Monday, March 26, 2007

Jackets Decimate Blues - Doug Weight Caused Hurricane Katrina

I unexpectedly had a chance to attend the Jackets game last night. The home game against the Blues was recently rescheduled from a 12:30 puck drop to the normal Sunday 6 pm start time after NBC realized that a national audience wouldn't be too entertained by two non-playoff teams.

The Jackets played hard, and it was a great game to watch. The squad put up four goals, which is enough to sorta make up for being shut out last time I was in attendance. Norrena was great- he displayed a great glove hand that managed to snare anything that came to his vicinity of the ice. A couple of his grabs were particularly impressive. Despite only 24 saves (though only 25 shots), I probably would have notched him at 3rd star. Jason Chimera was all over the ice, as usual, and kept play quite lively and exciting. Jody Shelley's name became synonymous with 'turnover' in a way that hasn't been seen since the Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre days.

I watched the game with Dan (sports723), another contributor to the Jacket Times. He and another friend continually made 'Doug Weight' jokes, which is sort of like the Chuck Norris jokes that became popular last year, except our version was generally negative toward the aging St. Louis centerman. I'm sure Dan has plenty of good ones to share. Here's a few I just came up with:

Doug Weight reads Tiger Beat magazine.
Doug Weight put salmonella in the peanut butter.
Doug Weight started the Valerie Plame leak.

Jackets' consecutive wins are now 3... I'd say that's 'streak' worthy. Seven games left this season.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Why Sergei Fedorov is my Hero - Part 2

Amid a "chorus of boos", ya-boy Sergei Fedorov, won last night's game in Detroit. In a shootout that entailed three additional rounds of one-on-one, Sergei stepped up and won the game against his former team and city. (I missed the game due to my NCAA Tourney attention, but thanks to frequent commenter Brandon for bringing it to my attention.)

The CBJ squad has had its ups and downs in recent days. We've witnessed a big win against Chicago, a deke past Detroit, and unfortunately, a new NHL record for most times being shut out. The team continues to battle, however, and I hope they're taking every opportunity to work out the kinks so that they can be ready for next season.

I realize I've been on hiatus lately- it's March Madness, and I have apparently gone March Mad. Speaking of which, how about 'dem Bucks? UT tried to put up that last two-pointer, but Greg Oden said, "No Way."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Why Sergei Fedorov is my Hero

It got me pretty excited when Sergei Fedorov started playing for the Blue Jackets. When I first learned that he had been traded to Columbus (which is a funny story in itself), I gathered a few friends and made the drive up to Nationwide Arena (lived in Athens then) to see his first appearance in the CBJ sweater. I obviously didn't have a #91 CBJ jersey at the time, so I dug up a Blue Jackets promotional tee shirt I had and used a red sharpie to put his name and number on the back.

While my maturity has generally raised me above the level of having 'favorite players', Sergei continues to be as close to that as I have. He always was, after all, going back to the early 90's. But why? Why have I developed an affinity for this Russian superstar? I never really sat back and thought about it. Do I really need a reason to favor a particular player? I wouldn't suppose so, but there certainly must be some cause.

I started watching Fedorov play in the early 1990's, not long after he defected from the USSR to play in the United States. I was a youngster living in a Detroit suburb and caught onto the game of hockey through several friends who followed the Wings. (One friend's dad was a particularly big fan and went so far as to coordinate a group of our friends into a floor hockey team that competed as the Blues- but I digress, that's a whole other story.) We regularly watched games together and played NHL '94 on Super Nintendo pretty habitually, so we were always current on the Red Wings roster. Fedorov played alongside the likes of Stevey-Y and Paul Coffey- three players we collectively thought were, well, awesome.

Maybe I admired Fedorov because he won not one, but two Selke awards, which is given to the league's best defensive forward, proving his all-around ability. He also won the Hart trophy for league MVP, and the Pearson award, which is basically MVP of the regular season. Even this season he's playing both sides of the puck for the Jackets.

