Jeff Carter

Johnson Acquisition Adds Confusion to Defensive Structure

Posted by Canadan82 on February 24, 2012
Roster Talk / No Comments

In one of the worst kept secrets of Scott Howson’s trading career, Jeff Carter was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings last night for defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first round pick.  If the Kings make the playoffs this year, the Blue Jackets have the option of taking Los Angeles’ first round pick for either the 2012 or 2013 draft.  If the Kings fail to make the playoffs, Columbus will receive the 2013 first round pick.

In terms of player value, it is reasonably close to fair market value, especially when you factor in the supposed problems between Columbus and Carter.  Johnson is signed through the 2017/2018 season at a cap hit of 4.357 million, which is comparable to Fedor Tyutin’s extension at 4.5 million during the same time period.  He has a strong offensive upside and shows quality puck possession skills.  His numbers also give him the appearance of a solid powerplay quarterback. Here are some quick stats from this year:

Games Played :: 61
Goals :: 8
Assists :: 16
Points :: 24
Plus/Minus :: -12
Penalty Minutes :: 24
Shots on Goal :: 120
Shooting Percentage :: 6.7
Powerplay Goals :: 5
Powerplay Assists :: 9
Average TOI :: 22:31

These numbers are telling of quite a few things.  He will be a strong offensive addition to the blueline, with his eight goals four better than the next best Blue Jacket defenseman.  He can log lots of minutes and can really produce on the powerplay.  On the other side of the coin, his -12 was -4 worse than anyone else on the Kings, and he has only managed ten points at even strength (3 goals – 7 assists) which is an immediate concern to me.  I have also read a number of reports that suggest his +/- over the last number of seasons is very poor in league comparison, and his CORSI rating over the last four years has been at the bottom of the Kings defensive core consistently.

Beyond his statistics, one of his major assets is his compete level, which I feel has usually been very high. He seems to have a lot of passion for the game, and I certainly expect to see Howson bring in more guys like him before the start of next season.  If this move had something to do with changing the attitude in the locker room, many will argue the Blue Jackets won big time.  On top of that, Johnson wasted no time saying he was excited to play for a team that wants him on the roster, and I am sure the fans will welcome that enthusiasm in the wake of all the Carter speculation.

What I believe to be the more strange part of this trade, is how similar Johnson’s game is to current Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski.  I personally believe a glaring need in Columbus is a quality defensive minded defenseman who can either play in, or have the upside to play in the top defensive slot alongside one of John Moore (eventually) or James Wisniewski.  What we acquired instead, was another top four player with some suggested potential to be a top tier defenseman, but more often than not the defined qualities of a top four player who needs to be protected by his playing partner to avoid being scored on.

It makes me really wonder what the plan is for Columbus during the next couple months.  It would surprise me to see this current defensive lineup (with the inclusion of Johnson) show up untouched in late September, and with that, I have a hard time pondering who is more inclined to be moved.  Certainly Methot is serviceable as the teams lone top four defensive defenseman, leading me to think Tyutin may be playing his last season with the team.

Further, I really struggle to figure out where John Moore fits into the mix, whether he is expected to modify his game to play atop the roster with Wisniewski, or whether he will continue to build on what I happily define as the “Moorethot”experience.  In either case, there are definitely decisions that need to be made regarding the logical defensive structure of the Blue Jackets for next season, and I believe that adding a player of Johnson’s style only compounds that problem.

I am going to hold off full judgement of Johnson as a player until such time that I get to watch him play in Columbus, and I am excited to use the final twenty games of the season to get a good read on his abilities.  I am going to do the same with Scott Howson at least until the deadline, possibly even beyond the free agency period to see what kind of plan he has and how it will impact the roster in the short term.  As someone who believed that Carter needed time more than he needed a change of scenery to get over his Philly experience, I am not pleased to see him go.  As noted however, I believe Howson etc have a plan, and I eagerly await the the next piece to fall into place.

Carry the Flag.

Tags: , , ,

Game Recap :: Columbus vs. San Jose 2/21

Posted by Canadan82 on February 22, 2012
Game Discussion / No Comments

Amidst all the trade deadline turmoil, a record that makes most Blue Jackets fans red in the face, and directly following a shameful home loss to Chicago, the boys in union blue put on a show.  In front of another ‘more than they deserve’ crowd of 14,625, they handed San Jose a beating.  This is the same San Jose who beat Columbus 6-0 in their arena twenty days ago.  The same San Jose team who went into the game 3-0 against Columbus this year. The same San Jose team currently leading the Pacific division.

But all of this didn’t matter. Columbus came out firing and only let off the gas briefly in the early stages of the second period.  They played with tenacity, and the fire it takes to win hockey games.  The defense stymied opportunities and for the most part kept the slot void of free sticks.  Mason managed 38 saves to break a Blue Jackets record, and they did all of this without gaining a point on Edmonton in the Nail sweepstakes (who also beat a team soundly last night).

There are quite a few players I want to highlight:

Derick Brassard – How about this kid.  After the rocky start beneath Scott Arniel, Brassard has been on tear as Richards top line center, and is currently enjoying a streak of ten points in his last ten games, including a pair of excellent assists last night.  His vision on the ice keeps getting better and better, with really only Umberger’s execution causing him to miss out on a couple more points.  His generosity with the puck is still a bit of a concern, but the fact that his passes are crisp and usually hit a stick leaves me less worried about it.

