Posts tagged Antoine Vermette

Vermette Traded to Phoenix

As twitter so thoughtfully put it… over, and over and over, and over again… “And so it begins.”

Antoine Vermette was traded earlier today to the Phoenix Coyotes in exchange for a second round pick in 2012, a 5th round pick in 2013 (that could be a 4th round pick if the Coyotes win a playoff round) and goaltender Curtis McEhlinney.

For those paying close attention to the team and media commentary throughout the league, this move was expected from the Blue Jackets.  At 18-35-7 and well out of the playoff hunt, Columbus is and will continue to be sellers in hopes of retooling the roster before next season.  With a team bursting at the seams with centers, it came as no surprise to me that Vermette was one of the first names on the trade list.  Vermette has also been considered to be in the latter stages of a very poor year, and has not really come close to competing with his best year (not surprisingly a contract year) of 2009/2010.

I am going to take a bit of time breaking down why I believe things happened the way they did, and what we can expect for the rest of the week.

First, in terms of a player for player (or I suppose in this case picks) comparison, I think Scott Howson came out on the losing end.  While picks have great potential of landing a solid player, I have not personally read any reports that suggest this will be a deep draft, and hold little hope that the 5th round pick in 2013 will net much gain either.  For a 29 year old player with additional years on his contract, I had hoped the deal would land a prospect of some kind in Columbus.  To be clear on this, I am not under the assumption that Curtis McEhlinney will play in Columbus or Springfield, let alone re-sign for an any additional amount of time with the organization. I believe the addition of him was simply a move to allow Phoenix to stay within the fifty player contract max.

In terms of how I believe the deal went, I would argue they broke about even.  I am under the impression that of the players (especially centers) in the locker room, Vermette was one of the less valuable pieces of the puzzle, with players like Brassard and Johansen appearing to be the future top two centers of the team.  With that in mind, Howson likely wanting to remove the additional three years of Vermette at 3.75 million in cap space before this summer. He could then find a less costly option, or a different style of player for that third line centerman role.

Secondary to that, Vermette has worn the “A” for various parts of the last two seasons leading me to believe that he was one of the more respected leaders on the roster.  I believe this is one of a number of trades that will set the tone in the locker room and reduce the possibility of a ‘country club’ atmosphere that I have heard so much about over the last few months.  Certainly this is nothing more than speculation on my part, but it would not surprise me, considering the comments made by Scott Howson wanting to reshape the team and move forward from this season.  I think that is a strong indication of where he held Vermette on his personal depth chart, and someone who he believed was not providing enough of the right intangibles to merit a position on the roster.

I can understand the dissatisfaction regarding the deal, and the return, but I believe that it is a long process, and Columbus management has a plan that will be months in the making.  I can also appreciate that few have the confidence in Howson to put together a winning hockey club, but frankly, I am not going to throw pessimism at someone who is more than likely going to be the general manager of this hockey club for the next year and possibly beyond.  If moving Vermette and his 3.75 million dollar cap hit is what it takes to make room for new talent, count me in.  I have been a Vermette fan for a long time and I wish him well in Phoenix, but it is time for change here.

I would love to hear your thoughts, concerns, and ideas about where the Columbus Blue Jackets should go from here. Feel free to share them in the comments section, and get ready for some more fireworks in the coming week.

Carry the Flag.

Jackets Road Trip in Review

It was certainly an interesting week for the Blue Jackets, coming home with a 1-2-0 record out west, and another 0-3-0 record in the other half of their six game road trip.  I haven’t recapped in quite some time because of how much negativity could be grouped into each one, but I think it’s worth taking a few things into account from these last six games.

I want to group the first four games into one collection of awful, where the Blue Jackets were outscored 17-5.  The obvious is there, where they need to score more, produce more offense, and generate fewer chances in their own zone. As noted, it’s a grouping of losses where the mistakes are greatly magnified, so I won’t bother spending much time with it.

Rather, I want to touch a little on “Clock Gate” and the LA game, and then spend a fair bit of time on the treat I enjoyed last night.  If you’ve been under a rock, you’ll be interested to learn that with 1.8 second left in the game against Los Angeles, the clock quite literally stopped ticking down for somewhere between 1-2 seconds, giving the Kings additional time to score the game winner. Sure enough, Doughty found the back if the net with 0.6 seconds left, but it was more like -0.4 or -1.4 seconds remaining.  I know watching these games doesn’t mean I’m ‘owed’ anything, but I feel like the fans and certainly the team, who played reasonably well for sixty minutes of hockey, deserved a better fate.

Another important piece of their almost OT in Los Angeles, and their eventual win in Anaheim, was rebound control, both from the goaltender and the players in front of him.  What I’ve seen out of Mason lately is a rebound that essentially sends the puck back into the slot.  It’s a tough way to make stops, because it either gives the opposition a second chance immediately, or it forces the defense to come up big and send the puck into the corner.  Unfortunately, horribly turnovers lead to scoring chances. Scoring chances lead to rebounds, and rebounds were landing on San Jose sticks.

In Los Angeles and Aneheim on the other hand, I saw a team dedicated to clearing out the secondary chances.  Sanford does appear to be better about rebounds, sending many into the corner rather than back into the slot, but he most certainly gave up his fair share of ‘in the slot’ rebounds, most of which were cleared away by the defense.  A prime example of this from last night was later in the game when Sanford made a reasonably strong stop, but it left him outside the crease on the right side of the net, with the puck rebounding to the left side, onto Jason Blake’s backhand. Fortunately for Sanford, Aaron Johnson dropped and half covered the net, half covered the puck.  It was plays like that which made the win possible. Something I saw very little of in the San Jose game.

More on last night, I really want to discuss the rise of Derick Brassard.  I’ve long been a fan of him, and it is definitely well documented.  I strongly believe that given the right linemates he can be a very effective top line center for this team, with really only his faceoff abilities in question.  I believe that he will excel substantially playing with guys who can push the pace like Nash, and players who can find the back of the net like Carter or Johansen.  He once again proved his value in the top spot last night, scoring two goals including the game winner, and while his faceoffs weren’t great (all CBJ players were ugly on the draw last night) his game beyond that was showing great strides.  Looks like Arniel was wrong.

Last night also saw the return of Jeff Carter, who was on the mend from an injured shoulder.  He was the benefactor of a great play from Antoine Vermette to score the Jackets other goal, and had a couple of seriously prime scoring chances, one of which rattled off the post.  He also played on the second line which seems to really make a difference in the look of the Jackets offense. I remember thinking about how well Columbus was pushing the pace late in the game, and I really think adding that secondary scoring dimension made a huge difference.

With that goal last night, Carter becomes the most effective scorer on the Blue Jackets roster this year, with a goal per game average of 0.355.  Nash is a close second with 0.327.  With the trade deadline approaching and the Carter rumours at a dull roar, can Columbus really part ways with their most effective scorer? They are currently 29th in the NHL in goals scored average.