Off the ice, I couldn't help but admire (or maybe envy) Fedorov's marriage to Anna Kournikova, and has been seen dating Tara Reid- both celebrities I once fancied as an adolescent. Talk about living the dream, sheesh.

Those may all be good-enough reasons to favor #91, but it's not the greatest reason.

Back when I lived up north, my friends and I one rainy day decided to write letters (by hand, of course. I remember the lined paper) to our favorite sports stars. Some wrote to Cecil Fielder of the Detroit Tigers, others may have written to Barry Sanders, rushing extraordinaire of the Detroit Lions. I wrote to Sergei in a letter that probably looked just like you'd think:

"Dear Sergei, You're my #1 favorite hockey player on my favorite team. I watch all your games and think you're really cool..."
Enclosed was a 1994 Upper Deck hockey trading card and a self-addresed stamped envelope. I asked Fedorov to autograph the card and kindly mail it back to me. I selected a particular card that had him dressed in an Upper Deck Rookie Team jersey, which I'm sure wasn't the best card of him I had, but I doubted that I would ever get the card back and I wasn't about to throw away an especially good one.

Off the letter went in what I thought was a futile effort to reach out to my favorite athlete. Even at that age I was aware that getting any response was a long shot- but that same inexperience allowed me stay hopeful.

It was only a few weeks later that my parents brought a piece of mail to my attention. I couldn't believe my eyes:

I have cherished this card since I found it in my hand-written return envelope over a decade ago. I have always kept it under plastic (except this one time to scan it), never to gum-up the sharpie. Over the years, I have been told that this card probably wasn't signed by him, and since I didn't witness it being autographed, that some nobody at the Red Wings organization may have done it, and so forth. I don't care. I'll always believe that this is the real deal- it means too much to me to ever doubt it.

Getting that card back in the mail was one of those childhood moments that I'll carry on forever. For my life, it has been a moment of innocence for professional sports that have become so littered with the controversies of gambling, steroids and violent crime that I'm conscious of today. Even if it's only in my mind, I like to relish in the imaginary world where pro sports are purely about the game and nothing more- no contracts, no crime, and the athletes play their hearts out to win games for their fans.

Whether he knew it or not at the time, a few strokes of sharpie created a lifelong fan. Thank you Sergei for taking the time to drop that card back in the mail- it did and still does mean a lot to me.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lemieux, Bettman and Officials Reach Deal: Penguins to Stay in Pittsburgh

So the trips to Kansas City and Las Vegas went for naught- or rather, it was a slick move by Penguins officials to swing the Pennsylvania politicians into giving the franchise its new home. Bettman, Lemieux, and Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania government officials finally came to a deal yesterday, solidifying plans to build a new arena for the Penguins and keeping the franchise squarely in the land of the Quakers.

The deal provides for a $290 million facility to be paid for by taxes on the state's casinos. The team is responsible for a minimal portion of the financing- only $3.8 million toward construction costs and less than half a million each subsequent year for improvements. Most strikingly, the state is being required to pay the team a $10 million penalty for delaying the deal and for property already purchased by the team. The new arena is purported to be ready for the 2009-2010 season.

I'm happy to see an NHL staple stay put in one of the biggest hockey markets in the country- it would be disappointing for the game itself to see them move. However, I was excited at the prospect that the Jackets could have had a shot at moving to the Eastern Conference, which they seem to play rather well against, particularly this season.

The deal that seemed so long in the making came out to benefit the Pens more than I ever expected. I haven't followed these sort of deals much lately, but it seems like the Penguins really won this one. Not only did they score their new arena, they're paying for less than 1.5% of it- and that's not counting the $10 million penalty. Factor that in, and the government is paying for the entire construction cost plus the first 15 years of upkeep. Granted, the arena construction money is to come from the casino's coffers, but that tax money could just as easily be used to finance education, welfare, transportation costs, serve other needs of the Pennsylvania citizenry.

