Scott Arniel

If I Were Scott Howson, I’d Be Asking One Question

Posted by The Coach on January 12, 2012
General Manager / 3 Comments

Since the termination of Scott Arniel a lot of speculation has gone on regarding the job security of Scott Howson, what trades and re-signing he (or his replacement) should make, and the direction of the team in general moving forward. While I’m here to provide some more speculation and opinion, this post actually spawns from conversations with other Blue Jackets fans following the disappointing loss to the Washington Capitals on New Years Eve. One of the first steps of the Jackets new direction was hiring a coach who fit the direction and style of play that the roster necessitates. I had been leaning towards keeping Arniel for the remainder of the season, mostly because there is not an obvious replacement candidate and teams are unlikely to be willing to part with an assistant coach or AHL coach this time of year. However, this move was not the crux of the new direction. The primary problem I see when analyzing the Blue Jackets roster is players playing above their heads.

Looking up and down the Blue Jackets roster, there are a number of recognizable names. Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger, James Wisniewski and others have all been solid contributors on very successful teams. The problem isn’t in those players, but in the role they have been asked to play on the Blue Jackets. R.J. Umberger was a great third liner in Philadelphia, but is somewhat overmatched as a top six forward. Same goes for Antoine Vermette during his time in Ottawa. James Wisniewski had a couple great seasons as a second pairing defenseman and powerplay specialist, but was exposed defensively this season when asked to play as a top pairing defenseman. Fedor Tyutin was a good 20 minute a night defenseman in New York, but has often looked overmatched as a 24 minute a night player in Columbus.

This analysis begs the question: where do these players fit on a Stanley Cup contender? While the playoffs is the first step for the Blue Jackets, the ultimate goal has to be the Stanley Cup. For too long now the Jackets have approached player acquisition from a perspective of filling the holes on a roster with players, as opposed to finding the right position for each player. That sounds like semantics, but what else can explain the contracts handed out to Kristian Huselius, Mike Commodore and James Wisniewski? In each situation, the Jackets looked at the roster, saw a hole and acquired someone to fill that hole. Further exacerbating the problem, Huselius, Commodore, Wisniewski, Tyutin, Umberger, Vermette, Brassard and Mason were all signed or extended at a salary that fit them somewhere between where they should be playing and where they played on the Blue Jackets. For example, Fedor Tyutin is not overpaid as a top pairing defenseman, but he should be a second pairing defenseman and makes too much money for that position.

Another complex issue facing the Blue Jackets is the “country club” atmosphere that has been referenced by other bloggers, as well as ex-player Anson Carter and current player Vinny Prospal. I think there is really only one solution to solve this problem: trade Rick Nash. This has been an ongoing issue for years. The team has changed presidents, general managers, coaches, players, goaltenders, and still had a relaxed atmosphere. Even worse, this atmosphere existed under  Ken Hitchcock and Scott Arniel, two of the hard-assiest coaches out there. Hitchcock is renowned for it, but Arniel is also a tough customer. Question: has anyone ever seen Arniel smile? Exactly. In my experience, teams take their cues from their best players. Nash has been inconsistently lazy, and has made every single Blue Jackets fan aware of the term “maintenance day.” On the other hand, Rick Nash provides the team with a superstar player and a face for the team. To trade him, someone of similar caliber must come back.

With these thoughts in mind, I ran through the Blue Jackets roster and came up with a proposed lineup for the beginning of the 2012-13 season. The number one question I asked myself regarding each Blue Jacket: “Where does this player fit on a Cup contender?” Without further ado, my dream lineup for the next Blue Jackets:

Bobby Ryan – Jeff Carter – Ryan Johansen
Nail Yakupov – Derick Brassard – Dustin Brown
Matt Calvert – Antoine Vermette – Cam Atkinson
Kyle Brodziak – Mark Letestu – Derek Dorsett
Derek Mackenzie

Ryan Suter – Drew Doughty
John Moore – James Wisniewski
Marc Methot – David Savard
Nick Holden

Josh Harding – Steve Mason

This roster would fit under the salary cap (including raises for Mackenzie, Dorsett and Brodziak, Suter being signed at $7m, Harding being signed at $2.5m). While this is unlikely, this roster would fit the questions asked. Those top six forwards could all be top six players on a Cup contender. Vermette should be a third liner, as Brodziak, Letestu and Dorsett should all be fourth liners. Wisniewski should be a second pair player, as Methot should be a third pairing shutdown player. Mason is a backup goalie. The rest of the lineup is slotting in a position they have previously played and excelled in (with the exception of the rookie Yakupov).

Now the moves to get to this roster:

1) Trade Prospal, Pahlsson, Huselius, Martinek, Sanford and Boll. Move all of them for just draft picks, and fill those roster spots with players from Springfield for the remainder of the year. While none of these players are superstars, there are very few teams out of the playoff race right now, and it is likely this will be a seller’s market at the trade deadline. These picks will be very useful moving forward to replace the prospects and picks needed for the remainder of the moves.

2) Re-sign Dorsett and Mackenzie to one-way contracts. Re-sign Dekanich, Mayorov and Holden to two-way contracts. Dorsett and Mackenzie are solid depth players who could play on a Cup contender and should be kept. With the time Dekanich has missed this year, he should be able to be kept on a two-way deal as Steve Mason insurance. Mayorov should be kept to fight for a third line spot and provide depth in Springfield if he doesn’t beat out Calvert or Atkinson. Holden should be brought back to fight for the seventh defenseman’s spot.