Vinny Prospal found himself on the second line last night, which seemed interesting to me.  He has only managed two goals and three assists in the fourteen games since New Years.  For a guy who is very unlikely to stick around, I think it might be very smart for Howson to start considering a trade now, rather than waiting another couple of weeks. It would seem the 18:12 average ice time is wearing on the 36 year old, and while I would be sad to see his tenacity and leadership go, I think it’s time to start the process of purging the roster and looking ahead to 2012/2013.

I’m going to give it another couple games before I really comment, but John Moore has really seemed to find his game at the right time. He’s been making a few rookie mistakes, but I have been very pleased with his on ice output of late.  Last night he managed over 26 minutes of ice time, an assist, four blocked shots, and four hits.  I hope to see him continue his development, as he could and should be a major piece of the Blue Jackets future.

The Jackets wait until Tuesday to play their next game, against Minnesota.  This will be a fun game to follow Colton Gillies, who was claimed from the Wild earlier this year.

Carry the Flag!

Time to Turn the Page in Columbus

At some point, after the bitter pill of another loss is swallowed, the patience deteriorates into extreme dissatisfaction.  For me, last night was simply that kind of night.  It was right around the point when the first period finished, with the Jackets surrendering twelve shots to the Predators in the first period while only mustering three of their own.  walking into the dressing room without a pulse, without a goal, and me without patience.

This has been written before.  The Jackets lost, and they never really had the on ice presentation of threatening to win at any point in the game. Sure, Nash made a tremendous play to tie the game at one apiece, but there would never be another scenario where I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation of a goal.  They lack confidence.  They lack resolve.  They lack a lot of things.

I’d call this a recap but there really isn’t much point in recapping something that has been repeated over, and over, and over again this year.  Instead, I am going to offer this: I’m ready for the purge.

Steve Mason

It is time for him to find a new home.  Not because I am in the percentage of Jackets fans who want to throw a large portion of the Jackets failures on his shoulders.  I want him gone because this team doesn’t have a backbone when he’s in net.  I ran these numbers on twitter last night, but I will go ahead and share them again here.

In the Last Six Starts by Mason
- Team has averaged 1.0 goals for
- Team has averaged 32.66 shots on the opposing net (196 total)
- Team has allowed an average of 27.5 shots on net (165 total)

In the Last Six Starts by Sanford
- Team has averaged 2.33 goals for
- Team has averaged 25.67 shots on the opposing net (154 total)
- Team has allowed an average of 29.0 shots on net (174 total)

For reference, the worst team in the league in goals for is Los Angeles who average 2.1 goals per game.  What I see above is a team who can’t execute with the puck, yet are more offensively inclined when Mason is in the net.  I don’t have an impressive chart to show the quality of goals being scored by the opposition, but that’s not exactly my point.  I am NOT here saying Mason is playing to the level of a top tier NHL goaltender.  I am simply contesting two things.  First, even if he was, he would still only be around 1-5 over his last six starts, and second, this team flat out doesn’t have the ability to give him room to build the necessary confidence.

With all that in mind, I hope they deal him to a team who can properly groom him into a top tier player, because I think that ability is 100% within him.  I see this as a benefit for Mason as a person, and I see it as a benefit for this insanely fragile roster who can’t seem to play quality hockey in front of him.  Get rid of the excuse they think they have for playing poorly, and finally, the blame will rest entirely on their own shoulders.

Vinny Prospal

I am neither a Prospal lover or a Prospal hater, but he has more than served his purpose in Columbus.  While his early season determination and style benefited the Jackets, his compete level has dropped significantly since the beginning of the season and teams will get less and less interested in him (in my opinion) the longer the season goes on.  He is no longer a quality factor on the opposite wing of Rick Nash, and is often trailing in the play rather than being on the far side as a passing option.

I recognize this opinion won’t be a popular one and I am fine with that, but just as I called out Nash earlier on in the year (he’s playing very well of late), I am fully prepared to call out Vinny and simply ask this: When was the last time he did something to merit the high praise he gets? — It’s time to allow him the ability to move on, and provide the Jackets with a mid to high end pick or prospect from a team in need of depth scoring for a long playoff run.

Vermette – Pahlsson – Huselius – Clitsome – Etc

These are all players (well, maybe not Clitsome at this point) who may benefit the Jackets more in their return than what they are producing on the ice.  Vermette is a tremendous faceoff winner who could be highly sought after by a team struggling on the draw.  He is also capable of playing a top six role with a great deal of penalty killing experience.  Pahlsson is a shutdown specialist who serves a large purpose for any team trying to be more proficient defensively against the top teams in the league, and Huselius (when not injured) provides and excellent injection of scoring when given a couple players to feed him the puck.

These are all players who should provide ample return.  Huselius is an interesting example because of his injuries, and because I wouldn’t hate seeing him return, but he’s an aging forward who would probably enjoy a cup run.  For the others, it is simply making room for off-season additions this summer.

I don’t expect Howson to start making the trades I have hoped for all year.  It is not the time for that, and it is something I’ll address again in the off-season.  What I am interested in, is a roster depleted by ‘deadline’ deals in a sellers market.  As much as I am sick of the losing, for some strange reason, I would feel better if it were because they dealt away their depth talent for futures.  There is no point in watching games like I had to endure last night with a ‘full’ (give or take 20 million in injury players) roster.

I have almost completely moved on from this season.  My ‘fandom’ isn’t being questioned or anything, I just have no emotion for the losing anymore.  I look at teams like Chicago, Edmonton (still) and more notably Pittsburgh, and I see cities that were absolutely terrible for years, only to receive high end picks and acquire franchise player after franchise player:

2003 :: Pittsburgh :: Fleury (1st)
2004 :: Pittsburgh :: Malkin (2nd)
2005 :: Pittsburgh :: Crosby (1st)
2006 :: Pittsburgh :: Staal (2nd)
2006 :: Chicago :: Toews (3rd)
2007 :: Chicago :: Kane (1st)
2010 :: Edmonton :: Hall (1st)
2011 :: Edmonton :: Nugent-Hopkins (1st)

As you can see, these three teams benefited enormously by drafting in the top spots.  I listed eight players and every single one of them, aside from maybe Staal, are top tier franchise level players (or have the appearance of such).  It is a painful process to suck as hard as a team like Pittsburgh did for four years, but their turnaround is nothing short of phenomenal.  A franchise goalie, two franchise centers, and a top six center.  Talk about being given their future without any real drafting/development/trading/signing.

I bring that up simply to say, be patient.  Don’t watch to lose, but don’t get upset when the Jackets do lose.  It can only bring good things in a season that is beyond repair.  In the meantime, it is time to watch this team as it is dismantled, and hope that the experiences by the younger players like Savard, Moore, Kubalik, Atkinson, Calvert, and Johansen benefit them in the future. It’s time to stop playing Nash with the likes of Vermette and Prospal, and start playing him with up-tempo players like Brassard who will help Nash to play at the speed that suits him best.

Carry the Flag.

