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 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

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's kind of funny that with the old regime, the talk was always of the great things that will happen. And then they never did. With the new guys the word is "be patient" we have to build it right at that will take time. As a fan, I want us to win games and be competitive now. I have seen the group we have play well enough to beat every team in the league so why not this year? If "Hitch" is so good (never had a losing season with a team he started training camp with) why not this year?

Also, if you really wrote this today, why no mention of the switch of Zherdev from winger to center? That switch alone, I believe, will create at least a half dozen more wins this year. He'll be motivated and we get to have one of our more established wingers hang around instead of counting on "Creme" Brule.

Finally, last year many people accused Detroit of backing into the top seed because of playing 8 game each against Chicago, St. Louis, and Columbus. With Nashville's fire sale, they will get 8 more games against supposed "weak" competition. That is 32 out of 82 games! I think that is another reason for Columbus to be able to improve. We get to play 24 games against stiffs as well!