3) Trade Rick Nash, Fedor Tyutin and additional picks and prospects to the Los Angeles Kings for Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown. The key for a major trade is to target the teams that have disappointed. The Kings are the lowest scoring team in the league, and swapping a superstar defenseman for a superstar forward is a step they could take. The Tyutin-Brown swap provides the Kings with a top four defenseman and the Jackets with a top six forward to replace the superstar dealt. Tyutin was a victim of the “where does this player fit on a Cup contender” question. Ideally, he is a second pairing defenseman. However, Wisniewski is also a second pairing defenseman. Taking their contracts and Wisniewski’s injury/suspension filled season into consideration, Tyutin is the much more tradeable player. Additionally, John Moore is an NHL caliber defenseman, looked good playing with Wisniewski, and has significant upside.

4) Trade R.J. Umberger, Grant Clitsome, Nikita Nikitin, one of Goloubef, Weber or Ruth, plus additional draft picks for Bobby Ryan. This deal is more of a stretch than the Doughty deal. However, Anaheim is having a nightmare of a season and has basically put every player on the trade block. Additionally, Anaheim is thin on defense and has three defensemen who are free agents after the season. Furthermore, Ducks GM Bob Murray has said his only untouchable players are Saku Koivu and Teemu Selanne. This leads me to believe the Ducks want to reload their roster and compete immediately. Trading Ryan for three solid NHL players, a defensive prospect (which they are lacking) and draft picks (I’d be willing to part with any pick other than the 2012 1st, including the 2013 1st) would give them players to compete next season and assets to help them moving forward.

5) Draft Nail Yakupov. This requires the Blue Jackets finish in 30th place this season. They need to finish last. The NHL draft lottery is structured so no team can drop more than one position. A 30th place finish guarantees them either Yakupov or Mikhail Grigorenko. Both of these players are thought to be absolute franchise caliber players. Both players are thought to be NHL ready for next season. With this roster, they could slot into a scoring role on the second line, no problem.

6) Sign Ryan Suter, Josh Harding and Kyle Brodziak as unrestricted free agents. Suter seems like a reach right now, but with these moves made that looks like an impressive top six forward group, solid depth forwards and defense, and a nice spot alongside Drew Doughty on the top pairing. Of course the Jackets would have to back a truckload of money to his door, but Suter is worth it. Harding is the goaltender I hoped the Jackets would sign last offseason, but he re-signed with Minnesota. Unfortunately, he has had a fantastic season this year and will cost a lot more now. But he is a 27 year old goaltender, has NHL experience, and the ability to be a legitimate starting goaltender. As for Steve Mason, he is young, still has a lot of potential, and with proper sheltering, he should develop into a goaltender worth more than what the Jackets would get if they traded (or waived) him. Kyle Brodziak is a bigger, more talented version of Derek Dorsett. On Minnesota he plays on the third line, but ideally he should be a good fourth liner who can chip in offensively.

Other options: If the Kings will not do the Doughty trade, target Ryan and Cam Fowler for Nash+, and try to trade Tyutin to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Ryan Malone. This allows them to keep R.J. Umberger on the third line with Vermette and one of Atkinson/Calvert/Kubalik/Mayorov. If Anaheim won’t do the Bobby Ryan trade, keep Umberger on the second line, and play Yakupov on the top line. If the Jackets can’t sign Suter, then they should target Matt Carle. While not an ideal top pairing defensemen, he can hold the fort until Moore or Savard develop into a partner for Doughty and he has experience playing on the Flyers top pairing with Chris Pronger. If the Jackets can’t sign Harding, then target Brian Elliott, Tomas Vokoun or Al Montoya. If no Brodziak, then they should go after Jay McClement or Dan Paille. Right now I have Calvert and Atkinson listed on the third line, but Mayorov and Kubalik would battle for those spots in training camp and provide forward depth in case of injuries.

I don’t expect to see this lineup for the Blue Jackets next season. However, these are the types of moves that need to be done to accomplish the necessary turnaround. The core of this roster is very different from the core of the current team. Along with a new coach, this would hopefully remove the “country club” atmosphere. The players brought in would be playing their proper roles, and this would allow the rest of the lineup to play their proper roles as well. I expect to see major moves made by Scott Howson (or his replacement), and I only hope they ask “where does this player fit on a Cup contender?” before they make any trade, signing, or re-signing.

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Arniel Removed as Blue Jackets Head Coach

Posted by Canadan82 on January 10, 2012
Coaching / 2 Comments

After a half season of enormously underwhelming hockey, Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson has decided to remove Scott Arniel from the head coach position.  During his time behind the bench this year, Arniel amassed a record of 11-25-5, with the largest salary in franchise history on the books, and a team who many had high expectations for playing substantially below their capacity.  But that is really only how the books cover should read, as I think it’s important to consider some variables:

1 – The Jackets have been short handed due to injury or suspension for most of the season.  As it stands, free agent signings Wisniewski (broken foot), Carter (separated shoulder), and Martinek (concussion) are all out due to injury.  Mark Dekanich is finally competing in full games after his injury, but only at the AHL level, leaving me to wonder how long it will take for him to regain form.  Huselius has found himself on the IR once again for multiple injures, and finally, early acquisition Letestu is out with a broken hand.  To Arniel’s defense (and more so to Howson’s defense), the team has not had a real stretch of games where they could compete as a full roster.