New Look Jackets Behind Todd Richards

Sometimes the atmosphere around an arena can become stale.  I am not one who normally attends practice, and after experiencing an Arniel practice shortly after the new year had arrived, I was not really left with the need to attend another one.  The drills were reasonable, and the effort was somewhat there, but the atmosphere was heavily lacking.  With that said, I attended my first Todd Richards practice on Monday morning, and I must say, the difference was clear.

Players were upbeat and into the drills with quite a bit of effort.  When the time was appropriate, they enjoyed ribbing each other for scoring or not scoring, and were giving Mason (the goalie who happened to be on our side of the ice) all kinds of cheering when he made a big save.  Dorsett, Boll, Brassard, and Prospal were the most audible for me, and there were times when I was openly laughing at their antics.  I would never suggest that the team play to the fans during their practices, but I truly enjoyed watching some of the character bleed out.

The drills themselves were very satisfying to watch.  High compete level with specific parts of their game in mind, and I’ll share a couple here.  The first drill is designed to have a forward head into the zone with the puck and take a shot on net.  Once that has been accomplished, two skaters take the puck the other way on a two on one, and the job of the original shot taker is to back check hard to try and get back into the play before the shot is taken on the opposite end.  It is a very creative way of getting the back checker a bit tired first, not unlike how he would feel in a game.

The second drill I really liked was designed for two players to shoot on the goalie uncontested.  The first player would have to beat a pylon aka coach on the bottom of the faceoff circle, and would then make a pass to the middle for a one timer.  Once that shot was taken, they would attempt to score on the rebound if there was one.  This is a great drill for the Jackets who I don’t think we see enough one timers from, and for Sanford and Mason who have been dealing with such attempts for much of the year.

The last thing about practice I wanted to mention was how much I truly enjoyed how vocal Todd Richards was.  I can’t really comment on his presence in the locker room or anything like that, but he was extremely vocal during the practice, and engaged the players beyond the whiteboard, which I really appreciated.  I have yet to see something about him that bothers me.

Moving on to the last couple games, I want to talk a bit about some of the things that have really popped out at me.  I will be drawing my assessments directly from the Phoenix and San Jose games, because I feel that is a realistic time to give Richards and the team an opportunity to get acquainted and discuss some on ice changes.

First, I really, truly like the current lines.  Nash and Brassard have seemingly found a bit of chemistry, and while Vinny seems to be aging quickly as the season progresses, I find that line to be relevant again (more on a couple of those players later).  Secondary to that, I am a big fan of the Vermette, Kubalik, and Johansen line.  Maybe more for the potential that rests on this line, but I feel like it is very dynamic and can play a number of different styles successfully.

Specifically on Rick Nash, and maybe this deserves an entire post, but I have been seriously satisfied with his on ice production over the last two games.  He has shown a ton of determination, and his legs have been moving a lot more than in the last twenty games or so.  I know I have been hyper critical of his playing this year, but if he continues on the path he’s taken since Richards came aboard, I will be following up with a long post about the necessity to retain him.

Brassard is another player I think has truly benefited from the coaching change.  Obviously the disconnect between him and former head coach Scott Arniel was visible to all following the team, but the constant demotions and line bouncing really seemed to affect Brass.  Since Richards came on and brought him alongside Nash and Prospal, he has seemed to shine, being aggressive at the right times, and finding the back of the net.  If you don’t follow Brassard’s career closely, two of his major criticisms have been his inability to get physical along the boards, and his inability to take the shot in an opportune moment (he’s big on passing).  Both, at least in the last couple games, have become short term solutions to his game.

Quick Notes:

- I am excited for the Gillies acquisition.  It’s going to fill out the fourth line well and from everything I have read, there is upside.  He is a former first rounder with decent hands and a big body.  If he can take the Nikitin approach and fit in with the team, this could be another Howson-esque move that makes you think back and really appreciate it.

- Dane Byers is kind of a bad decision maker.  No reason to make that hit against San Jose, and he’s paying for it with a three game suspension (and surprisingly not more at that).  Laughably enough, with the Gillies acquisition, I can bet Byers wouldn’t be seeing the ice anyways.

- Mason took some serious reps in the practice yesterday.  There seems to be a concentrated effort to get him working on the major faults of his game, and I can’t help but be optimistic about what it may generate in the near future.  With Dekanich playing decently well in Springfield and Sanford remaining solid in Columbus, it will be very interesting to see the goalie battle play out over the next couple weeks

- Can there be enough good things to say right now about Johnny Moore?  He’s a kid who has truly taken the ball and run with it, and I can’t be more excited for him.  I am still optimistic that he can be a top two defensive solution for Columbus in the long run, and hopefully his work this year is the true starting point of that.

- Columbus just keeps showing up.  Attendance was 16,582 (91.4%) on Saturday and 14,119 (77.9%) on Friday.  This for a team who is in last place by eight points.  Still think Columbus can’t hack it as a hockey market? Kudos to those of you who have attended games.

Carry the Flag!

If I Were Scott Howson, I’d Be Asking One Question

Since the termination of Scott Arniel a lot of speculation has gone on regarding the job security of Scott Howson, what trades and re-signing he (or his replacement) should make, and the direction of the team in general moving forward. While I’m here to provide some more speculation and opinion, this post actually spawns from conversations with other Blue Jackets fans following the disappointing loss to the Washington Capitals on New Years Eve. One of the first steps of the Jackets new direction was hiring a coach who fit the direction and style of play that the roster necessitates. I had been leaning towards keeping Arniel for the remainder of the season, mostly because there is not an obvious replacement candidate and teams are unlikely to be willing to part with an assistant coach or AHL coach this time of year. However, this move was not the crux of the new direction. The primary problem I see when analyzing the Blue Jackets roster is players playing above their heads.

Looking up and down the Blue Jackets roster, there are a number of recognizable names. Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger, James Wisniewski and others have all been solid contributors on very successful teams. The problem isn’t in those players, but in the role they have been asked to play on the Blue Jackets. R.J. Umberger was a great third liner in Philadelphia, but is somewhat overmatched as a top six forward. Same goes for Antoine Vermette during his time in Ottawa. James Wisniewski had a couple great seasons as a second pairing defenseman and powerplay specialist, but was exposed defensively this season when asked to play as a top pairing defenseman. Fedor Tyutin was a good 20 minute a night defenseman in New York, but has often looked overmatched as a 24 minute a night player in Columbus.

This analysis begs the question: where do these players fit on a Stanley Cup contender? While the playoffs is the first step for the Blue Jackets, the ultimate goal has to be the Stanley Cup. For too long now the Jackets have approached player acquisition from a perspective of filling the holes on a roster with players, as opposed to finding the right position for each player. That sounds like semantics, but what else can explain the contracts handed out to Kristian Huselius, Mike Commodore and James Wisniewski? In each situation, the Jackets looked at the roster, saw a hole and acquired someone to fill that hole. Further exacerbating the problem, Huselius, Commodore, Wisniewski, Tyutin, Umberger, Vermette, Brassard and Mason were all signed or extended at a salary that fit them somewhere between where they should be playing and where they played on the Blue Jackets. For example, Fedor Tyutin is not overpaid as a top pairing defenseman, but he should be a second pairing defenseman and makes too much money for that position.

