Posts tagged Kristian Huselius

Time to Turn the Page in Columbus

At some point, after the bitter pill of another loss is swallowed, the patience deteriorates into extreme dissatisfaction.  For me, last night was simply that kind of night.  It was right around the point when the first period finished, with the Jackets surrendering twelve shots to the Predators in the first period while only mustering three of their own.  walking into the dressing room without a pulse, without a goal, and me without patience.

This has been written before.  The Jackets lost, and they never really had the on ice presentation of threatening to win at any point in the game. Sure, Nash made a tremendous play to tie the game at one apiece, but there would never be another scenario where I was on the edge of my seat in anticipation of a goal.  They lack confidence.  They lack resolve.  They lack a lot of things.

I’d call this a recap but there really isn’t much point in recapping something that has been repeated over, and over, and over again this year.  Instead, I am going to offer this: I’m ready for the purge.

Steve Mason

It is time for him to find a new home.  Not because I am in the percentage of Jackets fans who want to throw a large portion of the Jackets failures on his shoulders.  I want him gone because this team doesn’t have a backbone when he’s in net.  I ran these numbers on twitter last night, but I will go ahead and share them again here.

In the Last Six Starts by Mason
- Team has averaged 1.0 goals for
- Team has averaged 32.66 shots on the opposing net (196 total)
- Team has allowed an average of 27.5 shots on net (165 total)

In the Last Six Starts by Sanford
- Team has averaged 2.33 goals for
- Team has averaged 25.67 shots on the opposing net (154 total)
- Team has allowed an average of 29.0 shots on net (174 total)

For reference, the worst team in the league in goals for is Los Angeles who average 2.1 goals per game.  What I see above is a team who can’t execute with the puck, yet are more offensively inclined when Mason is in the net.  I don’t have an impressive chart to show the quality of goals being scored by the opposition, but that’s not exactly my point.  I am NOT here saying Mason is playing to the level of a top tier NHL goaltender.  I am simply contesting two things.  First, even if he was, he would still only be around 1-5 over his last six starts, and second, this team flat out doesn’t have the ability to give him room to build the necessary confidence.

With all that in mind, I hope they deal him to a team who can properly groom him into a top tier player, because I think that ability is 100% within him.  I see this as a benefit for Mason as a person, and I see it as a benefit for this insanely fragile roster who can’t seem to play quality hockey in front of him.  Get rid of the excuse they think they have for playing poorly, and finally, the blame will rest entirely on their own shoulders.

Vinny Prospal

I am neither a Prospal lover or a Prospal hater, but he has more than served his purpose in Columbus.  While his early season determination and style benefited the Jackets, his compete level has dropped significantly since the beginning of the season and teams will get less and less interested in him (in my opinion) the longer the season goes on.  He is no longer a quality factor on the opposite wing of Rick Nash, and is often trailing in the play rather than being on the far side as a passing option.

I recognize this opinion won’t be a popular one and I am fine with that, but just as I called out Nash earlier on in the year (he’s playing very well of late), I am fully prepared to call out Vinny and simply ask this: When was the last time he did something to merit the high praise he gets? — It’s time to allow him the ability to move on, and provide the Jackets with a mid to high end pick or prospect from a team in need of depth scoring for a long playoff run.

Vermette – Pahlsson – Huselius – Clitsome – Etc

These are all players (well, maybe not Clitsome at this point) who may benefit the Jackets more in their return than what they are producing on the ice.  Vermette is a tremendous faceoff winner who could be highly sought after by a team struggling on the draw.  He is also capable of playing a top six role with a great deal of penalty killing experience.  Pahlsson is a shutdown specialist who serves a large purpose for any team trying to be more proficient defensively against the top teams in the league, and Huselius (when not injured) provides and excellent injection of scoring when given a couple players to feed him the puck.

These are all players who should provide ample return.  Huselius is an interesting example because of his injuries, and because I wouldn’t hate seeing him return, but he’s an aging forward who would probably enjoy a cup run.  For the others, it is simply making room for off-season additions this summer.