With this in mind, and what I think to be (at least by mid-season standards) a terrible suspension length to Wisniewski, I have to believe that Howson gave Arniel the benefit of the doubt early on due to the mess of players missing time, leaving large gaps with few ideal candidates to fill the holes.  When the team started showing signs of life in front of Sanford I have no doubt it bought him more time, but the huge slide following that momentum must have been the last straw.  Howson was quoted saying he believed Arniel was running out of potential solutions to the teams struggles, and I am personally under the impression that when something like that is admitted to, or blatantly visible (see line juggling galore) it is time to make a change.

2 – Arniel had completely lost the dressing room.  This is rarely a surprise when a team starts to really plummet down the standings (or stay in the basement) but it was quite obvious the players had little passion for playing a full sixty minutes under the direction of Arniel.  

In his defense, the players appear to be entirely incapable of playing with passion regardless of their cause or reason.  The term “fragile” has been used a LOT this year in the #CBJ twitter world, and their late game collapses after two periods of solid hockey are perfect examples of how coaching is only a portion of the problem.  Now, the line juggling (while obviously a weak attempt at generating offense) was most definitely a mess of confusion and in my opinion poor judgement by the coach, but I can’t help but wonder if the decision was made solely because nothing else was working.  There has to be a good excuse SOMEWHERE in there to explain why Boll managed to sneak into the top six for brief moments, right?

3 – It was probably nothing, but it certainly seemed as though those in decision making power were adamant about convincing the players to find their game and find their compete level.  The logic behind this would seemingly be that the coach is not, nor should he be in the position to babysit the players and convince them to come to ‘work’ each day ready to compete.

I think there’s a lot to this, considering that was one of the arguments that eventually lead to Hitchcock’s demise.  There are plenty of teams in the NHL that just appear to play at a higher level, and unfortunately Columbus is not among that list.  When you consider their see-saw like playing style in each game, and then compare that with teams that flat out play a full sixty minutes each night, I think it becomes very obvious that the overused term “country club feel” in the dressing room was more of a reality than a farce.  Interesting that former player and current analyst Anson Carter feels that a change in the dressing room is very much necessary to right the ship. He tweeted earlier:

@AnsonCarterLA:CBJ, firing your coach isn’t the answer. Ur whole org needs a culture change. Treating young guys like vets and vets like rooks equals 

There are those who will discredit Anson for not being an all star player or a guy who lasted a number of years in the Jackets organization, but for a guy who has been in the dressing room first hand, I think it would probably do well for us to pay attention.  Teams with great leadership seem to feed off hard work, and unfortunately Columbus doesn’t ooze that from my perspective.  From the outside looking in, Columbus has been a place where the lesser talented players (such as Chimera, Malhotra, Dorsett, and MacKenzie) seem to get great reputations solely for their on ice work ethic.  This became exceptionally obvious when rookie Ryan Johansen moved up to the top line with Rick Nash and Jeff Carter, and was notably faster and harder working until they recognized it and picked up their game.  Such scenarios are not necessarily something a coach can maintain, as the motivation is directly rooted in the players feeding off one another.

Todd Richards will be taking over as interim head coach, and if I had to guess, it will last until the season ends.  He is a fully capable coach who has experience at the NHL level with the Minnesota Wild.  Realistically, his talent pool will diminish as the season progresses, with Howson openly stating that trading will commence with the deadline approaching.  While it is hard to define the quality of a coach in scenarios like this where the team has lost most of their competitive edge, it will be interesting to see how the players respond to Richards.  As it stands, there is still a lot of hockey left to be played in Columbus this year.

Carry the Flag.

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The Blue Jackets Offense: What Could Have Been

Posted by The Coach on January 05, 2012
Team Discussion / 1 Comment

Like most Blue Jackets fans, I was very excited for this season. It finally looked like Scott Howson had assembled a group of offensive weapons that could score with the top teams in the league. Rick Nash finally had his All Star centre in Jeff Carter. The defense was still a little shallow, and no upgrade in net was brought in, but the common logic was that this team had the capability to outscore teams, and Steve Mason and company only had to give the Blue Jackets a chance to win. Nearing the halfway point of the season, this obviously has not been proven true. The offense sits at 27th place in the NHL, the defense also sits at 27th, and Columbus ranks 29th in goal differential. So what gives? Where did all the supposed offense go?

To figure this out, I went through and looked at player’s career statistics to find the rate at which they have traditionally generated shots, and their career shooting percentage. Then by multiplying these numbers by the minutes they have played in a Blue Jackets uniform this season, we should be able to get a clear picture of how much offense the Blue Jackets should have by this point in the season. This creates a better idea of where they should be than simply looking at how many goals these players have scored in the past. It takes injuries, suspensions and inconsistent minutes into account. What we get is mostly what we would expect. Our best players have been disappointing, and with the exception of a handful of depth players, everyone is scoring below what we should have expected. So lets look through the list and see what players have been disappointments (and by how much), what players have been adequate, and what player has been a pleasant surprise.

