Monday, May 30, 2016

AHL Western Conference Champion Monsters Face Hershey in Final

Lucas Sedlak with 2 goals in Conference Final 2OT Win
The match-up for the AHL Calder Cup final has been set, with the Lake Erie Monsters squaring off against the Hershey Bears starting Wednesday night June 1 at Hershey.  That is followed by a Friday night tilt at Hershey, then 3 games in the Q at Monsters' home ice.  Those games have not been scheduled yet as the NBA finals schedule has not been set.

Best of luck to the Monsters as they embark on their run at the Calder Cup.  As Western Conference champs they have already accomplished something significant.  A new challenge awaits them in the finals, as the Bears, the Washington Capitals affiliate, have proven to be explosive.

The risk for the Bears, however, is that if they are somehow successful in chasing Anton Forsberg from the net, Joonas Korpisalo is waiting in the wings with something to prove.  How awesome for the organization to have two young goal tenders playing so well.  I'm really looking forward to this final.

Just wanted to make a quick shout out to Fox Sports Ohio for televising game 4 of the AHL Western Conference final.  It was amazingly fun to watching a.) a team you root for, playing b.) meaningful hockey.  The 2 OT winner was really fun to watch.  Here's hoping Fox Sports Ohio can pull off another broadcast of one of the finals games!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Checking the Box Score - Lake Erie 4, Ontario 3

Anton Forsberg with the win in goal last night.
Last night the Lake Erie Monsters opened their first ever third round playoff series by defeating the Ontario, CA- Reign by a score of 4-3.  With goals by Sedlak, Anderson, and Craig in the second period, Lake Erie took a 3 to 1 lead into the third period.  Ontario answered with 2 goals in the third to tie the game, but 19 seconds later Broadhurst scored the game winning goal off assists by Werenski and Emminger.

Most important for Blue Jackets fans was the fact that Anton Forsberg was in the net for the Monsters.  Forsberg has had some ups and downs this year, and has struggled at the NHL level.  However, he is still a young and developing goal tender.  After being sent down from the injury call up where Korpisalo established himself in the Blue Jackets net, Forsberg responded with sterling play down the stretch to help the Monsters clinch their playoff berth.  With Korpisalo coming down to the AHL at the end of the Blue Jackets season, Korpisalo was given the net going into the playoffs due to his strong play in the NHL.  Following the first round sweep, Korpisalo appeared to be faltering late in the second round playoff series.  Enter Forsberg, who iced the second round win by keeping Grand Rapids off the board, and allowing the Monsters to tie the final game, and subsequently win it in overtime.

I was wondering how Coach Bednar would handle this situation, and I am pleased to see that he rewarded Forsberg with the start.  It makes sense, and has huge long term implications for the Blue Jackets.  More and more in this league it is looking like you need an effective tandem of goal tenders to be successful over the long term.  Forsberg and Korpisalo are developing into a very effective tandem, which is being forged in the heat of a playoff run.  This is very valuable experience that will help both players develop further and has this fan very excited about the young pair's future.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Watching A Game That Actually Counts: Monsters 4 - Griffins 3

Daniel Zaar With the Game Winning Goal
Today we journeyed to Cleveland to join my buddy Mike, a long suffering Cleveland sports aficionado to take in Game 2 of the Lake Erie Monsters second round of the Calder Cup playoffs.  The Monsters were facing off against the Grand Rapids Griffins, the Detroit AHL affiliate, and with names like Cleary and Bertuzzi on their roster this was familiar stuff for Blue Jackets fans that made the journey.

Tragically, the thing that was unfamiliar for Blue Jackets fans was seeing a game in which the outcome actually counted for something.  Jackets fans have watched a lot of hockey since October, 2015, the last time the NHL franchise played a meaningful game.  So it was fun and refreshing to see these Monsters ply their trade in a playoff atmosphere.

