Posts tagged Ken Hitchcock

Playoff Preview: CBJ vs. Pittsburgh

It’s pretty crazy to think about how much has changed since the Jackets last playoff appearance. Steve Mason was the savior. Rick Nash was the franchise. Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek were the future. RJ Umberger looked like a steal. Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda were a beloved shutdown pair. Ken Hitchcock was coaching them up. Scott Howson looked like a genius. Well Mason is the savior in Philadelphia. Nash is the franchise in New York. Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard are the present in New York and Philadelphia. Mike Commodore is somewhere. Jan Hejda is a beloved shutdown defender in Colorado. Ken Hitchcock is coaching up St. Lous. And if you are paying attention, Scott Howson actually still looks like a pretty good GM. Make no mistake, this is Howson’s team. He brought nearly every single player on this roster into the organization. The most prominent player expected to play in this series that was a Jarmo/JD pickup is probably Blake Comeau. Both goaltenders were Howson pickups. Seven of the eight defensemen who might see time were Howson pickups (Nick Schultz being the exception). Comeau, Jack Skille and Corey Tropp are the only Jarmo pickups at forward (plus the injured Nathan Horton). I’ve already dwelled on this more than I planned on, I just wanted to make sure it was out there that this team was built by Howson. Moving on.

The Pittsburgh Penguins. Funny how the Jackets first two playoff opponents have been Detroit and Pittsburgh. I know some fans are concerned about Pens fans taking over the building. Think back on that last playoff series, and remember the atmosphere. Nationwide was rocking with CBJ fans, and I expect the same this time around. If Detroit fans couldn’t overtake the rink, I don’t see how it should be much different this time. As for the on-ice product, I expect this to be a very close series. At even strength at least. The two teams are actually very close when it comes to 5v5 play. In shots for percentage, they rank 13th (Pittsburgh) and 14th (Columbus). In Fenwick Close, they rank 12th (Columbus) and 16th (Pittsburgh). In Corsi Close, they rank 13th (CBJ) and 16th (Pit). In goals for percentage, they rank 8th (Pit) and 12th (CBJ). On other words, the Jackets are slightly better at controlling the play, while the Penguins score a tiny bit more. Which makes sense, considering the talent they have, as Crosby, Malkin, and others have shown they (and their linemates) can consistently score on more of their shots than league average. But then again, the Jackets have Bobrovsky. Like I said, this should be a very close series at even strength. Pittsburgh has been quite a bit better on special teams than Columbus. So on the surface, the edge lies with the Penguins. Let’s look deeper, comparing the forwards, defense, goaltending, and special teams. And maybe we’ll see how the Jackets might be able to pull of the upset.
Continue reading Playoff Preview: CBJ vs. Pittsburgh

Not So Breaking News… Hitchcock

There has never been any question that my tendencies have leaned towards removing Ken Hitchcock as the coach of this team. With the lack of quality coming from the players, and the excuses piling up, even if Hitch were deemed ‘ the right man for the job’, something had to give.

In removing him at this point of the year, it says a couple things about the organization. First, Mike Priest is eating his words. After praising Hitch and saying that he had absolute confidence in him, removing him is definitely a shot in the leg of an otherwise unwavering attitude towards the veteran coach. While I believe it was the right decision to make 3 months ago, I do have to respect Priest for eating his words and accepting the idea that maybe, just maybe, this team could be better without Hitch.
Secondly, it all but removed Columbus from playoff contention. I was already knee deep in draft lottery details. I have been tracking the standings daily and not necessarily rooting against the Jackets, but smirking a bit each time they dropped a contest. It was never a sense of abandonment, but an absolution that having a top three pick would do worlds for the future of this franchise. By removing the coach now, it gives fans hope of an incredible run to the playoffs, and the ideology that the blanket of abysmal play has been lifted.
Thirdly, it readdresses the issue of Filatov. His value went up with the removal of Hitch, and with it, the likelihood of his return to North America. I am not suggesting that he is going to be successful when he returns, but he remains one of the highest sought after prospects in the game of hockey, and if it does happen that Hitch was simply the wrong coach for him, Columbus has quite a few more poker chips when considering what to do with the budding Russian.
So let us not exaggerate what has happened here. Claude Noel is a fine coach, but not someone I would like to see take over full time for the Jackets. My expectations for the current year went up, solely because I think Noel is going to let them play their own game. I am looking forward to seeing a young, offensive minded coach come in during the summer, and with him, the aspiration of a quality playoff team in 2011. The Jackets still have a hole to dig themselves out of, but it suddenly seems a lot less muddy with a major piece of their team ‘retooled’.
Carry the Flag!

