Thursday, November 15, 2007

Jackets End Three Game Slide - Fan Fight in 102

The Jackets curbed a non-winning streak last night, topping the Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 4-2. The top line and the energy line each managed two goals, not including another that was unfortunately waved off.

Shelley was on ice a fair number of minutes, though his enforcer role was filled by Boll. A number of times during the game, the 'Hawks wanted to rumble and twice the Jackets obliged. Boll faught Byfuglien in the first period, then Nash went at it with Vandermeer after the final horn had sounded.

Fans Fight in Section 102
The players weren't the only ones looking to fight. Late in the third period, two fans in section 102 started throwing punches. From my vantage point in 217, I could see some pretty good fist-to-face contact. It was several minutes before the ushers and police were able to respond. In the meantime, the brawlers moved between a few rows of seats and the spotlight operator flashed his light on the scene in hopes of drawing attention. With play still going on the ice, few noticed what was happening.

Standings
The Jackets are headed back to St. Louis tomorrow, hopefully to shut out the Blues for the third time this season.

CBJ is 9-6-3 for 21 pts for 2nd in the division. Only 2 points separte the 4th place Predators from the Jackets.

Scoresheet

Friday, November 9, 2007

Game Preview: Blue Jackets Start Season Series With Detroit

Tonight is a big game for the Jackets. It will be the first meeting between Columbus and the Detroit Red Wings this season. Tonight's matchup is a great opportunity for the team to test their mettle against their toughest division opponent.

Detroit is on fire already this season, posting a 12-2-1 record for 25 pts. That puts them just one little point behind the Ottawa Senators. That said, the Red Wings have the opportunity to re-take the top spot in the league with a win. Columbus, on the other hand, stands to gain some "street cred" by taking down one of the NHL's top teams.

So far, Columbus has had no problem with weaker teams. Phoenix, St Louis, and even Anaheim have been defeated soundly. The better performing teams have all been losses for the Jackets- Colorado and Minnesota in particular. It's worth noting that games against those two opponents have been away, and their home ice equivelant could yield different results. Tonight's showdown in Motown will certainly fit into the latter category- the "uphill battle".

According to "Puck Rakers", the Jackets lines may be as follows:

Nash-Novotny-Zherdev
Brule-Fedorov-Vyborny
Glencross-Malhotra-Fritsche
Chimera-Peca-Boll

League-leading Leclaire will be in net.

Note that Chimera is playing on the "rough 'em up" line rather than the "energy line" with Malhotra and Fritsche. Also note that Novotny is the starting center. I expect these lines to vary somewhat come gametime, and maybe further changes as the night progresses.

Keys to the game:

  • The Jackets will need to keep their eyes on Zetterberg and Datsyuk. By multiple accounts, they're the new Yzerman/Shanahan duo. They'll score quickly if you let them.
  • Along the same lines, the defense is going to have to keep the shots down, especially early. Leclaire can make some great saves, but he shouldn't have to. Keeping a thick defense early in the game will prevent the floodgates from opening.
  • Give Zherdev and Nash some room to work. I'd like to see these guys get extra ice time on the power plays and any 4 on 4 situation. Nash is more confident than ever, and if you can get him the puck in front of the net, he'll take care of the rest.

Tonight's game starts at 7:30 on FSN. May not be in HD in the Columbus market (not sure why. Bummer.)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Can NHL Rookie Patrick Kane stop the Blue Jackets point streak?

The home team is in Chicago tonight to play the Blackhawks. The Jackets are looking to extend their point streak to 7 consecutive games. It will be ht second meeting for the Jackets and 'Hawks, with the first game resulting in a 7-4 win for the Jackets.

Patrick Kane, the first overall pick of the 2007 Draft, is leading the Chicago offense with 17 points. Not yet Crosby-esque, but nothing to shake a stick at either. He's going to need some help to out-gun Nash and crew tonight though.

Khabibulin will likely be in net tonight, and he's looking for a win. The Stanley Cup winning goaltender (Tampa Bay) is sporting a 5-6 record and 3.10 GAA, showing us that he's having a rough start to the season. Lalime is faring a bit better at 2-1, but the 'Bulin Wall' is expected to be the #1 in Chicago for a while longer.

Due to the fact that the Blackhawks also play in the Central Division, this game is critical for the Jackets. They need every win against division teams they can get. Detroit is several games ahead in points and will need a major setback to yield room for another contender to get a shot as the top team in the division. The number two spot is up for grabs this year, however, and the Jackets look the most able to seize it.

Tonight's game will be on FSN for Columbus in HD, as well as on Chicago's local FSN station. It will be the first time ever that the Jackets will play in the United Center in front of not only an in-house Chicago crowd, but a over the airwaves Chicago fan base as well.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Stat Check: How far in front of the NHL is Leclaire?

With his fifth shutout this season happening on Sunday against the St. Louis Blues, Pascal Leclaire is the standout among NHL goalies. Here's a look at his stats in comparison to other top goaltenders.

Goals Against Average
Leclaire's league-leading GAA is an unbelievable 1.12. A number like that is completely unprecedented by Leclaire. By comparison, he managed a 2.97 GAA last season in 24 games played. When compared to others in the league this season, only the top eight netminders have a GAA lower than 2 and only the top four are below 1.5. The best GAA last season was Niklas Backstrom (MIN) with 1.97.

Save Percentage
Leclaire leads the NHL in save percentage as well, if by only half of a percent. His current Sv% is .957, ahead of Dan Ellis of Nashville at .952. Leclaires 06-07 Sv% was .897, which means he blocked roughly 1 in 10 shots. Currently he's letting by less than 1 in 20. Last year's best was Backstrom with .929.

Shutouts
Five is just enough to put Leclaire in the number one spot. Henrik Lundqvist (NYR) is right behind Pascal with four and is keeping a good pace. Worth noting, however, is the fact that Lundqvist has played fourteen games to Leclaire's nine. At Leclaire's pace, he has a 55% chance of shutting out the other team every time he starts. Last year, the top shutout goalie was Martin Brodeur who amassed 12 shutouts in 78 games played.

At his current pace, Leclaire is arguably the best goaltender in the league. He and Lundqvist may continue to duke it out until injuries, a hot streak, or a downward spiral separates them from the top of the rankings. With a pair of crossed fingers, Leclaire may make it through the rest of the season injury free.

Stats from http://www.nhl.com/nhlstats/app and http://www.hockeydb.com
Photo from NHL.com

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Jackets Not Spooked by Kings on Halloween

Chimera was the first star of last night's game following two goals against the Los Angeles Kings. The Jackets won 4-1 with Pascal Leclaire in the net.

The Jackets current record of 7-3-1 is a franchise best, and worth 15 points already this season. At the current pace, the team could break 100 points. But let's not break out the "P Word" just yet. I'm sticking with the "cautious optimism" approach for a while longer- until the all-star game, anyway. All I'm going to say at this time is that it's November, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are still in it. Truth Serum at End of the Bench brings up an excellent point about the upcoming challenges on the CBJ schedule this month.

Tonight the Jackets are at it again in Anaheim. The Ducks aren't doing too well so far this season, so the Jackets may have their way with them, just as they did opening night. (Also recall last year's come-from-behind win at Anaheim.) The Ducks just aren't the same without Sellane and Neidermeyer. Notice how much ice time Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin are getting- they're #1 and #2 in the league.

Freddy Norrena will be in the net tonight. He's had a little trouble getting started this season, especially compared to Leclaire. Tonight will be a great opportunity for him to stand out. Anaheim is a beatable team and he has a confident group of skaters in front of him. If the defense can keep up the good work, Norrena can get the win.

Jackets win 4th consecutive game for a total of 15 pts.
CBJ 4, LAK 1
Official Scoresheet

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Blue Jackets Head Out on Two Game West Coast Roadtrip

The Blue Jackets are on the west coast for the next few days to visit Southern California. Tonight they take on the Los Angeles Kings and tomorrow they will head across town for a second meeting with the Anaheim Ducks.

Neither of these Pacific division teams is above .500, so the Jackets should be more than capable of putting up a good game.

The LA Kings winger Mike Cammalleri is currently tied for the league lead in goals with 10 in 12 games this season. Despite consistent scoring, Cammalleri is only sporting a -1 rating. That's reminescent of Rick Nash a few seasons ago.

