadan82 does that extremely well — but to look at the higher level issues, positive and negative, that are emerging as this fledgling season moves forward.  The two games vs. the Penguins do highlight some of the issues in stark relief.

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Yes, Virginia…Columbus IS a Hockey Town…

Posted by Staff on August 19, 2013
Cannonfest, Draft, General Manager, Stats / 8 Comments

Nationwide ArenaWhen you think about it, hockey really is a funny game.  In what other sport (other than boxing and MMA), is fighting a largely accepted element —  penalized, but done so with a wink and a nod?   It is a sport where failing to tie down your sweater is penalized more harshly than pummeling your opponent and where elementary safeguards, such as helmets, goalie masks and visors have inched their way into the game over the grudging “Hrrumphs” of grizzled veterans.   Where else do players and coaches talk about playing the game “the right way”?  For that matter, in what other sporting endeavor do the participants wear “sweaters”?

No, hockey is steeped in tradition, and surrenders to progress with great reluctance.  It’s players are — for the most part — polite, soft-spoken and subservient to The Game.  In many ways, hockey is more akin to golf than any of the teams sports, with the ceremony attendant to winning The Cup not far removed from hoisting The Claret Jug at St. Andrews.  Of the team sports, baseball comes closest to that sense of tradition, but still falls somewhat short.

Tradition is a great thing, but sometimes it crosses the line into bias.  A large segment of the hockey population relies on tradition to cast aspersions on those “pretenders”  who would dare to join the fraternity of hockey cities.  After all, hockey is the birthright of Canada and The Original Six, and the rest are largely pretenders.  Sure, Minnesota and Buffalo are readily accepted, as they are almost in Canada anyway.  The Flyers get admitted to “the club” by virtue of sheer nastiness — or “Old Time Hockey” — as the Hansen Brothers would call it.   The Blues get a pass as well, due to the illustrious names passing through that franchise since 1967.   New Jersey and the Islanders are accepted, both because they fall in the geographical “sweet spot” of the NHL, and their ability to hoist The Cup.  Other than that, however, there is a significant segment of the hockey community that views hockey in “non-traditional” markets as a fool’s errand, and would much rather see a 16 team NHL than cater to the likes of Phoenix, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Nashville, Florida  . . . and Columbus.   Peruse the message boards, listen to talks shows from Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver and you will here how these cities do not “deserve” franchises.  Even cities with demonstrated success — such as Anaheim and Los Angeles — receive only modest recognition.  This segment points to revenue numbers, attendance figures and  the twice-failed experiment in Atlanta as evidence that expansion outside The North is futile.  The lack of a “Hockey Tradition” is deemed fatal in these cities.

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The Brain Trust Grows . . . Anticipation Builds

Posted by Staff on August 13, 2013
Cannonfest, Columbus Blue Jackets, General Manager / No Comments

Blue Jackets Cannon LogoNormally, the hiring of an Assistant General Manager is the type of August NHL move that comes and goes virtually without notice, eliciting more yawns than commentary.  However, the Columbus Blue Jackets attracted a lot of attention yesterday when they announced the hiring of Bill Zito as Assistant General Manager.  Why?  Well, Zito made his name as the co-founder of Acme World Sports — a player agent operation based jointly in Chicago and Helsinki.   While the crossover of player agents into the realm NHL front offices is not unprecedented, the hockey community took immediate notice.  After all, this is not a guy who represented a few peripheral players.  He is, by all accounts, an incredibly astute businessman, with a terrific nose for both talent and the economics of the professional contractual arrangements in the NHL.  With an undergraduate degree from Yale, and a law degree from Wisconsin, he brings added intellectual depth and experience to a front office that may soon earn The Brain Trust moniker.

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Blue Jackets Free Agency: Assembling the Pieces

Posted by Staff on July 05, 2013
General Manager, Roster Talk, Trade News / No Comments

CBJ Puzzle Wall In just an hour or so, the Free Agent Frenzy begins in the NHL, perhaps made a bit more rational this year by allowing teams and players to chat for a few days before actual signings can occur.   Indeed, some teams apparently took liberties with the whole concept of “discussions”, prompting the NHL to issue a memo directing that all “offers” made before noon EDT today had to be withdrawn.  Such is modern life — stretch the rule to the limit…then one more step.

The Coach has already presented his wish list of players, so I’m going to take a bit narrower approach here, focusing on the few players I think are realistic targets in free agency, and how that translates into reality under the salary cap.  Let’s dig in.

The Budget & the Needs

Relying on our good friends at, we know that the Blue Jackets have 21 of 23 available roster slots filled, with $7,991,191 available under the cap for the outstanding two slots.  Those 21 signed players include 12 forwards, 7 defensemen and two  net-minders.  That also includes Ryan Murray on the NHL roster, with a cap hit of $3.494 million, but does not include a roster spot for Boone Jenner, with his far more modest cap hit of $895K.  So, if Murray does not make the big club, the cap space would be just under $11.5 million, but there would then be three slots to fill.