Another complex issue facing the Blue Jackets is the “country club” atmosphere that has been referenced by other bloggers, as well as ex-player Anson Carter and current player Vinny Prospal. I think there is really only one solution to solve this problem: trade Rick Nash. This has been an ongoing issue for years. The team has changed presidents, general managers, coaches, players, goaltenders, and still had a relaxed atmosphere. Even worse, this atmosphere existed under  Ken Hitchcock and Scott Arniel, two of the hard-assiest coaches out there. Hitchcock is renowned for it, but Arniel is also a tough customer. Question: has anyone ever seen Arniel smile? Exactly. In my experience, teams take their cues from their best players. Nash has been inconsistently lazy, and has made every single Blue Jackets fan aware of the term “maintenance day.” On the other hand, Rick Nash provides the team with a superstar player and a face for the team. To trade him, someone of similar caliber must come back.

With these thoughts in mind, I ran through the Blue Jackets roster and came up with a proposed lineup for the beginning of the 2012-13 season. The number one question I asked myself regarding each Blue Jacket: “Where does this player fit on a Cup contender?” Without further ado, my dream lineup for the next Blue Jackets:

Bobby Ryan – Jeff Carter – Ryan Johansen
Nail Yakupov – Derick Brassard – Dustin Brown
Matt Calvert – Antoine Vermette – Cam Atkinson
Kyle Brodziak – Mark Letestu – Derek Dorsett
Derek Mackenzie

Ryan Suter – Drew Doughty
John Moore – James Wisniewski
Marc Methot – David Savard
Nick Holden

Josh Harding – Steve Mason

This roster would fit under the salary cap (including raises for Mackenzie, Dorsett and Brodziak, Suter being signed at $7m, Harding being signed at $2.5m). While this is unlikely, this roster would fit the questions asked. Those top six forwards could all be top six players on a Cup contender. Vermette should be a third liner, as Brodziak, Letestu and Dorsett should all be fourth liners. Wisniewski should be a second pair player, as Methot should be a third pairing shutdown player. Mason is a backup goalie. The rest of the lineup is slotting in a position they have previously played and excelled in (with the exception of the rookie Yakupov).

Now the moves to get to this roster:

1) Trade Prospal, Pahlsson, Huselius, Martinek, Sanford and Boll. Move all of them for just draft picks, and fill those roster spots with players from Springfield for the remainder of the year. While none of these players are superstars, there are very few teams out of the playoff race right now, and it is likely this will be a seller’s market at the trade deadline. These picks will be very useful moving forward to replace the prospects and picks needed for the remainder of the moves.

2) Re-sign Dorsett and Mackenzie to one-way contracts. Re-sign Dekanich, Mayorov and Holden to two-way contracts. Dorsett and Mackenzie are solid depth players who could play on a Cup contender and should be kept. With the time Dekanich has missed this year, he should be able to be kept on a two-way deal as Steve Mason insurance. Mayorov should be kept to fight for a third line spot and provide depth in Springfield if he doesn’t beat out Calvert or Atkinson. Holden should be brought back to fight for the seventh defenseman’s spot.

3) Trade Rick Nash, Fedor Tyutin and additional picks and prospects to the Los Angeles Kings for Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown. The key for a major trade is to target the teams that have disappointed. The Kings are the lowest scoring team in the league, and swapping a superstar defenseman for a superstar forward is a step they could take. The Tyutin-Brown swap provides the Kings with a top four defenseman and the Jackets with a top six forward to replace the superstar dealt. Tyutin was a victim of the “where does this player fit on a Cup contender” question. Ideally, he is a second pairing defenseman. However, Wisniewski is also a second pairing defenseman. Taking their contracts and Wisniewski’s injury/suspension filled season into consideration, Tyutin is the much more tradeable player. Additionally, John Moore is an NHL caliber defenseman, looked good playing with Wisniewski, and has significant upside.

4) Trade R.J. Umberger, Grant Clitsome, Nikita Nikitin, one of Goloubef, Weber or Ruth, plus additional draft picks for Bobby Ryan. This deal is more of a stretch than the Doughty deal. However, Anaheim is having a nightmare of a season and has basically put every player on the trade block. Additionally, Anaheim is thin on defense and has three defensemen who are free agents after the season. Furthermore, Ducks GM Bob Murray has said his only untouchable players are Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. This leads me to believe the Ducks want to reload their roster and compete immediately. Trading Ryan for three solid NHL players, a defensive prospect (which they are lacking) and draft picks (I’d be willing to part with any pick other than the 2012 1st, including the 2013 1st) would give them players to compete next season and assets to help them moving forward.

5) Draft Nail Yakupov. This requires the Blue Jackets finish in 30th place this season. They need to finish last. The NHL draft lottery is structured so no team can drop more than one position. A 30th place finish guarantees them either Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko. Both of these players are thought to be absolute franchise caliber players. Both players are thought to be NHL ready for next season. With this roster, they could slot into a scoring role on the second line, no problem.

6) Sign Ryan Suter, Josh Harding and Kyle Brodziak as unrestricted free agents. Suter seems like a reach right now, but with these moves made that looks like an impressive top six forward group, solid depth forwards and defense, and a nice spot alongside Drew Doughty on the top pairing. Of course the Jackets would have to back a truckload of money to his door, but Suter is worth it. Harding is the goaltender I hoped the Jackets would sign last offseason, but he re-signed with Minnesota. Unfortunately, he has had a fantastic season this year and will cost a lot more now. But he is a 27 year old goaltender, has NHL experience, and the ability to be a legitimate starting goaltender. As for Steve Mason, he is young, still has a lot of potential, and with proper sheltering, he should develop into a goaltender worth more than what the Jackets would get if they traded (or waived) him. Kyle Brodziak is a bigger, more talented version of Derek Dorsett. On Minnesota he plays on the third line, but ideally he should be a good fourth liner who can chip in offensively.

Other options: If the Kings will not do the Doughty trade, target Ryan and Cam Fowler for Nash+, and try to trade Tyutin to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Malone. This allows them to keep R.J. Umberger on the third line with Vermette and one of Atkinson/Calvert/Kubalik/Mayorov. If Anaheim won’t do the Bobby Ryan trade, keep Umberger on the second line, and play Yakupov on the top line. If the Jackets can’t sign Suter, then they should target Matt Carle. While not an ideal top pairing defensemen, he can hold the fort until Moore or Savard develop into a partner for Doughty and he has experience playing on the Flyers top pairing with Chris Pronger. If the Jackets can’t sign Harding, then target Brian Elliott, Tomas Vokoun or Al Montoya. If no Brodziak, then they should go after Jay McClement or Dan Paille. Right now I have Calvert and Atkinson listed on the third line, but Mayorov and Kubalik would battle for those spots in training camp and provide forward depth in case of injuries.