Below Average Players
Rick Nash -5 Goals
Projected Goals: 17
Actual Goals: 12

RJ Umberger -5 Goals
Projected Goals: 11

Actual Goals: 6

Antoine Vermette -5 Goals
Projected Goals: 10
Actual Goals: 5

Vinny Prospal -3 Goals
Projected Goals: 10
Actual Goals: 7

Matt Calvert -3 Goals
Projected Goals: 3
Actual Goals: 0

Jeff Carter -2 Goals
Projected Goals: 12
Actual Goals: 10

Players with one goal less than projected: Derick Brassard, Grant Clitsome, James Wisniewski, Sami Pahlsson, Jared Boll, Kristian Huselius, Cody Bass and Dane Byers.

That is a long list of players. The biggest problem is the fifteen goals not scored by Nash, Umberger and Vermette. Those are supposed to be three of the Jackets top six forwards. For them to under-perform to that extent is inexcusable and nearly impossible to compensate for. The inclusion of Prospal and Calvert are probably a little misleading, as Vinny is nearing the end of his career, and three goals below his career rate is reasonable for a 37 year old. Calvert’s career numbers are bumped up by an unsustainable shooting percentage from last season. Most interesting to me was Jeff Carter only being two goals below expectations. While injuries have lowered his minutes played on the season, he is not far off his career pace and given his streakiness, is only one good stretch away from catching up.

Players who have matched their projections: Derek Mackenzie, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin, Marc Methot, Alexandre Giroux and Maksim Mayorov.

This is a much shorter list and filled with players who have played minimal games in the NHL this season and their career, defensemen not counted on for scoring, and Derek Mackenzie. If you’ve been counting, that is now twenty players who are playing at their career rate or worse. Not good.

Players exceeding their projections
Derek Dorsett +4 Goals
Projected Goals: 3
Actual Goals: 7

Players with one goal more than projected: Mark Letestu, Aaron Johnson, Kris Russell and Radek Martinek.

That is an ugly list. Realistically, Derek Dorsett is the only Blue Jackets player who is scoring at a significantly higher rate than he has previously. The rest of that list is three depth defensemen (one who has been dealt) and Mark Letestu.

So what does this tell us? Mostly that this season has been a nightmare and there is reason for hope moving forward. The majority of the players on the Blue Jackets have been having seasons below their career averages, and their most important players have been having terrible years. Shooting percentages have been proven to regress to the mean. Nash, Vermette and Umberger will score at a higher rate moving forward than they have so far in 2011. Only Derek Dorsett is scoring at an unsustainable rate. I’ll take a few less goals from Derek Dorsett moving forward for more goals from Nash, Vermette, Umberger, Prospal and Carter.

The final question: how would career average years have impacted the Blue Jackets season? The answer: significantly. Adding up the expected goals, the Blue Jackets players should have 23 more goals than they have scored this year. That would put them at 116 goals for on the season, good for 9th place in the NHL, jumping up to 8th when going by goals scored per game. Their 29th place goal differential of -35 would improve to -12, tied for 24th with Ottawa. Still disappointing, but a big improvement. Interestingly, these changes would put them very similar to Ottawa, who currently ranks 7th in goals for. They also sit in 6th place in the Eastern Conference with a 20-15-5 record. The going is much tougher in the West, but a 116 goals scored and 135 goals allowed should equate to about 17 wins. Adding an extra 14 points to the Blue Jackets record jumps them past Anaheim and Edmonton and would put them 6 points back of the Kings for the final playoff spot, with two games in hand.

So who takes the blame for these problems? I don’t blame Scott Howson, as the team he put together on paper should have a top ten offense. A lot of blame has been heaped on Scott Arniel lately, but he can’t help Rick Nash bury his chances. Not to say Arniel doesn’t deserve his share of the blame, but at what point should we be looking to the players to take responsibility for their inability to finish? To further aid this analysis, I used every player’s career shooting percentage, and multiplied it by this seasons shot rate (see note). While Scott Arniel has juggled lines seemingly at random, the majority of the Blue Jackets players are getting shots on net at a higher rate than they have over the course of their careers. Had the Blue Jackets players had career average shooting percentages with the number of shots they have had this season, they would have scored 130 goals on the season, putting them in second place in total goals scored and goals per game. A +2 goal differential would place them 11th in the NHL, and 6th in the conference. Yes, Steve Mason has been bad this year. Scott Arniel has not shown to be a good NHL coach. Scott Howson has not done much to address much that has gone on this season. However, if the Blue Jackets players merely scored at a career average percentage, they would be a playoff team.

Note: This is somewhat disingenuous, as the Blue Jackets have taken a lot of shots this season, and part of this is because they have had trouble scoring. Not scoring on a shot creates rebound shots. Not scoring on the powerplay creates a longer powerplay, which creates more shots. Further, the analysis I did before Christmas showed that for a significant portion of the game the Jackets were getting a lot of shots that were not scoring chances (the old “get pucks to the net” approach), which inflates shot totals and decreases shooting percentages.

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Howson’s Patience – Unsettling, or Valuable?

Posted by Canadan82 on December 20, 2011
General Manager / 4 Comments

A lot has been said since the comments arrived through the social media pipeline yesterday regarding Howson’s continued support of Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel.  In his mind, the players are not playing to their potential and the issues surrounding the teams success fall squarely on them to start playing better.  A very interesting commentary to say the least, considering it was his guidance that put this group together and it has been one of his major criticisms that he sits on these types of things for way too long.

