In the wake of home-and-home losses to Pittsburgh, the usual cacophony of reactions are evident — ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Today, we’ll try to take a relatively dispassionate look at the club, the recent efforts, and dust off the crystal ball for some thoughts as to what might come down the pike.
First things first, however. Shortly before game time, I caught a TSN tweet indicating that Gary Bettman was at Nationwide for the game, and a second tweet indicating that he was in the company of Mayor Coleman. Rudimentary arithmetic led me to one conclusion — All Star Game — a fact confirmed about 30 minutes later, when the lights dimmed, Greg Murray advised the crowd of a special announcement from John Davidson, who then appeared on the scoreboard screen with Bettman. The announcement that the 2015 All Star Game was coming to Columbus on January 24 & 25, 2015 was almost an anti-climax at that point. Still, it was terrifically positive news for the franchise, the city and the 18,634 assembled fans. The NHL made good on its promise to “do right” by Columbus after the lockout trashed the All Star Festivities for the 2013 game.
The most surprising aspect of the announcement was the timing. Traditionally, the venue for the All Star Game is announced in January, or at least in conjunction with GM meetings. That the announcement came so far in advance is a credit to both the NHL and the progress that the organization has been making at all levels. Kudos to all concerned, and Columbus fans can now tuck those 2013 All Star Game pucks away, waiting for them to appreciate in value. (Just kidding…sort of) So with that issue put to bed, time to return to the ice. The intent here is not to provide a game summary of the Pittsburgh battles — @Canadan82 does that extremely well — but to look at the higher level issues, positive and negative, that are emerging as this fledgling season moves forward. The two games vs. the Penguins do highlight some of the issues in stark relief.
Continue reading Observation Time — All Star Style
Ah, it seem that only yesterday hordes of adoring fans were waiting to have their picture taken with Blue Jackets’ GM Jarmo Kekäläinen at CannonFest IV. After all, he had landed Nathan Horton and Marian Gaborik, had negotiated some nifty re-signing deals, and could seemingly do no wrong. However, being a General Manager in professional sports is at the top of the “What Have You Done For Me Lately” pyramid, and a significant number of those hands that were slapping Jarmo on the back in August are now reaching for torches and pitchforks. Why? In case you missed it, the club announced the signing of winger Jared Boll to a 3-year, $5.1 million dollar deal, which kicks in next season.
To be fair, the Twitterverse has been divided between those who thing that this is a “terrific” deal, and those that believe Jarmo has taken leave of his senses. The truth — to the extent that the concept of “truth” can be applied to the perceived value of services — really lies somewhere in the vast gray area between the two extremes. As those who follow my ramblings will attest — I am a big fan of understanding not only what we know, but what we don’t know. In deals such as this, the latter tends to be just as important as the former.
On its face, the $1.7 million AAV seems extraordinarily steep for a guy who has scattered 24 goals and 28 assists over the course of six NHL seasons, while amassing 963 penalty minutes. This represents a 70% raise, and puts him ahead of guys such as Letestu, Comeau, Calvert, Skille, MacKenzie and Atkinson. (Boll’s existing contract already had him ahead of all but Letestu and Atkinson). It’s not a stretch to say that each of those players has considerably more offensive up-side than Mr. Boll. For comparison purposes, Jared will earn just $50,000 less than the Flyer’s Sean Couturier when their new deals kick in next year. Couturier has 17 goals and 25 assists…in two years.
While it’s true that Boll has become the de facto enforcer in the wake of the Derek Dorsett trade, and has been a fan favorite in his role as Jody Shelley II, you can’t truly use Boll and Couturier in the same sentence, let alone pay them the same amount.
Continue reading Boll-ing for Dollars: Jarmo’s Dilemma
Last year I put together a series of posts centered around my expectations for the various Blue Jackets players goal totals, with one running before the season, one at midseason reviewing how I did and predicting the remainder of the season, and one after the year was over looking back at the first two pieces. I was pretty happy with how my method worked out, so I figured I’d do this for the entire league. You can find my preliminary post on it here, along with an update after the Capitals signed Grabovski. Here at the Union Blue, you’re going to get everything I’ve put together regarding the Jackets.
Unfortunately, I don’t think most of you will be happy with me. I have the Jackets finishing 15th in the NHL in goal differential. However, I also have the Metropolitan division as the league’s most difficult. If the season proceeds this way, the Jackets will finish 6th in the Metro, behind the Rangers, Devils, Penguins, Islanders, and Capitals. The Grabovski signing actually pushed the Caps above the Jackets for the final playoff spot in the East. Consolation prize: I also have the Red Wings missing the playoffs. So there’s that.
Continue reading 2013-14 Blue Jackets Goal Predictions
The signs are all there. The “back to school traffic jams” are in full flower, the pools are closed, and the hockey players are returning to Nationwide Boulevard, just as the swallows to San Juan Capistrano or the buzzards to Hinckley. The youngest among them will head north to Traverse City late this afternoon (where our own @CBJProspects is also headed), while training camp awaits in just a week’s time. Hockey is in the air, without the foul stench of a lockout, and its time to start taking a critical look at the key questions confronting the Blue Jackets as they wind down the final 30 days to the season opener, and the club’s Eastern Conference debut.
So, as the month-long countdown proceeds, I’ll be providing new installments of this Inquiring Minds series, focusing on specific questions that hold special significance for the organization as we eagerly anticipate the curtain rising on a new season. This first installment focuses on scoring — Who’s going to do it? How often does it need to happen? How likely is it to occur?