I don’t expect to see this lineup for the Blue Jackets next season. However, these are the types of moves that need to be done to accomplish the necessary turnaround. The core of this roster is very different from the core of the current team. Along with a new coach, this would hopefully remove the “country club” atmosphere. The players brought in would be playing their proper roles, and this would allow the rest of the lineup to play their proper roles as well. I expect to see major moves made by Scott Howson (or his replacement), and I only hope they ask “where does this player fit on a Cup contender?” before they make any trade, signing, or re-signing.

The Blue Jackets Offense: What Could Have Been

Like most Blue Jackets fans, I was very excited for this season. It finally looked like Scott Howson had assembled a group of offensive weapons that could score with the top teams in the league. Rick Nash finally had his All Star centre in Jeff Carter. The defense was still a little shallow, and no upgrade in net was brought in, but the common logic was that this team had the capability to outscore teams, and Steve Mason and company only had to give the Blue Jackets a chance to win. Nearing the halfway point of the season, this obviously has not been proven true. The offense sits at 27th place in the NHL, the defense also sits at 27th, and Columbus ranks 29th in goal differential. So what gives? Where did all the supposed offense go?


To figure this out, I went through and looked at player’s career statistics to find the rate at which they have traditionally generated shots, and their career shooting percentage. Then by multiplying these numbers by the minutes they have played in a Blue Jackets uniform this season, we should be able to get a clear picture of how much offense the Blue Jackets should have by this point in the season. This creates a better idea of where they should be than simply looking at how many goals these players have scored in the past. It takes injuries, suspensions and inconsistent minutes into account. What we get is mostly what we would expect. Our best players have been disappointing, and with the exception of a handful of depth players, everyone is scoring below what we should have expected. So lets look through the list and see what players have been disappointments (and by how much), what players have been adequate, and what player has been a pleasant surprise.

Below Average Players
Rick Nash -5 Goals
Projected Goals: 17
Actual Goals: 12

RJ Umberger -5 Goals
Projected Goals: 11

Actual Goals: 6

Antoine Vermette -5 Goals
Projected Goals: 10
Actual Goals: 5

Vinny Prospal -3 Goals
Projected Goals: 10
Actual Goals: 7

Matt Calvert -3 Goals
Projected Goals: 3
Actual Goals: 0

Jeff Carter -2 Goals
Projected Goals: 12
Actual Goals: 10

Players with one goal less than projected: Derick Brassard, Grant Clitsome, James Wisniewski, Sami Pahlsson, Jared Boll, Kristian Huselius, Cody Bass and Dane Byers.

That is a long list of players. The biggest problem is the fifteen goals not scored by Nash, Umberger and Vermette. Those are supposed to be three of the Jackets top six forwards. For them to under-perform to that extent is inexcusable and nearly impossible to compensate for. The inclusion of Prospal and Calvert are probably a little misleading, as Vinny is nearing the end of his career, and three goals below his career rate is reasonable for a 37 year old. Calvert’s career numbers are bumped up by an unsustainable shooting percentage from last season. Most interesting to me was Jeff Carter only being two goals below expectations. While injuries have lowered his minutes played on the season, he is not far off his career pace and given his streakiness, is only one good stretch away from catching up.

Players who have matched their projections: Derek Mackenzie, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin, Marc Methot, Alexandre Giroux and Maksim Mayorov.

This is a much shorter list and filled with players who have played minimal games in the NHL this season and their career, defensemen not counted on for scoring, and Derek Mackenzie. If you’ve been counting, that is now twenty players who are playing at their career rate or worse. Not good.

Players exceeding their projections
Derek Dorsett +4 Goals
Projected Goals: 3
Actual Goals: 7

Players with one goal more than projected: Mark Letestu, Aaron Johnson, Kris Russell and Radek Martinek.

That is an ugly list. Realistically, Derek Dorsett is the only Blue Jackets player who is scoring at a significantly higher rate than he has previously. The rest of that list is three depth defensemen (one who has been dealt) and Mark Letestu.

So what does this tell us? Mostly that this season has been a nightmare and there is reason for hope moving forward. The majority of the players on the Blue Jackets have been having seasons below their career averages, and their most important players have been having terrible years. Shooting percentages have been proven to regress to the mean. Nash, Vermette and Umberger will score at a higher rate moving forward than they have so far in 2011. Only Derek Dorsett is scoring at an unsustainable rate. I’ll take a few less goals from Derek Dorsett moving forward for more goals from Nash, Vermette, Umberger, Prospal and Carter.

The final question: how would career average years have impacted the Blue Jackets season? The answer: significantly. Adding up the expected goals, the Blue Jackets players should have 23 more goals than they have scored this year. That would put them at 116 goals for on the season, good for 9th place in the NHL, jumping up to 8th when going by goals scored per game. Their 29th place goal differential of -35 would improve to -12, tied for 24th with Ottawa. Still disappointing, but a big improvement. Interestingly, these changes would put them very similar to Ottawa, who currently ranks 7th in goals for. They also sit in 6th place in the Eastern Conference with a 20-15-5 record. The going is much tougher in the West, but a 116 goals scored and 135 goals allowed should equate to about 17 wins. Adding an extra 14 points to the Blue Jackets record jumps them past Anaheim and Edmonton and would put them 6 points back of the Kings for the final playoff spot, with two games in hand.

So who takes the blame for these problems? I don’t blame Scott Howson, as the team he put together on paper should have a top ten offense. A lot of blame has been heaped on Scott Arniel lately, but he can’t help Rick Nash bury his chances. Not to say Arniel doesn’t deserve his share of the blame, but at what point should we be looking to the players to take responsibility for their inability to finish? To further aid this analysis, I used every player’s career shooting percentage, and multiplied it by this seasons shot rate (see note). While Scott Arniel has juggled lines seemingly at random, the majority of the Blue Jackets players are getting shots on net at a higher rate than they have over the course of their careers. Had the Blue Jackets players had career average shooting percentages with the number of shots they have had this season, they would have scored 130 goals on the season, putting them in second place in total goals scored and goals per game. A +2 goal differential would place them 11th in the NHL, and 6th in the conference. Yes, Steve Mason has been bad this year. Scott Arniel has not shown to be a good NHL coach. Scott Howson has not done much to address much that has gone on this season. However, if the Blue Jackets players merely scored at a career average percentage, they would be a playoff team.

Note: This is somewhat disingenuous, as the Blue Jackets have taken a lot of shots this season, and part of this is because they have had trouble scoring. Not scoring on a shot creates rebound shots. Not scoring on the powerplay creates a longer powerplay, which creates more shots. Further, the analysis I did before Christmas showed that for a significant portion of the game the Jackets were getting a lot of shots that were not scoring chances (the old “get pucks to the net” approach), which inflates shot totals and decreases shooting percentages.

