Posts tagged Jakub Voracek

Stars of the Night & Game in One Picture: CBJ @ Philly

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.

Continue reading Stars of the Night & Game in One Picture: CBJ @ Philly

Free Agent Wish List: Brad Richards

Another potential offering I am going to try and take advantage is to throw around exactly how a certain pending free agent would look playing with the Jackets, and how much the team stands to gain by adding him.  This specific post will take a look at a player that almost came to Columbus during his tenure with the Lightning, only to be outbid by the Dallas Stars.

Currently playing out the final year of a 5 year contract paying him 7,800,000 per year in Dallas, Richards was the talk of the trade deadline, being mostly considered the most valuable asset potentially on the block. Certainly if he does not sign before the free agency period begins, he will be one of the best centers available, and more than certainly, he would be a tremendous addition to the Jackets roster.  I won’t delve too deeply into contract numbers, but at 30, I am sure a contract in the realm of 7,500,000 for around 4-6 years could come close to doing the trick. Slightly lower than Nash, yet a great pay day. His current stats over the last three years along with career numbers are the following;

Now, to the perks of him playing in Columbus:

1 – Bringing him aboard makes Rick Nash instantly better because Richards is a secondary threat, but not a difference between a top tier player and a second tier player as it stands right now with Brassard and Voracek on the ice.  More like a 1a and 1b forward, they have the freedom to open up the ice for one another and with Richards being a fantastic passer, will provide Nash the space to be, well, Nash.  I am not suggesting that Nash cannot do it on his own at the moment, but I do think he finds himself playing to the level of his linemates sometimes, and a guy like Richards will keep him at the elite level that makes him so immensely powerful on and off the puck.

2 – This would likely generate a 1-2 punch that would rival all others in the league.  When you think about the Sedin twins in Vancouver, or the Getzlaf-Perry group in Anaheim, you immediately think about the success they generate because of being a top tier pairing.  Rarely do you consider who rounds out the three man line, which leads me to believe that a guy like Voracek could have a sneaky good year while becoming a top tier winger at his own pace.

3 – The powerplay becomes immediately better.  His role appears to remain consistent with the rest of his game, providing a substantial number of powerplay assists in each of his last three seasons, and again becomes a filler to a substantial gap in the current Jackets lineup

4 – Brass and Vermette drop a tier, heading down to the second and third lines respectively.  While this is not meant to be a personal shot at either of them, it puts them in a fantastic position to succeed against players weaker than they are currently used to playing against.  It also takes some ice time away from Vermette at even strength, but keeps him fresh as a top line penalty killer, something he is well versed in during his days in Ottawa.  Something about an Umberger – Brassard – Calvert second line gets me pretty excited for the future scoring potential of the Jackets.

5 – It brings in a much MUCH needed star beyond Rick Nash.  Sure, the Jackets have loads of character and a number of players that fans cannot help but love, but they truly need another player with the star power (or at least close to the same amount) similar to Nash.  Bringing in Richards creates a certain level of depth that is sorely missed in Columbus, and something that could see a substantial increase in ticket sales when management shows that kind of buy in on the long term success of the team.

These are just a handful of the potentially beneficial opportunities that would arise with a Richards signing. Would you all be happy with that kind of pickup in Columbus without dealing major components of the Jackets potential future?

Carry the Flag!

Matt Calvert

There is no question in my mind that Matt Calvert is a major bright spot on the Columbus roster of late, and could easily be considered the top prospect that has brought the most upside to the main club this year.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to believe anyone who claimed that the 127th pick in the 2008 draft would make such a substantial difference with the big club next year, let alone this year.  His hattrick last night upped his goal total to nine this year, in the twenty games he has spent with the big club.

As much as I am personally excited to see his success, I have focused on a couple different aspects of how his play has made a difference on the team dynamic, and I wanted to share them.

First, this makes Nikita Filatov 100% expendable.  At the beginning of the year, I had a tremendous amount of confidence in the potential star power Fily is capable of bringing to the Columbus top six.  I can admit being both wrong, and was completely devastated when it became clear that he had a great deal of developing to do before he would become a viable top six forward.  What makes him expendable, is the current Jackets lineup.  With the addition of Calvert to the top six, the Jackets first two lines look like some form of the following:

Nash – Brassard – Voracek
Umberger – Vermette – Calvert
IR: Huselius

Not only does this allow Arniel to force Juice down to the third line, it gives him room to bring in a legit top six player if someone is taking advantage of their position with lazy or foolish play.  This lineup of course would be my ideal option once Brassard returns from injury, which should be somewhere within the next two weeks.