First of all, the folks at the Q (Quicken Arena) pulled out all the stops, and put on a good show.  Secondly, we got to watch a compelling hockey game, with lots of texture.  It started out swimmingly for the Monsters, when Sonny Milano scored by deflecting the puck in off his skates as he was slamming on the brakes going into the crease.  It was not a DKM (distinct kicking motion) and the goal stood the review.   Then Steve Hemminger scored on a really sweet tic-tac-toe passing play to make it 2-0 Monsters, and all was well.

Then in the waning moments of the first period, the Griffins ramped up the physicality, and the Monsters started drawing penalties.  So all of a sudden a late period penalty kill for the Monsters becomes a 5 on 3 for the Griffins.  They promptly scored on the 5 on 3, to make it 2-1 at the end of one.  This was a demarcation point for approximately 20 minutes of hockey where the Griffins really dominated the play.  At the 2 minute mark of the second period, Grand Rapids tied the game, and then with about 15 minutes gone in the second period they took a 3-2 lead, and things looked bleak for the Monsters.  However, there was a lot of hockey left to be played.

Late in the second period, and on into the third period, the Monsters started to slowly tilt the ice back their way.  Just before the 15 minute mark in the third, Lake Erie generated a really nice chance at a screened Griffins goal tender, but he blindly stuck his glove out and the puck found his glove.  Immediately thereafter, the Monsters repeated the play, quickly moving the puck around behind the net, and Trent Vogelhuber found Ryan Craig with time and space in front of the net, and he did not allow the goal tender a chance to glove it, going top shelf for the tying goal.  This gave Lake Erie great momentum, and less than 2 minutes later, Daniel Zaar buried the game winner.  But before it was over the Monsters had to kill a 6 on 4 penalty, as the Griffins pulled the goal tender.  But Joonas Korpisalo was strong in goal, and they preserved the win to take a 2-0 series lead against Grand Rapids in the best of 7 series.

This was a great team win for the Monsters, with lots of contributors.  It was a really fun game in a hopping atmosphere.  And, as an added benefit we got to watch the guy who was in charge of game operations sweating the possibility of overtime, as there was an arena football game in the Q that night at 7.  A couple of OT periods could have really put some pressure on that, but the Monsters just went ahead and won in regulation.

A 2-0 lead in a best of 7 series is nice to have, but it won't get you anywhere.  If you want to get somewhere, you need to win on the road, and the series returns to Grand Rapids now.  It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.  What a great opportunity for the guys developing in the organization to experience a playoff.

It was fun to watch a game that was actually counted towards some outcome other than draft position.  Let's hope we see a few more of those in Columbus next year.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Lake Erie Advances

Josh Anderson is on fire
Last night the Lake Erie Monsters advanced to the second round of the AHL playoffs, defeating the Rockford Ice Hogs in a sweep, beating Rockford 5-2, 5-1, and 5-3.  Josh Anderson finished the series with a hat trick in Game 2, and a Power Play goal in Game 3 to spark the Monster's to the series win in the five game series.  The next round becomes seven game series.

Joonas Korpisalo was very solid in net, which is a great thing to see for the Blue Jackets organization.  Another really good thing to see was the play of Anton Forsberg down the stretch for Lake Erie.  While Korpisalo was playing well in the NHL, Forsberg shook off a mid-season slump, and was extremely effective in net down the stretch.

This is just a really good thing for the organization, and I am looking forward to the next round.  Grand Rapids is up on Milwaukee 2 games to 0 in that series, so the Monsters have a bit of a break ahead of them.  It's really nice to see the fire power the Monsters are showing.  Hopefully some day that transfers to the NHL.  Way to go Monsters!

A quick note about the summer schedule.  As a one man show, I'm not going to worry about a steady string of content over the off season.  I'll get a thing up here and there, and of course the pace will pick up around draft day and free agency.  And likely I'll pipe up to cheer or moan about the results of the lottery.  And I have another 'Definitive History' piece or two to do.  Probably save that for August, when its really slow.

Good luck in the next round Lake Erie!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Welp, 2015-16 NHL Season Mercifully Ends for CBJ.