If the Jackets are to win tonight, they're going to have to keep Cammalleri contained, particularly when the Kings go on the power play. They'll also have to tie up Jaroslav Modry when on the attack. He's currently their best defensman.

Modin is back in the lineup tonight, and will likely play on the top line with Rick Nash and Michael Peca. Westcott is still on IR for now, but could come back soon. Leclaire will be in net, keeping the potential for a fifth shutout alive. According to Puck Rakers, Norrena will netmind on Thursday regardless of Leclaire's performance tonight. Also mentioned in Puck Rakers: A Soup Nazi sighting.

The photo is of the California wildfires from NASA.gov. Not sure if the Calgary Flames were in town when all this started.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jackets Win AND Opponent Scores, Leclaire Leads NHL

It was a "CBJ Saturday Night" in Nationwide Arena when the Jackets hosted and defeated the San Jose Sharks. In a 2-1 game, the Jackets secured a third straight win and an 8th place spot in the league standings.

Notably, Leclaire was the winning goaltender despite giving up a first period goal to Joe Thornton. It's the first time this season that the Jackets have given up a goal and still pulled out the win.

Columbus goals came from Fritsche and Fedorov, the latter being a slapshot from the point that lasered into the back of the net.

Pascal Leclaire is now leading the league with a 1.29 GAA, and has the #2 spot in save percentage with a .949.

Shelley Watch:
#45 had just 2 1/2 minutes of ice time and didn't fight, despite San Jose's best efforts.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Buckeyes at #1: Why not?

The Ohio State Buckeyes are still #1 in the nation, though so many people seem to wonder why. Routinely, I hear comments that "they aren't that good" and that they "Don't deserve to be #1".

I ask: Why not?

The season began with the Bucks outside the top 10. While their season schedule hasn't been the toughest nut to crack, they've still made it to almost the end of October without a loss. That's more than can be said for Florida, LSU, USC, Virigina Tech, and every other team that started the season ahead of the bucks.

Until another team proves that they can beat the Buckeyes, they should remain #1.

This is a team that hasn't lost a regular season game since 2005. The only loss since was to Florida in that infamous rout last January. No other undefeated team (Kansas, Arizona State, Boston College, Hawaii) can claim that kind of history.

With the toughest segment of the schedule still ahead, there's plenty of opportunity for the Buckeyes to prove their worth. Illinois, Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan all have the potential to knock OSU from the top spot. I'll concede that this team isn't as sharp as it has been in recent years: no Heisman hopefuls, no Ted Ginn, and no league dominant linebacker corps. Despite that, they haven't lost a game yet. Why not #1?

Rick Nash Magic and Pascal Leclaire gets 4th Shutout


Make that 2-0!
BOOM
That comment was left by Matt on my last post about the Jackets defeating the Blackhawks. Leclaire did it again- shutting down the St. Louis Blues by a score of 3-0. The win bumps Columbus up to 2nd place in the division.

Equally big news of the night was Nash's goal. As reported by the AP:

"Ron Hainsey then tried a slap shot from the blue line that was just wide to the right of the goal. Nash played the ricochet off the boards like Manny Ramirez fielding a ball off the Green Monster, stretching to reach the puck to pull it in and then lifting the shot between his legs and high into the top of the net."

I tried to get a reply of the goal from the Jackets' online video archive, but it's hard to see from the camera angle. From the acclaim I've heard so far, it's bound to be in the top 10 on sportscenter, so keep an eye out for that today.

Tomorrow, the Jackets will play host to the San Jose Sharks. Over the years, they've become one of my most dreaded opponents. Leclaire will probably be in net: let's make it five.

* On an unrelated note, Michael of Army of the Ohio is gathering reader contributions for names for the CBJ cannon. Check out his post and leave your ideas. *

Also, be sure to see Yoder's take on last night's game including an explanation for Jiri Novotny's goal.

Score Sheet

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Leclaire posts 4 shut-outs in 5 games

The Jackets take two more points from the central division and move to second place, as they take down the St. Louis Blues 3-0. This comes after a 7-4 win over the Blackhawks on Wednesday. Goals came from rookie Jared Boll and Rick Nash, with one being automatically awarded to Jiri Novotny.

The ruling is this: St. Louis had pulled the goalie, Hannu Toivonen; Novotny was in alone and was hauled down from behind; what would have been a penalty shot...but unfortunately, there was no goaltender on the ice abd the puck would have been in the net regardless, hence the awarded goal. I've only previously seen it in the squirt leagues, but hey, it was only a matter of time at the NHL level.

As I sit here with my Hanson brother glasses on (it was Slap Shot night, ha!) I was impressed with this game, not only did the Jackets sport their "new look" where they show absolute dominance of the hockey game, but they managed to place a couple of players atop the league leaderboard. Pascal Leclaire comes in at no. 2 on the GAA list and no. 4 save pct. Michael Peca shows a knack for faceoff wins at no. 3. They may not be the most glamorous areas of the leaderboards, but hey...they help win a few games once in a while.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jackets start 1-0 in Central Division

The Blue Jackets put together a great offensive package last night in Chicago, winning the division opener 7-4. The seven goals include two by Nash, two by Novotny and three assists by Peca.

Interestingly, the Jackets still had three players with a -2 rating on the night: Chimera, Malhotra and Boll. It's likely they were playing on the same line together, and were simply no match for the Chicago offense. Norrena still let by 4 goals- all four were scored or assisted by the 2007 draft's first overall pick, Patrick Kane.

Kane may not be getting Ovechkin or Crosby status just yet, but if he keeps scoring like that, anything is possible.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Not soon enough: Blackhawks to get TV Coverage

As mentioned in our Bill Wirtz obituaries, the Blackhawks have not been covered by local television affiliates in years. Bill Wirtz, the team's late owner, chose not to broadcast games to encourage fan attendence.

Since Bill's passing, his son, Rocky Wirtz, has taken ownership of the team is changing media policy. Team representatives are already meeting with Comcast SportsNet to arrange for games to be televised.

The earliest the contract could go into effect is November 11, but until the papers are signed it is difficult to tell. The Jackets are in Chicagoland tonight and will not be televised by FSN, Vs, or any local affiliate. If you want to check out tonight's game, you'll have to do it fireside chat style.

Jody Shelley gets 3 minutes: A sign of the end?

Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about how Shelley's days were numbered. The topic has come up more than once, and I think the numbers are finally starting to reflect this truth. A quick check at NHL.com confirms that Shelley has taken the ice just once yet this season for a total of just two minutes, fifty seconds.

Shelley is still on the Jackets' roster, but is it merely a formality? His spot as a healthy scratch is becoming routine. How much longer will he remain in Columbus? At some point, his spot on the bench would be better suited for a prospect.

Shelley first seemed doomed when Tollefsen has solidified his place on the Jackets squad, but matter have only gotten worse this season with youngster Jared Boll. Boll is a scrappy winger who can score in addition to throw punches. Shelley's space on the roster is collapsing around him. How much longer will it last?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Jackets 1-1 Weekend, Leclaire's Streakiness and Big Games Upcoming

A one up, one down weekend for the home team. The Jackets marched into Buffalo on Friday and brought home a satisfying win that will tack on another 60 minutes of shutout hockey for Pascal Leclaire. Sunday's affair wasn't quite as successful, however. The Jackets were knocked down by perennial Jackets killer, Marcus Naslund and his Vancouver crew.

Same old Leclaire, or is it a new Pascal?

It's easy to suggest that it's a new day for Pascal Leclaire, as he already has three shutouts on this young season. In those games (vs. Phoenix, Anaheim and Buffalo) he played to the caliber that he has always been said to be capable of. But in the other two games he has started (vs. Colorado and Vancouver) He gave up five and four goals, respectively. In many ways, this is the same streaky #31 we've been watching for years.
Leclaire has been known to have had a lot of mediocre performances interlaced with flashes of brilliance. Over time, the flashes have become more common, but the mediocrity still lingers, waiting for an early goal or two to open the flood gates. If Leclaire and his defense could get a stronger grip on consistency, the chances of pulling off a win would increase dramatically.

To be fair, it may not be just Leclaire to fault for some of the losses. This team has always had a tough time playing from behind. It's as if giving up a goal or two early just breaks their heart and kills their morale. Sometimes, there's just no coming back. The Jackets are 3-3-1 thus far- a record for which I am pleased. However, their 3 wins are all Leclaire's shutouts. That means the team is 0-3-1 when the other team scores at all.