I don’t expect Howson to start making the trades I have hoped for all year.  It is not the time for that, and it is something I’ll address again in the off-season.  What I am interested in, is a roster depleted by ‘deadline’ deals in a sellers market.  As much as I am sick of the losing, for some strange reason, I would feel better if it were because they dealt away their depth talent for futures.  There is no point in watching games like I had to endure last night with a ‘full’ (give or take 20 million in injury players) roster.

I have almost completely moved on from this season.  My ‘fandom’ isn’t being questioned or anything, I just have no emotion for the losing anymore.  I look at teams like Chicago, Edmonton (still) and more notably Pittsburgh, and I see cities that were absolutely terrible for years, only to receive high end picks and acquire franchise player after franchise player:

2003 :: Pittsburgh :: Fleury (1st)
2004 :: Pittsburgh :: Malkin (2nd)
2005 :: Pittsburgh :: Crosby (1st)
2006 :: Pittsburgh :: Staal (2nd)
2006 :: Chicago :: Toews (3rd)
2007 :: Chicago :: Kane (1st)
2010 :: Edmonton :: Hall (1st)
2011 :: Edmonton :: Nugent-Hopkins (1st)

As you can see, these three teams benefited enormously by drafting in the top spots.  I listed eight players and every single one of them, aside from maybe Staal, are top tier franchise level players (or have the appearance of such).  It is a painful process to suck as hard as a team like Pittsburgh did for four years, but their turnaround is nothing short of phenomenal.  A franchise goalie, two franchise centers, and a top six center.  Talk about being given their future without any real drafting/development/trading/signing.

I bring that up simply to say, be patient.  Don’t watch to lose, but don’t get upset when the Jackets do lose.  It can only bring good things in a season that is beyond repair.  In the meantime, it is time to watch this team as it is dismantled, and hope that the experiences by the younger players like Savard, Moore, Kubalik, Atkinson, Calvert, and Johansen benefit them in the future. It’s time to stop playing Nash with the likes of Vermette and Prospal, and start playing him with up-tempo players like Brassard who will help Nash to play at the speed that suits him best.

Carry the Flag.

Is There Still Value in Kristian Huselius?

If you scroll back through the last couple of years on CTF, I am sure you can find a handful of posts that reference Kristian Huselius in a negative light, and probably even more suggesting a potential deal that would remove him from the Jackets lineup as well as the payroll.  Having said that, I think it is time to really look at what Huselius is worth to the team moving forward, and whether the future Jackets roster can afford to employ him on any one of their four lines. So let’s begin.

First, a quick look at his career stats.  “Juice” was drafted in the second round in 1997 by the Florida Panthers, but spent arguably his best years with Calgary, having been dealt for Steve Montador and Dustin Johner.  After his contract expired, he signed with the Blue Jackets in 2008 as an unrestricted free agent, for an annual cap hit of 4.75 million.  His career stats are as follows:

As noted earlier, his best numbers came in Calgary, but he also managed to provide Columbus with impressive offensive totals for the first two years of his contract.  In fact, with a career average shooting percentage of almost 12.5%, Juice is the ideal candidate for a team in direct need of additional scoring.  His time on ice has never topped twenty minutes per game on average which is realistic, and I went ahead and removed the short handed career statistics considering the unlikelihood of him spending too much time there for the rest of his career.  With that said, his injury plagued seasons with Columbus generate what should be an obvious red flag, and for a team like Columbus who shocked the fan base with spending almost exactly to the cap this year, 4.75 million on the cap for a big bandaid can cause some major dissatisfaction.

I have had two real issues with Juice over the last few seasons.  First, his inability to remain healthy throughout the year.  While it can be a legitimate issue for anyone watching over twenty million dollars of salary sitting on the IR (yes, I am referring to our injured squad), it really isn’t enough to ignore his production.  Even with his injuries last year, he managed to tie for seventh on the team in points and fifth on the team in goals having only played thirty-nine games.  That isn’t a small feat, especially considering the amount of time it takes some players to ‘get their game back’ after missing significant time.

Secondary to the injury trouble, I had a major complaint with his style of play on the ice.  During his return to the team last year, he spent limited time with Nash, and seemed to spend more time with Umberger on the second line.  While there, he seemed to be glued to the center of the ice, and essentially waited for his teammates to collect the puck in the harder areas of the ice.  This resulted in a number of goals for him, but made him appear to be just another lazy, European style hockey player without heart.