Add Enjoyment to the Game… Let our boys play!


For most sports fans, the common interest in watching each sport is to be entertained. While a layup in basketball makes for about as much excitement as a lobbed wrist shot from the point, we all wait in anticipation as the stars make plays that make our heads spin. Whether it is a diving touchdown catch, a homerun that reaches the upper deck, or a no look pass that results in a nifty top shelf goal, we live for that kind of electricity in our veins.

For the Blue Jackets, excitement has been far from their game plan. With Ken Hitchcock, the style of hockey played is at best, bland. Heavy traffic in the neutral zone, dump and chase or one man deep, the style of play rarely allows for odd man breaks that lead to earth shattering goals. In fact, most of the excitement last year was watching Steve Mason defy what most Blue Jackets are used to seeing (hard work, determination, and defeat).

While I sat and endured another unfortunate performance a few nights ago, I began to wonder why or how I could possibly be disinterested in a game that sees my team outshoot the opponent 2:1. I could not really piece together how that kind of margin could possibly draw such little interest from me, but in reality, it is boring hockey. While New Jersey all but perfected the most boring trap style I have ever seen, they found ways to win Stanley Cups. I suppose it would suffice if the Jackets were heavy in the playoff race, fighting off opponents 1-0 or 2-1 all the way down the stretch, but that simply is not happening.

This is one of many reasons why I believe Ken Hitchcock is a bad fit in Columbus. It is a city used to exciting games thanks to the Buckeyes. They are built on winning, thanks largely to the conference the Buckeyes are in, and they are sold on the idea of sporting events being highly entertaining. If the Jackets can find a coach that can bring excitement back to the game, whether or not we are winning games 7-6, or losing them 6-5, I think it will be better for the hockey club. Some fan bases are well built to tolerate 1-0 or 2-1 losses, but I personally do not think Columbus is one of them.

The simple fact is, this team is built for high paced, high scoring games. I have seen countless nights where some of our more exciting players are lulled to sleep by their own forced tendancies, causing them to be sluggish around the puck and tired on the forecheck. Our team belongs on the scoresheet, and I do not believe under the direction of Ken Hitchcock that we will see exciting hockey in Columbus unless we make a coaching change. Let the players succeed at their own game. The game Howson knows they can play.

Carry the Flag!

The Weekly Burning Questions…


It took twenty five games this season to visualize the words I have been trying to produce regarding the Jackets play. Twenty five games, a dwindling +.500 record, and a whole little at which to look positively. There are a seasons worth of things to blame such as injuries, laziness, and bad coaching. Focusing on one thing or the next, while being sufficient for a given time period, rarely does the trick.

I will start with the coaching. While this is something that I have focused on in past entries, I feel it necessary to reiterate my distaste for the way this team is being coached currently. To begin, the right players are rarely the players that are given the most opportunity. Coach Hitchcock seems to overuse his veteran first mentality up until the boiling point, and will only in a dying effort bring in some youth to try and stoke the fire. Losing Filatov was inevitable based on his attitude toward youngsters, and that is not to say that Filatov does not have a lot of developing to do, but it does say that the wrong people were put in place to develop Niki as a player. Futhermore, putting Russell on the shelf after he single handedly held in the concept of puck moving defenseman late last year seems to be a horrible waste of talent, regardless of whether Stralman is a better all around player.

Yes, I am pushing hard, but so be it. Most of these players will earn more this year than I will see in my lifetime, and while I respect that, so should they. There is no desire for victory, no push for perfection, and certainly no accountability from the coaching staff that maybe their tactics are short of what this club needs.

Let us move on to laziness. There is no question that the better part of each game (especially each loss) is spent with our Jackets firing at maybe 70% of their actual capacity. It was obvious in the Calgary game, when they scored three goals in the final seven minutes of the second period, only to fall back asleep in the third. It has been obvious game after game that these players are finding little reason to force the issue and work extremely hard game in and game out. While this may seem like a trivial pursuit of the flawless victory, I do not believe it is out of the question to expect a high caliber of effort from each of these players.

In the previous couple games, horrible giveaways and brutal blown assignments have cost the Jackets costly goals and unnecessary losses. If the defense held strong, and the offense maintained their positioning in the defensive zone, there is little doubt in my mind that one of Garon or Mason could easily provide the goaltending needed to win a game or twenty.