Upcoming Action

The Jackets open up division play in Chicago tomorrow night. Eleven of the next sixteen games (through most of November) are division opponents, including six games against the Blackhawks and Blues, whom the Jackets should have the mettle to beat. With this many critical games coming up, the Jackets could very well make or break their season by Thanksgiving.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Jackets beat Phoenix, Leclaire at 120 Scoreless Minutes

Pascal Leclaire completed his second consecutive shutout last night in front of a half-full Nationwide Arena. The Jackets prevailed over the Coyotes by a score of 3-0, including a first career goal by Jared Boll.

The Jackets put on a great performance in which they played all the way to the end. Only once or twice did they give up a good scoring chance to the Coyotes. Most of the time the defense was all over the puck before a play could bet set up.

The 'Energy Line' played a phenomenal game, carrying all three goals. Chimera had a piece of each and finished the game with a goal and two assists. The top line was centered by Modin -not Fedorov- allowing #91 to serve as the anchor for Zherdev's second line. It looks like Hitch is reattempting the Zherdev-Fedorov partnership, which was tried early and often last year. The thought is that the two Russian-born stars would be able to find common ground and give Zherdev the support he needs to be a top scorer. Last night we didn't see much from this line, but look for it to be used again and again this season.

A hat tip must be paid to Leclaire for shutting out a second team already this season. Having not played in the season's first road trip, he remains un-scored-upon this season. You could see the tension building toward the end of the game. Every time the play stopped, Leclaire paced the goal line with greater and greater intensity. Despite several seasons in the league, Leclaire is still wanting to prove himself. With games like that, it will happen in no time. This is the Leclaire we've all been waiting for. Tougher opponents are coming, however.

The Jackets are now 2-1 (.667!) and face the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday.
Score sheet

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Carry the Flag: CBJ Pride Hits New High

I knew since the inaugural season that the term 'Blue Jackets' was a reference to civil war, not a mutant wasp. Until recently, the organization had not embraced this side of their character. The original CBJ logo had the number of stars in the Union and later images of Stinger showed him donning a Civil War era cap, but until last season, this is far as the reference went.

Last year debuted the Jackets Civil War pregame video. Instead of the fly-by of a fighter jet dropping a puck into the arena as it screamed over Columbus on its way to intercept that night's opponent, we fans saw a Union army rushing through the trees in a full-on attack. They barraged through a snow covered landscape, over fences and atop rolling hills. As they approach the enemy, they transform into 21st century hockey players.

There was something about that video sequence I didn't like. Equating a bunch of European and Canadian hockey players with Northern troops attacking their former countrymen following years of political unrest due to socio-economic disparity between the two regions... well, I think you see where I'm going with this. There was something about it that just didn't add up. Maybe it was too close to home, or maybe it was too near in the past. How long ago is long enough? Would fans be ok with 'The Columbus Doughboys' or the 'GI's', characterized as fighting Germans? I'm not so sure. If nothing else, it was a poor effort at marketing.

This year, they followed through with the theme. The slogan for this season is 'Carry the Flag' and it is more than supported by quotes from generals, politicians, and other famous leaders on season tickets, posters and other marketing paraphernalia. The addition of the cannon is superb. My only non-positive remark about it is simply, why didn't they get it sooner? The completed transition to the Ohio flag logo helps a lot too. The Civil War era hats are also becoming more commonplace, and are available at Nationwide Arena's souvenir stands. To top it off, the opening night swag was a flag with the team logo emblazoned upon it. Greg Murray encouraged us to bring them with us to each and every game this season to help 'Carry the Flag'.

On opening night, there was a spectacular video montage of quotes about battle. The music, lighting, and tone of the show played to everyone's emotions. The goosebumps peaked as they showed each player saying "I will", "I will", and "I will carry the flag." The atmosphere in the arena was so rich with emotion and excitement that I nearly forgot we were talking about hockey. At that moment, we could have been preparing to attack Vicksburg, Shiloh, or Eurasia, and it wouldn't have phased me.

This year, it's a top-to-bottom Civil War homage. Maybe it's because Hitchcock is a Civil War buff, or maybe this was the plan all along. Either way, I'm over the dilemma regarding it being too soon or too close. I still get a laugh over Zherdev saying he'll carry the Union flag, but hey, I'll get past that too. Most of all, I don't mind roughing up an on-ice Johnny Reb- which is all the more appropriate when the Jackets face Nashville, Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, and especially Atlanta. Sherman's march shall be re-enacted inside the arena. It's really about the notion that if the Jackets are going to make a statement, it's going to be hard work. It's going to take pride and perseverance to succeed. Maybe it's just the marketing, but this team looks up to the task.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Opening Night 2007: After

If you were not in attendence for Friday's opener, I'm sorry. You missed something special. The pre-game, the goals, the cannon and the shutout were incredible. From the opening video montage to Stinger's placing of the 'victory flag' at center ice, there was a certain buzz in the air that kept the crowd on edge and the players on their toes. The 'Carry the Flag' slogan turned out far better than I hoped, but more on that in a later post.

Nash netted himself 4 points in the win, and he was seriously looking for that fifth point, preferably in the form of a hat trick. Even in the last moments of the game when Modin took the face off in Anaheim territory, Nash tried to get into position for that remaining shot. Modin even strategized before the play about how he would try to get the puck into position.

Fedorov and Leclaire rounded out the three stars, with the goaltender missing the second star spot by about 5 saves.
It was an impressive performance all around by a team that put the pressure on early and kept the pedal to the metal until the final horn sounded. Anaheim, on the other hand, became quite frustrated by the middle of the second period. They continually tried to rough up the Jackets, particularly with after-the-whistle aggression. The Jackets didn't bite, and were able to keep their cool.

Great game. GREAT game. I'm skeptical enough to realize that the whole season won't be this dominating, but hopeful enough to dream that way.

Saturday night in Minnesota wasn't quite as magical. Despite playing hard, the Jackets fell to the Wild, 3-2. I wasn't able to watch the whole game, unfortunately. The bits I caught at the end well illustrated Michael of Army of the Ohio's point about being 'vexed' by the neutral zone trap. The CBJ offense could not get past center ice, barring an icing call. The team seemed to play a tough game though, and that's what matters. Next up is the Phoenix Coyotes at home on Wednesday.

Jackets now 1-1 (.500)
Friday's Scoresheet
Saturday's Scoresheet

(Scoresheets have been redesigned this season)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Opening Night 2007: Before

We're merely hours away from showtime. At 7pm, the puck drops for the Jackets' 2007-2008 season. I, for one, am quite excited. As a matter of fact, I could barely sleep last night. So much has changed since last year. On opening night of last year, the Jackets were coached by Gerard Gallant and led by GM and President Doug MacLean. Just the switch to the 'H&H' leadership team has changed the tune of Columbus hockey. Now that Hitch has had the remainder of last season, plus the offseason and training camp of '07 to work with the team, the Jackets should be in better shape to start the season.

It may be the first game of the season for Columbus, with a clean slate 0-0 record, but Anaheim is already 1-1-1 following two games in London and a shootout loss to Detroit on Wednesday. The Ducks are likely tired and weakened from their road trip, but will certainly want to rebound from their loss in Detroit. Look for them to try for early scores so they can turn on the cruise control. If the Jackets can get the first point on the board, chances are high that they can outlast the Ducks down the stretch and keep it close, if not put Anaheim away in the third period.

I will be in attendance for tonight's opener. This year, my girlfriend bought me a 20-2-1 plan for my birthday. Look for me in section 217.

Here's what other sources are saying about tonight's game:
USAToday
Army of the Ohio
Columbus Dispatch
Orange County Register

Jacket Times Sidenote:
Tonight's home opener marks the one year anniversary of The Jacket Times. Thank you for stopping by our corner of the hockey blogosphere. After 170 posts, three writers and 16,000 hits, it's been a fun ride. Here's to an even better 07-08!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Two Goalies, One Job. Will Norrena or Leclaire be the #1 'tender?


Both will be, according to today's Dispatch.

As of today, Leclaire gets the start on Friday at home against Anaheim and Norrena will fill the net on Saturday's road game in Minnesota. Neither goalie has proved himself above and beyond the other, so the starter role is going to bounce back and forth for a while. That is, until one netminder dominates the crease, or until one of them is injured.