Game Recap: Columbus vs Toronto 11/3

This should be interesting.. I’m going to go ahead and scratch the typical intro. Let’s get right into it:

Mason

The hot topic of fans last night I am sure.  Mason had an underwhelming night from the start, giving up four goals before being yanked early in the second period.  Per usual, let’s run through the goals:

1 – Joey Crabb receives a pass by Lupul and is all alone in the slot. Mason cuts across and tries to cut the angle and gets beat glove side just under the cross bar. Fault Defense, and here’s why:


Wisniewski makes a stretch pass from the goal line that Nash tips at the blue line.  It lands on a Toronto stick and the play is made to Lupul who gains the offensive zone as seen in the following picture. Four Blue Jackets players converge on him including Nash and MacKenzie. Nash takes the puck carrier while MacKenzie takes the middle of the ice near the blueline.


The first Toronto player drives hard to the net forcing the far side defenseman to play low, leaving the middle of the ice open for the trailing forward, in this case Joey Crabb.

While MacKenzie continues to stand in the middle of the ice doing nothing, the pass is made to a wide open Crabb who walks in unscathed while Prospal chases him from behind.

In case you didn’t watch the entire game, Mason got his revenge shortly thereafter on Crabb with an absolutely sparkling save when once again the defense failed to contain the young forward.  Here’s the video in case you want it for your highlight reel..

2 – MacArthur comes across the line with speed and takes a wrist shot from a weak angle, and it beats Mason far side in between the leg pad and blocker. Fault Mason — No need for images, this one was entirely on Mason.


3 – Mason screened by Kessel as well as another Leafs player and a Columbus defender, and Liles walks in uncontested from the point and fires a shot through traffic.  The puck rattles off Mason and goes in. Fault a combination of defense allowing the screen and Liles to walk in, and Mason for not being able to close the door even though he appeared to have decent positioning and an eye on the puck.


4 – After a pass by MacKenzie sends Toronto on a 2 on 1 thanks to a pinching Wisniewski, Clarke MacArthur unloads a slap shot from just beyond the faceoff dot that beats Mason far side low. In any given game I’d like to see Mason make this save more often than not, but it was an excellent shot far post low on the rush. It’s a tough save to make for any goaltender.  With this noted, I am going to fault Arniel here as well on account of not pulling Mason after the third goal.  A bad coaching gaff in my opinion.


Following this absolute collapse of defensive structure, York comes in and gets some excellent defense for the remainder of the game, part I assume based on this argument that the Jackets don’t have confidence in Mason and play poorly in front of him on account of it (I don’t buy it), and part because I would assume Wilson dialed back his offense with the four goal lead.  I would say in the rest of the game, York might have made two relatively difficult saves, most notably a kick save on Grabovski that appeared to be going wide anyways.

Here’s where I am going to be unpopular.  The expectations by both the team and the fans in regards to Mason are absolutely silly.  If it is the case that they expect him to stand on his head game after game or else they simply can’t function as a team in front of him, I think it’s completely unreasonable.  He is currently five years younger than the league average for goaltenders and has plenty of room to mature into a top tier goaltender, but he is bound to have off games.  With that said, these early game defensive breakdowns that force him to make extremely tough saves on uncontested opponents has to stop.  Not only does this suck his confidence out of the game, but it also kills a lot of the offensive flow that was growing for the Jackets.

In this case, the first shot he was faced was six minutes into the game and it was easily one of Toronto’s best opportunities of the game.  There are stats going around regarding Mason’s early game performances, but what is a goaltender supposed to do when he stands cold for the first quarter of a period without a shot and is then forced to make a top 10 save?  I do see lots of issue in what followed by Mason, but the team has to get better in front of him, or any goalie that plays in net for the Jackets moving forward.

The Offense

I don’t know that I have enough bad things to say about what I watched last night, but I am not sure if it is anything we have not seen before.  Columbus controlled play for long stretches of the game in the offensive zone, and managed to put a whopping 39 shots on goal.  Unfortunately, their scoring chances (or at least scoring shots that included shots that actually hit the net) were probably in the single digits.  Not only did they hammer the glass behind the net with bad shots, but they also managed to put a large portion of their better scoring opportunities directly into Scrivens chest.  In fact, and I am sure this comment will get overused like crazy in recaps, I was shocked that his logo didn’t wear out and fall off by the end of the game.

All of these factors make shots on goal a terrible stat to track in terms of being a competitive hockey team.  There are a few very important factors in a successful offense, and taking ‘good’ shots is definitely one of them.  In that notion, the Jackets were severely lacking in that department, and two of the more notable opportunities that should have been goals included Antoine Vermette standing alone with the puck only to shoot it high and wide, as well as MacKenzie receiving a tremendous pass from behind the net only to shoot it directly into Scriven’s chest.  For the record, the ENTIRE far side of the net was wide open.

I could continue bashing the poor percentage shots they were taking, but it won’t really be all that constructive.  Arniel didn’t have answers when the same mediocre shots were taken against Buffalo, and now that it is officially a trend in the Blue Jackets game, it might be something worth looking at.  Going around the league night after night watching replays I see crisp passing and one timers leading to goals over and over and over again, yet for some reason those types of scoring chances aren’t created in Columbus.  Players opt to stop the puck on the pass before taking the shot, giving both the opposing defense and goaltender time to get better position.  It is a trend that will need to be resolved moving forward if they want to shout chili in Nationwide more than a few times this year.

The one clear bright spot last night was the Calvert – Vermette – Johansen line.  Sustained pressure and winning puck battles, creating scoring chances including the games only goal by Johansen, and simply looking relevant every time they stepped on the ice was really a treat to see.  If there was a positive that could be taken from this loss, I think it rests solely with this line.

Moving Forward

I am not going to touch the defensive because I covered it in depth on the Crabb goal replay, although I could go on and on about my dislike of Aaron Johnson, Tyutin making very “Tyutin-y” plays, and Wizniewski being incapable of finding the net from the point.  Once the Leafs got their four goal cushion it was pretty obvious that Wilson dialed back his offense and let Columbus take bad shots to close out the game.

If the Jackets want to be even remotely competitive this year they are going to need to find a way to become more competitive in every aspect of their game.  If they want a confident goaltender they are going to need to play better in front of him, and if they want to win games they are going to need to start scoring goals.  It’s pretty simple math when push comes to shove.  More goals for, fewer scoring chances against.

Carry the Flag.

Recap :: Columbus vs. Anaheim 10/30

It’s such an awkward thing as a fan trying to sound even remotely logical through times like this.  Saturday around 10 PM I was a number of adult beverages into a pretty mediocre effort against Chicago dissecting the team, potential firings, potential signings, potential trades… Anything that could have built some semblance of success into a year gone wrong.

Yet just like that, the fans are treated to an all around effort this evening, leading to the second win of the season.  Admittedly I avoided the drive, citing sobriety and time as two things I was not willing to waste on another loss, and I am happy to report that I not only ate my words, but felt legitimately guilty about not making the trip.  It revitalized me as a fan, and hopefully was a turning point for a number of reasons.