Now, I am ready to call my own ‘BS’ here.  As much as I wanted to fault him for that style of play, it’s not the style that he has made a career out of.  In fact, it wasn’t until last year that his numbers were higher in the goal column than they were in the assist column, leaving me to believe that my criticisms of him last year were on account of two things.  First, he was probably playing a designed role with the team.  Each player has different assets around the ice, and it is up to the coach to create a system for players to function within.  I believe that in Huselius’ case, at least last year, he was noted as a guy who could find the back of the net, and rolled with it.  Second, he was playing with guys who are less inclined to put the puck in the net, unlike playing with the likes of Nash or Iginla in previous seasons.  Suddenly, last year becomes an anomaly and his stock rises.

The final major benefit to his name right now, is his contract that expires this year.  Obviously he will have the ability to find a new home if he doesn’t re-sign before the year ends, or Howson deals him for picks before the deadline to a team desperate to find scoring in their top six for the playoffs.  But his injury troubles and his separation form competitive hockey over the last two seasons may have a number of teams questioning his value, leaving the door wide open for Columbus to provide him with a couple more years with the organization.

I have heard the discussion of the old handshake and a ‘see you in July’ comment in reference to selling teams providing their expiring contracts at the deadline, and while this has been more designed for Prospal (at least in the fan base I pull from), I feel like Juice is an even better candidate.  While he does not have the statistics to back it up this year, he is a proven goal scorer with the notable ability to fit in anywhere in the top six.  If it were a situation where Columbus were to deal him for a mid round pick or better, only to offer him in the 2-3 million dollar range this summer, I would be entirely behind it.  Yes, the top six is getting a bit overwhelmed right now (Nash, Carter, Prospal, Johansen, Brassard, Umberger, Vermette) there is always flexibility in lineup production.  Umberger and Vermette can both play a third line role, and frankly, I would be shocked to see less than one if not two of the names mentioned dealt before the deadline this year anyways.

In short, if Juice were to stick around for another couple years at a more realistic contract, I am finally in a situation where I think it would do more good for the team than it would bad.  Just keep it under three million Howson!

Carry the Flag!

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Montreal 12/6

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.

Recap :: Columbus vs. Anaheim 10/30

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!

What the Blue Jackets Should Do With Their Forwards

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.

Matt Calvert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vermette Creating Flexibility in the Top 6

With the recent play of the Columbus top line, a thought of “don’t fix what isn’t broken” immediately floods the brain.  Thanks to the injury to Derick Brassard, the tinkering was unavoidable as we watched Antoine Vermette return to the top line, a position he has managed well for the Blue Jackets in years previous.

What surprised me, was the rather seamless transition that occurred as the top line continues to roll, scoring key goals against difficult matchups over the last two games.  In fact, what it makes me wonder, is whether this opens the door for Scott Arniel to generate a two line powerhouse once Brassard returns from injury without forcing the young center back to both top line matchups, or top line minutes.

What excites me about the possibility of dropping Brassard, is the opportunity to give Umberger a fast paced, pass first center who can force the play towards the net.  While Vermette has been solid on the second line, it is my personal opinion that he stands to gain more both on the ice and on the scoresheet by playing with Nash on line one, all the while providing the top line with arguably the teams most capable faceoff winner.

Extending on the potential second line, an injury to the generally mediocre, lazy Huselius opens the door for Arniel to get creative and bring in a guy like Calvert, who has shown remarkable poise and speed for a rookie just learning the NHL game.  By introducing two elements of speed to the second line, it will undoubtedly force opposing teams to get creative with their matchups, and if they are successful, lightening the rather substantial load that is commonly thrust upon the first line.

It could certainly be argued that I am getting ahead of myself a little bit with Brassard still injured, and the team potentially adding bodies before the deadline next week, but it is an exciting possibility to generate speed and a legitimate scoring threat from a secondary line in Columbus.  It reminds me exactly how far along the team has come since the days of bad press complaining about a lack of a supporting cast for Nash.