The tendency for the Jackets organization has been to lean on Pascal Leclaire. The team has invested much time, money and a first round draft pick in 2001 for his services. There's no doubt that the team wants to see a return on this investment, but he's going to need to stay healthy before any results will be seen.

Norrena, whom many chose as the team's MVP last season due to his winning record in the net, is going to keep the pressure on Leclaire. He was intended to be the backup last year, but quickly stole the goalie spotlight when an injured Leclaire played his last game midway through last season. If Norrena can pick up right where he left off last season, there's no reason why he couldn't take the number one spot. Even if Leclaire stays healthy, I predict that Norrena will have played more games by season's end.

However the cards fall, having two healthy goaltenders will keep the competition for the starting role fierce. If one goalie has so much as one bad game, you can rest assured that the other is waiting in the wings for his chance.

An added redundancy to the Jackets goaltender situation is 19 year old Steve Mason, who will be sticking around Columbus in the short term to see how things progress. Seeing as he is only 19, he retains two more years of eligibility in the junior leagues. The Jackets would like to send him back for "more seasoning", but if the time comes, he may just get his NHL debut. Turning to Mason as a third-rung goaltender is better than looking for a Boucher or a Conklin, as the team did last year when injuries emptied the crease. At least with Mason, the team is building a prospect, not just filling a hole in the roster.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Peca, Foote, Modin Return to the Ice and Fedorov Loses PK Privileges

Tom Reed of the Dispatch reports that three of the Jackets' top veterans are returning to the ice following off-season injuries. All three will skate this week in preparation to play in Friday's opener.

Peca's practices this week will be of particular importance. Because he was acquired just this summer, he hasn't had the opportunity to play much with the team, and has not had true in-game experience since midway through last season. He is expected to center the second or third lines this season, pending the performance (and injury) of other centers.

In the same article, it is stated that while Fedorov will take the top line center position, he will not play on the Penalty Kill unit. This is an unfortunate consequence of the Jackets' failure to come up with a viable solution to the center problem. With an aging Fedorov needing to play more minutes at full-strength on the top line, he'll have to reduce his special teams play to conserve energy. This is unfortunate because Fedorov is an excellent defender. Simply recall his service late last season on the defensive lines, or his two Selke awards to understand what the special teams are sacrificing to leave Fedorov on the top line. With any luck, one of the younger centers will be able to step up their game to take that top spot and allow Fedorov to play the second line and serve on the PK unit.

Let's hope the veterans can be ready to rock on Friday night.

Monday, October 1, 2007

The NHL goes to London- A fair trade for Beckham?

The NHL 07-08 season opened over the weekend with two games in London, England of all places. The two southern California teams traveled nearly halfway around the world to take to the ice in 'The O2', which looks like one of those fish that will kill you unless it's cut just right. arena. John Bull attended the game but was unavailable to be reached for comment.

Taking a piece of the NHL to Europe is great way to expose the game to foreigners. England was a good choice, given that many other European countries already have their own hockey leagues. But taking the league abroad is a bit premature. Right now, the league is having a difficult enough time building and keeping a domestic fanbase. If the league wants to broaden its horizons, perhaps it should have considered playing a game in a U.S. city without a team. Las Vegas, Kansas City, Houston, Anchorage, New Orleans or Portland would have all been great choices to play a game. It would have been an opportunity to test the market in those cities as well as bring in new fans.

The games resulted in a 4-1 win by the Anaheim Ducks and a 4-1 win by the Kings, who will hopefully still be jetlagged from their aggressive international road trip preceding the Jackets' home opener on Friday.

Friday, September 28, 2007

New Blue Jackets Blog hits the Columbus Dispatch

There's a new CBJ Blog in town. 'Puck-rakers' is the work of Dispatch sports writers Aaron Portzline, Tom Reed, and Michael Arace.

Though it's only five posts deep so far, it is a great resource for CBJ news out of training camp from three guys who watch the practices and get the insider information. The blog format allows them to be a little less formal with their words and presents a more personal tone. It also gives them an opportunity to talk about rumors that wouldn't be as accepted in the daily paper.

'Puck-rakers' is a good read and should be a great addition to any CBJ blog reader's arsenal of information. Check it out at http://blog.dispatch.com/cbj/

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Wirtz--he dead--high five!

The news of the death of Bill Wirtz this morning was sadly a pleasant surprise. Rarely, if ever do I smile upon hearing the death of or something tragic happen to someone, but tools as big as Mr Wirtz come few and far between. His scrooge-like approach to running my Blackhawks (no I don't own them but they are MY TEAM) has cost this historic franchise and original six team dearly over the last few years. No Stanley Cups since 1961, no finals since 1992(didn't even win a game) and the departure of the following Players (Dennis Sevard- a few times notably in the early 90s, leaving the Hawks to win a title in Montreal, Ed Belfour (the epitome of the 75 cents on the dollar trade, I mean we got Chris Terreri from SJ for God's sake, a "too old" Chris Chelios in 1997, the face of the franchise and team captain was sent to Detroit, our arch rival for.... ANDERS ERIKSSON, Jeremy Roenick for Alexi Zhamnov (who was also cast off along with Tony Amonte). Pat Foley, the best radio hockey guy in the biz, cast off-too expensive- now the voice of the Wolves (see later). The point is, his curmudgeonly attitude towards the franchise has given me great despair. He undertook a philosophy of drawing people to the stadium by blacking out all home games on TV, radio only. Couple that with skyrocketing prices, the hawks were one of the few teams to not radically slash prices after the lockout and the result is a fan base that is less in total than that of the highly successful Chicago Wolves, the AHL farm team to Atlanta. All playoff home games- blocked out-enter HAWK VISION pay-per-view to get all the games. I understand that Wirtz was integral to getting the United Center built ( a fine estabishment) and did so without costing the city a dime and he played a HUGE role in the WHA/NHL merger and for that I am thankful. But the result of a privately funded stadium was not in the money but in a hockey team that has become a laughing stock. It didn't have to be this way, the Bulls won 3 titles in that arena, had the highest payroll and again are back to respectability. Wirtz's death today marks the re-birth of the Blackhawks, one of hockey's oldest, finest and once most respected teams. The Blackhawk franchise can now begin the healing process with its once loyal fanbase, it is now on the fans to respond. RIP Mr. Wirtz may your view of the Hawks from heaven be blocked out

Bill Wirtz, Chicago Blackhawks Owner, Dies at 77

Some Central Division news out of Chicago today as Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz has died.

Wirtz's ownership position was contraversial at best. Fans blame him for many of the team's recent on-ice troubles, as well as questionable decisions regarding media coverage, trades and player contracts. According to Wikipedia, Wirtz is at least partially responsible for the Blackhawks trading or losing Dominik Hasek, Ed Belfour, Chris Chelios, Bobby Hull, Jeremy Roenick and Phil Esposito.

Wirtz is also alledged to have prevented Blackhawks games from being televised locally in hopes of attracting fans to the games. That policy and others are better detailed in this 2004 ESPN The Magazine report which labels the Blackhawks as the 'Worst franchise in sports'.

For fifty years the Blackhawks have been owned by the Wirtz family, and it has been a tumultuous time for the franchise. I don't wish to speak ill of the dead, but perhaps this may be an opportunity for the 'Hawks to right the ship.

Image from Chicagobusiness.com

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Geoff Platt, others, return to Syracuse

It's 'maybe next year' for Geoff Platt. He and four other contenders are returning to the Crunch following try-outs in Columbus.

The others headed back to Syracuse are Kirill Starkov, Adam Pineault, Mikko Maenpaa and Dan LaCosta.

It's unlikely that this will be the last of Platt we see this year. Last season, Platt played at the NHL level during the Jacket's rash of injuries. The same could happen again this season, or if the team needs some fresh blood from the minors to rescue itself from a slump.

Alexandre Picard and Zenon Kenopka are both out on injury. No word on their actual injuries, nor of their planned return.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Zherdev as a center: Is this a good idea?

Maybe I was too focused on football last week to notice that there's talk of moving Zherdev from the wing to the center position. I'm not so sure this is a good idea.