I have long been a Scott Howson supporter during decision making that really tested the patience of the Blue Jackets fan base. The trades that brought Vermette, Letestu, and Carter to the team.  His decision to experiment with young goaltenders in hopes of keeping Mason competitive rather than flushing him through the minor system while he ages and matures.  Certain re-signings that seemed to give the team more of a core feeling, and later noted non-trades that would have made him look decent to the fans, but caused the team to step back a bit in quality progression.  With that said, he has been slipping in my books, with a few of the following being the front end of my concerns.

First, the re-signings.  I look squarely on the Umberger and Tyutin re-signings as brash, as he had a full season in which to allow them to provide a quality look at their progression as players and give him further ammunition on what type of dollar amount to offer them.  Admittedly they could both be having career years, forcing their potential free agent value higher and costing the team more, but the simple fact is, they are not.  I can also understand those who would suggest I only have an issue with the signings because they are struggling, but again that is not the case, as I have been vocal on my dissatisfaction regarding both deals, in which I feel like the team paid a premium for (at least to the point where they did not re-sign for a ‘discount’).

My solution on the day of signing each player, was to extend the discussions through till Christmas.  This allows the player to ‘showcase’ their abilities while still being early enough in the season for the team to not feel like they are scrambling to make a deal before free agency.  In this case, both would have weaker legs to stand on, and I could see at least one signing for less money — or on the other hand, both players could be playing above their potential right now, working to get a better deal from the club.  Howson on the other hand seems to believe that contract talks get in the way of players work during the season, and likes to get things done before the season begins. While I can respect that logic, it has put Columbus in a bit of a bind if Tyutin and Umberger can’t get back to previous season form.  Tyutin is now playing second line minutes and RJ has been a shadow of his former self.  While it was not expected that he would be a top line player, at 4.6 million on the cap, you would think he would factor in on a nightly basis in the top six.

Second to those concerns, were the concerns to bring in a question mark like James Wisniewski.  With Columbus in great need of stable defensive help, he went out and acquired a free agent defenseman who, in all fairness, has the tools to be a tremendous defenseman.  He is quick footed, with silk-like hands that effortlessly corral the puck, yet his decision making has become increasingly terrible as the year has progressed.  It is interesting in that a number of teams he has played for previously have suggested he is slightly cancerous in the locker room, and many have been quick to move him to the next team.  I also can’t help but wonder if there is some sort of external factor that is causing him to be different.  He was top tier for a solid number of games in his return after suspension, yet something caused him to lose his touch. Suddenly his passes were intercepted, and his pinches were terrible.  Maybe Jeff Carter isn’t the partier on this team.  In any case, Wisniewski may have been Howson’s least cautious move as GM of the Blue Jackets, and I would hardly suggest it is working at 5.5 million per season and second only to Eric Staal and Rick Nash at a league worst -17.

With those points made, I have to touch base on Scott Arniel and his ability to convince management that he is the appropriate coach for the job, even with his immediate jump to line juggling and inability to convince the players to play sixty minutes of hockey.  While I can appreciate his success in the AHL, I am not under the impression that he can deploy a system that will work for the Blue Jackets or their current roster.  Not unlike Hitchcock, the players have made it relatively clear that regardless of what he puts them through, they will make a muted effort during games, and one that never stretches throughout.  Considering that, I would think Howson would be limited to two options (three if you have a sense of humour)..

1 – Trade away the core and build again
2 – Drop coach in favour of the 5+ veterans now looking for work
3 – Pull out all hairs, and move to somewhere warm

Clearly, he has done none of the above.  With fan interest still showing relatively high (for some incredible reason, 16,ooo+ have shown up to the last handful of home games), no moves are being forced on him, and he’s content to see it through.  Maybe it’s him being incredibly stubborn in that he built this specific team and plans to make it work.  I really don’t know.  But if it were me, I’d do the following:

1 – Deal A top six player.  Realistically it would be one of Vermette, Umberger, or Nash.  Three players who have been with the team for a while and who seem fairly stable on the roster.  This should provide an uneasy feeling in an otherwise country club style locker room, forcing players to essentially ‘nut up and shut up’ rather than coasting around with their ‘frustrations’ after another 35 minute effort.

2 – Fire Arniel.  It’s a simple enough solution, but with the sheer quality of top tier coaches sitting on the open market, the timing could not be better.  It would allow the team to bring in a coach who knows the game better than the back of his hand, and one with decent tenure in the NHL that would hopefully force the players to respect him.

3 – Look for a deal involving Tyutin or Wisniewski.  I know they both just got signed, but they cannot continue to work towards becoming a better team with 10 million of the future defensive cap in underachieving players.  The team needs a quality 1-2 defenseman who can play a two way game, but focuses on the defensive aspects of the game.  Their recent disasters have left massive holes in their own zone, and while Methot has attempted to fill in the number two role, he is far better suited on the second line, and has found success there.

4 – Pursue a deal that would find Mason a new home, but bring a similarly talented young goaltender to Columbus.  While the team (and fan base) have seemed to give up on Mason for long stretches of time, he remains one of the best goaltending assets in the NHL, with being five years below the NHL average goalie age, and only really his confidence that seems to pull him back.  While I would hate to see Columbus lose an asset like him, as I believe he has to tools to be a franchise goaltender, I can understand the need for change in all areas of this team.  If they can acquire a player of similar potential, I think it’s for the best.