Deadline Time – Ranking Who Should Go

It has been a while since I formally took some time to voice my opinion via blog specific, rather than just 140 twitter characters, but I thought it might be refreshing to put onto paper who I’d most like to see go, if Howson is looking to deal towards the deadline.  Important things to note: This does NOT mean I want them to be sellers, specifically.  I think the Blue Jackets can move about three of these players without even having to make a move to bring someone in, and while I want to see some of these guys gone, I expect that a move would be made to replace some of them before the deadline.

At short last, here we go:

1 – Kristian Huselius; Make no secret, I am 100% a Juice pessimist.  I have been actively negative about him from around the halfway mark of his first season as a Blue Jacket to present, originally accepting his contract and playing style as ‘necessary’ for a team building a league-wide rep for quality places to play hockey.  At this point, however, his lazy, unsuccessful on ice effort has me convinced that he is FINALLY taking up a roster spot in the top six that could be better utilized by another player.  I would be completely satisfied if Howson could bring in a young forward or draft pick for the aging winger, who strongly relies on passes from his linemates to generate goals and rarely goes out of his way to make the play that his talent would permit him to with a sliver of effort.

2 – Jan Hejda; One piece of the shutdown pairing that lead Columbus to the playoffs two years ago, Hejda is a shadow of his former self, and is constantly making decisions that would make rookie defensemen shake their head with confusion.  Terrible pinches, and blown assignments have burned the CBJ goaltenders thanks to Hejda, and offensively, horrible mistakes have caused injury to teammates because of point shots that should have been taken low, but instead were fired above waist level (see: Brassard injury).  Again, a young foward or draft pick would more than suffice, as Clitsome has shown himself to be more than capable.

3 – Rusty Klesla; It would be interesting to see who would win in a career long bandaid competition, Rusty or Pazzy.  While his potential has always been worth discussing, his inability to stay healthy has plagued the Blue Jacket defensive core for a handful of years.  With the excellent collection of potential NHLers waiting in the prospect wing of the CBJ franchise, I would strongly insist that Howson take advantage of a team looking for potential defensive depth with a handful of picks in the upcoming draft.

4 – Anton Stralman; aka Mr. “WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT?!”  Nothing more telling than last night, when he carried the puck behind his net while the Jackets clung to a small lead, only to turn it over to two Nashville players in the slot because he opted to cut to the middle.  Stralman is simply one of those players who you can’t trust with the puck, and while his play has been slightly better in the recent weeks, it is not worth the defensive gaffs and turnovers to keep him in the lineup.  Allow the Moore experiment continue by dealing him for a late round pick.

5 – Ethan Moreau; Brought to the Blue Jackets this year to provide quality depth with leadership capabilities, Moreau has been another who spends more time nursing injuries than he does leading the team from the third or fourth line.  In a situation where the Jackets can bring in a player like Sestito to ruffle the oppositions feathers, Moreau would not be a terrible loss assuming the return was a decent draft pick or a young forward prospect.

6 – Chris Clark; Another situation where limited leadership and even more limited on ice production has plagued the Blue Jackets, Clark could easily be moved to a team looking for forward depth for a prospect or pick.  Certainly his leadership potential would be missed in Columbus, but his spot on the roster could easily be replaced by a younger, harder working player considering how little the team seemed to have utilized his leadership ability.

7 – Andrew Murray; A player who has always frustrated me.  He is what I like to consider a bubble player with no real ability to be more than that.   Consistently being scratched, and when he is in the lineup, rarely takes a chance with the puck.  While I can appreciate the value in a player who believe in sound hockey, the few times he does take a chance are usually when his inabilities as a player are magnified.  Bring in a late pick for him and allow the depth to be replaced this year by a guy like Wilson.

8 – Mike Commodore;  Admittedly low on the list, but mostly because I don’t personally have any optimism that he’ll be going anywhere, any time soon.  From the minute his deal with the Blue Jackets was announced, I was a naysayer.  I ate crow during the Blue Jackets playoff run, admitting that he and Hejda were without question our top defensive pairing, but from that point, could not have been any more painfully correct about how irrelevant, lazy, and incapable he is in the ice.  If the Jackets could convince a team to take on his salary, even for a broom, bag of pucks, or free chili card, I would be impressed.