I'm pretty skeptical of putting Zherdev at center. For one, he's notorious for being a puck-hog. The center is typically the 'quarterback' of the offense, controlling the play and looking for the best setup before making a pass or taking a shot. His one-man army style of play may not fly with this added responsibility. Second, Zherdev isn't the most defensive of players. It's common for him to stay near the neutral zone and let his teammates fight it out in the corners. Sure, he got a little better in the latter half of last season, but will it be enough to play center, the most two-sided position in the game? What about his disagreements with Hitch and the CBJ staff? The Dispatch has reported that Zherdev has arrived at training camp in as much of an upbeat attitude as they've ever seen, but what happens when the team loses a few games?

There's no question that the Jackets need a quality center, and I'm willing to more or less have open try-outs for the position, but Zherdev's history certainly comes into question. There will need to be noticable change between the Zherdev of yore and the Zherdev of this season. After all, that toe drag isn't going to help him in the face-off circle.

Image from TSN.ca

Friday, September 14, 2007

2007-2008 Blue Jackets Season Outlook and Expectations

I'm writing this the day that the 2007-2008 training camp begins. Having not seen the team in action -be it on the practice ice or otherwise- I have no new basis for which to establish my expectations. But having been a fan since before the beginning, I have watched the waxing and waning of hope in this team's fan base as seasons have come and gone. I've seen the promise of the Columbus "Mad Cows" and the depths of the Lockout. Does that make me some sort of hockey authority? Hardly. But I'm a fan and a blogger, and that's 21st century talk for "expert".

Just as I have expressed in previous posts, this team is still in a rebuilding phase. While considering that phrasing today, I decided that the "re" prefix seems unnecessary. It hardly seems justified to consider it a "rebuild" given that there are aspects of the team that were never built properly in the first place. To explain what I mean, please allow me to entertain you with an analogy I just came up with:

The whole situation is comparable to having a contractor build a deck (hockey team) on our house (Columbus). We had adequate financing (McConnell) and an experienced carpenter (King) to do the work, but the foreman (MacLean) who gathered the parts, coordinated the blueprints, and hired assistants didn't fulfill the order the way our homeowners (fans) had in mind. The original carpenter knew how to lay a foundation, but wasn't able to construct much atop that. The contractor has had difficulty locating reasonable priced and qualified parts, and has kept himself too occupied with the saw and not enough with the plans. At one point, he even tried his own hand at carpentry, and when he failed he passed the job to an apprentice. Today, our house has a deck that's a bit misshapen. Some of the wood (Fedorov, Foote) is decaying and all we can do is wait for it to fall off to be replaced. Other parts (young guys) of the deck are attached but haven't been stained yet, so they're not ready for the abuse of the weather. There's a railing (Leclaire) that's supposed to be made of some fancy pressure-treated material, but it frequently breaks and takes a long time to fix. The stairs (Nash, Vyborny) could help set the whole deck above the field, but there's not enough support from the rest of the deck and the stairs have to be used more to prevent the whole thing from tipping over rather than elevation. Lastly, there's one piece of wood (Zherdev) that seems to detach and reattach itself whenever it wants from the rest of the team. When it's connected properly, it looks great- when it's just laying in the yard, however, it's a waste of money. Despite having to pay a premium to get workers and materials to our home so far off the interstate (major hockey cities), we've managed to bring in both a new designer (Hitchcock) and a new contractor (Howson) to make some structural adjustments. We've already secured a couple of our important planks (Modin, Vyborny, Nash) and brought in some tough lumber (Peca) but it's still going to be a while before our deck is as functional and decorative as the Jones. (Detroit)

That's all prelude to today. So what does that mean for our deck ...er the team this season? This season is as close to a Start Over as we're likely to get without the ownership pulling an Art Modell. With Hitchcock getting a full year's experience in Columbus including training camp, I'm expecting our team to be in better shape physically and mentally. The Hitchcock system should have sunk in by now to those who didn't pick up on it right away last season. Harder checks, tougher play in the corners, and an intensity through the latter stages of the game should be noticeable. Norrena could very well be our starting goaltender with Leclaire as the backup. After all, Norrena out performed Leclaire substantially last season (even relative to games played) and even accomplished a winning record. The top line is still TBD, and will likely change throughout the season -just as it always has. Nash and Vyborny will continue to hold their own, but will have a difficult time developing chemistry with an ever-changing centerman. Fedorov is the likely choice for the starting role, at least initially, but may have a tougher time keeping up down the stretch. With Svitov gone, Brule (pending performance) could wind up on the top line as well. As far as results, the Central Division is a tough call to make. Detroit is the perennial favorite, and this year is no different. Chicago and St. Louis are in the same straits as Columbus and could fall anywhere in the latter places of the division. The three teams are pretty much a toss-up, much like last year. Also questionable is Nashville, who has certainly fallen from grace after a failed playoff run last season. During the off-season, they lost both Paul Kariya and their questionable trade deadline acquisition of Peter Forsberg.

I didn't answer my own question in that last paragraph, so let's try it again: What does it all mean for the Jackets this season? The combination of Hitchcock's system, a more able-bodied team, the lack of any major departures, the sole (notable) acquisition, a willing GM and the opportunity to make some noise in the division will give the Jackets the wherewithal to finish second or (more likely) third in the division, and at the very least remain in the playoff chase after the All-Star Game.

There. One sentence.

Image from www.nhldigest.com

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Pec-ing Order

The Jackets signed Michael Peca yesterday to an alleged base salary of $1.25 million. His spot on the roster replaces the defecting Alexander Svitov who bolted back to Russia last week.

Peca, like Fedorov, is a defensive forward. Having him in the lineup will bring some additional physical play and some additional defensive skill to the back end of the ice. The centerman could be the spark fans have been looking for during this quiet offseason.

Peca's resume spans 11 seasons and 728 NHL games. His reputation is for tough play, "work ethic, and competitiveness", according to this morning's Dispatch. His stats in the Dispatch also state that he has 12 playoff appearances in those 11 sesaons. I'm guessing an injury or other debilitation kept him out of play til April one season.

I'm excited to see a new face in the Jackets' lineup, though the signing of another aged veteran gives me some cause for concern. Fedorov, Foote, and Berard have all been overpaid busts for the Jackets. Let's hope our new GM is taking this a calculated risk.

Photo from www.playoffbeard.com

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Svitov Back to Russia

I received word from the Columbus Distpatch today that Alexander Svitov has signed a deal with Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super league, less than a month after signing a a 2 year, $2.5 million deal with the Blue Jackets. Look for the Jackets to be making a move soon, it's been rumored that Michael Peca may be involved, considering the lack of depth at center. A look at who's available will follow next.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Doug MacLean: Assistant GM, GM, President, Owner?

Jackets' ex Doug "The Right Stuff" MacLean is a member of an investment group that has elected to purchase the Tampa Bay Lightning. The group, called "Absolute Hockey Enterprises" apparently took its name from something between a vodka ad and a 5th grade entrepreneur.

If MacLean is going to be part-owner of an NHL franchise, he'll need to learn to keep his hands off the team. Doug's full-control approach to management isn't going to fly when there's three (President, GM, Coach) levels in between himself and the skaters.

I bid the best of luck to MacLean as he embarks on this next stage of his career. His odds are certainly stacked more in his favor with Lightning than they ever were with the Jackets.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wright Returns to Columbus

It's been a pretty quiet offseason for Columbus. No major signings or trades to report. I patiently await Howson to make a move that no one has predicted yet, and no one probably will until it happens. The Columbus Front Office is waiting to see where the trade market goes in the next month or two. I still hold out hope that the Jackets will pick up a centerman and a defenseman. It's pretty much too late to get a top-tier player, but there's plenty of teams who have a second or third line forward who could be starting here in Columbus.

That aside, the Jackets welcomed back a familiar face this week. Tyler Wright, a centerman who spent 4 and 1/4 seasons in Columbus, primarily on the checking line, has returned. Not to Nationwide's ice, but to it's office. Wright will be serving as the Director of Player Development, helping the franchise's young players move up the ranks and into the NHL.

I remember Wright mostly for gritty play and few clutch goals- nearly each of which caused a triumphant celebration on the ice, leading to Wright slamming face first into the glass. Not many Blue Jacket players can rile up a crowd like Wright did. I'm glad to have him back in town, and let's hope he can motivate some of our future stars.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

2007-2008: Another Rebuilding Year?

