Posts tagged Marc Methot

The Ins and Outs of Playing on the Left and Right Side

In his mailbag on Tuesday, Dan P. from The Cannon fielded a question from jkcpwilkin regarding which left handed shots will be playing on the right side, either as right wingers, or as right defensemen. Dan P. did a good job of catching a lot of the elements of playing the off-side, but after a couple hints in the article and a conversation on Twitter, I decided to delve deep into all the finer points of playing on the right side versus the left side.

The major difference, and one not commonly thought of is how your body opens to the play and your range of vision. Let’s do a little exercise. Stand parallel to the nearest wall you can find, with your right shoulder about a foot away from it. Pretend you are holding a hockey stick (with two hands) and bend over and place the imaginary stick on the imaginary ice. Now look at the angle of your shoulders. Those who shoot right will be opened up slightly away from the wall, making it very easy to see everything in that direction. Lefties will have their shoulders angled towards the wall, and to open their range of vision they either need to look over their shoulder, drop one hand off their stick, or turn their shoulders to the opposite angle (which would put the blade of the stick behind them). When learning to play the game this is a huge difference, and for a player not comfortable on their off-side it could force them to have to think about everything they do, as opposed to just reacting. Now onto the specifics of hows the off-side impacts forwards and defensemen.

Continue reading The Ins and Outs of Playing on the Left and Right Side

Strong Start to Free Agency

The build up is rarely worth the wait.  Every June I get ready for free agency, with dozens of players on my ‘want’ list, and probably just as many on my ‘stay away’ list.  The options are endless and I would be foolish to suggest that I am on target with too many of my suggestions, but it’s in my nature to constantly consider the possibilities.

The biggest fear I had was the level of success on acquiring players.  I still have plenty of confidence in Scott Howson, but I question the players looking at Columbus as a quality place for playing hockey.  They are in the early stages of a rebuild that includes a new identity, and many guys seem to be focused on finding a competitive team, along with their payday.

The clock strikes noon, and all is quiet.  With heads turned towards Parise and Suter, I sat patiently on the patio refreshing my phone, hoping for something.  It took a couple of hours, but finally, after months of preparation, the first chip fell;

Continue reading Strong Start to Free Agency

The Good and Bad of November

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.

Glaring Mistakes :: Columbus vs Detroit Recap

This recap is going to focus on a couple of things (I could write for hours on my frustration of an 0-6-1 start, but I don’t think it’s all that constructive at this point), and I hope it reaches a number of the fans commenting on the #CBJ twitter feed as well as the Puck-Rakers piece that went up after the game.  While I find that many focus on the more obvious positions (aka Mason) it seems that glaring mistakes made which lead to sticky situations get completely ignored, so I will be exposing a couple of mistakes that cost them the game, and then reviewing Mason’s game to see which of them can really be directly his fault.

The Mistakes

To begin, Columbus needs some defense, and smarter passing/clearing in the defensive zone.  Of the many glaring mistakes made by the Blue Jackets last night, I have selected a few that I can share which made all the difference in the hockey game.

Mistake 1 :: Pahlsson grabs the puck behind the net and gets prepared to take a hit by a Detroit player. Instead of trapping the puck or playing it up the boards, he sends a soft fluttery pass through the middle of the ice that lands in the middle of the PK box, leaving Franzen to take the uncontested shot on Mason which becomes the first goal.  Fault Pahlsson (although kudos to Umberger for taking an extremely lazy, extremely bad penalty on Datsyuk to give Detroit the powerplay).  No bad pass, no easy shot, no goal.

Mistake 2 :: Johnson grabs the puck in front of the Blue Jackets net after a few decent saves by Mason, and rather than dumping it to the neutral zone or throwing it into the corner, he shovels it forward in an almost pass-like motion, directly onto the stick of Datsyuk, who scores easily.  Fault Johnson (and whoever should have been covering Datsyuk) for not being able to get the puck into a low scoring area. No bad pass, no easy shot, no goal.