Eight players.  Obviously I am not sitting here demanding they trade all of them, but I am trying to make a case as to why the Blue Jackets need to shuffle their depth a bit.  Guys like Clitsome and Calvert have made it very clear that prospects are not that far out in Columbus, and that positive impact should open the door for Howson to make the necessary moves to recycle the irrelevance and replace it with futures or playoff hungry talent.

I maintain that a lack of killer instinct from a number of players (many of them mentioned above) are causing the Blue Jackets the ability to play a sixty minute game.  When you watch a guy like Calvert come in, infiltrate the bottom end of the lineup, and make waves so loud that powerplay time and top six minutes are awarded, it’s a fairly clear indication that there is room for improvement in our depth.

Carry the Flag!

Possible Trade Looming: Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players I would like to see off the Jackets:

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

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

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

What do you think?

Game Recap: Minnesota @ Columbus

It is always easier to recap a loss than it is to recap a victory.  Singling out players for making mistakes is a much harder thing to do (and have people agree with you) when the team blows a two goal lead and loses than it has ever been when they hang on to win.  With that said, there was a whole lot of positive coming out of Nationwide Arena last night after Huselius buried his shootout chance, ending the game and taking home two points for the home team.

I was fortunate enough to attend the game, something I had yet to enjoy the luxury of this year.  The place was far more packed than I thought it would be after some of their recent performances, and the 14,500 noted attendance was a very fair assessment of the total number in the seats.  We sat on the attack once side, which is kind of great for me, as I was hoping to watch Mase up close, and that I did..

The Positives:
- Derick Brassard: scored on a solid pass from Huselius, causing the building to erupt.  It was a great shot, and the kind of goal that good teams score.  No fluke, just a strong play on the puck, and a quick shot to beat Theodore.  I was very happy with Brassard’s play last night.
- Steve Mason: kept the Jackets in the game with fantastic saves, especially down the stretch.  All three goals were caused by defensemen not tying up their man, and unfortunately Mase could not make the secondary saves needed to preserve any sort of shutout.  He also made an excellent save on Koivu in the shootout.
- Fedor Tyutin:  While I don’t know that I would give him too much credit for his defensive play, he has been the first defender to get a point shot to the net in as long as I can remember.  While I wish he’d work on a quick release shot, his cannon from the point kept the Jackets momentum going and was a big contributor in the win.

The Negatives:
- The Columbus defense (but only to an extent!!):  They played solid hockey for probably 50 minutes of the game, but really and truly need to work on covering a man and tying up sticks in the slot.  It seemed like Minnesota was intentionally taking the puck behind the Jackets net to make a pass out into the middle.
- Mike Commodore:  Took a pretty bad penalty to force his team down a man for five minutes, and made a couple foolish plays throughout the game.  Not his worst game, but that penalty can’t happen.
- Rick Nash:  For being as explosive as he is, Nash was pretty tame last night.  Only a few big moves on the puck, all of which ended up flubbing shots or missing passes.  I really wish someone would sit down with him and give him a roadmap of when to shoot and when to make the pass.  He’d do well to look for seams, but when you’ve got the shot he’s got, and you’re cutting through the high slot with speed, you need to be ripping a shot low and hard for a rebound (at worst)….
- Kristian Huselius:  I don’t really have enough words for the disdain I feel for this guy.  Refuses to make smart plays on the rush, basically gave the puck away on a breakaway (which lead to a MIN goal) and made a BRUTAL and unnecessary play causing a turnover which lead to another MIN goal.  It is so hard for me to watch a player with that much talent not work hard on the ice or off the ice.
- The Referees: This was a pathetic game to watch in regards to officiating.  I don’t think the CBJ had a single powerplay, and there was one play specifically that stuck in my head.  Methot was carrying the puck behind his own net, and a MIN player shoved his stick under Methot’s skates, spilling him (obviously) with a ref looking blankly at the play.  No call.  Wow NHL, get your zebras sorted out!!!

Overall I was very excited about the win.  Mase came up big when the team needed him to, although you could visibly tell that third goal rattled him.  He spent the next couple minutes fighting off some easier shots, but at the end of the day, that kind of resilience is something that will grow in time, and is something that we have not seen from him in recent games after he gets shelled a bit.

Carry the Flag!