Further, his possession on the powerplay and breaking into the zone have increased in quality in a big way.  Where he used to lose speed trying to make a move to beat the first defender, he is now using already built up speed to burst past them.  He controls the puck into the offensive zone and either maintains possession while his linemates join him in the zone, or he finds an open player along the blueline to create additional space.  Basically, where he was turning over the puck, is now where he is creating opportunity.  This is something the Jackets are in great need of.

Jeff Carter – I don’t think enough can be said about his shot.  He took what appeared to be at least by his standards a weak wrister about a minute into the game and it still seemed to give Niemi fits.  Scoring a hattrick, thanks in large part to some tremendous passing, will always get the crowd rolling.  It was capped by a great (and very thoughtful) pass by Nash who appeared to have Greiss beat in front of the net.

While I could talk all day about his shot, I also want to point out his ability to find the open lane in the high slot.  Two of the goals he scored were due in large part to his creativity in selecting a path to the net that will leave him open.  A prime example is his first goal last night:

http://nhl.cdn.neulion.net/u/videocenter/embed.swf

What you see here is a pass by Carter skating backwards towards the blueline to Prospal along the boards.  Rather than maintaining his position at the point, Carter recognizes that at least one of the San Jose players will pressure Prospal and begins a path directly to the net.  Prospal feeds him the puck and he fires an awesome wrist shot that beats Niemi clean.

Additionally, his second goal of the game was nothing short of shockingly awesome.  I don’t know how many players in the NHL have the presence of mind to backhand a puck through their own legs into the open net, but this is one of the first times I’ve ever seen it accomplished, and did it ever get me out of my seat.  I just can’t speak enough to the creativity and poise he has with the puck.

Rick Nash – A lot has been said about Nash needing to be the second best player on a hockey team to perform, and frankly, I don’t disagree.  What I saw last night from him, after momentum was on the Jackets side, was the Rick Nash I came to love watching years ago.  Tremendous confidence on the puck, creative in his deking, and picking his spots to crash the net in a big way.  He finished with a goal and an assist, and both were very Rick Nash-esque in their own way.  Beyond that, he made some other quality passes and really just appeared to be comfortable throughout.  It was a treat to watch him return to that kind of form.

Steve Mason – 38 saves against — .927 save percentage — I would hope people were pleased with his effort, because I sure was.  He came up big at times and I personally heard a few people expect a goal and ‘wow’ at the puck flying off Mason and into the corner instead of going in.  He was beat a few times, which was disappointing, but they were solid goals. I had a great angle of the Couture shot and it was some kind of wicked, going top shelf in the blink of an eye.  This game was also Mason’s 85th career win as a Blue Jacket, which gave him the all time Blue Jackets win record.  If this season marks the end of his tenure with the team, I am personally glad to see him take hold of that record, and I personally hope they find a way to retain him for a few more years to give him ample time to develop behind a more prepared, older number one goalie.

Those players were standouts in my mind, but most of the team played lights out for the majority of the game.  It was a phenomenal atmosphere and I really don’t think anyone in the arena who has followed the Jackets all year took any of the win for granted.  Some truly excellent cheering, and a major shout out to a #CBJTweetUp member who purchased a hat during his visit, only to throw it on the ice for Carter’s hattrick.

Now THAT is what I call Carrying the Flag!!!

Tags: , , , , ,

Jackets Road Trip in Review

Posted by Canadan82 on February 04, 2012
Game Discussion / No Comments

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Columbus Should Build With Jeff Carter

Posted by Canadan82 on January 31, 2012
Team Discussion / 18 Comments

As the trade deadline approaches, it doesn’t surprise me that Jeff Carter’s name is quickly thrown around as a guy worth sending out of town via trade. So much speculation has been presented by media this year regarding his interest in the organization, yet for some reason, the conversation is rarely connected by something he has actually come out and said.  I can understand why a lot of people don’t have a connection with him and assume the negative end of the story, but for a team riddled with inconsistency, why should so much be shouldered by him?  When looking to build on players, a potential forty goal scorer is a great start.

To begin this piece, I want to point out something relatively obvious.  Carter has been struggling this year.  Injuries, including a nagging foot, and a separated shoulder have kept him from gaining any form of competitive edge, and forced him out of the lineup for 19 regular season games (just shy of 40% of the regular season).  Despite all of his time injured, he still managed to score ten goals, which laughably remains second on the team.  I’ll get more into this later on in the post.

To suggest he has had a fair look in Columbus is ridiculous; Injuries, very little time to build chemistry, and a depth of speculation that is quite embarrassing even for Columbus.  While I am far from personally faulting him for an off year, I thought it would be good to take some time to compare his pros and cons in order to gain a better representation of why I think he should be a part of this organization for years to come.

Pros

- I find it strange that so many folks in the media are claiming his contract is a ‘tough pill to swallow’ for teams interested in him.  In my opinion, especially in Columbus, it’s a huge plus.  He is signed for a decade, at a cap hit of roughly 5.27 million dollars.  That is less than ‘stud’ defenseman James Wisniewski, 2.5 million less than Rick Nash, and just over a half million more than Umberger’s five year extension that is about to kick in next season (Umberger has three more points in fourteen additional games, and has arguably been one of Columbus’ biggest on ice disappointments this year).  Not only is this contract entirely reasonable, it solves Columbus’ major issue with bringing in free agent talent without having to overpay.  –Don’t even get me started on that

- With that cap hit, comes the potential of a forty goal scorer (not named Rick Nash).  With the exclusion of this year, Carter has averaged just over 38 goals per season over his last three years, with his career best 46 goals coming in the 08/09 season.  For a team in great need for offense, it shocks me that such a player would be not given a boatload of chances in order to recover from injury, and his relocation.