Finally, we can chat about injury. I have heard and read more complaints about poor conditioning due to injury from some of the players in the Jackets organization than I can personally stand. Take a minute to consider a guy like Raffi Torres, who loses half of his mouth from a puck, and manages to return to form only a few games afterwards. Then, we look at a guy like Mike Commodore, who has complained over and over again about conditioning being a factor. Here is the simply truth. If a player is not in good enough condition to play, then do not play them! There are a multitude of bubble defensemen that would love to step in and play. We are not in a situation where there is a dying need for injured and unconditioned defensemen need to be playing in each game. Forget what the players can and can not do, it is time to start hearing that accountability is the number one factor in every game and practice. It is time to hear that the best players available are playing in each game, and are playing to their fullest capacity.

I am done hearing excuses. This is an extremely talented group of players who are heavily underachieving, despite a winning record they do not fully deserve. It is time to start playing for the fans. We deserve it.

Carry the Flag!

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!

Filatov Up With Columbus…


An unexpected decision was made this past week by General Manager Scott Howson, bringing young Nikita Filatov up from the Syracuse Crunch to soak in the playoff atmosphere. Unclear towards his intentions, fans have been skeptical about the decision considering Syracuse is in a playoff race of their own, however, the decision was based on the ability to provide one of Columbus’ very promising young players a chance to get some unique experience.

Now, typically this would get me excited, as Filatov has shown the ability to hang with NHL caliber hockey teams.  He has already experienced the thrill of an hattrick and blended well and quickly with different players on the Jackets roster. His experience and size obviously need a boost, but I suspect Howson believes the place to gain that is with Columbus and not Syracuse.

I say typically because there is a catch involved if Nikita plays, which based on the need for scorers on the Jackets roster I would expect he would.  Any coach or GM will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means giving playing time to snipers like Filatov. That catch is obviously his NHL contract, which would kick in if he plays two more games with the big team this year. Not a big deal in the long run I suppose, considering Columbus has plenty of cap space and can spare it here and there, especially assuming Brassard, Voracek, and Filatov are their future up front.

That being said, if Filatov’s NHL contract kicks in this year, he becomes and unrestricted free agent the same year Brassard does. This is not terribly relevant towards cap implications, but it most certainly is an issue in terms of ‘matching’ or exceeding a contract. It is definitely likely that Filatov will have as much success as Brassard if not more prior to entry contract expiring, and because their styles are even minutely similar, this is personally a concern.

It is a double edged sword in reality, and even I can not make up my mind whether the idea of playing him and having his contract kick in is worth the extra round in the playoffs. Many teams do everything they can to win the cup every year, and having Filatov playing rather than Peca or Murray is certainly at the top of my list, but I really do not want to see any sort of animosity between the young players as their contracts expire.

TB Game Recap


There was a lot to be impressed about with tonight’s game in Tampa Bay.  There was also a lot that I need to discuss to negate all the good, so bear with me, because I am seriously displeased.

First, the good….
The Jackets badly outshot the Lightning, and dominated most of the game.  Their offensive presence was strong, and their passing seemed to be good when the correct players were on the ice.  It was evident that their attention to Hitch after two periods of play was high, as I am assuming he told them to take more shots, and they absolutely came out firing in the third period, getting almost 10 shots in the first 4 minutes.
Unfortunately, that is all the good I can muster.
Now, the bad….
First off, let’s get right to the thick of it.  Coaching.  I have a few examples, so again bear with me, as Hitchcock is clearly a fan favorite in Columbus.  He is simply putting the wrong players on the ice at the wrong time.  Huselius had an absolutely horrific game, failing on pass after pass, and putting very little effort into his game, and yet he found himself out on both the powerplay, AND the overtime.  Same goes for Tyutin, who spent the entire overtime on the ice, which spanned around three minutes.  That is simply not strong coaching.
Secondly, I have a bone to pick with one of our ‘best’ players.  Huselius was considered a highly sought after scorer when we picked him up, and he has done nothing but let me down this year.  He is playing with easily one of the most dynamic players in the league, and yet somehow he has been lackluster and lazy on the ice.  His turnover ratio is getting more than absurd, and his attitude on the ice makes it seem like he is simply going through the motions.
Bottom line here, is that games are not one by individuals, they are won by an entire team working as a cohesive unit.  Bombing on the powerplay, and watching top players cough up the puck time and time again without any sort of repercussion can only work against the production of this unit.  I would like to see some accountability by line one after tonight.  I want to see Hitch call them out and call himself out by suggesting that no one really brought their appropriate game tonight.  Sure, they dominated for most of the game, but does that really benefit the result?  No, it absolutely does not.
Their next game is at home on Thursday against a big team.  I am ready to see a rejuvenated team, and I hope you are as well fans!
Carry the Flag.