5 – Convince the fan base that losing is not an option.  While we as fans have endured ten years of ‘the suck’ I have confidence that the team is on the cusp of something great.  With that said, the expectation of losing has not been higher with the current team in place, and I think it’s important for the franchise to give the fans very obvious signs that players will not continue to be paid by this team if ‘the suck’ continues.  That is not to suggest they would simply stop paying them, but rather find a deal that brings different players into the system in favour of them.  While I don’t care for a ton of player turnover, I find it increasingly concerning that the two basically non-rostered players who we have traded for are now essential to this team.

The trade freeze is now active until December 27th, so don’t expect a trade any time soon.  If I were Howson, I would certainly be hammering the phones if I wasn’t firing my coach at 9-20-4 with a -31 goal differential trying to make a trade.  In any case, I sure hope some resolution is found with this team sooner rather than later, although Nail is starting to look like a tremendous opportunity for a season lost in ‘the suck’ before the midway point.  Here’s to change, soon.

Carry the Flag!

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Game Recap :: Columbus vs Montreal 12/6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carry the Flag.

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What the Blue Jackets Should Do With Their Forwards

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

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

Right Now

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

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

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

The Ryan Johansen Conundrum

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

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

Nash’s Number One Center?

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

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

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

To Boll or not to Boll?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Recap :: Dallas vs. Columbus 10/18

Posted by Canadan82 on October 19, 2011
Game Discussion / No Comments

These are starting to write themselves.  Columbus begins the game while an anxious (and generally prepared for a disappointment) crowd watches on.  Kudos to the 9,157 other fans that joined me tonight at Nationwide instead of watching with the feet up at home. Despite outshooting the opposition 24-11 through two periods of play, the Jackets found themselves in a hole thanks to a ridiculous overcommit by Radek Martinek which gave Steve Ott a free shot from a high scoring area, beating Steve Mason about mid-level on the glove side.  Certainly one he would have liked to have back.

The third period offered no favours either, with Jamie Benn being left alone by Rick Nash (backchecking is only mostly overrated) took an inexcusable turnover by Aaron Johnson and beat a rather surprised Steve Mason after dragging the puck all the way through the slot.  Hard work brought the Jackets within one goal thanks to Brassard scoring his first of the year on a powerplay rebound, but the Stars came rolling right back thanks to more questionable defense by the Jackets.

Thoughtful of Kris Russell to bang home a fantastic point shot to bring it to within one again, but silly errors by Grant Clitsome spoiled the final two offensive pushes by the Jackets and once again, that 2-3 final score flashed before my eyes.

I’ve got fingers pointed in a number of directions, but I won’t get ahead of myself too quick with the negative.  On the positive note, I think Kris Russell had another noticeably decent game, scoring his first of the year and making a tremendous play to avoid the empty netter in the final minutes of the third period.  Certainly when it comes to the Jackets defense right now, upwards of five spots seem to be as solid as jello, and I think Russell has done a fine job of making himself a strong candidates for one of the six.

On the other hand, Grant Clitsome has seemed to string together a series of truly mediocre games, making himself noticeable in a number of key situations, and faltering heavily on more than one occasion.  Specifically, I can think of two within the last two minutes that were definitively glaring, coughing up the puck to Dallas while fiddling around at the blueline almost leading to an empty net goal, and then skating up the ice with the puck only to fire up down for an icing call with 18 seconds left on the clock thanks to no passing options.  Frankly, I am disappointed.  Between the bad decision making while looking for the pass, and skating across the blueline to shoot on net only to STILL find a shin pad, Clitsome and his excellent name are dropping heavily on my depth chart.

Hard to not be positive about forty shots on goal, but were they all that tremendous?  I think rebounds and forcing difficult saves on account of traffic were two scenarios that Kari Lehtonen did not have on his mind.  There were some solid shots, along with some absolutely atrocious misses (Pahlsson, I am looking at you after receiving a great pass from behind the net and missing shortside with at LEAST 40% of the net to work with) leaving me once again somewhat underwhelmed with the effort offensively.  40 shots are great, but make them 20 GOOD shots, and I’ll be a happy guy.

Defensively I still don’t understand Arniel’s logic.  The center seems to follow the puck regardless of how deep the puck goes in the defensive end, as well as at least one of the defenders typically.  This leaves the two wingers dropping from the point down to pretty much the faceoff circle.  I can certainly understand closing down the scoring zone, but when the passes reach the point (and more often than not they do) it leads to an excellent opportunity for the opposition.  I just don’t get it, and I can’t get on board with that kind of coverage.  I am tired of seeing that passing option.

Offensively I thought Brassard had a great night, along with the entire Giroux – Vermette – Prospal line which was an absolute pleasure to watch at times.  I know people are getting down on Brassy a bit for losing the puck and falling over, but I see that as a guy who is giving it everything he’s got, trying to do a little too much to create a scoring opportunity.  In time, if he keeps up that level of confidence, I think those efforts will turn into excellent scoring opportunities (assuming all of these trade rumours are just rumours).  I also have a bit of a bone to pick with Nasher, but there will be plenty more on that when I get a chance to sleep on some of the thoughts brewing in my head.  I understand he’s the face of the franchise, so I will be making a point of picking my words carefully.

Finally, Steve Mason.  Certainly the kid would like to have goal one back, but it was a solid shot from a scoring position with no defensive coverage to back him up.  The other two, well, 18 shots, and I think I could think of at least 4-5 that should have never even come close to Mase.  I am getting a bit bored of the fan base claiming that he needs to be traded, so I won’t really go into depth on this, but I felt that he gave them a chance to win again tonight, making a few very tough saves to keep them above water.