- Finally, his play with the puck.  For years, Columbus’ best option on ice for ‘wow’ moments have been at the hands of Nash.  Even in his limited time on ice this year, Carter has impressed me with his ability to shift past defensemen with a quality deke, or take a tremendous wrist shot that can fool a goalie from any angle.  Frankly, his on ice capacity with the puck is one of his greater assets, and worth watching regardless of his output.  I have demanded for a long time that this team put emphasis on an entertaining on ice product rather than a boring, structured (read: Hitchcock) style of play.  I think Carter can bring that element just as well as Rick Nash when he has the puck.

Cons

- He’s not a media darling.  Despite all the controversy, he has not seemed even remotely inclined to get his face in the middle of it.  And such is life. Some players, like the Wiz, are great for a sound bite or twenty, while others are more designed to simply play the game.  If Columbus was pursuing another guy to win over the fan base with riveting interviews, Carter was clearly the wrong choice.

- He was openly disappointed about his trade.  But let’s be honest, if you committed to something for over a decade at a discounted rate, only to have that connection removed, wouldn’t you feel the same? I can understand his disappointment when he was dealt from a team primed to make the playoffs to a team struggling to find its’ identity, and unfortunately he has not been able to allow his on ice play do the talking for him this year.

- He’s not (or at least doesn’t appear to be) a vocal leader.  Again, some top tier  players are designed to take the team on their shoulders verbally or mentally (see: Toews, Nash), while others tend to focus more on their own game, and I feel like Carter is more in that second classification.  With that said, I personally don’t believe he was brought in to be a vocal leader. He was brought in to be a scoring threat, and a potential number one center than Columbus has lacked for so long.

It’s with those assumptions in mind that I think Carter is worth another year of consideration before making a deal.  I support the opinion that behind Nash, he would stand to be the teams best asset for trade, but his on ice production could be more valuable than his return at this point.  I look at next year, and I see a team that could be cleaned out at the bottom end (3rd and 4th line), and overhauled defensively and in net.  With that in mind, I think the following line considerations should be made rather than bolstering what I believe to be a potentially successful offense:

Nash – Brassard – Carter
Top 2 pick – Johansen – Kubalik/Atkinson
-OR-
Nash – Brassard – Johansen
Top 2 pick – Carter – Kubalik/Atkinson

That is an assumptive top two pick of course, but at this point it would take a pretty impressive turnaround for Columbus to fall out of a top two pick.  This would potentially bring in Nail Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko who have presented themselves as top quality talent, worthy of a second line start in the NHL.  This roster move also bolsters the third line with Umberger, and allows Columbus to part ways with players like Pahlsson(2.65mil), Huselius(4.75mil), Prospal(2.5mil), and potentially Vermette(3.75mil), which could open the door for defensive or goaltender spending on the cap.  Removing those four alone would generate 13.65 million in cap space, with only Pahlsson to replace in the current lineup (based on my suggested line combos above, and the entry level cap hit for Yakupov/Grigorenko).

I also recognize there is little visible chemistry between Nash and Carter, but given Brassard’s play of late with Nash, I believe that Carter could move to wing (where he has been very successful in the past) and Brassard’s speed would help to push the pace.  This gives a playmaker like Brassard the ability to look to both wings as scoring threats, and can seriously open up space in the offensive zone.  If that doesn’t work, Carter can slide down to the second line and create offense where Columbus isn’t used to seeing it.  provided he is given players on his wing who can get the puck on his stick, he can enjoy a year of playing secondary defenders and exploiting second rate defensive mistakes.

In short, I think Carter deserves a full, healthy year look before Columbus gives up on him.  While I can see the positive out of dealing him for prospects and budding talent now, I believe it comes at a time where knee-jerk reactions are only going to work against the short term success of this franchise.  Give him time to build some chemistry within the team, and get to know the city of Columbus better.  He may eventually fall in love with it.

Carry the Flag!

Tags: , ,

Carter or Nash?

Posted by Canadan82 on January 05, 2012
Roster Talk / 1 Comment

With trade talks consistently atop the Blue Jackets discussion list, it came as no surprise to me yesterday when Nash and Carter became a heated debate among Blue Jackets fans on twitter.  Not necessarily where they would be traded to, but IF a trade were to occur (and it’s obviously a big IF with Howson repeatedly suggesting Nash will not move), who would be the better option for Columbus to deal.  There are some obvious pros and cons to dealing both players, but I want to take a bit of time to consider the two being dealt and the overall impact to the team and the fan base.

First and most simplistic of the two, consider their contracts.  Nash is currently signed to an 8 year deal that averages his cap hit at 7.8 million per year. He will become a UFA at the age of 34.  Carter is signed to an 11 year deal that averages his cap hit at 5.25 million per year.  He will become a UFA at the age of 37.  The age difference is just under one year, with Nash born in June of 84, and Carter born in January of 85.  The cap hit difference in the two is 2,527,273 (or for the sake of discussion ease, 2.5 million).

Their current 2011/2012 statistics are the following:

As you can see, Nash has the points lead, but the gap is closed quite a bit in the points per game lead, with only 0.09 separating the two players.  Carter has a 0.05 advantage in goals per game and betters Nash in shooting percentage at a difference of 2.6%.  Nash has a clear edge in assists with 8 more than Carter, but is also -11 worse in plus/minus. To take their current output a bit further, check out this piece by the Coach breaking down their current goal output and whether they are meeting their projected goal totals based on previous years.