All signs point to yes. With no major free agent signings (yet), a new GM and a new(er) coach, it’s going to take at least another season to right the ship.

The Jackets have been pretty quiet on the free agent front, picking up a couple of budget players and not springing for the stars. Despite the availability of a number of great players that could make a dramatic impact on the Columbus squad, the Jackets’ front office has kept out of the bidding.

The biggest reason, heck, the only real reason, is money. Sure, Columbus doesn’t have the cashflow of the Rangers, Flyers, or other major market team. We don’t have the history of Detroit or Toronto, or the close-to-home vibe of Edmonton. Frankly, for your Joe Free-Agent, there’s no draw to Columbus other than money.

As they say, the Columbus cash is tied up in a few players, namely Nash, Fedorov, and Foote. Only one of those three is really being paid at market value, and he’s under the age of 30. The other two are on the final laps of their careers and are paid more based on veteran status than on actual on-ice value. It’s important to have a proven veteran or two on our team, but only if they’re contributing to the bottom line. Like I’ve said time and time again, Fedorov is one of my favorite players, but I don’t think his price is worth his on ice performance. 42 points in 73 games isn’t shabby, but another player could probably do it for half the price.

Foote is the same way. 12 points and a -17 rating in 59 games. That’s not $4.6 million worth if you ask me. Especially when Anders Eriksson had 23 points and a +12 rating in 79 games.

These two players are pretty much un-tradeable for the simple fact of their salaries. No one wants to take on that kind of money pit for two players that are on their decline.

So from a fan’s perspective, we’re waiting out those two contracts. The front office’s hands are tied until those contracts expire, which I believe will be at the end of next season. Then maybe, maybe, we can draw some real talent to Columbus. Until then, we’re relying on a proven coach to turn the team around. The new GM is helpful too, if for nothing else than the fact that the old one’s system wasn’t working, so the odds are now in our favor. We have yet to see what kind of results our Edmonton product can create. Hopefully he’s got a sharp enough eye for talent that we can get some cheaper players into Nationwide soon. More likely though, it’s going to take a while to get into a new era of CBJ hockey.

As a franchise-long fan of the team, I’m excited about the changes being made at Nationwide. I’m looking forward to better cohesiveness on the ice brought on by a solid coach, and I’m completely open to the fresh ideas and strategies being brought in by the new GM. Even if these are the exact cards the franchise needs to get back on track, they will take time to work. Like many Jackets fans, my patience is growing thin, but is being bought back by the changes in the last year. While I don’t expect a cup this year, or even necessarily a playoff berth, I want this team to stay in the playoff race into the new year. Embarrassingly enough, that would be a substantial improvement. If we keep our eyes on the small victories, we can make it through this season and be ready for the turn around this team is bound to have. After all, we’re due.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

It all happened so fast!

Here's what has gone on since my last post:
The Jackets picked up Scott Howson as their new GM
The Ducks win the Stanley Cup
The draft is just three days away
I got a job! Downtown even!

I feel like I missed the boat on a lot of these events, so I'm not going to dig too deep in hindsight. Here's my thoughts in a few sentences:
I'm disappointed about the Sens' performance in the finals, but Anaheim proved to be the better team on both ends of the ice. Despite that, I thought for sure that Alfredsson, Heatley and the rest of Ottawa could put on an offensive clinic and keep it close.

Scott Howson seems to be an alright guy. He's only a year removed from a Stanley Cup run, and has been fully exposed to the pressure of a major franchise. This is unlike MacLean, who came from Florida where hockey isn't a mainstream sport. Howson has worked in the front office for over ten years, including working in the NHL since 2000. Only time will tell how Howson will perform for the CBJ organization, but we should see start to see his impact immediately. With the draft just a few days away, the Jackets' front office will need to select their picks and then make some moves over the summer to turn this team around.

And I got a job. I'm working in the IT department for a mental health facility downtown, just a few blocks from the arena district. I smell trouble for my pocketbook as soon as hockey season starts. I'm going to want to attend every game...

Monday, June 4, 2007

The Jacket Times will Return 6/18

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be heading to Europe to do some pre-draft scouting for the Jackets.

Ha! I wish. I'll be overseas, but it won't be because of some dream job for the team. Instead, I'll be goofing around with some college buddies. I'll be back on the 18th at which point we'll start the Draft coverage. Yoder and I will be attending this year's festivities.

In the mean time, stay tuned to End of the Bench and Army of the Ohio for Blue Jackets news. Also, these other bloggers and myself are planning a draft meet-up for hockey bloggers and fans. Details to follow. (For you out-of-towners coming to Columbus for the draft, see this post for some additional information.)

If you're looking for something to read, why not check out how I increased my gas mileage to 38mpg and it cost me nothing.

Friday, June 1, 2007

The King Earns His Crown


Let me preface this by saying that I don't really follow the NBA. I've never been a big fan of professional basketball, but I've followed it through watching/listening to Around the Horn and Pardon the Interruption. Through these means, I generally stay current regarding what's going on in the league enough to speak intelligently of it, but I'm certainly not a regular fan.

That said, Go Cavs!

Last night, I watched more professional basketball than I had the whole season. I tuned in for one of the most impressive performances of basketball that have happened in recent years. In case you missed it, the Cleveland Cavaliers edged out the Detroit Pistons in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. In double overtime, LeBron James scored the final 25 points (holy crap.) for his team, giving him a total of 48. Unreal.

The sports pundits have been calling for LeBron's "coming of age" for a while. They blamed #23 for not taking more initiative in the first two games of this series. After the last 3 wins, you can be assured that LeBron has redeemed himself. Just check out that picture. You can see all five Detroit players and LeBron floating to the basket- with no other Cavs players in sight. Seriously, where are they? From the perspective of this photo you can see pretty much the whole court. Where'd they go?

Photo from Getty Images via Deadspin

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Another International Cup Affair

For the third season in a row, NHL players and fans are going to have to clear customs when traveling between the teams' cities.

Ottawa and Anaheim have made the final cut and are ready to win the cup. On one hand, you have Anaheim, who played in the finals just a few years ago, but did not win. On the other, Canada's capital team hasn't taken home the cup since the Charleston was popular.

Two superb teams have made the final round and the games should not disappoint. I picked Ottawa to win in the conference finals and I'm picking them to win again. Anaheim will put up a strong fight, and their defense may make the difference in the series. Ottawa will need to hold nothing back and find a way to neutralize Pronger and Niedermayer to get the edge.

Anaheim's biggest asset is Teemu Selanne, at whom I shake my fist. (I still resent his unnecessary last second empty net goal in Nationwide, but I respect the story of his hat trick this season.) Selanne will be playing in his first ever Stanley Cup Final in his almost 20 seasons in the league. It's telling enough that the guy was selected by the Winnipeg Jets eight years before they moved to Phoenix.

Ottawa's most important weapon is the trident of Alfredsson, Spezza, and Heatley. Those guys are a thrill to watch on the ice. If Anaheim's defense can't slow them down, they'll run up the score quick.

Jacket Times prediction: Ottawa in 6. Anaheim plays incredibly well at home so Ottawa won't be able to steal more than a win or two on the road.


And here's how to do the Charleston:

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Columbus not the only Ohio city to sport Blue Jackets

I learned something today.

The mascot name "Blue Jackets" is also used by another Ohio sports organization- New Riegel high school. New Riegel, which sounds more like a star than a city, is located in Seneca County.

Not Ohio-Geography savvy? It's near Tiffin.

Ok, ok, north of Columbus.

Not handy with a map? Try "up".

Anyway, the website I found doesn't have an image of their mascot, but judging from this picture of a rock that I did find, it seems to be an anchor- which is neither blue nor a jacket. I couldn't find anything explaining this perplexing inconsistency on their school district website, though I did find their school lunch menu. Yum.

Oh, and Congrats to New Riegel Seniors! You did it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Jackets acquire another 5th round draft pick

If we needed proof that MacLean's influence is more than skin deep, we found it today at the CBJ website. The front office dealt Adam McQuaid, a CBJ organization minor leaguer to the Boston club for -you guessed it- a 5th round pick in the upcoming 2007 draft.

For those who don't recall, MacLean acquired another 5th round pick this draft in exchange for Ty Conklin and a 2008 5th rounder for Anson Carter. Looks like the Jackets have their eyes on some sleeper picks for the next couple of years.