Mistake 3 :: Grant Clitsome coughs the puck up late in the game, without a goalie to defend them, and Detroit scores easily.  I don’t even see the point of analyzing this.  Fault Clitsome.  No bad turnover, no easy shot, no goal.

As you can see, while the scapegoat style blame fest falls on Mason, it is teammate breakdowns which lead to three of the goals, and a really fortunate series of deflected pucks that lead to another.  Without these glaring mistakes, Mason would be hanging on to a one goal lead into the waning seconds of the third period.  But the easy thing to do is blame Mason (as of course the scoresheet tells the best tale) so let’s review..

Mason

He was tremendous on a number of occasions.  The two most notable saves of the game were on Helm on the breakaway (shorthanded for Detroit, as the CBJ defense watched on) and a ridiculous glove save on Franzen from slightly further out than where he scored his first goal of the game. He was not a Hall of Fame candidate last night, though, letting in four goals, so here’s the breakdown on them:

Goal 1 :: Franzen picks up the puck in the slot thanks to Pahlsson taking the puck behind the net and listlessly throwing it out in front on the penalty kill, and gets an uncontested shot on Mason from about 8 feet out, going far post.  For those who don’t know, Franzen is a tremendously talented shooter who has a knack for finding the back of the net.  He is a goal scorer who scored.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 2 :: Franzen attempts to make a pass across the crease during the powerplay.  Mason begins to cross with the puck when it is blocked by a Columbus defensemen’s stick and returned to Franzen’s stick.  He then makes ANOTHER attempt to pass it across the crease, and the puck deflects off of Johnson’s stick, off Mason’s pad (he scrambled to get back after the first pass was deflected) but it finds the back of the net.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 3 :: Two saves in tight had Mason out of the crease to the left of the net, hunting for the rebound to cover.  Johnson plays the puck directly onto the stick of Pavel Datsyuk (yes, THAT Pavel Datsyuk) and he buries into the empty net.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 4 :: Once again on the powerplay, Mason is fighting to get an eye on the puck as he is blocked by a Detroit forward and Marc Methot.  The Detroit winger with the puck fakes the shot (which causes Mason to go into a save position, while the puck is passed to Lidstrom at the point who bombs one far side shelf.  I’m not going to say give Mason a break on this one, as he made the mistake of reading the fake as a shot, but I can certainly understand why he did.  So alas, one goal out of four is questionably his fault.

Here’s the kicker.  For those who read this and actually disagree with me, feel free to describe each play in the comments section.  Show me how it is Mason’s fault on any of the first three goals, and maybe I can be persuaded.  Until then, it is defense, NOT goaltending, that can fix this team in terms of goals against.  While I do not think Mason has been a Hall of Fame level goaltender, the team needs to make his job easier, especially on the third, and sometimes fourth shot in a row that finally end up making it into the back of the net.

The Rest of the Team


I don’t really feel the need to make this into a book so I’ll be brief with the rest of the team.  I thought Giroux had another solid game and is fitting in nicely with the Jackets lower lines.  Were it my choice, I’d drop MacKenzie and play Giroux in his role.

A prime example of why MacKenzie doesn’t belong in the NHL came when a fantastic pass from the corner landed on DMac’s stick in front of Howard, who was slightly out of position.  Rather than burying the puck far side post (not unlike Franzen) he panicked, and shoveled a shot directly into his pads.  That might have been one of the biggest game changers right there, and was easily Columbus’ best scoring chance of the night.

Brassard was moving around the ice with great effort for the second game in a row, and scored his second in as many games.  I think it’s great to see him get success as he is clearly one of the hardest working players right now.

Vermette and Umberger are still irrelevant.  Without question, having these two guys find success is absolutely crucial for the team to start winning, so whatever it takes, these two “team leaders” need to pull their heads out of their.. uhh.. off-season and get with the program.  Hard work and effort will reward.  Maybe they can sit down with Brassard to get some knowledge dropped on them.