Second, it makes Huselius expendable.  I have long badgered his lazy play, and I feel like Calvert is about as non-Huselius as a player can get.  The kid flat out hustles, taking great advantage of every opportunity he is given, and forcing the issue when the opposition has the puck.  While his size would lead you to believe he would be more of a finesse player, his 5’9 frame actually ends up giving the presence of a 6’3 player the way he throws his body around on the ice.  Essentially, this roster swap changes the ‘patience’ of Juice to the frenetic, exciting play of Calvert, a player who was noticeably on the shoulders of the entire fanbase Friday night against Phoenix.

As it stands, Calvert has 9 goals in 20 games.  He also has 5 goals in his last 3 games, and 6 goals in his last 4.  These numbers are not familiar to fourth round picks who are brought up to the main club as a rookie over halfway into the season.  It leads me to my final comment about his rise with the Jackets, and it relates to the quality drafting done by the Jackets over the last few seasons.  Notably, on their current roster, they have (of those they have drafted) Methot (168th – 2003), Calvert (127th – 2008), Clitsome (271st – 2004), Dorsett (189th – 2006), Boll (101st – 2005), Murray (242nd – 2001).  Obviously excluded are the players drafted in the top 100 who are finding great success (Nash, Brassard, Russell, Mason, Voracek) on the roster and most of whom are signed to fairly reasonable extensions with the club.

Why the Jackets Should Not be Buyers or Sellers at the Deadline

In tonight’s game the Jackets absolutely dominated the Phoenix Coyotes for the majority of the game. This has been the standard over nearly the last two months. What is even more notable about tonight’s game was the play of Rick Nash. He was invisible. When he was visible he was turning the puck over or making poor decisions. This may have been Nash’s worst game of 2011. For much of the Jackets history, Nash had to play great or the team had to grind out a win over a better team. Lately, the Jackets have simply been better than their opponents. The Jackets team that we have been watching over the last twenty games or so has been the best Jackets team in franchise history.

Those are weighty words that sound hyperbolic. Yet they are not. While part of this is related to Doug MacLean’s reign of terror, the other part has to do with the well balanced team currently being iced by the Blue Jackets and the maturation of their younger players. It would be really tempting for the Jackets to make a major move at the trade deadline. This would be a mistake. A hockey team is a fickle experiment in chemistry. Right now, this Jackets team is clicking in a way that makes them very dangerous. A major addition to their top nine forwards or top four defensemen could very well do more harm than good.

On the other hand, the Jackets have a number of upcoming unrestricted free agents. Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark and Jan Hejda are the exact type of player that could be dealt to a contender for picks or prospects at the deadline. Instead, the Columbus front office should be looking at these players as the Jackets deadline moves. The only type of addition that makes sense for the Jackets are the exact type of players they already have. Simply keep those players.

There has been a lot of discussion lately on adding a top six forward or a top defenseman. That would be a mistake. As great as the Jackets have been lately, this is not a championship team. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup, not make the playoffs. This team should make the playoffs. Any deal to bring in a player to significantly upgrade the top six forwards or top defense pairing would cost the team in players that will be needed in the future. The core of this Jackets team is locked in for a significant amount of time (Jake Voracek excepted).This team should be competing for the Cup in two or three years, with John Moore, Ryan Johansen, David Savard and their other top prospects as part of that team. To give up those pieces now to make it to the second round is asinine. It’s short sighted.

On the other hand, they need to make the playoffs this season. Young teams rarely win right away in the playoffs. They need to make the playoffs a couple of times and lose. They need to get those playoff reps. Once the talent and experience mesh, the team will truly be a contender. Nash, Brassard, Voracek, Russell, Calvert and company need to get that playoff experience now. Clark, Moreau, Hejda and Sammy Pahlsson are important parts of this team and necessary to make the playoffs. While those players likely won’t be in Columbus when the Jackets are Cup contenders, they will play a big part in getting them there.

Possible Trade Looming: Thoughts

A quick note;  This blog does not suggest to know anything more than what you can easily find on twitter. The speculation is and will be left to the bloggers who feel like being full of bull, and the beat writers who actually do hear things.