For what it's worth, Adam McQuaid was selected by Columbus in the 2nd round of the 2005 draft. What a difference two years makes, huh? Well, it would seem that twelve years makes even more of a difference- recall that Berard was selected first overall in 1995 and the Jackets couldn't give him away this year.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

NHL Conference Finals Preview

And then there were four.

The 'final four' of professional hockey is upon us, as Anaheim, Detroit, Ottawa and Buffalo contend for Lord Stanley's chalice.

The match-ups:

Western Conference: Detroit vs. Anaheim
Detroit entered the playoffs as the west's #1 seed, though their journey through Calgary and San Jose wasn't without a few set backs. I mentioned in an earlier article that I've been somewhat disappointed by the Red Wings' play. I retain that, and think they're in for a challenge (again) when they face Anaheim. The Ducks are playing very well, and their stars Giguere and Selanne are leading the way. Also carrying the team is Francois Beauchemin (sp?) who the Blue Jackets traded in exchange for Sergei Fedorov.

Anaheim has been a powerhouse all season and they're hungry for the Cup. They came close back in 2003, when they were beaten in the finals by New Jersey. At the time they were coached by none other than Mike Babcock- the current coach of the Detroit Red Wings.

The Wings have been streaky but have found ways to come up with the win when they needed it. I see this series as being a back-and-forth affair, but the Wings have the experience to finish the job. (Heck, Hasek and Chelios have enough experience to start their memoirs.)

My prediction: Red Wings in 7

Eastern Conference: Buffalo vs. Ottawa
Tough call on this game. Buffalo has been the team to watch all season. They've got the talent, skill, and stacked roster to make it happen. The city is behind the team and is desperate for a professional sports championship. They'll be facing off against the Ottawa Senators; a team with which they are developing a bit of a rivalry following the 119 penalty minute brawl earlier this season. Ottawa also has a stacked roster. If they don't make it to the finals this year, fans and hockey afficianados are going to look back on this team in 5 years and say, "what happened?". They've got Heatley, Spezza, and Alfredsson up front, and they've got two great goaltenders. Emery's been taking the most starts, but Gerber can stand up for himself as well. Gerber played for last year's cup winning Carolina Hurricanes and went to the finals with Anaheim in '03.

This series is going to be a great one to watch, particularly if you're into seeing a high scoring game. Buffalo and Ottawa led the league in goals per game with 3.63 and 3.49, respectively. The drama from the brawl earlier this season will probably come back and make for some pugilism too.

My prediction: Call it bold, but I see Ottawa tightening the screws where it counts and wrapping this one up in 5.

Fun Fact: The Blue Jackets have played and beaten all four remaining teams at least once this season.

Photo Credit: Me. Went to the Hockey Hall of Fame last summer. (awesome.)

Doug MacLean to Interview with Phoenix Coyotes

The Phoenix Coyotes organization is looking for a new GM to preside over the Great One and his team full of not-so-great ones. The organization is going to interview nine candidates and former CBJ GM Douggie Doug MacLean is on the short list.

Best of luck with that, to both MacLean and the Coyotes.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A Quick Introspective to the 2007 NHL Playoffs

The second round games have just started so I thought I'd take a moment to note my observations on how some of the teams have played so far.

Who has been disappointing: Nashville's early exit from the playoffs was a bit of a surprise here. The team played great all season, and managed to lead the western conference for a good part of it. Even after their February trade for Peter Forsberg, (who may not return next year) they couldn't get it done in the opening round of Lord Stanley's tournament. Like most Jacket fans, this season's series sweep by the Predators put the nail in my proverbial anti Tennessee hockey coffin.

Detroit is also not performing as they should be for #1 seed. They had a difficult time against Calgary, and as I write this they are down 2-0 in the first at home against San Jose. The Red Wings' play appears incomplete. They're consistently missing passes and giving up the puck, particularly when they try to drop it back to the point. The Sharks have done an admirable job shutting down Detroit's offensive opportunities. Nabokov was even able to stop a 3 on 1 situation following a turnover in the Sharks' zone.

I was also hoping to see Atlanta make a run, but they just got beat with experience by the Rangers. In hindsight, they didn't stand a chance.

Who has been exciting: Ottawa has been a thrill to watch. Maybe its just the fact that we Jackets fans are so oriented in the Western conference, but the Senators seem to have largely slipped under the radar. As Buffalo dominated the East, Ottawa certainly took their share of wins. As Dan will remember, we predicted the Sens' success back when they signed Heatley, who is a goal scoring machine when the world is watching. (Recall the 2003 All-Star Game) They managed to shred the young Penguins as well, making short work of Crosby, Fleury, Staal, and Malkin. (Those guys will win a cup in due time.) Keep your eyes on Ottawa. They've got the experience and talent to win this thing.

Buffalo and Anaheim have both performed as expected, obliterating everything in their way. We'll see how long they can keep it up, or if the Rangers and Canucks can rise to the occasion and shut them down.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Hitchcock to Host Town Meetings for Season Ticket/PSL Holders

The rumors that season ticket sales were headed down the tubes must be coming true. In an act of desperation, the Jackets are sending Coach Hitchcock to the wolves in a series of "Town Meetings".

Here's the excerpt from the invitation letter:

You and your guest are exclusively invited to attend a special "Town Meeting" where you will have the opportunity to directly interact with Blue Jackets Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. Learn how the NHL's winningest coach since 1997 plans to build the Columbus Blue Jackets and ask your questions directly to the Coach.


These events will be held in the Founders Club on Nationwide Arena Suite Level on the following dates:

Monday, April 30
Wednesday, May 2
Thursday, May 3
Monday, May 7

The "Town Meetings" will begin at 7 p.m. with a brief cocktail reception followed by a program and Q&A session with Coach Hitchcock starting at approximately 7:45 p.m. You may park in the attached garage and enter Nationwide Arena via the Club Level entrance at the top of the garage (level G3).
It's unclear what Hitch plans to say at these meetings. After all, what could he say that we haven't heard already or don't already know? Up to the moment, the CBJ squad consists of the same 73 point team they had a month ago. All that has changed has been the removal of MacLean from the GM spot. That simple fact may be enough for some, however.

While this is a clever strategy that treats PSL holders as "insiders" who get to see the Founders Club and meet Hitch in person, this tactic might be better saved for (or used again) this summer when the Blue Jackets have some material to show to fans. A new GM, a hot draft pick, and a free agent pickup or two will sell far more seats than some free booze and speech from a coach who has only been in town for half a season.

If you go, try to ask a question or two that's going to get a straight answer out of Hitch. Odds are that most of his responses are going to be the generalized fluff that all athletic organizations use. I'm sure he'll say that "the team is going to work hard next year, finish their checks, and develop scoring opportunities." We've heard all that before, and frankly, that's exactly what any hockey team should be doing at any level all the time. That's nothing we don't already know. I'd like to get some commitment from Hitch that the team will lose some dead weight and make some moves for some free agents in the offseason. Lastly, I'd like to hear him personally say that he is in charge of hiring the new general manager. If we, the fans, are to subscribe to Hitch's vision, and the team is to adhere to his 'system', then we need a GM that's on the same page and is willing to give Hitch the reigns on the team.

(Thanks to Brandon for the heads up on this one)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Dispatch Roundup: MacLean's Firing

Here are links to the Dispatch articles surrounding MacLean's departure from Columbus:

And now we wait.

It's the slowest time of the year for Jacket fans. Other teams are enjoying the playoffs and our team is out on the golf course. The draft is still two months away, and the front office won't start signing free agents until the summer, and certainly not without our new GM. We've probably got a while on the GM signing too.

Aaron Portzline's article in the Dispatch explains that the Jackets' GM search is just in the preliminary stages. This is partly due to the fact that several of the candidates currently work for Cup-contending teams and therefore won't be immediately available for interviewing. In the mean time, Mike Priest, the new CBJ President, will be granting interviews to two front office employees already in the organization. While these candidates are worth examining, I have faith that Priest will focus more of his attention elsewhere. Promoting a MacLean crony to the top spot in the organization isn't a good way of "moving in a new direction." Regardless of their selection for the new GM, the Jackets will see a lot of changes in coming months. Even though the waiting is rough, it's a short wait compared to the last six seasons.