Does Rick Nash still score goals? Does Rick Nash backcheck? Does Rick Nash care?

I think Vinny P was a fire ball out there, which is great after his scathing comments regarding the team effort on the ice.  As much as I do enjoy watching him work, I think it’s concerning that he is one of their best players right now, and he was brought in to be a depth forward that benefited from Nash and Carter taking the spotlight.  I also saw him getting frustrated by terrible low percentage shots, and I love it. I hope he had a few choice words for the shooters once they reached the bench.

I am not touching the defense.  There’s just too much wrong right now.  Methot it a tank for finishing the game, and Russell’s flip out after the brutal call on him for checking Bertuzzi late in the game was fun to watch.  The rest of the defense are not even worth noting, as I am sure their names have already been mentioned a couple times in this blog.

Ottawa

While I am not a terribly patient guy, I will lose all of it if the team can’t win their first game tonight against Ottawa.  Maybe a part of it is pride, or just exhaustion from what we have been forced to watch, but I need something to give the fans hope that there could still be a season in Columbus worth watching.

I will be watching for the Vermette/Umberger tandem to start being relevant.  I will look to the “captain” to backcheck further than his blueline, and I am going to hold my breath while they start the game hoping to see some level of compete from the Jackets.  I may not need 55 wins a year to be a fan, but I most certainly need some sign that the compete level, the interest level, the heart, is there.

Carry the Flag.

Reviewing the Goals Against: Dallas

Thanks in large part to the many folks on twitter throwing Steve Mason under the bus over the last couple games, I thought it might be worth going back to review each of the goals scored to see exactly who is worth blaming.  There does seem to be a fair assessment that Mason is not exactly an ‘All-star’ goalie (which is fine, he’s not), but the disconnect seems to be on what defines a goalie as an all-star, a solid goaltender, and a hopefully sieve.  So without further adieu, let’s look at the goals scored against the Blue Jackets in Dallas.


Goal 1 :: Bredan Morrow

Midway through the first period, with Columbus carrying a 1-0 lead, Mike Ribeiro threads the needle, sending a pass through two Columbus defenders and finding a wide open Brendan Morrow who finishes on the one timer.

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Scott Arniel said it very well after the game.  Cross crease one-timer goals are seen once every fifteen games or so for the average team, and they gave up THREE of them in one game.  This mental lapse by the Columbus defense is flat out what loses teams hockey games, and something I personally don’t expect to see on the “Mason saves” highlight reel.  On this specific play, Savard chases Ribeiro behind the net essentially taking himself out of the play, and Martinek is covering the blue paint on the short side of this specific play.  It leaves Morrow wide open to hammer home the one-timer.  Fault: Defense, 100%.

Goal 2 :: Loui Eriksson

The puck is carried around the net by Steve Ott, who fires a pass in front of the similar to the first goal, finding the stick of Loui Eriksson who gets just enough of the puck to get it through Steve Mason.

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Covering on the pass was Martinek, who watched Ott go beyond the net, and decide to leave the front of the net probably later than he should have, leaving him in dead ice covering nothing.  Covering the pass was Marc Methot, who seemed to be scrambling back to get Eriksson after Martinek’s decision to move away from the net.  Again, these passes should never be allowed to make it through to players, and I am once again putting pretty much all of the blame on the Jackets defense.  Fault: 90% Defense, 10% Mason.

Goal 3 :: Sheldon Souray

Ribeiro sends a backhand pass to the point, where Sheldon Souray is waiting.  He sets, loads, and fires a knuckler that seems to change directions part way to the net, hitting the top of the net and going in.