Next, and probably the most delicate of the discussion; Nash is the face of the franchise.  He has been ‘the’ top tier player for Columbus for almost a decade and has said all the right things.  Even recently, when asked about his NTC and the potential to be moved, he admitted that he would not stop a trade from happening if it was in the best interest of the team.  People certainly can’t ignore his ability to say the right things (whether it’s absolutely factual or not — I am sure it probably is) but they have to recognize exactly what he has said in this case.  If moving him brings back the foundation for long term success for the Blue Jackets, it is something that should be seriously considered.

Another factor that may not be a front runner in the discussions, is that trading Nash would immediately resolve the complaint of many fans that he ought not to be captain.  While you hate to see a player have the “C” removed from their jersey, a trade would negate any potential awkwardness and would give the players an opportunity to play big to take on the role.  Again, I do not think this should be a defining factor in selecting Nash for a trade, but it would certainly benefit the team if Nash is in fact not the guy they need to be leading them.

That all leads me to the pinnacle of what swayed my opinion.  Which of these two players will generate the most return?  Carter could potentially be seen as damaged goods by 20-25 GMs based on the fact that he was already moved once this year.  It seems that type of player turnover puts a red flag on talent, and I can’t help but think that it would concern a number of potential trading partners.  Secondary to that, when you consider Nash’s trade value and overall appeal from a trading perspective, would dealing Nash for the guys it took to get Carter (Voracek, early’ish 1st round pick) really satisfy you?  My answer is no, and I feel like most would agree.  Nash has the edge big time in trade value, and would more than likely have the Jackets bringing back a number of quality prospects, if not top tier developing players that will immediately impact the Blue Jackets success.

It will be interesting to see if Howson will pursue additional offensive talent or focus on resolving the defensive lack of a top 1/2 defenseman if he does indeed deal one of Carter or Nash.  Ideally, I would like to see him package Nash with a defenseman like Tyutin (who I feel isn’t and probably won’t live up to his contract extension due to kick in next year) in order to acquire a top tier defenseman along with a top six forward.  This move would resolve the obvious defensive problems in Columbus, while opening the top line to a player like Yakupov (who could potentially come to Columbus in the draft) in a year or two after he develops a bit.  This does leave a hole in the top line, but with players like Johansen and potentially a top three prospect coming through the pipeline, they are in a decent position to replace top line talent within the next couple years.  Further, with players like Vermette, Brassard, Umberger, Prospal, and arguably Letestu, filling those ‘top six’ gaps could be relatively easy when the results of the move equate to defensive stability.  Include the potential top six player that I would like to see packaged, and Columbus finds themselves equally deep with only the offensive punch of Nash out of the lineup.

Trading Nash would certainly mark the end of an era in Columbus, but it would also provide Scott Howson with the tools to get Columbus into a position to win in the short term rather than forcing a full rebuild.  It would also remove 7.8 million in cap room for a team that I seriously doubt flirts with the cap ceiling a year from now.  While I am not begging for this trade to happen, I see a lot of value in what Nash could bring back to the Blue Jackets in order to better their future, and I would certainly hope that if a trade were to occur with Nash being involved, it would be one of a string of moves to better the team in the short term, including parting ways with a number of the expiring contracts and making an attempt to acquire a 1B goaltender this summer to share time with Mason next season.

Carry the Flag!

Tags: , , ,

Game Recap – Columbus vs. Dallas 12/29

Posted by Canadan82 on December 30, 2011
Game Discussion / 1 Comment

I learned a few things last night while enjoying the Blue Jackets victory over the Dallas Stars.  First, Team Canada slaughtering Denmark is LESS appealing than this years Columbus Blue Jackets team (I was expecting there to be a channel changing fest throughout the game).  Second, I learned that you flat out never can tell what Blue Jackets team to expect on the ice.  The team I watched last night was a playoff team with an injured top tier defenseman.  And third, I learned that twitter bans on people who post too much in celebration of victories make me laugh uncontrollably (looking at you, Alison)!!!

I know it was a win, but like all recaps I do have to cover the entirety of the game, including the first period where Columbus was outshot 19-9.  Full credit to Steve Mason for keeping them in the game, despite having his stick whacked right before trying to cover the puck which lead to the Stars only goal.  That period was rough, and certain stretches of the remaining two periods found the Blue Jackets hemmed in their own zone looking like they were trying to kill a penalty.  It was nice to see them not scrambling, and not taking chances which lead to brilliant scoring opportunities for Dallas, but in the future I hope they get a bit more aggressive on the puck carriers rather than sitting back and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake.

The bright spot on the offense in my books was Johansen.  FSN declined to give him a star of the game, which I think is ridiculous.  He single handedly created the first goal (Nash finished, but he had 90% of the net to shoot at) and had a key screen late in the game which lead to their third goal.  He also created additional chances, flew around the ice, and appeared to make both Carter and Nash play better in the process.  This was a breakout game for the Johan, and he looked very comfortable in that role.

Bonus points to the Blue Jackets offense for actually scoring.  They took 29 shots and most of them had a purpose, forcing Kari Lehtonen to make strong saves at key moments of the game.  They also managed to keep his save percentage below .900 which for this team seems to be one of the hardest things for this team recently.  To build more on that, they took 29 shots and could have easily scored 7-8 goals based on the quality of the shots.  I have been stressing this for weeks and it’s great to see them finally play a game like that.  Rather than taking weak shots and hoping for a miracle, they worked hard, found quality passing lanes, and fought for tough rebounds.

