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

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.

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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.

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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.

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