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I know this may be hard for some to agree with, and that’s fine, but I am not going to put this entirely on Mason.  So far this season we have watched as pucks are deflected perflectly to the upper 90, far post, off feet and in, etc, etc.  In this case, these fluttering pucks are just about as bad as a tip.  What I DO want to point out, is that while Vermette (the center) chases around Ribeiro, RJ Umberger (the winger) leaves the top faceoff circle (covering the pass) and moves into the middle slot (I assume to cover for Vermette who is all over the place).  This leaves Souray wide open, with plenty of time to load up a cannon.  Fault: Bad Coverage 50%, Mason 25%, bad luck 25%.

Goal 4 :: Michael Ryder

Ribeiro sends a pass to Morrow, who is near the goal line about 10 feet away from the net.  He then sends a pass through Clitsome to Ryder, who one times the puck off the near post and in.

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Powerplay goals are hard to dissect, especially when you downplay coverage quality, but Clitsome has to be better.  He is a good couple feet high as the pass is received by Morrow, and does little to stop Ryder from scoring.  This is once again the defensive breakdowns that lead to goals on every single goalie in the NHL, not just Mason.  I would like to see Mason with a bit more of an active stick, but that’s a dangerous game to play as teams begin to try deflecting the puck off the goalie and in.  Fault: Defense 90%, Mason 10%.

As you can see, the misguided hatred towards Mason has become silly.  Of the four goals scored on him, none of them were normal, textbook saves that he has been making all year long.  They were one timers from down low and a freak knuckler that I am still trying to figure out how it went in.  While I can understand the frustration of most Blue Jackets fans (trust me, I waited a day to post anything) I think it’s time to start pointing the finger in the right direction, not just at the guy who is the easiest to blame.

The bottom line here, is that if the defense were doing what needed to be done, that game could have very well been a win for the Jackets.

Carry the Flag.

The Methot Hit

Midway through the second period during the Columbus/Vancouver game, Marc Methot was penalized (fairly) for boarding Sedin as he played the puck into the Columbus end.  This was briefly discussed as a potential “Shanaban” scenario for many, and here are some pictures to show just how the play happened.

Sedin is sideways receiving the pass along the boards.  As he makes a move to continue the puck on into the Blue Jackets end, he turns his body towards the boards.  During that move, Methot comes in with the intent to essentially plaster Sedin with a big hit.

As he nears him though, it becomes obvious that he will only be hitting numbers, and he begins to lay off the hit.  He is clearly committed to making contact with Sedin, and he sends him into the boards generating the boarding call.

This image shows post connection.  Now, on many of the suspended hits from behind we have seen this year, there is little to no indication of stopping on the hitting players behalf.  As the picture above shows, Methot makes a conscious effort to avoid demolishing Sedin, and while he made a pretty solid attempt of embellishing the hit, there was no real injury on the play.  He played in the resulting powerplay, not missing a beat.

I think the decision by Methot is exactly what the league wants to see.  He certainly deserved to sit for two minutes, but this is what I believe to be a textbook two minute boarding penalty, not an intent to maliciously injure a player or something that is deserving of a suspension.

Edit: The league agrees with me, as many are reporting that Methot will not be receiving further discipline from the league.  I think this is a huge step in the right direction, and a bit of an easier pill for the fans of the Blue Jackets to swallow considering their obvious disdain for the statement call made on James Wisniewski in the pre-season.

Carry the Flag!

Matt Calvert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weighing in on Marc Methot

It seems like every year the Jackets have a couple players who play well below our expectations, and a couple people that come out of the woodwork and play well beyond anything we expected from them.  This year, I think Marc Methot has been the defensive surprise that the Jackets were hoping for.

Whether Methot is stepping up because of a lack of quality out of players like Klesla, Commodore or Tyutin, or whether he is simply developing at a higher rate this year, it has been one of the best things to happen to the Jackets this year.  He has vaulted to being one of the Jackets most valuable defensemen without any real recognition from the Jackets brass, so I felt it necessary to bring it out here.

His play with the puck has been fantastic.  He is confident when carrying the puck, and takes the chances that do not cost the team in the long run.  While he had been capable of doing these things in years past, it seemed that he was hesitant when making big decisions.