One situation that really disappointed me was the officiating late in the game.  I questioned both of the calls made (a charge on Boll and a hook on Nikitin) with six and four minutes left in regulation.  While I can understand the refs wanting to keep the game clean, they ignored a number of penalty worthy plays by a scrambling Dallas team late in the game, which really set me off.  Usually this type of thing ends badly for Columbus, so again full marks to the guys for pulling out the win instead of caving at adversity.  I feel like there is a real lack of respect for the Blue Jackets by the officiating crews that call their games, and this is just another prime example of them getting the shorter end of the stick.

Wisniewski apparently has a broken ankle.  In a pretty stupid decision, he decided to try and make a kick save on a Dallas shot and it rocketed off his left foot.  For those who don’t know much about hockey skates, the worst thing you can do is turn them sideways right before a puck hits them. Zero padding.  Major kudos has to go out to the defensive core who stepped up and kept the Stars off the scoresheet after Wiz couldn’t return.  I think one of the real bright spots last night was John Moore, who contributed both offensively (two assists) and defensively in the win.

I want to cycle back one more time and comment on the play of Steve Mason, who took a pretty decent verbal beating via twitter after giving up the first goal (on his tenth shot of the period).  He has made 63 of 65 saves in his last two starts (for a .968 save percentage).  While his rebound control remains something to be desired, he is showing a keen ability to find the puck on the primary shot, and frankly, that’s exactly what I expect out of him.  If the Jackets can play tight enough defensively and clear away any rebounds he creates, they could be pleasantly surprised by his output.  Over the last two games, he’s allowed a goal to Jerome Iginla left alone in front, and a hacky rebound goal when his stick/blocker got slashed as he was trying to cover the puck.  Hard to not be impressed by the other 63 shots he’s faced.  I’m not claiming we are witnessing a “Mason rebirth” but I am suggesting there is something about that kid that makes his development worth while.  He just needs defensive support to excel.

Overall a strong performance, but there are certainly areas of improvement.  With Wisniewski out for what some are claiming will be 7-10 weeks, Columbus will need to look deep (hopefully deeper than pressbox junkie Aaron Johnson) to resolve a fairly large defensive hole in both skill and minutes.  It would be a great time to see long time concussion sufferer Radek Martinek, or maybe see a call up from Springfield.  A big defensive task lies ahead with Washington coming to town on Saturday.

Carry the Flag!

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Montreal 12/6

Posted by Canadan82 on December 07, 2011
Game Discussion / No Comments

For a while there, they had me.  Another strong first period that did not get them ahead in the game, followed up with a decent second period, and then a third period designed more to hold a lead than to build on one.  Sanford once again making almost all the saves that needed to be made, and once again they leave the building with the other goaltender well into the .900s in save percentage.

I suppose the most troubling stat of the evening came at the hands of Columbus’ top line.  It’s always nice to have a stat sheet to refer to in order to see what kind of execution they had, and I am provided with the following:

Jeff Carter :: 0 goals – 5 shots on goal – 4 missed shots
Rick Nash :: 0 goals – 7 shots on goal – 3 missed shots
Kristian Huselius :: 0 goals – 1 shot on goal – 3 missed shots

That’s about as bad as it could get for a top line.  They had their chances, with Rimer going bulgy eyed over a couple of chances that didn’t bounce the right way for the Blue Jackets, but I am a firm believer in making your own luck, and the top line simply did not do it.  12 shots (or 43% of the total Columbus offensive output from last night) between Carter and Nash that actually hit Price, and none of them resulting in a goal.  19 total shots taken.  Obviously if they get twelve shots on a nightly basis their output is bound to change, but what gives?

The game itself was decent, although stretch passes and turnovers seemed to be the best way to generate offense, including an absolutely tremendous pass to Umberger from Nikitin (who keeps finding the scoresheet) that lead to Columbus’ second goal.  This was definitely RJ’s night, with four shots on goal, a goal and an assist, and lots of notable hard working plays that have been missing from his bag of tricks for half of a year now.

To Sanford, again, full marks for standing tall.  I still see some questionable tracking abilities on point shots, but his positioning seems to do a great job of making up for that, and arguably his best save of the night was his first save, which was a cross ice pass that was shot back to the opposite side, forcing him to swipe the puck out of the air with his glove.  He continues to provide the team with enough quality goaltending to get wins, and so far, minus maybe the Edmonton game, the team in front of him has stood fairly tall.  It was also nice to see his shootout efforts continue to improve, watching one shot fly high and wide, and stopping the final two attempts.

Dunce caps go to a few guys last night.  Wisniewski continues to play too loose with the puck, and was the main cause of the first goal scored by Montreal.  An absolutely inexcusable turnover late in the period that could have been the difference in the game.  Also Jared Boll, who managed to basically get a charging penalty on himself as Diaz ducked and he went flying body sideways into the boards.  Arniel gets a smack for giving Pahlsson twenty minutes of ice time without a shot on net, although I am sure he was playing his role as stay at home center.  And another dunce on Arniel for scratching Brassard in basically his home town..  Weak move there, on an otherwise small Montreal team, and a place that could easily light a fire behind Brassard.  And finally the refs, who seemed about three shades of clueless throughout the game.

In any case, a win is a win, and while the lead was lost, the win was achieved.  Hopefully the offensive punch can return Thursday against Nashville, who rarely gives Columbus a freebie.  Final roadtrip record of 2 wins and 2 losses, which would be fine for most teams, but in Columbus wants to have any shot at all of making the playoffs, that needs to change to 3-0-1.