To the game, the first player I would like to acknowledge is Steve Mason.  Absolutely phenomenal saves lead him to his second win of the year, and only gave up a goal to Bobby Ryan alone breaking in, getting absolutely sniped on the far post.  He made a number of stellar saves, none more tremendous than a double pad/kick save on Corey Perry.  I have read over and over again that Mason is not worthy of a starting position and that he owes the team a stolen game here and there.  Well, for those crooning over such an effort, they got it tonight.  Admittedly the Jackets managed three goals (Chilllaaaaaaay!) but it was Mason’s stellar saves that kept the lead in tact.

I like following up the goaltenders efforts with the defensive efforts of the team, as I believe for the most part one relies on the other, and I have been exceptionally harsh towards the Blue Jackets defense of late.  Tonight, short of one major defensive lapse by Aaron Johnson, they were quite solid.  Where the play of Johnson lacked, others most certainly stepped up, notably the Wisniewski/Tyutin pairing, and a significant improvement from young John Moore, who seemed to really find his stride last night.  Smart decisions and quality positioning made him a real asset during his time on ice, along with one play where he blew a tire behind the net slamming hard into the boards, yet still managed to retain possession and make a decent play.

I want to again highlight the turnaround I have seen from Fedor Tyutin.  I heavily criticized the extension he received late in the off-season.  I had hoped that he would be evaluated for the first few months of the season before receiving an extension offer, as I feel like his relevance to the team would be substantially changed with the Wisniewski signing.  Last night he showed me that he can be every bit of a number two defensemen, playing strong physical hockey and finding the back of the net through traffic (although he still really needs to learn to keep that point shot down).  If he can continue to grow as a defender the way he has in the last few games with his partner Wiz, I will certainly agree that he is worth the pricetag.

Offensively, Rick Nash finally opted to show up for a game, and it could not have come at a better time.  Significant in his first few shifts including backchecking, breaking up plays defensively, and generating scoring opportunities offensively, Nash was rewarded with a great screen by Umberger on the powerplay and his fifth goal of the year through RJs screen.  Nash has been another player who I have been actively discussing on the blog as one who is woefully below his potential on the ice right now, but it is my hope that his efforts last night reflect a new page in the season.  After the game you could tell he was playing for the respect of the coach and the franchise, noting that it was a game they had to win, and suggesting that they are not even remotely satisfied with it being only their second win in eleven games.

Secondary to Nash, I felt that a number of the Jackets looking to move past their own personal slumps had reasonably solid games, although I was disappointed that Vermette was unable to cash in on his first goal of the season.  I was fairly certain it was going to be his night, but maybe there are better things in store for him.  I still believe that Giroux and Bass are in over their heads and that Pahlsson has regressed to nothing more than a fourth line center, however the play of Johansen was enough for me to get fully on board with his retention now that he is on the cusp of his 10 games, and leads me to believe that when Carter and Huselius get back, this team will be a very serious, very complete forward roster.

More great information relayed post game suggested that a player generated meeting was held prior to the team meeting yesterday in order to get themselves prepared to (as Scott Howson would put it) stand and fight.  If this is any indication of a surfacing of the heart that has been so deeply missed by this club, they have rejuvenated my interest in both attending games and taking the team seriously as a competent hockey team.  They have a significant amount of talent spread throughout the roster and when utilized properly are well within the definition of playoff capable.  Realistically it is a tremendous mountain they will have to climb to find themselves playoff relevant, but should they manage a spot in the post-season this year, it could be the best story Ohio hockey has to offer for quite some time.

Carry the Flag!

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Detroit 10/25

So much to cover.  So much positive tonight.  Here’s a quick few points to get us started, but don’t be surprised if a number of these topics turn into extended discussions over the next day or two.

- Can you say depth scoring?
- Johansen scores his first NHL goal
- John Moore scores his first NHL goal
- The fans heart Steve Mason…. …for now
- Wizmas was Wiztasticly Wizerrifc.

Now to go into a bit of depth about the game, I will say all the build up with #Wizmas and GM Scott Howson’s tremendous blog got my excitement and attention.  For a guy driving 90 miles to watch an 0-7-1team, I was oddly pumped up and for good measure.  Why? Because this is NOT an 0-7-1 caliber hockey club.  Pre game Chipotle, and in the seats with a good ten minutes to spare, it was time to turn on the hockey banter and prep for the game to begin.

There were undoubtedly thousands of Red Wings fans in attendance, as noted by the roar they gave after Detroit managed to tie the game at one, but again I am getting ahead of myself.  From the opening draw it was pretty clear the Jackets were excited to play, thanks in part to a solid crowd and the return of off-season acquisition James Wisniewski, and they were rewarded early with Umberger FINALLY burying his first goal of the year.  The relief was building wide, but no one showed more excitement and emotion on the play than RJ, hollering and “woo”ing all the way to the bench.

The other big story was Steve Mason.  Injured on the goal scored by Detroit, he left the ice for a brief period to be examined, yet returned to action within a few shifts.  This IS resilience and passion for the game, and his efforts throughout the game were tremendous, making quality saves and avoiding more than only the occasional rebound.  I would certainly argue that his play was elevated from other games this season, but so too was the play of his defensive core.  Limited cross crease passing and very few open opportunities for Detroit in the slot gave him the confidence to step up to the shooter and trust his teammates to clear the garbage in front.

Defensively, as noted, Columbus was sound.  I did have a few choice words for Johnson (for only just being Johnson) but my frustrations were limited to only a few plays.  Beyond that, the defensemen played their positions, stymied second chance efforts, and did a tremendous job keeping Detroit to the exterior of the zone, taking weaker shots on Mason.  The story of the the night was obviously Wisniewski, but a hat tip to Clitsome for three assists and John Moore for scoring his first ever NHL goal are an absolute must.  I plan to discuss what Wiz brings to the team, and how much his presence on the ice alone makes them a better team, but I’m going to break it down into another post, as it may get a bit lengthy.  In short, he is worth his paycheck.  In a big way.

Offensively, the Jackets FINALLY got their secondary scoring, and on a night when the top line simply did not find the net (although what a bad break for Brassard, hitting the post on that rebound!!).  Umberger, Johansen, and even Vermette were all firing on net and producing great opportunities, along with a stretch pass to Vermette who made a tremendous play on Conklin but couldn’t find the back of the net.  I was slightly underwhelmed again by the efforts of Rick Nash, but Prospal and Brassard were flying around the ice, causing havoc and causing turnovers.  I don’t know where it came from, but this mean streak that Brassard has acquired between getting dumped to the fourth line out of camp and now has really made him a strong asset for the Jackets.  It’s been fun to watch, and will make Carter’s return VERY interesting in terms of line juggling.

Finally, the atmosphere.  It was tremendous, especially during the high energy, long possession efforts by the Jackets.  It seemed like every time they generated a scoring chance and regained possession of the puck in the offensive zone, the crowd roared with satisfaction, not to mention during the final two minutes as they meticulously killed off a penalty and finished the game strong.  The crowd was 100% into the game, and the level of passion shown by thousands of die hard Blue Jackets fans certainly made an impression on me.

Three more games on the schedule this week.  I am sure there will be lots to share, but for now, I’ll raise my glass to the fine effort shown by the Jackets tonight, and willingly admit that the Yuengling tastes twice as sweet.

