Seriously folks. I know I seem to come across like the biggest Dalton Prout hater that ever lived, but I swear this has nothing to do with anything I’ve previously said on the man (or kid). I’ve usually had good things to say about Tim Erixon and Ryan Murray (and think Murray is legit), but those three guys have a much bigger hill to climb than you probably expect. Continue reading CBJ Fans, Prepare Yourself for a Different Defense Than You Expect
Last year I put together a series of posts centered around my expectations for the various Blue Jackets players goal totals, with one running before the season, one at midseason reviewing how I did and predicting the remainder of the season, and one after the year was over looking back at the first two pieces. I was pretty happy with how my method worked out, so I figured I’d do this for the entire league. You can find my preliminary post on it here, along with an update after the Capitals signed Grabovski. Here at the Union Blue, you’re going to get everything I’ve put together regarding the Jackets.
Unfortunately, I don’t think most of you will be happy with me. I have the Jackets finishing 15th in the NHL in goal differential. However, I also have the Metropolitan division as the league’s most difficult. If the season proceeds this way, the Jackets will finish 6th in the Metro, behind the Rangers, Devils, Penguins, Islanders, and Capitals. The Grabovski signing actually pushed the Caps above the Jackets for the final playoff spot in the East. Consolation prize: I also have the Red Wings missing the playoffs. So there’s that.
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of “discussions”, prompting the NHL to issue a memo directing that all “offers” made before noon EDT today had to be withdrawn.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 www.capgeek.com, 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.
Much of the twitter banter last night surrounding the Blue Jackets roster included the excitement of a Horton visit, and the question mark surrounding a Prospal extension. It was enough to get me into a couple of late night heated debates about the value of an aging Prospal not only to the team, but to the fan base. It caused me to pose a question to my fellow twitter’ers that served some intriguing results.
The question I asked (for a reason), was who the original culture change with Columbus began, whether it was Prospal or Davidson. The results were nearly unanimous, with Vinny getting somewhere in the realm of 15-20 responses, with honourable mentions to JJ, Nash’s departure, and Howson’s removal.
This free agency preview is going to be a little different than I had planned on. I started out with the intention of putting together a lineup of the currently signed Blue Jackets players, where they fit in the lineup, and where holes still remained. The problem is that the Blue Jackets have such a versatile lineup, and enough prospects on the cusp of the NHL, that you can very easily put together a very solid looking lineup without adding a single player via UFA or trade. For example:
Nick Foligno – Artem Anisimov – Marian Gaborik
RJ Umberger – Ryan Johansen – Brandon Dubinsky
Matt Calvert – Boone Jenner – Cam Atkinson
Blake Comeau – Mark Letestu – Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin – Jack Johnson
Ryan Murray – James Wisniewski
Tim Erixon – Dalton Prout
Sergei Bobrovsky – Curtis McElhinney
Not too shabby, eh? I think that is roster that has the potential to compete for a playoff spot in the newly designed Eastern Conference Division D (really hoping they come up with a better name than that). But that lineup does a few things I don’t think JD and Jarmo really want to do. It puts Murray and Jenner right into the NHL, something JD has only done once in St. Louis (David Perron). Usually he signs depth veterans, uses the youngsters as call-ups and makes them force their way onto the team (then flips the vets for picks later). It also has a number of players playing at a spot in their lineup that is probably above their heads. Continue reading Blue Jackets Free Agency Preview
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 The Union Blue Draft Day Live Blog
When Sergei Bobrovsky began to show flashes of league leading greatness this past season it was both a blessing and a curse for the Blue Jackets front office. Last off season, Scott Howson traded for one guaranteed year of Bobrovsky in net. The theory was it was a chance to see if Bob could earn his keep as a starting goalie and provide a solution to the CBJ netminding woes. Boy did he. Bob ended the regular season with the second highest save percentage for all goalies (second only to Anderson) and fifth in GAA. He earned every bit of the Vezina trophy. The award recognition was a welcome celebration for both the goaltender and our club, but it also turned the tables squarely in the favor of Bob when it came to contract negotiations. That one year gamble has turned into a looming large payday for Bob. Continue reading Where Could Bob Go?
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.
The Blue Jackets forwards corps have undergone a massive overhaul this offeason. Gone is Rick Nash, and with him the semblance of having a traditional top line. Much discussion has happened over the summer of how the forwards will look this coming season. The Cannon has been breaking down the battles we should see in training camp, and a lot of the comments have been focused on a “Top Six” versus “Top Nine” approach. There are a number of schools of thought on how to build a forward group. Some people, like Toronto GM Brian Burke, prefer a Top Six-Bottom Six approach (ie. six offensive forwards, six defensive/checking forwards). Vancouver has built a specialized line up consisting of a pure offense 1st line, solid two-way 2nd line, defensive specialist 3rd line, and rugged 4th line. Boston rolls three lines who are capable in both ends of the rink. Last season the Jackets planned to have three lines capable of scoring, with one shutdown group. While that failed for a number of reasons (impatience, coaching, and personnel), I think we are going to see something in between that approach and the Boston approach in 2012-13.
But what exactly does this mean? The potential for an offensive struggle is something I have been batting around in my mind since the Nash trade. The Blue Jackets don’t appear to have any 1st line talents, but a large contingent of 2nd to 3rd liners. It’s difficult to see how this compares to other teams, as so many factors come into play. To quantify these players, I took a very simple approach: points per game. I broke down every forwards who played at least 27 games last season, then split them into approximately the top 90 forwards (ie. three forwards per team), the second 90 forwards, and the third 90 forwards, with any players below being “4th liners”. With this breakdown complete, I was able to look at forwards and teams in a number of ways, from what that means practically, to the availability of each group of players, to how those players fit into their teams for next season.
When he became a Blue Jacket last month, Brandon Dubinsky wasted no time in coming to Columbus. Within a week of the Nash trade announcement, “Duby” was C-Bus bound. While his first trip was documented by some in the media with comments regarding his dapper style, clothing choices and appearance, I wanted to delve deeper into the player. I wanted to understand what he could bring to our club which is so desperately seeking the elusive combination of significant talent and tremendous heart.
We have learned to be cautious with new players coming to town. We’ve had brushes with great skill but lack of heart. Current naysayers have said that the Jackets that are still here from last season have all the “desire to win” in the world, but can’t back it up with elite talent. I’ve now spent the weeks since the trade with the Rangers learning more about Dubinsky, and, I also had the chance to meet him at one of the CBJ open houses. I think we just might have our man.