One could make the argument that the value of keeping the team in the Steel City is priceless, but did the taxpayers, government officials, and the City of Pittsburgh get a good deal here? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Tied for 25th Place: It could be worse... Right?

Yeah, yeah, the Jackets are out of playoff contention. We know this, and unfortunately it's a realization we've all made. Being out of the playoff race only relatively recently became official, yet many of us felt it coming as far back as November.

But it's worth checking in on point totals anyway, just to see where the team stands against the NHL.

Here's your up-to-today NHL point totals, courtesy of the Dispatch. I'm only doing the top 6 and the bottom 6- Just enough to include Columbus and note our divisional competition.

1. Nashville - 98pts
2. Detroit - 95pts
2. Anaheim - 95pts
4. Buffalo - 93pts
5. New Jersey- 92pts
6. Vancouver- 87pts
25. Columbus - 61pts
25. Chicago - 61pts
27. Washington-60pts
28. Phoenix - 57pts
28. Los Angeles-57pts
30. Philadelphia-49pts

Saturday, March 10, 2007

SI and YouTube Present: Five of the Worst NHL Hits

Sports Illustrated doing exactly what they do best, illustrating sports, has posted an online slideshow of ten of the most infamous hits in the NHL. Being that only provides photos, I took it upon myself of rounding up a few of them on YouTube. So here they are in all their glory horror.

Cam Janssen hits Thomas Kaberle. This happened last week.

Chris Neil hits Chris Drury, leading to the "Buffalo Brawl". This clip happened before the segment posted on the prior post regarding this incident.

Marty McSorley nails Donald Brashear's head with his stick.

Dale Hunter drills Pierre Turgeon after he scores a goal in the 1993 Playoffs.

And the one I hate the most... Todd Bertuzzi attacking Steve Moore. This clip gets me fired up... this hit isn't hockey at all. It's a malicious assault.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Penguins Owners Check Out Las Vegas - Lemieux Doubles down on 6-6

As we all know, the Pens are looking around for a potential relocation destination. Kansas City, with their nearly completed Sprint Center, is desperate for an anchor team and looks like the current top choice. Also in contention is Houston, which also needs a team for their Toyota Center.

Lemieux and the rest of the Penguins ownership is now also investigating Las Vegas. Currently, the arena cited in the Pittsburgh press article isn't a whole lot better than what the Pens now have in Pittsburgh. But the city of Las Vegas, and it's wealthy casino elite, could easily be swain into constructing a new, more modern facility. Las Vegas already has an ECHL team (though, isn't ECHL a bit of a misnomer? There's nothing east coast about southern Nevada), which plays in the Orleans Arena, of course affiliated with the Orleans Casino. From web photos, the Orleans Arena looks like a modern facility, and I'm not sure why that venue would not be considered for NHL use.

Vegas is a city that would benefit from, and for, a sports team. They have a large enough fan base to support a team, plenty of financiers, and tons of travelers that regard the city as a mecca of entertainment, and would certainly attend games- especially if they were 'comped' to you in exchange for your high roller play at the tables. Despite this, at least one member of the Las Vegas Press thinks seeing Crosby and Staal on The Strip is unlikely.

If the Penguins select Las Vegas as their next home, they are best to do it as soon as possible. The NBA is also eying Vegas as a potential expansion or relocation site. By getting there first, the Pens could secure money and a fan base before they have in-town sports entertainment competition.

It doesn't cease to fascinate me how Pittsburgh, one of America's greatest hockey cities, is unwilling to help the team pay for a new arena, yet two other major cities (Kansas City and Houston) who haven't had an NHL team are clamoring to house the Penguins- plus several others that would love to strike a deal with Lemieux and the gang.