Carry the Flag!

Glaring Mistakes :: Columbus vs Detroit Recap

This recap is going to focus on a couple of things (I could write for hours on my frustration of an 0-6-1 start, but I don’t think it’s all that constructive at this point), and I hope it reaches a number of the fans commenting on the #CBJ twitter feed as well as the Puck-Rakers piece that went up after the game.  While I find that many focus on the more obvious positions (aka Mason) it seems that glaring mistakes made which lead to sticky situations get completely ignored, so I will be exposing a couple of mistakes that cost them the game, and then reviewing Mason’s game to see which of them can really be directly his fault.

The Mistakes

To begin, Columbus needs some defense, and smarter passing/clearing in the defensive zone.  Of the many glaring mistakes made by the Blue Jackets last night, I have selected a few that I can share which made all the difference in the hockey game.

Mistake 1 :: Pahlsson grabs the puck behind the net and gets prepared to take a hit by a Detroit player. Instead of trapping the puck or playing it up the boards, he sends a soft fluttery pass through the middle of the ice that lands in the middle of the PK box, leaving Franzen to take the uncontested shot on Mason which becomes the first goal.  Fault Pahlsson (although kudos to Umberger for taking an extremely lazy, extremely bad penalty on Datsyuk to give Detroit the powerplay).  No bad pass, no easy shot, no goal.

Mistake 2 :: Johnson grabs the puck in front of the Blue Jackets net after a few decent saves by Mason, and rather than dumping it to the neutral zone or throwing it into the corner, he shovels it forward in an almost pass-like motion, directly onto the stick of Datsyuk, who scores easily.  Fault Johnson (and whoever should have been covering Datsyuk) for not being able to get the puck into a low scoring area. No bad pass, no easy shot, no goal.


Mistake 3 :: Grant Clitsome coughs the puck up late in the game, without a goalie to defend them, and Detroit scores easily.  I don’t even see the point of analyzing this.  Fault Clitsome.  No bad turnover, no easy shot, no goal.

As you can see, while the scapegoat style blame fest falls on Mason, it is teammate breakdowns which lead to three of the goals, and a really fortunate series of deflected pucks that lead to another.  Without these glaring mistakes, Mason would be hanging on to a one goal lead into the waning seconds of the third period.  But the easy thing to do is blame Mason (as of course the scoresheet tells the best tale) so let’s review..

Mason

He was tremendous on a number of occasions.  The two most notable saves of the game were on Helm on the breakaway (shorthanded for Detroit, as the CBJ defense watched on) and a ridiculous glove save on Franzen from slightly further out than where he scored his first goal of the game. He was not a Hall of Fame candidate last night, though, letting in four goals, so here’s the breakdown on them:

Goal 1 :: Franzen picks up the puck in the slot thanks to Pahlsson taking the puck behind the net and listlessly throwing it out in front on the penalty kill, and gets an uncontested shot on Mason from about 8 feet out, going far post.  For those who don’t know, Franzen is a tremendously talented shooter who has a knack for finding the back of the net.  He is a goal scorer who scored.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 2 :: Franzen attempts to make a pass across the crease during the powerplay.  Mason begins to cross with the puck when it is blocked by a Columbus defensemen’s stick and returned to Franzen’s stick.  He then makes ANOTHER attempt to pass it across the crease, and the puck deflects off of Johnson’s stick, off Mason’s pad (he scrambled to get back after the first pass was deflected) but it finds the back of the net.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 3 :: Two saves in tight had Mason out of the crease to the left of the net, hunting for the rebound to cover.  Johnson plays the puck directly onto the stick of Pavel Datsyuk (yes, THAT Pavel Datsyuk) and he buries into the empty net.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 4 :: Once again on the powerplay, Mason is fighting to get an eye on the puck as he is blocked by a Detroit forward and Marc Methot.  The Detroit winger with the puck fakes the shot (which causes Mason to go into a save position, while the puck is passed to Lidstrom at the point who bombs one far side shelf.  I’m not going to say give Mason a break on this one, as he made the mistake of reading the fake as a shot, but I can certainly understand why he did.  So alas, one goal out of four is questionably his fault.

Here’s the kicker.  For those who read this and actually disagree with me, feel free to describe each play in the comments section.  Show me how it is Mason’s fault on any of the first three goals, and maybe I can be persuaded.  Until then, it is defense, NOT goaltending, that can fix this team in terms of goals against.  While I do not think Mason has been a Hall of Fame level goaltender, the team needs to make his job easier, especially on the third, and sometimes fourth shot in a row that finally end up making it into the back of the net.

The Rest of the Team


I don’t really feel the need to make this into a book so I’ll be brief with the rest of the team.  I thought Giroux had another solid game and is fitting in nicely with the Jackets lower lines.  Were it my choice, I’d drop MacKenzie and play Giroux in his role.

A prime example of why MacKenzie doesn’t belong in the NHL came when a fantastic pass from the corner landed on DMac’s stick in front of Howard, who was slightly out of position.  Rather than burying the puck far side post (not unlike Franzen) he panicked, and shoveled a shot directly into his pads.  That might have been one of the biggest game changers right there, and was easily Columbus’ best scoring chance of the night.

Brassard was moving around the ice with great effort for the second game in a row, and scored his second in as many games.  I think it’s great to see him get success as he is clearly one of the hardest working players right now.

Vermette and Umberger are still irrelevant.  Without question, having these two guys find success is absolutely crucial for the team to start winning, so whatever it takes, these two “team leaders” need to pull their heads out of their.. uhh.. off-season and get with the program.  Hard work and effort will reward.  Maybe they can sit down with Brassard to get some knowledge dropped on them.

Does Rick Nash still score goals? Does Rick Nash backcheck? Does Rick Nash care?

I think Vinny P was a fire ball out there, which is great after his scathing comments regarding the team effort on the ice.  As much as I do enjoy watching him work, I think it’s concerning that he is one of their best players right now, and he was brought in to be a depth forward that benefited from Nash and Carter taking the spotlight.  I also saw him getting frustrated by terrible low percentage shots, and I love it. I hope he had a few choice words for the shooters once they reached the bench.

I am not touching the defense.  There’s just too much wrong right now.  Methot it a tank for finishing the game, and Russell’s flip out after the brutal call on him for checking Bertuzzi late in the game was fun to watch.  The rest of the defense are not even worth noting, as I am sure their names have already been mentioned a couple times in this blog.

Ottawa

While I am not a terribly patient guy, I will lose all of it if the team can’t win their first game tonight against Ottawa.  Maybe a part of it is pride, or just exhaustion from what we have been forced to watch, but I need something to give the fans hope that there could still be a season in Columbus worth watching.

I will be watching for the Vermette/Umberger tandem to start being relevant.  I will look to the “captain” to backcheck further than his blueline, and I am going to hold my breath while they start the game hoping to see some level of compete from the Jackets.  I may not need 55 wins a year to be a fan, but I most certainly need some sign that the compete level, the interest level, the heart, is there.

Carry the Flag.