Continue reading Inquiring Minds: The Quest for Scoring
At the halfway point of the season I wrote about the second half expectations for the Blue Jackets. I looked at my preseason goal predictions for each player, then predicted how I thought they would perform over the second half of the season. Before I got to that point, I briefly discussed the team results. At the outset of the season, I had predicted a total of 128 goals scored on the season. I was off by a bit here, as they came in at only 120. However, I was off by the same amount in their goals against, as I had predicted they would come in at 127 goals allowed over the full 48 game season. Instead, they finished with 119 goals against. Excuse me for a second while I pat myself on the bat for exactly nailing their goal differential. In my preseason predictions, I hit another point that I think probably raised some eyebrows at the time: that the Jackets offense would actually improve with Rick Nash off in New York. And believe it or not it did (barely). The Jackets scored 120 goals this season, or the equivalent pace of 205 goals over 82 games. Not a great number, but better than the 202 goals the Jackets scored in 2011-12. Continue reading Looking Back to Look Back: Reviewing Preseason and Second Half Predictions
The tUB team was all over the place with the Masterton. We had eight players receiving a vote and only two players receiving multiple votes. This speaks to a few things, chief of which is no obvious Josh Harding-like candidate (the Wild netminder battling MS). But to me, it also shows that this is a team built around guys who are very dedicated to the game of hockey, with a number of players persevering through age, injury, doubt, or just losing. This is a resilient bunch, and there were a number of very worthy candidates who didn’t even get a vote (Jack Johnson, Adrian Aucoin, and Cam Atkinson come to mind). However, we did manage to choose a victor…. Continue reading 2013 tUB Awards: The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
The Blue Jackets finished off a nailbiter last night, downing the Nashville Predators 4-3 to extend their point streak to 11 games. The Jackets, who have gone 7-0-4 over that streak, have now played in twenty-one 1 goal games. Sergei Bobrovsky was his usual excellent self, making 32 saves in the win, including 13 in the 3rd period where the Jackets were outshot 15-7 by the Preds. One more stat of note before I get to the goal breakdowns: Brandon Dubinsky won 16 of the 18 faceoffs he took last night, helping the Blue Jackets finish with 61% of the faceoff wins. Now on to the breakdowns.
Continue reading Goal Breakdowns vs. Nashville 3/19
We’re officially at the halfway point, so I thought I would take a look back at my preseason individual goal predictions, the team predictions, and what to expect moving forward. First things first, lets start off with the team totals. My predictions had them finishing with a +2 goal differential over 82 games (or about +1 for 48 games), if they could raise their team save percentage from .903 to .910. Unfortunately, they are currently sitting at a -15 goal differential. The problem here hasn’t been just scoring or defense. I had them at 64 goals through 24 games and they are only 9 goals below that. On the defensive side, improvement was dependent upon raising the save percentage from .903 to .910, but it has actually dropped to .902. A jump to .910 would have reduced the first half goals against by 8. Aside from the predictions, the team has greatly improved so far this season. With league average shooting percentage and save percentage, the Jackets would be at a -6 goal differential (based on 60 goals for and 66 goals against). The Blue Jackets -60 full season goal differential from last year equates to a -17 over 24 games. For some perspective a -6 goal differential would tie them with Nashville, while a -17 would tie them with Edmonton.
Continue reading Second Half Expectations – Looking Back to Look Forward
An evening after an extremely hard fought win against Dallas and a fog delay which delayed their flight until this morning, the Blue Jackets took to the ice against a very strong Minnesota Wild team. Before they even arrived in St Paul, I had a sneaky suspicion that their previous twenty-four hours would degrade their effort on ice, but as a Jackets fan, the best thing we can do right now is be optimistic. This rings especially true with this group of players who we were told would be extremely hard working.
Fortunately for viewing entertainment, Columbus came out of the gate strong, controlling the play early on and forcing the issue deep into the Minnesota defensive zone. While the scoring chances were not piling, the opportunities were, and felt like it was only a matter of time before they struck. Tack on a Minnesota netminder in Backstrom who was handing over juicy rebounds all game, and it felt like the Blue Jackets faithful would be well on their way to the first win streak of the year.
But a thirty minute gap between the middle of the first period and near the end of the second period caused optimism to halt. Scoring chances, or even possession in the offensive zone seemed to become a premium for the Jackets. Goals by Koivu (sneaky goal from behind the goal line) and Gilbert (unfortunate off a block directly onto his tape — where was the Blue Jacket coverage again?) put Columbus in a familiar two goal deficit heading into the first intermission.
Continue reading Game Recap: Columbus @ Minnesota 1/29
Justin Bourne at the Backhand Shelf had a fantastic post earlier today on rewarding grinders for playing well, then giving them too many minutes. We saw a little of this last night for the Blue Jackets. While the 4th line of Colton Gillies, Mark Letestu and Jared Boll played around six minutes of even strength ice time, they were quite effective in doing so. As the game wore on, CBJ Coach Todd Richards ending up rewarding them. Through most of the game, they were doing exactly what a 4th line is supposed to do. They kept the puck deep in the offensive zone, they threw the body around with abandon, got the fans and teammates excited, and (most importantly) they avoided getting scored on. They even managed to draw a couple of CBJ powerplays. This fine play resulted in the bountiful reward of a few extra minutes of playing time in the 3rd period, as almost half of their ice time came in the final frame.
Continue reading 4th Liners, Reward Minutes, and How They Can Backfire