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The Union Blue Draft Day Live Blog

Posted by The Coach on June 30, 2013
Draft, General Manager, Prospects, Roster Talk, Team Discussion, Trade News / 4 Comments

Hello CBJ fans! CBJProspects and myself will taking some time during the draft today to post our thoughts on all the picks, trades, rumors, and general happenings of today’s NHL draft. The Jackets are currently sitting on three first round picks, a wealth of cap space, and are now shopping the rights to Sergei Bobrovsky. With all that in play, Columbus looks to be one of the more exciting teams to watch on this fine Sunday. I encourage everyone to follow along and leave your opinions and/or questions in the comments. Check out all our thoughts after the jump, starting around 2:30 (unless something crazy happens before then). Continue reading…

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Trading Spaces: Draft Table Deals Likely for Columbus

Posted by Staff on June 28, 2013
Columbus Blue Jackets, Draft, General Manager, Trade News / 6 Comments
Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen (Courtesy Columbus Blue Jackets)

Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen (Courtesy Columbus Blue Jackets)

Welcome to my début here at The Union Blue.  To those who followed me from Ten Minute Misconduct and The Hockey Writers — a big thanks — both of you.  (I’ll still be chipping in with a guest article at THW from time to time, but The Union Blue is home.)  To those just discovering my writing, strap in.  I’m not shy about expressing opinions, digging deep into issues and counseling patience and perspective when the gut reaction is to panic.  Thanks to all of my colleagues here for swallowing hard and allowing me to use of space on the site.  Enough of that — on to the topic at hand.We’re just about 50 hours from the NHL Entry Draft, and just a week away from the beginning of free agency.  The compressed timeline — brought to you by your friends at the NHL and NHLPA — will make the next ten days a tense and action-filled time.  As Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson have been preaching for the past month — the options are wide open.  That makes this both a time of peril and opportunity for the Blue Jackets at a lot of levels.  While much of the focus is on the draft itself, and the three first round picks the Blue Jackets have stockpiled, I’ll leave the discussion of the draft prospects to my colleague @CBJProspects, who eats, sleeps and lives with that data.   Instead, I want to focus on the other side of the equation — the trade and free agency prospects — made all the more intriguing this season by the advent of the compliance buyout. Continue reading…

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Jarmo Kekalainen Announced as Columbus General Manager

Posted by Canadan82 on February 13, 2013
Columbus Blue Jackets, General Manager / 1 Comment

Earlier this morning, John Davidson and the Columbus Blue Jackets announced the hiring of Jarmo Kekalainen as the third General Manager in team history. The news conference was broadcast through the Blue Jackets website, and the message seemed relatively clear and thought through.

Davidson was very complimentary of former GM Scott Howson, talking about Howson’s efforts to bring JD up to speed, his professionalism in the news being shared with him yesterday, and the desire to continue to utilize his hockey knowledge and resources in a different role with the franchise.

Moving to Kekalainen, Davidson provided ample praise. He will become the first European to become General Manager of an National Hockey League team which is both exciting and intriguing at the same time. He is a graduate of Clarkson and has seen a substantial amount of time in the NHL:

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So What Does the Davidson Addition Actually Mean?

A lot of people have written a lot of things so far on the Blue Jackets’ hiring of John Davidson to be President of Hockey Operations. I’ll leave it to others to discuss how this impacts the fans, what is means to the city, etc. What I can talk about regarding this hire, is how it will impact the team directly.

The first place where Davidson will have a major impact is the culture of the organization. This is something that has been in flux for a while now, and with Rick Nash gone, Davidson can step into the void. He is a proven winner, a respected voice, and has a cult of personality that can dominate the spotlight without making it look like he is trying to dominate the spotlight. This allows the players to play, Howson to manage,  and Richards to coach, without having to be in the public eye as much. When it comes to culture, Davidson’s Blues teams have always been workmanlike teams with a strong veteran presence. That should carry over to Columbus. He will not allow the ‘country club’ culture that has been persistent in the Jackets history to continue.

Davidson will also help greatly with the perception of Columbus around the league. Look at Sergei Kostitsyn’s comments the other day, Marc Crawford’s comments a few months ago, among many other quotes from people in the game of hockey regarding Columbus.  It is incredibly tough to break out of that perception. But it can be done. No one in their right mind would argue that Columbus is a “gloomier” city to live in than Detroit. But Detroit has a reputation around the league as a first class organization and a winner, which trumps the depression that is actually living in Detroit. This is in spite of the fact that Detroit had a fifteen year stretch as the laughingstock of the league, picking up almost as many insulting nicknames (“Dead Wings”) as playoff appearances (two). They brought in respected veteran front office guy Jimmy Devellano from the New York Islanders dynasty, drafted Steve Yzerman (amongst others), and the rest is history. The hire of John Davidson is on par with the Wings hire of Devellano, and with some luck, Ryan Murray could be our Steve Yzerman (not in play, but in personality and impact to the organization). In any case, John Davidson is the first step towards changing the perception of Columbus as the “Island of Misfit Toys”.

In a more direct way, the Blue Jackets will benefit from the additional veteran voice in the decision making process. Columbus has long had one of the smaller front offices in the NHL, and one of the greenest. I have long liked their approach, but more experienced voices have been needed since Don Boyd and Bob Strum were let go last offseason. A veteran like Davidson has seen the ups and downs of many players over the course of his career, and that benefit of that experience is damn near incalculable when trying to properly assess player value. Along with Craig Patrick, Davidson provides the Blue Jackets front office with as much, or more, of this experience than most other franchises currently possess.

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Blue Jackets Off-Season Game Plan

Posted by The Coach on June 03, 2012
Contracts, Draft, General Manager, Roster Review, Roster Talk / 10 Comments

Rick Nash. The second overall pick. Goaltending. Defensive defenseman. Top six forwards. What do all of these have in common? I have talked about them ad nauseam over the last couple months. They all represent something that will change from the current incarnation of the Blue Jackets, to the team who takes the ice opening night. I’ve probably discussed hundreds of versions of the Nash trade; I’ve written two mock drafts; talked endlessly about Nail Yakupov, Alex Galchenyuk, Ryan Murray, Mikhail Grigorenko, et al; I’ve reviewed every UFA goaltenders statistics dozens of times; and spent far too many hours playing with the Cap Calculator. So I thought I would take all that time and make it useful. I put together the moves I would make if I was running the Blue Jackets, including the Nash trade, who I would take in the draft, what free agents I would sign, and one more surprise trade that I like and I imagine every other Jackets fan will hate.

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