His defensive play has been outstanding.  He leaves the perfect distance between the opposition to avoid giving up a free shot, while not allowing the player to get around him.  In fact, during last night’s game against Minnesota, he made a play on the puck while a defender was skating in one on one that was absolutely textbook.  The forward tried to slip the puck through Methot after making a play to the outside, and Marc immediately swatted the puck into the corner while maintaining position between the forward and his net.

While this is only a small selection of the excellent decisions made by Methot this weekend, I can expect to have a great handful of plays to use as examples by years end.  In fact, his play has been so strong, it is making players like Klesla, Commodore, and Tyutin completely expendable.  This is the kind of play that will make Columbus a serious threat in the league.  Production from within their system.  And with the collection of prospects budding in the minors, they are without a doubt one of the deepest defensive prospect teams in the NHL.

Expect big things from Methot.  I think he’s just getting started.

Klesla Injured.. Line Changes Upcoming


Rusty Klesla has sustained a substantial injury to his groin, which will take him out of the lineup for upwards of four to six weeks. Coming on multiple injury proned seasons, this is the last thing the fans and Rusty wanted to deal with. Making matters worse, he has been far and away one of Columbus’ best defenders during this year.

The Jackets have recalled Roy from Syracuse, and the line jugglging will likely continue into Thursday. My personal preference for pairings are the following;

Hejda – Commodore
Tyutin – Russell
Stralman – Methot/Roy

That being said, one can not ignore that Russell being on the same line as Commodore brought the best out of Mike last night, playing in one of his better games of the season and producing a +4 rating. This could play dividends with the coach, leaving him and option such as;

Hejda – Tyutin
Russell – Commodore
Stralman – Methot/Roy

While this does not provide the Jackets with a clear shutdown pairing, it balances the offensive defensemen with the defensive first defensemen, and maintains the Commodore/Russell line in tact. In any case, if the pairings deviate from what I have listed, I will be shocked if we see any sort of success defensively.

Carry the Flag!

2009/2010 Columbus Defense

Columbus defensively may be the biggest question this year. With a decent showing last year, and young players like Methot and Russell showing their capacity to function at the NHL level, Columbus certainly has the cornerstone of what could be a very strong defensive core.

Obviously the biggest off-season effort was put into the Rick Nash signing, but I do believe finding a puck moving defensemen was second on their list all the way. While Rusty Klesla has shown signs of being a great player, his inability to stay healthy has cost the Blue Jackets much needed depth on the blueline. If they hope to acquire a quality defender, it is no doubt they will try and package Rusty with a forward (hopefully one of Chimera or Modin). Here are my preferred lines heading into the pre-season;

1 – Commodore – Hejda
2 – Russell – Tyutin
3 – Methot – Klesla

While I do think these combinations show a great deal of depth in their current state, I think it will be necessary for a couple of these guys to step it up and really force their play into the first pairing. I do not think any one of these players deserve the top spot more than another, although I do think their style of play may become a factor.

Commodore and Hejda became the ‘go-to’ pairing for Hitchcock last year. Both were able to prove their critics (including me) wrong and play a strong defensive game. They will have to up their game if they want to avoid losing their spot to one of the young guys still working on developing into their career style and ability.

Russell and Tyutin are a pairing we have seen before. Russell has a tremendous ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and draw pinching forward away from Tyutin. This will allow hopefully for a lot of open point shots from Fedor. While I think both can achieve top line status, I think the most opportunity lies with Russell and the level he can achieve this year.

Finally, we consider Methot and Klesla. Both seem to continuously have something to prove to the coaching staff. There will be no free rife for Methot, although with the release of Backman, it will give him the opportunity to truly own an NHL position. In Klesla’s case, everything rides on his summer development and how he can avoid injuries this year.

As I had previously mentioned, a lot of room for modification to the defensive lines may really force these six palyers to amp up their game. One thing I will personally anticipate is that these lines will look completely different after the first month of the season.

Carry the Flag!