Carry the Flag.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Good and Bad of November

Posted by Canadan82 on December 02, 2011
Team Discussion / No Comments

After a long stretch of loss induced negativity, I have been taking a backseat on my criticisms of the Jackets in hopes of seeing the rejuvenation of talent with all players healthy and in the lineup (give or take Huselius, Martinek, and Dex).  Unfortunately, my patience only extends so far, and it is time to weigh in on some things that have been pleasing me and driving me crazy over the last couple of weeks.

First, the Good:

Marc Methot and Nikita Nikitin.  Two players who were probably not the first options for many fans entering the season, but have both emerged as relevant defenders for the Blue Jackets playing high minutes each game.  My love for Methot is fairly well known, and I finally feel as though his success and my reasonably high praise for his capacity as a defender is being fulfilled.  He was tremendous during his World Championship stint with Canada, and I believe we have been getting a glimpse of his full potential over the last handful of games.

In Nikitin’s case, he was a great solution to the defensive minded gap missing from the blueline, and yet has also factored into the scoring, most notably his three point game against Calgary last night.  While I do think he may lack a step here and there, he has more than solidified the hole left by Martinek, and has played the big minutes between the top two defensive pairings.  Secondary to that, he has managed to make up for a number of textbook mistakes by Fedor Tyutin.

Letestu.  Give a kid a chance, and sometimes you get surprised.  From no roster spot to second line standout, he has been involved in the scoring, the energy, and the success fans like me are begging for.  I am not big on his size, but his decision making with the puck and solid execution have really pleased me, as it was something I was preaching upon his arrival.  It also gives the Blue Jackets another quality scoring center/winger to round out a more competitive top three scoring lines.

Prospal.  It’s hard to say enough about Vinny.  He’s been by far one of Columbus’ best this year, and has been vocal in calling out the lack of competitiveness in the locker room and on the ice.  He’s become a bit of a fan favourite at least in the twittering that I read daily, and is a great candidate for at least another year on the roster.  He is the veteran leadership I was hoping to see out of guys like Clark and Moreau.

Now, the Bad:

The white elephant.. Better known as the complete and utter lack of competitive nature of the team.  Letestu and Prospal both saw it looking from the outside in, and fans get to see it for periods at a time.  The plague-like attitude that attacks this team is something that has forced a lot of the emotion out of me this year, and caused me to be a bit jaded during games.  I’m a long way from jumping out of my seat or screaming “GOOOAAAAL” when they score, and the lackadaisical attitude from the bench is a major contributor.  Surprisingly consistent is a decent/great first period followed by two periods of hockey that I’d be better off not watching.  This ‘style’ was present against St Louis, Vancouver, and again for a long stretch of the game last night against Calgary, and it needs to stop.  Is it a leadership issue? Are the players too comfortable? Hard to even break the surface on that one..

Wiz.  I stopped counting last night after his 5th or 6th bad pinch.  His shot is tremendous but it hasn’t been well utilized this year.  His creative passing has lead to turnovers, and I am again left wondering if there isn’t more to be had.  Obviously he’s got a healthy contract and will factor into most games, but he needs to make a more positive difference on the ice.  I have enjoyed watching some of the players grow with him like Nikitin and Methot, but at this point I am not sure he is providing what I was sold on this summer.

Carter/Nash.  Here’s where it gets arguable.  When I list these two players, I am ignoring all shootout goals, tipped goals, secondary assists, and other, non individual statistics.  I remove them because these two are defined as elite players, and as such, should be expected to play at an elite level.  Carter has shown signs of brilliance, slicing through defenders with his unique stride and getting solid scoring opportunities, but I still expect that style of hockey at a higher frequency.  In Nash’s case, it’s been non existent.  He’s tried and failed to walk around defenders countless times in the last few games, and seems more inclined to stop on the wall and wait for support instead of trying to make the tough play to the net.  Decent if you’re a passer, but it’s not the style Nash became elite for, and one on ones are something I’d rather see him take advantage of than wait for help.  Further, his completely irrelevant shots from the corner that lead to nothing are wearing me thin.

There are a couple other bubble players, but I suppose they aren’t quite list ready.  It’s been a season of disappointment with a small hint of success in the middle.  The worst part for me has been watching them play to their potential for full periods at a time, only to come out as though they couldn’t care less about the outcome of the game only a period later.  It is that kind of hockey that rips the excitement out of the game for me.  If I could beg the team to do one thing right now, it would be to simply dedicate their games to hard work and the necessary effort needed to play a full sixty minutes. I can tolerate losing to better teams, but this team has beaten itself too many times to count this year.

Hopefully an undeserving win like last night changes the mindset of a few guys in the locker room.  The fans deserve to watch a team that cares for sixty minutes.

Carry the Flag.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Recap :: Columbus vs. Anaheim 10/30

Posted by Canadan82 on October 31, 2011
Game Discussion / No Comments

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!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

What the Blue Jackets Should Do With Their Forwards

Posted by The Coach on October 28, 2011
Roster Talk / 4 Comments

After last nights loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blue Jackets forwards are clearly in need of some reshuffling. Coach Scott Arniel mixed up his lines throughout the game, essentially benching rookies Ryan Johansen and Maksim Mayorov, as well veteran Derek Mackenzie for part of the 2nd period and nearly the entire 3rd. This meant rolling three lines, one of which was Cody Bass – Sami Pahlsson – Derek Dorsett. Pahlsson and Dorsett have a role with the Blue Jackets, but it’s not to play significant minutes while trailing late in games. Furthermore, it pushed career AHLer Alexandre Giroux into significant top six minutes. For the Jackets to run off any kind of winning streak, AHL caliber players like Giroux and Bass (not to mention defenseman Aaron Johnson) cannot be playing significant minutes late in games against good teams like Buffalo. Something needs to change. Fortunately, Arniel has a number of linemate decisions to make over the next few days, weeks and months. Ryan Johansen will hit his 9th game very soon, Jeff Carter should return sometime in the near future, Jared Boll will be healthy sometime after that, and Kristian Huselius will be back sometime around New Years. How should Arniel and GM Scott Howson handle these decisions? Lets look at them one at a time.

