Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jody Shelley: The Enforcer ...but for how long?

Brian's post about Monday's game vs the Coyotes brought up an interesting topic: Jody Shelley. Good ole #45 has been with the Blue Jackets organization from the very beginning. As early as the inaugural 2000-2001 season, Shelley played 69 games for the Syracuse crunch and once for the Jackets. Since then he has been a staple on the Columbus roster, playing 50-80 games per season.

Jody Shelley is a role player, his title: the enforcer. Shelley is known for one thing and for one thing only- to establish a physical presence on the ice and defend his team from the roughest players on opposing teams. When an opponent tries to rough up one of Columbus' younger or more defenseless players, Shelley is the man who steps out on the ice like a bodyguard. A few checks into the boards usually fixes the problem, though a few more deliberate punches to the face are also in the repertoire.

It is well known that the NHL is attempting to "crack down" on fights by enforcing stricter penalties for instigators, and at the very least making quicker efforts to stop the punches before they're thrown. Without getting into the merits of on-ice fights in the NHL (we can do that another time), the crackdown on this scenario takes away the need for a physical player like Shelley.

As Brian said, Shelley's days are numbered. Beyond fighting, Shelley is not an incredibly useful player on the ice. In 280 NHL games, Shelley has amounted to only 27 points- 10 goals, 17 assists. In the same amount of time he racked up 856 penalty minutes. Granted, that number is slightly skewed by the fact that a fighting penalty is a 5 minute major and cedes no power play, but it still amounts to over 14 hours in the box. But how many of those minutes are forcing the Jackets into a penalty kill situation? The one stat that I don't have available is how many minutes he actually spends on ice. I think the penalty box to ice time ratio would be ridiculous. What I do know is that he averages over 3 minutes in the box per game and in the first three games of this season has not found himself there yet.

Outside of games, Shelley has a different role with the team. As one of only a handful of Jacket players who have a strong grip on the English language and a likeable public personality, he has spent more time than any other player doing promotions and advertising. Local car dealerships utilize many commercials with his likeness projecting toughness. The mobile Blue Jackets promo team also frequently have him making public appearances (formerly in tandem with Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre). Video highlights and ads inside Nationwide Arena often include him advising the safety habits of fans and demonstrating the strength and physical play of Blue Jackets hockey. In essence, he has become the quintessential face of the Blue Jackets. It's hard to imagine Columbus hockey without him. As this site would reflect, he's certainly a fan favorite.

The reason for which I have the most respect for Shelley is not his physical play, not his defense of his team, and certainly not his advertising spots. I admire Shelley for his tremendous work ethic and never-give-up attitude. Having attended a Blue Jackets practice, I can attest that #45 was the first one on the ice and the last one off. To be frank, the guy works his ass off to be the best player he can be. You can't blame a guy with that much effort. To his dismay, his hard work on his slapshot and stick handling hasn't yielded him any more than 10 points in a season, even while taking the ice in 80 games. However, I must imagine that this attitude and commitment to the team carries over inside the locker room. It's near impossible for any outsider to speculate what impact he may have on the other players.

I have nothing but the biggest dreams for the Jackets, and as such I wonder what role Jody Shelley will have on a playoff contending team. Is his slot on the roster and his salary best spent on an enforcer that can no longer legally enforce? Should he be sent back to Syracuse so that a younger player with stronger potential can take his seat on the bench? These questions will be answered in due time. In my opinion, Shelley needs to evolve. He either must find a more legitimate and effective way to fill the enforcer role, or develop his skills to better deserve his seat on the bench.

And now without further ado, a video of Jody Shelley's "Greatest Hits":

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