Carry the Flag!

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Team Finally Worked Hard for Full 60 Minutes..

Posted by Canadan82 on October 17, 2011
Team Discussion / No Comments

…in practice.

According to those who were actually able to attend (the public was not permitted), the Blue Jackets players were finally forced to work hard for a full sixty minute stretch, with coach Scott Arniel pushing the pace utilizing skating drills and compete drills.  This was the result of a truly mediocre performance in Dallas on Saturday night, one that Arniel had no excuses for, and for the first time I can remember, sent the team under the bus to answer for their own shortcomings.

I like it.  I am satisfied that Arniel thinks strongly enough of the team to push them hard after a loss like that, and I can only hope that the players finally get it into their heads that this team can and should be competing somewhere above the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.  There are a few talking points though, as I feel like some things need to be pointed out before we as a fanbase move forward and support this team.

First, I don’t like that the practice wasn’t open to the public.  Die hard fans are the ones that take time out of their day to attend Blue Jackets practices, and they are (or at least should be) cornerstones of the franchise when it comes to ticket sales, jersey sales, etc.  I think they have earned the right to watch this team get worked into the ground, after being subjected to five straight games of sub 60 minute efforts.  I have heard plenty of complaints from people suggesting they aren’t taking the time to come out and watch the Jackets until they’ve proven they can compete, and I certainly don’t blame them.  Frankly, I feel like practices of this nature should be placed on display to show at least from a coaching level, this type of play will not be tolerated regardless of what part of the season it is in.

Second, while I am not entirely convinced that the team has found themselves, I think they have recognized that it really cannot get much worse.  I grew up playing hockey, and while my level of competitiveness comes nowhere near being relevant here, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that losing doesn’t get easier in any scenario.  Being embarrassed by an 0-4-1 record is both demoralizing and mind numbing, but it also makes it easier and easier to see that the compete level just isn’t where it needs to be.  I think it’s safe to say this team (on paper) is more competitive than most Blue Jackets teams put together over the years, and I think most of the guys on the team are aware of it.  (I’ve got more on this, in a later point)

Third, Scott Arniel is a very interesting character.  I have heard and read from more than one person who has experienced him outside the post-game interviews that he can be VERY intense, but from everything I’ve read today (shout out to Portzline over at the Dispatch), he wasn’t shouting during the practice as much as he was letting the whistle do the talking.  This came as a surprise to me as I have known a lot of really intense coaches, most of whom blow a gasket when players don’t meet expectations, replacing the whistle with a red face and a hoarse shriek for an entire practice.  I really like this mentality.  Skate hard during the game, or skate hard in the morning.  I’ve always been a big “push hard until you’re tired, then get off” type player, so watching my favourite team take shifts off is a very hard pill to swallow and I take a lot of joy out of hearing the results of Sunday’s practice.

Fourth, I think the guys who have been around the organization were thinking the wins would come with relative ease.  Not to suggest that they didn’t put the time in this summer or that they are packing it in game after game, but too many of the guys I was expecting to rely on this year have been mediocre at best.  Not exclusive to these players, but Vermette, Umberger, Tyutin, and Nash are the four I’ve had my eye on the longest.  Sure, Nash has been on the scoresheet, but he’s also been invisible.  For a line noted as “scary” by the Dallas coach, you would think every time they stepped on the ice there would be a scoring chance or two.  While I think Nash holds himself accountable in some respects, I expect him to be more dynamic on the ice, making plays, creating scoring opportunities, and doing things that aren’t worth trying to explain later.  For Vermette and Umberger, I don’t see a viable excuse.  They are a combined -5 with only 1 assist (Umberger’s pass to Giroux on Saturday) on the year. They do combine for 17 shots on goal, but I don’t remember too many of them being truly threatening to the opposing netminders.  Regardless of how they do it, they need to figure out how they can return to form and generate some secondary scoring for the Jackets, who have still yet to register more than two goals in any one game.  I am going to bet right now that the first +2 goal game the Jackets are in, will be their first victory of the season.

Obviously the defense is an absolute mess of issues and holes right now, which probably won’t be resolved by a return of James Wisniewski. With that said, the defense is another area of the Blue Jackets game that I think can improve exponentially.  In the post-game on Saturday, Arniel noted that they allowed three cross crease goals, something that usually only occurs once every fifteen games or so.  That to me might have been the biggest statement of the night.  Take away three absolutely textbook coverage errors and the Jackets win that game (arguably) 2-1.  If you want a more in depth review (along with videos) of the defensive breakdowns against Dallas, check out this post from Sunday.  It breaks down each goal specifically.

I am only scratching the surface here, but I really wanted to get some of these thoughts out there before potentially going a bit deeper this week.  Hopefully the Jackets right the ship on Tuesday and I can discuss things on a more positive level, but at this point the only major plus I can take from 0-4-1 is that the Jackets have yet to be blown out of a game.

Carry the Flag.

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Recap: Columbus vs. Vancouver 10-10

Posted by Canadan82 on October 10, 2011
Game Discussion / No Comments


For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets are winless in their first three regular season games.   There really is no good way of stating that, but there are a whole lot of positives to take out of the first few games of the season that I will focus on rather than looking over the edge, and I strongly recommend people consider some of these thoughts before they quickly flush their CBJ interest down the toilet.

