I had the majority of a post put together for an offseason game plan post featuring all the moves I wanted to see the Jackets make. I’d figured out reasonable cap hits for the guys I wanted to be signed, figured out a nice trade or two that made sense, and wrote a nice long paragraph about how no one in their right mind would deal anything of value for RJ Umberger. Then it all got blown to hell. It came out that Jason Spezza had Columbus on his no trade list (I had him as a trade target), Nikita Nikitin was dealt to the Oilers, and Umberger was somehow traded for Scott Hartnell. In my opinion, those moves took care of a lot of what the Jackets needed to do this offseason. So instead of a post detailing everything I wanted to see, I figured I’d hit everything that has happened so far, and what I want to see happen the rest of the offseason. Continue reading…
Unlike last year, we had a consensus winner for the Masterton this time around. A reminder (as this one may be a bit more obscure), the Masterton goes out to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey. Last year the award was taken home by Vinny Prospal, so we’ll obviously have a new player take home this hardware. The champion is something of a no brainer, but the tUB team was all over the map in the second and third place votes. Continue on to find out the winner…. Continue reading…
I’m going to make this one quick. One: I’m a little drunk. Two: I don’t have too much to say about that game. I felt the Jackets were the better team, and controlled the play. But they didn’t do a good enough job forcing things offensively, settling too often for outside shots. More importantly, they allowed too many weak goals. I really dislike “blaming” the goalie, but this is the NHL. If the puck hits you, stop it. Really, that is all it takes to not drive me crazy. All three of those pucks were stoppable.
Third Star: Ryan Callahan
No points. No shots. But hey, he blocked some shots and hit some people. Know what that tells me? It tells me the Lightning barely touched the puck while Cally was on the ice. The advanced stats back this up, as he had 83.3% offensive zone starts and only 43% corsi. Easy zone starts, negative results. Congrats. Not giving this spot to Boone Jenner was a joke. A goal, an assist, hits, shots, dominance both in play and physically. Boone deserved better. Lets hope he scores a couple tomorrow and knocks Rick Na$h off the top spot of the CBJ rookie goal scoring leaderboard.
A valiant effort, but a disappointing outcome as the Jackets fall 2-1 in regulation to the Penguins. The Jackets controlled the play for most of the game, but couldn’t buy a goal until it was too late. Strange flow to the game tonight, as the first and second periods were riddled with penalties and powerplays, but no goals. The third was a barnburner, with the two teams combining for a whopping 28 shots on goal (and only one powerplay). The bad news is a regulation loss. The good news, is the Maple Leafs also lost in regulation. This still leaves the Blue Jackets in the drivers seat in terms of making the playoffs. Four teams are still tied at 80 points. The Jackets still hold the regulation wins tiebreaker over Washington, Detroit and Toronto. Columbus no longer has a game in hand on anyone, but they do still have on over the Leafs. So it’s on the Jackets players now. The playoffs are in their hands. If they equal or better the teams they are battling, they make the playoffs. If two of those three teams outplay them, then the CBJ didn’t deserve to make the playoffs anyway.
We all knew coming into this game how important tonight’s match up were for the CBJ playoff hopes. Obviously, anything less than 2 points would have been unacceptable and even though the Jackets have had the Red Wings’ number in recent years, they’re never a team to take lightly, especially with young talent like Nyquist and Tatar stepping up in times of veteran absences due to injury. Be it team proximity, old Central division rivalry or just two teams playing for their playoff lives, those in attendance at Nationwide Arena were treated to another great game that gave the home fans a lot to be happy about. Tonight’s 3 stars include:
3rd Star: Curtis McElhinney
While I’m not goalie expert, I can only imagine being a backup to someone like Bobrovsky who would sooner play a game without pads on than miss out on ice time has got to be incredibly difficult. Based on his post-game interviews it sounds like McElhinney had all expectations that he’d start tonight only to find out after warmups that Sergei would be in net. In addition to the practice and physical preparation that goes into being an NHL net minder, the mental prep/routine for a day where you start is well documented and many goalies don’t do well with interruptions to this routine. Curtis assumed his position on the bench for the 1st period and I can only presume he was disappointed. Imagine getting the tap at 1st intermission to be told you after all are going in. Curtis came in and while he allowed some pretty juicy rebounds early, he found his rhythm after a bit and gave the team a chance to win. Admirable performance by McElhinney tonight against a tough team in what’s arguably the most important game to date. This is a star well-earned.
The Olympic break is just that. A nice little break to take stock of the season so far. Looking back so far over the season, there are really two Blue Jackets squads. There is the injury riddled, under-performing bunch from the start of the year. Then there is the top ten team from the last couple months. Is any of this really that surprising though? We knew Nathan Horton would be out to start the year. We knew Sergei Bobrovsky would regress. We knew this was one of the youngest rosters in the league, one that had barely played together over the last couple of years. That has all the makings of a slow start.
However, the first few months of the year probably went worse than would be expected. Just check out the Jackets’ goal differential from the first few months (where they played like a borderline playoff team, with only a -2 goal differential through December 22nd), to now, where they have played like a legit playoff team (currently +9, good for 10th in the NHL). So injuries plus weak goaltending provides results worse than should be expected. That’s all the makings for a turnaround. Aka the last two months are not a fluke.
So where do we go from here? I’ve got two views of it. The first, to follow in this post, is the small picture. It’s the trade deadline and this current offseason. You can’t fully discuss one without talking about the other. Player re-signings, rentals, prospects, draft picks; they are all just so intertwined, it makes sense to discuss both. The other view is the big picture, coming later this week. It’s based around a not-so-simple question: who do the Blue Jackets want to be?