Rounding Out the Week..


Tonight, the Jackets finish one of their biggest statement weeks of the year against the Detroit Red Wings, who they beat 8-2 last weekend.  Confidence will not be of short order, as both teams are coming off wins.

That being said, the Jackets had better acknowledge what they did to Detroit last weekend rarely ever happens to them, and they will most likely take offense to the drubbing.  Hitchcock has stated that Mason will make the start tonight, and there are some mistakes to point out.
Aaron Rome is scratched in favour of Christian Backman, who is arguably one of the worst defenders to suit up for the Jackets.  Backman is the cause of many turnovers, and for whatever reason, Hitchcock likes to put him on the ice during pressure situations.  With a team like Detroit playing in town, there are four lines that will take advantage of a defensive breakdown when the opportunity is there.
Andrew Murray is replacing Derek Dorsett in the lineup.  Murray is a neutral player who rarely adds anything to the lineup, but usually takes nothing away.  When you think about depth, Murray is the last guy you think of, and by taking out a guy like Dorsett, who plays with an edge, you have to consider it digression.
There is also the potential for Jiri Novotny to replace Chris Gratton in the lineup.  Consider this the trifecta of things I would most certainly not do against a team like Detroit.  Hopefully these players are not a huge detriment on the ice, but it certainly does not provoke optimism in this fan.
Carry the Flag!

Welcome Back Klesla


A familiar face returned to the Jackets lineup recently. Marred by injury this season, Rusty Klesla is finally off IR and making a difference on the ice. I personally was on the train that pegged Klesla as good deadline trade bait, but it is time for me to digress and appreciate his talent.

While the Columbus defensive corps are full of promise and potential, there is always room for a player like Klesla, who has the size advantage, and a lot of the time a hockey sense advantage over many of the other d-men on our depth chart. With Tollefson on IR with an injury, the need for physicality will be filled perfectly by either Mark Methot or Rusty Klesla, which leads me to wonder.. Who are the odd ones out?

I would be fairly comfortable in assuming Commodore and Hejda will be safe on the roster for the remainder of the season. Both are playing strong defensive games, and have been known to step it up against the opposition’s best lines. Tyutin and Russell are staples on the powerplay, and seem to have earned their spot on Hitchcock’s depth chart.

That leaves a recovering Klesla, injured Tollefson, Christian Backman, Aaron Rome, and Mark Methot in limbo. Based on any kind of consistency, Klesla will outplay every one of them, (unless something unexplainable happened to his abilities) and OKT will be recovering, which would leave the remaining four players competing for a single roster spot. Now, the fact that Hitch has had the common sense to sit Backman through multiple games gives me some confidence. I know his contract is robust for what he can (and clearly can not) do on the ice, which leads me to believe that when push comes to shove, the position will not go to him.

The concern I have is whether or not Hitchcock will be willing to sit Aaron Rome. He would have to clear waivers to return to Syracuse, and from what I have heard and read, the organization really likes what he can do, meaning that Methot will flat out have to be brilliant to obtain a position that in reality should be his.

What are your thoughts Jackets fans? Will Rome take the spot by default, or will Mehtot get a fair crack at the roster down the stretch?

Carry the Flag!

Jackets Acquire Chris Gratton


News is that the Jackets have acquired center Chris Gratton from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who tried to bring Gratton back up on re-entry waivers.  This is a rather interesting trade, based on the high number of centermen the Jackets have, and the fact that Howson has already proclaimed that nothing has had an effect on his search for a center.

Based on that, I have to assume that Gratton is the ‘heavy body’ Hitch has been looking for.  His veteran style and his experience will bring a lot to the bottom of the roster, likely pushing either Murray or Novotny out of the lineup.  Going a step further, if another center is acquired prior to the deadline, along with a potential return of Brassard, we are looking at a serious influx of centerman, and a great deal of options for management.
When push comes to shove, I think this was an easy decision to acquire him as more of a backup plan, but it also adds some veterean depth and a potential for a secondary option if teams refuse to deal with the Jackets.
So for now, let’s see what the old boy can do!  Carry the Flag!