Right Now

News broke earlier today that Matt Calvert has been recalled from Springfield, and Maksim Mayorov has been sent back down. Looking at Calvert’s stats in the AHL this year (0 points, -4 in four games), this probably isn’t a move to put him on a scoring line. I would expect to see Calvert put into Mayorov’s spot alongside Pahlsson and Dorsett, and hopefully inject some life into that unit. Mayorov has been very solid in my opinion, but it seems that Arniel does not quite trust him enough to play in the big spots against other teams top lines like he does Pahlsson and Dorsett. However, something needs to be done to shake-up the Jackets forwards. Replacing a rookie with ostensibly another rookie (Calvert is only 22 games past his rookie status), is not going to wake up Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette or R.J. Umberger. In my opinion, those three players have so far played the furthest below their potential over the last few games and are in need of a wake-up call. Nash played well when Carter was in the line-up, but has been invisible since. Umberger played well against Detroit, and has shown flashes in other games but not been consistently the R.J. we all know and love. Vermette has been terrible for most of the year, with lazy play, poor decision making and no desire to go into the dirty areas. To wake up these players, I would propose the following lines for Saturday’s game against Chicago, based on the current personnel that are with the Blue Jackets.

Prospal – Brassard – Giroux
Nash – Johansen – Calvert
Umberger – Pahlsson – Dorsett
Bass – Vermette – Mackenzie

If I were Scott Arniel I would put those lines on the board before the team gets in for the morning skate. I would personally have a chat with Nash, Umberger and Vermette prior to the game and let them know why they have been moved down the line-up. I know these lines present some issues, as Giroux is clearly not a top line player, Johansen has struggled at center and Vermette’s talents are wasted on a fourth line. But if this wakes up Nash and Umberger, that unit can quickly become the top line at even strength. Rick Nash is supposed to be an elite player in this league, and I believe he possesses the skills to be an elite player. Elite players need to carry their teams when they are injured and struggling. We need Rick Nash to  have a game where he puts this team on his back and wills them to victory. He has done it in the past, and if there was ever a time for it to happen in the future, it is now.


The Ryan Johansen Conundrum

The first major question regarding the line-up, besides poor play, is what to do with Ryan Johansen. Prior to the season the Jackets brass made it clear they would follow the plan Boston used with Tyler Seguin. Based on Seguin’s play so far this year, that looks like a very good act to follow. This plan consists of: sheltered minutes featuring plenty of offensive zone starts against easy competition, a few healthy scratches in tough road games, more minutes at home than away (to dictate match-ups), and a decent helping of powerplay time. Prior to the season, most Jackets fans were totally on board with this approach. This has been the approach Arniel has taken with Johansen. He currently has the fourth highest percent of offensive zone starts in the entire NHL (of players with 5+ gp and +10:00/g, only behind the Sedin line), and in a tough road game last night he sat for most of the latter half of the game. Personally, I think he should have sat the rest of the 2nd period, then seen a regular shift in the 3rd. If you punish a player for a mistake, show him the mistake on video during the intermission, then let him go out the next period and make up for it. Barring that, at least give him a couple more shifts in the period to let his offensive ability shine.

I think Johansen should stay in the NHL, but him and the fanbase should expect inconsistent ice-time and usage going forward. At home, I would like to see him play right wing on the second line (should Umberger, Vermette and Nash get going), as he has looked more comfortable with less defensive responsibility and talented linemates have given him the space he has needed to show off his tremendous skill. On the road, I would sit him for five or six more games through the year against tougher opponents, and possibly drop him to the third/fourth line on occasion. However, I would make him a fixture on the second powerplay unit in both home and away games. This kind of set-up would give him the best opportunity to shine, learn the NHL game and not get broken by overuse or tough minutes. However, late in a close game and down two goals? Get the kid on the ice.

Nash’s Number One Center?

For the first five years after Derick Brassard was drafted in 2005, he was “Rick Nash’s future center”. This kind of proclamation can spoil a player. Brassard has shown flashes of being a very good player, but has not been one consistently. Then Johansen was drafted to be “Rick Nash’s future center” and Jeff Carter was brought in to be Rick Nash’s current center. Brassard was an afterthought, moved to left wing and sent to the fourth line. Since then, he has reinvented his game. Brassard has gone to the corners, gone to the net hard and buried the tough goals we were used to seeing Umberger put in. To this point of the season, Brassard has been among the most pleasant surprises. At times, he has looked at home as Nash’s center. However, too often has Nash not looked at home with Brassard as his center. Over the last four games, I was really hoping Nash – Brassard – Prospal would click as a line so Carter could be moved down the line-up and spread out the Jackets scoring. This has not been the case. Based on the previous moves happening and working (ie. Nash, Vermette & Umberger getting going and Johansen staying) I would propose the following lines:

Nash – Carter – Prospal
Umberger – Brassard – Johansen
Calvert – Vermette – Mayorov
Mackenzie – Pahlsson – Dorsett

This gives the Jackets two very talented scoring lines. Nash – Carter – Prospal was great for the five games they played together. Umberger and Brassard provide the talented linemates Johansen needs for success, and Umberger provides the grit the other two need to be successful. Calvert – Vermette – Mayorov gives Arniel a third line that is very responsible in the defensive end, yet has the talent to be dangerous offensively. This would be very beneficial to both Calvert and Mayorov, as they would have the skilled linemates they have been lacking so far this season, and would aid their development into productive NHLers. The fourth line would be a match-up line, being used to shut down opponents top lines, and allow the other three sets to play against easier competition and play more in the offensive zone. More importantly, this line-up moves career AHLers Alexandre Giroux and Cody Bass back to the AHL where they belong. Giroux does not skate well enough to play a top six role in the NHL, and doesn’t bring enough defensively to play a bottom six role. Bass is not nearly as responsible defensively as Dorsett and isn’t big enough to physically handle the players Jared Boll can.


