The roller coaster ride that is being a Blue Jackets fan can be trying. Over the course of the team history, a number of rosters have shown the fans great heart, effort, and tenacity for the majority of the season. Other years, it got tough to watch games, as the players checked in and out of interest throughout games and often found themselves in long stretches of irrelevance. Some would lean towards these players being ‘overpaid’ or ‘overrated’ while others would come to believe they were just having an off year.
The NHL comparisons are pretty stark. Certain teams each year seem to find that ‘gear’ that other teams simply cannot elevate to match their speed, skill, and chemistry. Sure, players vary in talent throughout the league, and in some situations there are rosters built to dominate, but the salary cap is the same for each franchise. Players rising to the occasion as a collective make all the difference, and I tend to believe that pride plays a major role (you’d think professionalism would play a big role in this as well, but that’s more of a rant rather than constructive thought).
Continue reading Manufacturing Pride
In 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.
Continue reading Observation Time — All Star Style
Over the duration of the last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets have transformed from a punching bag to a team that is recognized by their opponents for hard work, tenacity around the puck, and solid goaltending (most of the time). The limited offense style of hockey fans witnessed last season is only successful with a quality goaltender, and Sergei Bobrovsky proved ready for the challenge shortly after his arrival. It led me to wonder exactly how much he impacts the team, and what expectations we can place on his shoulders game after game.
One thing that is rarely in question is Bobrovsky’s worth ethic. Many articles have been published noting his tireless desire to be the best goaltender possible, constantly working to improve every facet of his game. After a stellar 2012-2013 shortened season, his efforts (21-11-6, 2.600 GAA, .932 save%) propelled him to a Vezina Trophy victory, one that most would consider was a lock. While some feared his incredible output would diminish over time, optimism left many wondering if he could actually improve even further.
Of course, to have a chance at winning hockey games, a team must have a competent goalie. I find that various teams can get away with weaker goaltenders thanks largely to a strong defense or a high powered offense, but Columbus proved they needed to be held afloat in 2012-2013, scoring only a single goal more than they allowed during the season. They scored 120 goals for (25th in the league) and 119 goals against (11th in the league). With that measly 2.5 goals for average, I decided to take a deeper dive into Bobrovsky’s numbers to see where that special number for success lies.
Continue reading The Bobrovsky Principle
Before digging into the substance of the post, I must provide an apology. As many of you know, we just returned from a two-week vacation to Maine, Nova Scotia, PEI and Quebec. (Articles forthcoming during lulls in the hockey action). The down side of the vacation was that we missed the start of the season, and in our absence, the Blue Jackets posted a 2-5 record. Since our return last Saturday, they are 3 – 0. Just sayin’. Anyway, notwithstanding any dubious claims of causation, I promise to never again allow vacation to interfere with hockey. Mea culpa . . .
Let’s turn to the matters at hand. The Blue Jackets now have 10 games under their collective belts, which equals 12.19% of the season. Instead of relying on Twitter summaries or online post-mortems of the games — as we were compelled to do on the cruise — I’ve seen the live, in-person product on the ice for three games. Combined with some statistical review, I’ve got all I need to provide a first review of the good and the bad, and some indications of what might be forthcoming.
As of Sunday morning, the Blue Jackets are 5-5-0, with 10 points, but working on a three-game winning streak. The record might not be what some had hoped for, but represents a significant improvement over the 3-6-1 start last year, and light-years ahead of the 1-8-1 start in 2011-2012. More importantly, the club was able to shrug off a miserable four-game losing streak and post truly solid efforts against Vancouver, New Jersey and Toronto.
Continue reading The 12.19% Solution
Much has been made of Brandon Dubinsky’s retaliation towards New Jersey defenseman Anton Volchenkov’s hit on Tuesday. Cutting into the offensive zone with the puck, Dubinsky was met hard by Volchenkov, sending the Columbus forward to the ice with a clean bodycheck. You often find the player slowly get back to their feet and shuffle to their bench in order to catch their breath, or a teammate come flying in to the aid of the recently adjusted player (those who are fans of EA Sports NHL14 know what I’m talking about). In this instance, Dubinsky took matters into his own hands.
Quickly getting to his feet, and apparently taking Volchenkov by surprise despite both players being face to face, Dubi grappled and hauled him to the ice, sending a few swings toward the ‘helpless’ defender. Some are making claims that Volchenkov was sucker punched or blindsided, yet if you watch the replay, it is pretty apparent that Dubinsky was the only one that didn’t see a hit coming during that play. Dubinsky was given a two minute minor for roughing which was entirely fair, and the right call to make in that case.
Continue reading Dubinsky Setting the Tone in Columbus
The signs are all there. The “back to school traffic jams” are in full flower, the pools are closed, and the hockey players are returning to Nationwide Boulevard, just as the swallows to San Juan Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley. The youngest among them will head north to Traverse City late this afternoon (where our own @CBJProspects is also headed), while training camp awaits in just a week’s time. Hockey is in the air, without the foul stench of a lockout, and its time to start taking a critical look at the key questions confronting the Blue Jackets as they wind down the final 30 days to the season opener, and the club’s Eastern Conference debut.
So, as the month-long countdown proceeds, I’ll be providing new installments of this Inquiring Minds series, focusing on specific questions that hold special significance for the organization as we eagerly anticipate the curtain rising on a new season. This first installment focuses on scoring — Who’s going to do it? How often does it need to happen? How likely is it to occur?
Continue reading Inquiring Minds: The Quest for Scoring
The NHL finally released its 2013-2014 schedule today after a series of missteps and delays, due ostensibly to the need to confirm what everyone already knew — that the NHL will participate in the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Along with the schedule release came the announcement of the names for the four divisions in which teams will compete next season.
Three of the four division names are carry-overs. In the West, the Central and Pacific divisions survive, while the Northwest disappears. In the East, the Southeast and Northeast names go by the wayside, with the Atlantic surviving and the lone new name applied to the Blue Jackets’ division — now known as the Metropolitan Division. Not bad, and better than the bland geographic labels the rest of the league gets, but still lacking the panache of the Adams, Norris, Patrick and Smythe. It does evoke images of Perry White, Clark Kent & Lois Lane though . . .
While the name is intriguing, the real focus is on the schedule itself — one of the major benefits that Columbus fans have been drooling over since the dream of moving east became a reality. Continue reading Conquering The Metropolitan Division: The 2013-14 Blue Jackets Schedule
Less than an hour into this year’s unrestricted free agency word came in that the Columbus Blue Jackets had landed one of the biggest fishes in free agency (both literally and figuratively). Nathan Horton is officially a Columbus Blue Jacket. That feels nice to say. I have long been a huge fan of Horton, and he is the perfect fit for the Blue Jackets. A big skilled right-winger, Horton has no qualms about crashing and banging, brings it every night, and isn’t afraid to go to the net. Most importantly, he brings size to the Blue Jackets but in the right way to add size. Bringing in a 4th line masher who happens to be big is pointless, but adding a former 30 goal scorer who tops the scales at 230lbs while standing 6’3″ is how you need to do it. Continue reading Nathan Horton – Officially a Columbus Blue Jacket
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