With that said, here are some of my thoughts on players named as possible trade bait for the Columbus Blue Jackets, likely trying to acquire a top line center or quality defensemen;

Derick Brassard: A likely candidate solely based on his functionality as a budding center in the league, but struggling to find his full capacity as a top line center in Columbus.  I personally attribute this to a learning curve where he will find his shot, but it seems few have the patience to let him do so.  Then again, when he’s lined up with Nash, and Nash gets his one track eyesight, there is no real need for Brassard.  Nasher can do that with Dorsett and Boll as his linemates.

Kris Russell:  To me, this is just not likely at all.  Russell is one of the few current Blue Jackets players who can functionally run Scott Arniel’s system.  He is also a player who will benefit by having a more useful linemate, and one he can have confidence in making the rush without worrying directly about coughing up the puck.  He needs to be able to go back to the ‘nothing to lose’ mentality that both he and Mason seemed to share during their playoff run.

Rick Nash:  As much as I would be satisfied with him staying, I really don’t see how Nash can benefit this team with his current mentality.  He is notably lazy on the ice, and there have been times where his inability to make the right passes have really truly cost this team.  As a leader on this team, it would seem that his ‘lead by example’ mentality either needs to be replaced by becoming a vocal leader, or he needs to step his game up in a big way.  For a team full of so many young players, he is a terrible example to lead by.

Jake Voracek/RJ Umberger:  I figure I’ll couple these two because of how similar I view them as players.  These are two guys who I feel take the game more seriously than others, and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Trading one of these character guys would impact me more than trading Nash.  If you allow Jake to continue his development in Columbus, I am reasonably confident he will become a top line forward, if he isn’t already.  What he needs, is a third linemate along with Brassard to get as creative as those two are, and then let them spend the next three months building direct chemistry with one another. This is something that can easily be resolved in house.

Players I would like to see off the Jackets:

Mike Commodore:  Not that he’s not already on the way out, but I will be very happy to see him go.  He made me look silly after bad mouthing him directly following his contract, but followed that year quickly with laughably poor performances in the last two years.

Kristian Huselius:  I am tired of Huselius making a career out of everyone else’s hard work, especially one who seems to have a ridiculously hard time hitting the net.  In fact, I can’t remember the last time he actually created his own goal, or a goal for a teammate.  They either need to get him and his contract off the team, or drop him to the second/third line for good and force him to become a useful team player again.

Tyutin/Stralman/Hejda: Or at least one of these three.  Assuming we’re going to have a decent shake up within the next couple days involving the blueline, I would hope that one of these players will be moved.  None have really been all that effective this year, and all of them are fully expendable.

What do you think?

Columbus Blue Jackets – NHL Power Rankings Dunce Once More

Every year I look forward to the ‘power’ rankings that flow out of the mainstream hockey sites, predicting yearly standings and stating their powerhouses. Every year, it seems, the number of fans outweighs the actual moves made, and team prestige is basically a pre-requisite for acquiring the coveted top 5 spot.

I am not tired of reading them. It actually gets me excited to step away from my fandom and read a more or less negative review of the team I have been following for a decade, and yet somehow, I always walk away disappointed.
This year, it is fairly consistent across the board that the Jackets will finish no better than 26th in the league. More often than not, excuses driving that number suggest that the only move Columbus has made this off-season is acquiring Moreau. Also not uncommon, discussions about Commodore’s conditioning, the health of Mason, and the mindset of Filatov. Call me a homer all you want, but really? Is that all it takes to make an NHL club?
Sometimes it is worth ignoring some of the developing youth on the team, but more often than not, the youth of a team becomes the driving force for the year. Colorado showed that adding two youngsters can truly help a team become a playoff contender, so why all the ignorance towards the Jackets youth? Russell had a banner year last year, not only with the puck, but without it as well. Voracek is showing more and more signs of being a full on 25g/50a workhorse. Brassard showed he can be healthy, even in a system that played to every weakness of his game.
These are all things that should be accounted for. Especially when the team hired a coach to play an offensive game, more suited for 80% of the current roster, including Nikita Filatov, who finally gets to play without the massive target on his back. Obviously these are all things that could (and may) be stretched into entire posts, but really are only the tip of the iceberg in Columbus’ development this year.
Finally, Mason. Many peg him as a one hit wonder with a sophomore slump, but I maintain it was a hitchcock slump. His numbers AFTER Hitch was fired were better than his rookie season (.923) and with a healthy defensive core, along with a hopefully conditioned Mike Commodore could spell a very strong return to the form shown in 2008/2009 by the Jackets defense.
Paint me homer all day long, but I can not come up with enough excuses why this team will not be good this year. There are too many logical pieces to the puzzle fitting too many pre-oiled holes. It’s game on in Ohio’s capital.