To Boll or not to Boll?

There have been innumerable discussions over the years about how poorly Columbus has done developing players. It’s why the kid gloves are needed with Johansen. It’s why Cam Atkinson (a small player used to forty game seasons against college kids) should spend the majority of this season in the AHL. It’s why David Savard and John Moore have played limited sheltered minutes in the NHL and been shuttled back and forth from Springfield. Gilbert Brule has been the poster child for the Jackets development problems, but I personally feel like one of their biggest wasted opportunities was with Jared Boll. Boll only played two seasons in the OHL, registering 47 goals and 49 assists in 131 games. He has good size, pretty soft hands and is a good skater. Watching him with Plymouth, I thought he was a future 20 goal scoring power forward, and a fourth round steal. Instead, Boll was rushed to the NHL straight from junior to replace Jody Shelley (who would be traded to San Jose midseason). Instead of spending two years in the AHL honing his abilities against lesser competition and developing into the player we occasionally see flashes of, he was fighting guys much bigger and older than him on a daily basis, and destroying his hands and wrists in the process.

Unfortunately, I am afraid we have seen the peak of what Jared Boll will be in the NHL. He is not quite big enough to handle the biggest players in the league, is not good enough defensively to be trusted in his own end and he has never had the chance to develop the offensive wherewithal to be a true scorer in the NHL. This brings us to the most obvious competition for his roster spot: Derek Dorsett. Dorsett has his own shortcomings: he’s even less talented than Boll and has a penchant for taking bad penalties. However, he has been improving in the second area, and he does draw a number of powerplays for the Blue Jackets. Among players with at least 50 games played last season, Dorsett tied for 16th in the NHL (along with Rick Nash) for the most penalties drawn. Furthermore, since Pahlsson and Dorsett are usually paired together and playing against other teams top lines, when Dorsett draws a penalty, he usually removes another teams top players from the ice. Also, he finished 86th in the NHL in penalties taken that resulted in powerplays, certainly higher than anyone would like but not high enough to really be a problem. I think these contributions put him slightly above Jared Boll for the fourth line right wing spot. Once Boll is healthy, I would like to see him as our thirteenth forward, spelling Mackenzie and Dorsett on occasion, and getting into games where the opponent is a larger physical team and his pugnacity may be required.


How Does $58,523,635 Worth of Players Fit Together 

A little over $58.5 million is the amount Howson has committed to paying his NHL roster for this season (the frequently tweeted $65 million number is inflated due to injuries and $2 million worth of buyouts). We have yet to see all of those players together on the ice, and we won’t until Kristian Huselius gets healthy midseason. As we saw last night against Buffalo, a team with three legitimate scoring lines is tough to stop. Shut down one, and you have two more there for the taking. Three legitimate scoring lines allows Arniel to almost always have a line that is a threat to score on the ice. However, the key word is legitimate. If the third line is not really a threat, and just a line of offensive minded players, they can be a liability. I would try to put together two top lines of pure offensive minded players, a third line of very good two way players, and a straight up defensive line. When Huselius returns, Arniel will have the horses to do such.

Nash – Carter – Prospal
Huselius – Brasssard – Johansen
Calvert – Vermette – Umberger
Mayorov – Pahlsson – Dorsett

These lines will probably have a few of you scratching your heads. However, try to think outside the framework of “1st line, 2nd line, 3rd line & 4th line.” What you have is a very dynamic line that can control the play against anyone (the Carter line). A line of very talented offensive players that can be used for offensive zone starts and match-ups in home games against weaker competition (the Brassard line). Then you have a line of very good two-way forwards who all have the required skills to put the puck in the net on a consistent basis (the Vermette line). Finally, you have a line that won’t score much but can grind out opponents top lines, which allows the other three lines to play with easier match-ups (the Pahlsson line). On the road, you can easily swap the second and third lines ice time, so the opposing coach can’t feast on the defensively lacking Brassard line. For the few games that Johansen should sit moving forward, Calvert or Umberger can jump to the Brassard line, Mayorov can fill their spot on the Vermette line and Boll or Mackenzie can fill in for Mayorov.

The season so far has not been good. In fact, “not been good” is probably sugarcoating it. However, the problem with injuries, especially those to players who play at the top of the line-up, is they force lesser players into more minutes. Those expanded minutes expose those players, showing why they are fourth liners or AHLers to begin with. This is not aided by questionable coaching decisions. However, there is hope on the horizon. The health of Carter, Boll and Huselius, and keeping Ryan Johansen, should allow Scott Arniel to roll three scoring lines, keep the AHLers in the AHL, keep Pahlsson/Dorsett out of significant offensive minutes, and place Ryan Johansen in a situation to be successful now and in the future. There is a lot of offensive talent on the Blue Jackets roster, and I am looking forward to seeing it on the ice.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,