Berard and Westcott Join Leclaire and Fritsche on Bench for Remainder of Season

Berard's back pain has returned, despite two surgeries and sitting out 82 games. The former #1 draft pick (1995) has been instructed by his doctors to sit out the rest of the season. After being signed to a two-year $4.5 Million contract, Berard has only played 55 games in a Blue Jackets uniform, working out to roughly $82,000 per game. Ouch. Sources tell Aaron Portzline that Berard is very unlikely to be re-signed for next season. It's also possible that Berard's career is over, though we'll have to see what happens to him in the offseason.

Westcott has made it official that he won't be back this season either. Still suffering from a concussion that occurred months ago, there's no need to get him back in the lineup. His injuries pose to great of a risk, especially when the Jackets are out of playoff contention.

Adding these two to the already-done Pascal Leclaire and Dan Fritsche, we have four CBJ players who we won't see until at least next year, and in the case of Berard, won't likely ever see again at all.

I'd like to say that these guys would make a good golf foursome and would have the advantage of early season prices, but with their particular injuries it looks like the only golf they could play would be Tiger Woods PGA Tour on Playstation.

The Photo is of Berard and Wags and/or Elliot from QFM96. I think the two of them look like they're ready to kick someone's ass. Perhaps that of Wags or Elliot... whichever is not in the picture. And why is he leaning on Berard? He has a bad back!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

CBJ GM Doug MacLean on Forbes List of Best GM's in Sports

Forbes magazine recently released their rankings of the 98 best General Managers in professional sports. GMs from every major professional sport appear on the list, including our own Doug MacLean, who came in at 52nd.

Let it be noted that the rankings are based on two major statistics- Winning Improvement and Payroll Containment. Both stats are indexed to 100, meaning that the numbers for a particular person on the list don't really mean a whole lot until you compare them to other people on the list- though you can see it as a rating of 130 means that GM has helped the team win 30% more games, or a rating of 72 means the team has won 28% fewer games. The payroll containment works the same way, so a 108 means that the salary is 8% more than previous years. Also, only GMs with 3 or more years of experience were rated, which may explain why certain teams (such as the Calgary Flames) do not appear anywhere on the list.

Obtaining the #1 overall rating is Kevin McHale of the Minnesota Timberwolves (NBA). The top NHL performer, coming in at #2, is Jay Feaster of the Tampa Bay Lightening. The GMs of the New Jersey Devils and Atlanta Thrashers also appear in the top 10. The highest rank GM in the Central Division is David Poile, GM for the Nashville Predators.

It's important to remember that having a "good" GM doesn't guarantee success- the GM of the St. Louis Cardinals (who won the 2006 World Series) is ranked 46, and the Carolina Hurricanes (who won last year's Stanley Cup) is rated 17th. The GM is responsible for managing the team as a business- one that is in pursuit of profit, not necessarily a championship. Winning a title is a satisfying and profitable reward, but it is not the primary objective of the General Manager. That said, a good GM will sign the right players at the right price in order to give the team the best chance of winning, as well as maintaining the profitability of the franchise.

So does Doug MacLean deserve his 52nd rank on the list? He has a winning improvement rating of 121 and a payroll containment of 76. (Meaning 21% more wins, 24% less payroll) Let's hear your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Is it the End of the Ice Age for Pittsburgh Hockey?

Looks like global warming isn't the only thing killing Penguins. It was announced yesterday that the Pittsburgh Penguins were at "an impasse" with Pittsburgh municipal authorities regarding plans for a new arena. The team's owners are set to move if they can't arrange a new home for the team in Pittsburgh. Even though the Pens' owners offered $120 million toward a new arena, the construction and development costs are estimated to be $290 million, and the City of Pittsburgh and its taxpayers are not ready to commit that much cash.

In another attempt to raise the necessary funds, a gaming company called Isle of Capri Casinos offered to pay the taxpayer's share of costs in exchange for a license to open a casino in the Pittsburgh area. The casino license instead went to a competing corporation and this plan fell through.