Scott Hartnell Scores his 300th Goal
No sense putting lipstick on a pig, this season that derailed from the start is finally over.  A straight shooting John Tortorella is quoted in the Dispatch as saying the win last night 'doesn't mean squat', which is calling it like it is.  At some point you have to come to grips with who you really are, and Tortorella seems like a guy who doesn't shy from that.  This is a pretty average team, that if things had broken our way, we might have been in a dog fight with Philly for that last wild card spot.

This is also a young team with a lot of future potential, but in a league where success is measured with wins and losses, potential doesn't help you at all.  The guy facing you on the ice doesn't care about your potential, he just wants to beat you.  And the Jackets did not manage that situation well this year.

Tortorella says he is focused on something meaningful, by which he means next year.  He is already planning for next year, and the things that the team needs to accomplish.  That list is long, and he has his work cut out for him.  I find these statements by the coach refreshing, as it helps to contribute to understanding our situation.

On the home front, I really enjoyed last night's game.  I can't believe those knucklehead Blackhawks quit skating after the first period and lost that game.  We were laughing hysterically at the first intermission about coming back and winning that game in our discussion of the standings, and son of  gun if we didn't do it.  I had been counting on losing that game.  Most of the other teams won as well, so we could have finished pretty low in the standings.

But is was really sweet to see the big Blackhawks contingent go home disappointed, and the atmosphere was really raucous last night, which  was a lot of fun.  Hartnell scored his 300th goal, FINALLY, after being stuck on 299 for weeks, and that seemed to ignite the Blue Jackets.  And it was a beauty, as he slid in BEHIND Cory Crawford in goal to gather the rebound off the end boards and direct it into the net.  That is a heck of an achievement, and I am really happy for Hartnell.

Dean Kukan
But where I thought the game turned was when Kane had a break away, and Dean Kukan chased him down from behind and denied the shot.  Kukan has real speed, and the Swiss defenseman could be a factor next year, but I'm not really sure anyone is taking that into account.  This guy is a Jarmo guy, signed as a free agent from Lulea in Finland and adds a turn of speed to our back end.  It should be really interesting to see where he picks up next year.  He has looked really solid in his 8 games at the NHL level, notching +4 games twice.  For now, its back to Lake Erie for the playoffs, and more skating for him.  Good luck Dean!

So we finish 27th.  That gives us a 1 in 4 chance of hitting one of the lottery selections and picking in the top 3.  Every team that finished behind us that hits in the lottery is one less spot available for a team that finished ahead of us to hit the lottery, which is good, because that would push us down a selection spot.   Worst we can pick is 7th, so knowing those top 8 or so selections thoroughly is going to be important.  The lottery itself is April 30, so we have a bit of time until we find out where we really fall.  This is the time when our colleagues over at the Cannon and Buckeye State Hockey pick up the ball, as they have writers who are focused on the prospects.  And needless to say, the second round pick that we need to yield for signing Tortorella, a rule that has since been abolished, should be next year's pick, as I think Torts has every intention of being in the playoffs.

There is a part of me that says this team should have recovered more than they did after the awful start.  On the other hand, that was an historically bad start, the worst start in NHL history that didn't happen during war time.  A new coach 7 games into the season.  Whew.  This one was a real lulu.  So in some ways it makes sense that things were so far off the rails.  This was the first time a lot of our young guys experienced having a coach get fired.

So I guess the players will find it liberating to hear the coach say it doesn't mean squat.  Next year means something now.  And that is Torts' sole focus.  We'll be back.  But today and tomorrow are hard truth days for the players, as they go through exit interviews, and get their summer conditioning assignments.  And we'll see where Torts wants to take his staff.  Some of those changes should be interesting.

Another one in the books.

GO JACKETS!!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Winding it Up

Brandon Saad becomes second Jacket to score 30 goals.
Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets and youngsters beat their second minor league team in a row, pulling away from a Buffalo Sabres team starting a number of rookies, and a goal tender making his first NHL start.  The gnashing of teeth and anguish shown amongst the fan base for this win hurting our 'lottery odds' is significant.  Folks, if we are going to gnash teeth over late season standings, let's save it for when we punt when we are trying to get into the playoffs (see Flyers, Philadelphia).