With that being said, let’s look back to the current roster. Per CapGeek , the Jackets are currently sitting on around $2.5m in cap space, although they will have about $4m by the deadline. That means they can add up to that much in salary without sending any out. Basically, unless the Jackets are targeting one of a handful of premium rentals, they don’t need to move out anyone of significance. This picture gets even rosier this offseason. The team will have about $22m in cap space for next year, with ten forwards, four defensemen, one goalie signed. That is a lot of room to work with, and considering the young age of the roster, GM Jarmo Kekelainen and President John Davidson can take this team in just about any direction they want. I’m not Jarmo or JD, but here is the direction I would like to see them take, broken down by player status.
So the Blue Jackets have lost three games in a row now. But these weren’t your standard Blue Jackets losses. These weren’t cataclysmic events of magnificent ineptitude, despite what Twitter would have you believe. All three were just hockey games. Against Buffalo, they pretty much controlled the play and lost the goaltending battle something fierce. That happens. The Carolina game was a dud, a game where pucks were bobbled, the PP differences helped swing the game, and nothing else seemed to go right. It only came across as disappointing because they jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Against the Sens, the Jackets had the slight edge in controlling the play (well in terms of shots, it was basically a dead heat in shot attempts), they just couldn’t pull it off. A couple of pucks hopped over a sticks, a couple whiffs, a couple of good bounces for the opposition. These games happen. They happen to every team. This is a good team now. They legitimately won eight games in a row. They now lost three straight games. If they win four, lose one, win two, lose one, win two more and then lose another one, they would still be 8-3 in their last 11 games. But I think the perception would be much different.
My point here is that this is NOT something to be too worried about. This isn’t a total collapse. No reason to hit the panic button. The very best NHL teams lose 20 to 30 games per year. They rarely crap the bed, but they lose games where their goalie just doesn’t have it, or the opposing goalie is on fire, or they don’t get the bounces, or the opponent gets the bounces, or its the second night of a back-to-back, and third game in four nights. These last three losses suck, as it hurts them in the standings and takes a little wind from their sails. But those games were “good team losses”. They were the kinds of games good teams lose, which is good in a strange kind of way.
3rd Star: Cam Atkinson
Cam had good boxcare numbers against the Sens. Goal, assist, three shots, four blocked shots. Sounds like a solid game. Problem is the offensive production came on the powerplay. At even strength Cam was buried in the Jackets end, to the tune of a lowly 42.9% corsi. Considering Cam’s offensive role, the four blocked shots should have been a dead giveaway. He was 50% on offensive zone starts, so he wasn’t buried that way, nor was he tasked with tough matchups, as he played most of his time against Eric Gryba, Coling Greening, Zack Smith, Marc Methot, and Chris Neil. Side note: I really want to see Cam fight. This only comes up now, as seeing him jostle with Nate Gerbe against Carolina got the thought in my head, and Cory Conacher causing ruckus last night kept it there.
You can’t support the Blue Jackets and not be ecstatic with tonight’s game. The Jackets were right there even strength with the Coyotes, were the better team on the powerplay, the better team on the penalty kill, and got the better goaltending. Don’t sleep on Phoenix either, as they are currently a playoff team in the tough Western Conference, and their 49 points would be second in the Metro division. Of course, I’ve buried the lede here, as Nathan Horton made his Blue Jackets debut. That went pretty well.
3rd Star: RJ Umberger
I have no issues with his placement here, even though he had a solid, if unspectacular game (outside of his goal of course). I tend to think of Umberger’s placement here as a vote for his entire line, which just continues to click. Foligno and Johansen were just as great as Umberger was last night, and while I’ve been hoping to see Horton take Umby’s spot on this line upon his return, RJ seems to be doing everything he can to hold onto it. He’s up to 11 goals on the year now, which puts him on pace for a very solid 22 goal, 46 point season. Continue reading…
Another game dominated by the Blue Jackets at even strength where they leave empty-handed. Fun fact: the Avalanche went 3 for 3 on the powerplay. And I’m not talking about powerplay opportunities, but powerplay shots. They scored on every single powerplay shot. Not good. But hey, five on five the Jackets absolutely crushed the Avs. The best measure of who is controlling play is 5v5 close, whether you use Fenwick (69.8%), or Corsi (62.7%) or Shots For percentage (66.7%), the Jackets absolutely destroyed Colorado. But terrible goaltending and special teams can put that all to bed easily.
3rd Star: Semyon Varlamov
Varlamov is probably a little low here. He should probably the first star, all things considered. Without his contributions this game would have been a Jackets win. I understand it though, as he did give up three goals, but when a team gets so thoroughly dominated at even strength, how do you give top billing to a player who contributed to said domination (in a negative way of course). I dunno either. Anyway, yeah, Varlamov is good and probably should have been the top star.
Balls. Another recap I’m scheduled for, another crapping of the bed. Well not a complete bed crapping, as the first two periods were solid. The Jackets looked like they were going to come away with a nice little victory over their former netminder. To be fair, Mason really looked like vintage Columbus Steve Mason on all four of the goals, as each goal either just beat Mason clean or went right through him. But come onnnnnnnnnnnnn. Four softies from Mase and they STILL can’t beat the Flyers. Also not good: after a bajillion games of never losing when taking a lead into the third period, the Jackets have now lost the last two games they have led entering the final frame. Not good.
3rd Star: Nick Foligno
Sure, he scored. But Jack Johnson did most of the work on it, and the shot baaaaarely beat Mason and barely crossed the line. That was also his only shot attempt of the night. He was also out there doing some fine coasting, terrible forechecking, and lackadaisical backchecking on two of the Flyers goals. On each goal he had a clean shot to either hit or knock the puck away from a Flyers player and just missed, with Philly potting one second later each time. But hey, he had four hits, so good work, good effort.