Weighing in on the Hitchcockian Style..


Considering I have been one of Hitchcock’s biggest critics throughout his recent tenure with the Blue Jackets, I feel it necessary to weigh in on the growing conversation regarding his validity as coach. Whether this transfers well to the overall opinion is something I will hope to gain through comments, but I feel that most of what I will say is reflective of the current season.

When Hitch first arrived in Columbus, he had a quiet dream team of players that fall into his comfort category. Mid-range in caliber, and heavy set grinders who will put an emphasis on the body to make up for a lack of skill. Current Jacket players that reflect their abilities would be players like Andrew Murray, Derek Dorsett, and Raffi Torres. But with the change in head coach, so too brought on a change in management, and management style, with the likes of Scott Howson now pulling the reigns and deciding on the draft and trade future of the club.

Enter Derick Brassard, Kris Russell, Jake Voracek, and Nikita Filatov. Four players who in their youth were quite small in stature, their play was far more reflective of their skill and speed with the puck rather than their capacity to be physical. Enter Huselius, who I am still unsure of whether I have seen take the body, let alone throw a bodycheck on anyone, and raise that a Vermette, who (with his playmaking and penalty killing abilities) is a step above the highly physical Umberger. All players with unique abilities that do not really function under a Hitchcockian system.

It is not that I personally do not see Hitchcock as a strong coach. His record is his pillar, with over 500 wins and over 1000 games coached, he is one of the most storied coaches in the NHL still coaching. That being said, his coaching system has been present for some of the more rough edged teams, like the Stars team or the Philly team he coached very successfully in the late 90s. In the new NHL, the margin for error in a system of his nature is both difficulty small, and displaced among a league’s worth of high scoring, high momentum coaching styles that have fed on their style of play this year.

I believe the Jackets are headed in a differnet direction from the Hitchcock style. Their draft class does not correctly match up with his coaching style, and some of the current forwards are struggling to match up with his requested style and their designated linemates. Losing Filatov to Russia on account of low playing time will forever be an issue for me, thanks in large part to the brutal linemates he was given, with skillsets that do not come even close to comparing to what Filatov was comfortable playing with. While he made his share of rookie mistakes, he was never really given a chance to gel with another scorer the way Voracek and Brassard were able to do last year, in their first seasons.

Carry the Flag!

A Bit of Youthful Banter Around Nationwide..

The Columbus youth movement was not just shaking Nationwide last night, but then again, there is only so much that can be said about beating a rather complete Boston roster without the entire first line and four of the top six defenders.

I have said my piece about line structuring for the Jackets, and I can not help but take some pride in the fact that Hitch had my second line assembled last night (Voracek – Vermette – Filatov) and they certainly did not disappoint. What is even more exciting, is the fact that they kicked their quality into high gear, scoring goals and turning heads. While Vermette is not all that ‘young’ anymore, he is in an interesting position that gives the feeling as though he is currently developing into the career player his initial potential had suggested. Also, playing the ever positive and complimentary Voracek and the young sniper Filatov, Vermette will also get to take a leadership role and embrace some serious talent through his linemates. It certainly opens for the opportunity to carry the puck more and really become a big player.
Also exciting from last night is the way John Moore continues to impress management and pretty much anyone watching. Not only has he prolonged his stay in Columbus with his game, he is getting better every single game, making his case more and more interesting. While he will likely have to continue to blow people’s minds to make the roster, he has been the definition of a puck moving, smart defensemen…. Something GM Scott Howson has spent the last year pursuing throughout the league. Regardless of the result of this years training camp, Moore can take solace in the fact that he is far and away the best thing to happen to Columbus this year.
Hopefully some of the players nursing hip flexors will be able to get back to action before the season begins. Columbus needs a deep defensive core, one without injury or excuse. Columbus is back in action Thursday against Pittsburgh and will look to continue their strong play… Go Moore!!
Carry the Flag!!!!