With no other solution in sight, Mario Lemieux and other owner representatives are "aggressively" pursuing relocation. The top candidate for relocation remains Kansas City, but as mentioned in a previous Jacket Times post, Winnipeg, Portland, and Oklahoma City are also potential destinations.

It's a shame for a true hockey city to be struggling to keep their team (I can't help but draw comparisons to the Cleveland Browns' plight). The entire issue seems to revolve around the new arena that would replace the aging Mellon Arena, which was built all the way back in '61. To put that into perspective, the Beatles performed there in 1964... just months after first coming the US. Since opening, the arena has been renovated a few times, but the upgrades have been minimal. According to wikipedia, many 'upgrades' have been inadequate to keep up with modern technology and unable to compete with other professional sports venues. Apparently many seats have obstructed views and other seats are blocked off entirely because of roof leaks. Even one of the arena's most notable features, a retractable roof, was deactivated in order to compensate for a modern scoreboard. (Watching hockey with the roof open would be something special... though a tad chilly.)

I've never seen the inside of Mellon Arena, so I can't attest to its stagnant architecture, nor incapability to meet modern sports venue needs. Therefore, it is difficult to explain to a Nationwide Arena patron what the Penguins and their fans are going through. Is there any venue in Columbus that can compare to Mellon's degradation? The two potential candidates that come to mind are St. John's Arena at Ohio State and the Ohio Coliseum and Expo Center at the fair grounds, where the Columbus Chill formerly played. Speak up in the comments if you have some insight.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Jackets Win 2 Road Games in a Row: Gretzky Throws Clipboard

If you're like many CBJ fans, knowing the team is out of the playoff picture is pretty discouraging to tuning in for the games. However, if you took that attitude this past weekend, you missed out.

The Jackets went on a two game stomp of the south, beating the Stars 3-2 in a shutout, then topping Phoenix 4-3. The shootout victory, a rare occurance for the Jackets came just days (or hours?) after this article in the Dispatch described Hitch's new practice of holding shootout try-outs for the team in an effort to always have the best, hottest shooters leading the overtime charge- not the go-to shooters of Nash, Vyborny, and Zherdev. I never found any follow-up of this tryout system, but let's just say that it was Chimera who fired the winning shoot-out goal to topple the Stars on Friday.

Saturday's game in Phoenix was a fantastic display of skill by the entire CBJ roster. Brian Boucher had his first start for Columbus, despite not yet having proper CBJ goalie gear. He had a few troubles staying in position and gave up far too many rebounds, but the Jackets prevailed.

Perhaps one of the more noteworthy moments from this game occurred just seconds from the final horn. With approximately three seconds left to play, the teams went to a face-off in the neutral zone. Phoenix Coyotes Head Coach Wayne Gretzky disagreed with the call and believed the face-off should have been held in Columbus ice, thereby giving the Coyotes a last second attempt at a 6 on 5 play, and a potential game-tying goal. Gretzky through a fit, yelling some choice four letter words at the refs and throwing his clipboard. He caused such a scene that there was serious potential for him to be called on a delay of game penalty. The penalty was not issued, however, and the Jackets easily held on to win the game.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Ryan Smyth Says a Tearful Goodbye to Edmonton, or a Tearful Hello to New York

In what can only be described as one of those great sports moments that tugs at your manly heartstrings, Ryan Smyth gave a press conference on Wednesday to the people of Edmonton. He expresses how much he has appreciated playing for the Oilers organization and tries to look positively on his move to the Big Apple.

His emotional display demonstrates some of his classy behavior Covered in Oil has described in the past, and justifies the image of Jesus with Smyth's likeness instead of the savior. Anyway you cut it, Smyth characterizes the kind of player that can really pull a team and its community together- and the kind of player we could really use here in Columbus... a guy who can make a difference on and off the ice.