But hey, we've got playoff hockey to watch... and this:

Friday, April 20, 2007

Blue Jackets (Alumni) in the Playoffs


We all know that our Blue Jackets' season has ended, but it continues on for a few former Columbus players. Here's who I've spotted so far:

  1. Dallas Stars - Darryl Sydor
  2. Anaheim Ducks - Francois Beauchemin, Todd Marchant, Mark Hartigan
  3. Buffalo Sabers - Jaroslav Spacek, Ty Conklin
  4. New York Islanders - Mike Sillinger
  5. New Jersey Devils - Mike Rup
  6. Tampa Bay Lightning - Marc Denis, Luke Richardson
Have I missed anyone?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

BREAKING NEWS: Blue Jackets General Manager Doug MacLean Has Been Fired

An era has ended for Columbus hockey. Gone is the Prince Edward Island kingpin Doug "The Don" MacLean. (You can interpret that either way you want. You can choose between the Godfather Don Corleone, or Don McLean "Bye Bye Miss American Pie")

In a evening meeting of the CBJ ownership group, it was decided that MacLean's nine year tenure as Blue Jackets President and GM would come to a close. Doug took the reigns back in '98, well before the Blue Jackets ever took the ice. He was charged with developing the expansion team into a competitive professional squad. Since formally entering the league in 2000, the Jackets have posted six dismal seasons with losing records. Players, coaches, and even some fans have both come and gone in that span with no strong sign of improvement soon.

MacLean's termination from the organization has been long coming. After several consecutive unsuccessful trades and off-season pick-ups, followed by declining ticket sales and an overall inability to put a winning team on the ice, it is time for Doug to move along. Michael Arace of the Dispatch put together a great read detailing what went wrong during the MacLean era, in a concise yet complete article. (Though I have yet to grasp the Green Bay Packers comparison. You give it a shot.)

Doug takes with him a sizable portion of the CBJ budget. As per his multi-year contract, MacLean will take home his next year's salary, potentially in addition to a buy-out sum. In all, the CBJ organization stands to lose approximately $1.6 million by cutting MacLean's contract short. However, if this cash penalty is what is necessary to bring in proper management, then so be it.

So far, it has only been confirmed that MacLean himself is leaving. Unknown yet is the status of the rest of his administration and coaching staff that was recruited and hired specially by MacLean. These individuals include several Front Office staff members, as well as assistant coaches Gary Agnew and Gord Murphy. Jackets Head Coach Ken Hitchcock will be staying in Columbus- that much was confirmed by the Dispatch.

McConnell and the rest of the ownership group has committed themselves to personally finding a replacement for MacLean. They will likely act very quickly, as any incoming GM will need time to prepare for the upcoming NHL draft (which he will be hosting) as well as the offseason trades and player signings that happen during the summer. Michael Arace of the Dispatch speculated on who a few of the potential candidates may be. Notable candidates include Steve Tambellini, VP and Assistant GM of the Vancouver Canucks, and the former GM of the LA Kings. Also a potential replacement (and one that makes me a little nervous) is Mike Priest, president of JMac Inc- the parent company for the Blue Jackets.

I, amongst other CBJ bloggers and Dispatch writers are glad to see MacLean go. Most believe that Doug had many positive contributions to Columbus hockey, but failed to produce a successful team. Professional sports are a "what have you done for me lately?" world. It doesn't matter what someone did- it matters what they're doing- and MacLean's recent (read: last 2-3 seasons) efforts haven't exactly been awe-inspiring. He made several poor signings, weak trades and has overpaid for several players who under produced. All the while, the team has continued to stay below a .500 record, and has generally been out of the playoff hunt before the All-Star game.

Many readers and CBJ followers will remind us that it's not entirely MacLean's fault, and they're right. There have been and will continue to be many factors at play regarding professional hockey in Columbus. After all, the General Manager only indirectly affects what happens on the ice. He himself does not choose which net the puck goes into. MacLean gave a good effort in Columbus, and I'm sure he strove to succeed as much as we all wanted him to. But when you post the worst record in the league for the last six seasons combined, and are one of only two teams that have not made the playoffs at all during that time period, it's time for a reality check. In the business world, a CEO cannot continually post abnormally low, bottom of the barrel numbers year after year and expect to keep his job. When failure becomes a pattern and not a fluke, it's time to have him replaced. MacLean should be pleased he kept his position for this long. In the high pressure world of professional sports, winning is everything. You're either winning or you're not. And if you're not, you don't get to keep your job.

The TSN article that broke (best I can tell) the news was posted at 11:15 PM, Eastern Time. As a matter of fact, neither the Columbus NBC affiliate, nor the team website has posted the story yet. The only local press that has a story on their website at the time of this post is the Dispatch.


Related Jacket Times posts:
April 11, 2007
Is GM Doug MacLean stuck in 1996? 8 reasons why I think so.
March 7, 2007 CBJ GM Doug MacLean on Forbes List of Best GM's in Sports

.

Monday, April 16, 2007

(Tyler's) Jacket Times Pick for Blue Jackets MVP

It's time for me to make a selection for this year's MVP. Selecting one player who is "most valuable" to the Blue Jackets is tough. After all, what does 'most valuable' even mean? Some would argue for the guy who scored the most points, others may vote for the hardest working player. But alas, I have made a few decisions for who I think deserves the top (and bottom) honors. Without further ado:

Least Valuable Player- Brian Berard is a solid choice for this (dis)honor. He spent the first half of the season injured and the second half on the bench or scratched. All that cost the Jackets $2.5 million, which makes it Doug's fault too. It's worth noting however, that in the 11 games he did play, Berard put up 3 assists. That puts him ahead of another LVP candidate, Jody "Two points" Shelley.

Most Improved Player-
Dan Fritsche was outstanding. Despite having his season tragically cut (sorry) short, he put up more than double his point total from the previous season. This Parma native is turning into a clutch player for the Jackets. I'm happy to keep him in town and on the 'energy' line.

Most Valuable Player- A few other fans and the CBJ website itself posted a poll naming Fredrik Norrena as the MVP. I don't completely agree with that. Sure, Norrena played hard and managed an above .500 record, but he was often streaky, and was generally not a dominant force in why the Jackets were able to win a few. That said, I'm going to go with what some may say is a controversial pick and give the MVP to David Vyborny.

I've always thought that Vyborny is one of the most underrated, under appreciated players on the team. He's always in the corners coming up with a crafty play to either stimulate a scoring chance or stall on the penalty kill. And if you want numbers to support this award, look no further. Vyborny led the team in points (64), assists (48), and was second in plus/minus (+6). He was the only frequent starter to appear in the top 20 in the plus/minus category as well... a testament to the Jackets' struggles.

Vyborny is so often overlooked. He's quiet, doesn't fight, seldom talks to interviewers, and doesn't score a ton of goals. He simply goes out on the ice, does his thing, then waits on the bench for his next shift. #9 will continue to be a key player for this team as long as the front office can keep him around. There's been talk about Vyborny returning to the Czech Republic to raise his family, but I hope he sticks around Columbus as long as possible.

If you have an alternate selection for these honors, say so in the comments. I also invite my co-writers to post their selections.

CBJ 06-07 Stats on NHL.com

WE SAW AN ENDING!!

Last night featured another amazing game between the Stars and Canucks, once again going into overtime. After being shutout for 5 straight periods dating back to game 2, the Canucks got the equalizer early from Jan Bulis into the third period off a beautiful rebound. Again, I sensed overtime and wondered if Versus would get its head out of its ass and show us the extra frames. They did. And again, the Canucks won it off a Taylor Piatt (who?) one-timer. Thankfully, that game-winner took just 7 minutes, not 77. TAKE THAT Step-by-Step! Urkel was funnier anyway.

Also, interesting aside from my previous posting on the ineptitude of one Versus network Do us all a favor and sell the NHL back to ESPN for a penny, or a loon or a scheckle or a ruble or whatever interesting piece of change that you want. (NOTE: learned from that Albany Times Letter to the Editor, damn they are smart in the Empire State's Capital.)Not only did that Pilates commercial feature Frank from Step-By-Step but also by former NHL'er Pat Verbeek, who interestingly enough won his first Stanley Cup with.... the Dallas Stars. ( I know I guessed Kevin Bacon too) Also, looks like I was off...way off on that Flames prediction, just hope they can make it a series

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