Columbus vs. Pittsburgh 9/15

There are a lot of ways to look at pre-season hockey. Some teams use the opportunity to experiment with new line combos, other teams like to throw the load on young developing players to see how they handle themselves, and some teams use the experience to simply gear up for the season. I think for most Jackets fans, last night was a breath holder with the new back up netminder Garon between the pipes, hoping the goalie could impress Hitch enough to actually utilize more than just Steve Mason this year.
There was no question Garon could bear the weight. Stopping all 21 shots he faced, including a couple of very strong attempts from Crosby, Garon really built his credibility with at least this fan, and likely most others. While he was the bright spot in net, after removed for the third period in favour of a young Danny LaCosta, it showed that both Mason and Garon are going to have to remain healthy this year.
Pittsburgh brought a lot to the final frame, tying the game twice before winning early into overtime. While it was an unfortunate series of events and a true wakeup call for LaCosta and a couple young Jackets defenders, it was also the perfect opportunity to display the teams resilience. Losing a three goal lead is very hard on a team, and I will take a lot out of them coming back and scoring their fourth goal.
There were other positives to the game. The Jackets abysmal powerplay managed to score two goals on four opportunities. Mayorov had a pair, with Voracek netting the other goal. Young Filatov and Moore both had assists, looking strong on the ice, and Blunden, fighting for a roster spot, managed to impress with a solid game.
All in all, games like these are a lot more relevant in substance than in scoring. It will certainly be more clear how they have developed over the summer once their full roster dresses, but at this point, I am more than comfortable suggesting that last night was a strong success.
Carry the Flag!

2009/2010 Columbus Offense

One of the Blue Jackets main concerns over the years has been not only their lack of secondary scoring, but basically their lack of anyone scoring outside of the mighty Rick Nash. Over the off-season, the Blue Jackets welcomed Sammy Pahlsson to the mix, said their goodbyes to guys like Malhotra and Williams, and re-signed one of their budding young centermen, Derick Brassard. Also, considered to be this years ‘new face brightspot’, Nikita Filatov, fresh off a summer of weight gaining and conditioning will look to penetrate the roster in a big way.

Here are my preferred lines;

1 – Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Kristian Huselius
2 – Jakub Voracek – Antoine Vermette – Nikita Filatov
3 – RJ Umberger – Sammy Pahlsson – Raffi Torres
4 – Jared Boll – Derek Dorsett – Chimera/Modin

Let me start with line one. Nash and Huselius are somewhat of a staple on the first line, especially this early in the season. Adding Brassard, which is what the coaching staff was toying with before his injury seems like the logical decision to make. He is good for a point per game and sees the ice well. That really translates into the perfect compliment for guys like Nash and Juice.

Moving on to the second line, I think it is important to explain the third line in conjunction, as the style of play from the two lines will be substantially different. Generally speaking, successful playoff teams can play a grit line against the opposing teams top line to stymie their offensive opportunities and wear them down with physical play. Last year, Columbus’ best line in the playoffs was Dorsett – Umberger – Torres because of their relentless forecheck. While I do not think Dorsett is deserving of a third line role, I think Pahlsson is exactly the replacement the Jackets needed. They can use their tenacity and high paced forecheck against some of the better lines in the NHL, not allowing them the time and space needed to make big plays. Because the third line is designed for power, I believe the second line should be built on playmaking. Both Vermette and Voracek seem to really pursue the pass before the shot. Bringing in a guy like Filatov is a perfect way to compliment two play makers. He has the ability to find the seam and get into the right positions, which will open the opportunity for big passes and even bigger goals.

Now to the fourth line. A lot of Jackets fans probably do not agree with my snubbing of Modin and Chimera, but I assure you, it is well warranted. Chimera playing well last year was a direst result of his linemates in Brassard and Voracek. Rather than placing him on a scoring line, why not throw him on an energy fourth line with Dorsett and Boll, and really let them pour on speed and punishment? In regards to Modin, I really think he is as relevant to the Jackets roster as Malhotra was. There are entirely too many confident and ready young players to sacrifice a roster spot for an aging, injury prone winger.

Collectively speaking, the quality of these lines may be mildly sacrificed by what I believe their main goal is, but at the same time, it may be the perfect way to distribute the talent and really play a 60 minute game.

Carry the Flag!