First, they played one of the league’s best teams tonight in the Vancouver Canucks and put up a fantastic fight for more than two periods of hockey.  While there is a definitive need to find a full sixty minutes of effort and success each game, there were very clear signs of competitive hockey throughout the game.  Strong play left the first period with a clear edge to Columbus, but unfortunate events lead to a tie game (thanks a lot fantastic tip that barely clipped the top corner).  While I would hope that they could pull ahead during these stretches, that is simply something that will come in time.

Secondly, and this is a fantastic point by Scott Arniel in the post game tonight; This was the third game in four nights for Columbus.  That is a LOT of hockey to play, and their efforts certainly showed something negative in the third period, whether it was being burnt out or just bad hockey.  As someone who has played hockey before (not pretending the quality was this high, but I’ve played weekend tournaments that range from 4-6 games in a span of 3 days) I can honestly say the quality diminishes for teams who become worn out.  Again, this is not a clear cut excuse for a mediocre on ice product, but it certainly makes some sense based on their quality in the first two periods.

The third point I would like to make, is how the secondary lines have been useful after a lackluster start to the season.  The Umberger-Vermette-Brassard line was functioning and showed plenty of promise tonight, while the Dorsett-Pahlsson-Mayorov line did a tremendous job of causing the Sedin line to be all but irrelevant for LONG stretches of the game.  I really hope I don’t need to go into detail explaining how impressive that is, but in short, it is not something that too many teams in the NHL can muster.

Finally, for the love of god, leave Mason out of this.  He made SOME big saves tonight, and let in three goals.  Goal one was a fantastic tip sending the puck from lower 5% of the net to BARELY clipping the crossbar before going in.  The second goal was again redirected by Hodgson who was left alone in front of the net.  The third and final goal was scored after he made the original save and the Vancouver forward was able to take an extra whack at the puck.  I can understand the expectations are high for Mason, but try not to get ahead of what really is happening on the ice.  He has made some very strong saves and given his team a fair chance to win the game early on.  It has to be a team effort.

Please don’t take this as me sympathizing for their loss.  I bleed Columbus Blue Jackets hockey all season long and would love nothing more than for them to succeed and reach the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, but I am not of the mindset that badgering and throttling them for losing games like they did tonight will benefit anyone.  As I noted earlier today, I think it’s high time we as fans of this team take a new line on cheering and really give them the support they probably desperately need to get beyond their current struggles.  Colorado is in town Wednesday and the time is now to get Columbus loud and support the team in their attempt to acquire their first win of the season.

Carry the Flag.

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Under the Bus or an Invitation to Get On?

Posted by AlisonL on March 29, 2011
Team Discussion / No Comments

Quote of the year. That’s what NBC/Versus/Network that screws up Hockey called it.

The exact quote attributed to Coach Scott Arniel regarding call-ups from our AHL team by both the Dispatch and NBC was this:
“I’m kind of caught on the fence on that one,” Arniel said. “(It’s) a little bit of the guys that are here are the ones who got us into this mess and they are the ones who have to finish it off. The other side (of it) is do we want to have to some guys play some games that could help us next year?”

When this quote hit the Twitterverse from what I saw, it was met with universal approval and hurrahs. Now granted, obviously like draws like, a lot of the CBJ fans I follow – though NOT all – share similar opinions on “the CBJ situation” to mine. And while we are getting disclaimers out of the way, let me say that thus far, I am definitely an Arniel fan-girl. Like him, like his style.

So imagine my surprise when I saw our own Aaron Portzline stir the pot a little bit by taking the spin on this quote that Arniel was throwing his players under the bus. Porty’s take – and I do love love love Porty (appreciate his commitment to keeping folks updated and willingness to engage and not just throw “news” out into the ether) – was based on, in his words, the fact that Arniel did not use “We” to include himself in the “mess” and that this was cause for question. To Porty’s credit, he acknowledged he likes a good quote – and that’s what reporters are supposed to do…

But I remain in support of Arniel’s quote and attitude. First, we’ve heard pretty much all good about the impressions of Arniel’s leadership from players in the CMH as well as at his previous posts. These are not Hitchcock days. Second, throughout this roller coaster season, the one thing that would get me most upset was when the team just seemed to “stop caring” on the ice. I like players with fire, fight and intensity (if you know me you know I swear allegiance to #15 but we’ll get to that later) and, while I don’t always know when someone lines up improperly for a power play kill, I do feel like I know when the heart just goes out of our team.
Let’s face it, this roster is not “used” to getting to the playoffs. And some argue we ARE “used” to a bit too much losing. And winning is not just physical conditioning its mental as well. You learn that you like steak enough, you’ll scrimp and save to buy yourself one every once and a while – no matter what it takes.
I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know – we’ve heard many versions of these coaching and leadership platitudes for decades. But I really believe that, in a coming off season where every knows we are poised for moves (or lack there of on some players) that Arniel is setting a precedent that the status quo will not be tolerated. Just as when we were little, mom or dad taught us to clean up our own mess, Arniel’s starting at the basics. Get a mindset that drives you to do what it takes to win. And take responsibility for your action – or inaction.
Arniel is setting the stage that people either get on the bus that he is driving, or we’re going to find someone to take your place – and the key is he is CHALLENGING his players to step up to the plate. I believe that in what will be an active off season, this kind of growing “team personality” is what we need not only to affect who’s already here, but who we hope to attract – those with the heart of a Jacket (see what I just did there? ;) )
Go Jackets! Beat the Panthers!

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