On a mildly disturbing sidenote, when i first saw the video, I thought he had gum in the side of his mouth. I thought, "Gee, that's unprofessional when on (inter)national media." Moments later I discovered that no, that's not gum... those are his teeth. And they're simply missing on the other side. Ick. I thought most hockey players had fake teeth they put in when they donned their suits and other formal attire. Guess not.

City Stunned: Shelley Scores First Goal of Season

In a story that went right under The Jacket Times' radar, Jody Shelley scored his first goal of the season last weekend against Nashville. This raises his point total for the 58 games he has played in this season to 1.

Hitch and others quickly deemed his point to be an 'ugly goal', saying that he just happened to be in the right spot in front of the net as several players hacked at the puck. He was just lucky for it to have hit his stick last. Shelley was proud, however, and I can't blame him. Every goal is important, be it your first or 500th.

Granted, good ole 45 isn't on the CBJ roster for the purpose of scoring points. If he was, that would be about the most expensive goal I've seen in some time. Shelley's 06-07 salary is a whopping $600,000, which is a tad high for an enforcer who can't enforce, and who isn't leading the team in penalty minutes. (Are we sensing a theme here, MacLean?)

Oh Shelley, we've spoken of this before... It pains me to write negatively of you, for you sir have a heart of a champion. Players without that asset can never attain it. No amount of skill, no number of goals, and no Stanley Cup can grant that to a player. You also possess a public image and likability that has not been able to be replicated, and seldom challenged since Tyler Wright. But this is a team that needs goals and needs wins. If the Jackets were a successful franchise, I would have no room to knock your spot on the roster. But that is not the state of the Blue Jackets, and you need to produce or get out of the way! I'm not placing unrealistic expectations that you're going to put up Sidney Crosby numbers or anything, but what would it take to get to a 10-15 point season? You managed 10 last year, and that was without Hitch's aggressive focus-on-fundamentals and physical style. You need to adapt Shelley! Adapt or get out of the way for young guy to get more regular NHL ice time!

Photo from

But look at the bright side- Baseball is Coming!

The Jackets may be done for the season, but my team to watch when the NHL is not in season is just starting.

The major league baseball season is just around the corner, and my team, the Reds, are just getting started down in Sarasota. Every new season brings a clean slate for every team, and the Reds can use it just as much as the Jackets. Good news from the Dispatch about them today too- five homers in yesterday's game, including Adam Dunn going long in his first at-bat. Let it be a sign... oh lord, let it be a sign.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Leclaire Done for Season, Westcott likely to Follow Suit

After only 24 games as Columbus' starting goaltender, Pascal Leclaire has called it quits on the season. The decision comes only after months of a reoccurring injury to his knee that started back in December. We all had hopes that Pazzy would be back in crease before the end of the season, but the attempt he did make to return just reignited his ailing leg.

Leclaire, just 24, is said to be one of the great futures of the CBJ organization. He's said to have the skills and potential to lead this team since joining the Jackets' organization via the 2002 NHL draft.

Pazzy has played a total of 59 games in the Columbus sweater, including call-ups from previous seasons, his back-up duty under Marc Denis, and this season's starter spot. In his 24 games this season, he posted a 2.97 GAA with a .897 save percentage. While those numbers are short of spectacular, the GAA has decreased in recent seasons. That's shows promise, I suppose.

Duvie Westcott is also still out on injury. He hasn't played since January 6th, and his return isn't looking good. His concussion still affects him, particularly when his heart rate gets up.... clearly an issue in a fast-paced full contact sport. Until a few days ago, Westcott hoped to return to the lineup this week. When his headache problems sprung up on Tuesday, CBJ medical staff decided it would be best to postpone his return and go see a specialist.

While I would love to see either of these players get back on the ice before the end of the season, there's no sense in multiplying their risk of further injury by rushing them back onto the ice. The Jackets don't have anything left to play for with the playoffs out of the picture, so taking it easy is the way to go for the injured Leclaire and Westcott.