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.