The reality is that if we pick in the first 4 picks, we get an impact player.  Two of those picks are Finns, probably highly coveted by Jarmo.  So to avoid more gnashing, lets look at how much we really hurt our odds.  Because this is a new format, lottery for the first three picks, the odds are calculated some what differently.  And, for the sake of this discussion, we will assume that the lottery for the number one overall pick is actually random, instead of going to Toronto as Shanahan certainly pre-arranged with Bettman before he left DoPS.  The NHL will want it to appear random, so we'll go along with their PR branch for this discussion.

I am relying on this website for the calculations on these odds, and this website  for the odds of hitting in the lottery depending on how you finish.  Since hitting in ANY of the lottery choices is a victory for the CBJ, we have 3 chances to hit.  In the first website if you scroll down to the example of playing the lottery, that is the formula I have used, basically #of times you lose based on finishing percentage, divided by number of overall times played, and the result of that cubed.  The following are the overall chances of us hitting in the draft lottery.  I omitted last place because we can't get there.

Place     Overall Odds
29                35%
28                31%
27                26%
26                23%
25                21%

So remember when you think about these odds, that if we go through this exercise 10 times, the chance we lose is 7 times if we tank harder, versus the chance we lose being 8 times if we win a few games.  My point is that we are not seeing huge shifts in the odds of getting what we need, with the added bonus that for every team that finishes behind us that hits on their longer odds, the closer we come to the 4th overall pick, which will likely be Matthew Tkachuk,who will also be an impact player.  Calculation of the odds that would happen would get incredibly complex, and would best be done by a statistician.  Our odds of that fourth pick are helped immeasurably by the aforementioned conspiracy between Shanahan and the Commissioner.  So why complain?

My point is, the gnashing of teeth over our inability to tank effectively matching our inability to win effectively is probably an over reaction.  At the end of the day, what will be is what will be.  And Tortorella's notion of what is due the hockey gods is probably every bit as thoughtful as the tanking discussions, and perhaps more realistic.  Karma is a bitch.

So Brandon Saad becomes the second Blue Jacket to score 30 goals this season, setting franchise record in which two Blue Jackets score 30 goals in a single season.  This means they are unlikely to hit that plateau again next year, but there are a number of other Jackets who might step up to that gap, including Cam Atkinson, but that is a post for another day.

Today the Jackets will play a real NHL team in their finale, and this is not likely to be real pretty.  But it will be fun, and I plan to go and celebrate the last day of our season.  Then comes the difficult chore of breaking this thing apart and looking at it over the off season.  But for now, relax and enjoy!

GO JACKETS!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

20 versus 10, the Myth of the Tank

Listen to me boy, when I'm talkin' to ya!
Boy's about as sharp as a bowling ball!
These are agonizing times for Blue Jackets fans.  The team is well out of the playoffs and the only thing to look forward to is the draft.  Last night, a Blue Jackets team with a healthy spicing of Lake Erie Monsters whip-sawed a Toronto Maple Leafs team composed largely of Marlies in the 3rd period; scoring 4 goals to ensure that the Blue Jackets could finish no lower than 28th.  This means the CBJ have roughly a 10% chance of winning the lottery for the number one pick.  Yes, you can quibble about the difference between 13.5% and 11%, but it's still roughly a 1 in 10 chance.

I feel bad for the tooth gnashing from those CBJ fans that wanted us to lose last night.  The myth is that somehow we could out tank Edmonton and Toronto, and magically finish last, and get a wonderful 2 in 10 chance of winning (20%).  Let's flip this around for perspective.  If you manage to sufficiently disgrace yourself to finish last, you only lose 8 out of 10 times instead of losing 9 out of 10 times.  These are not great odds folks.

When Scott Arniel gifted us with a massively failed hockey team, built around the illusion that Colorado was a good young hockey team (a coach and GM combination working there) and we finished last, we still lost the lottery.  Edmonton has gone on an odds shattering tear of winning the lottery, which has gotten them what?  A spot lower than us in the standings!  This is not a model for success.  Why?  Because HOCKEY IS A TEAM GAME!!  Sorry for shouting, but jeez, even Mike Arace drank the Kool-Aid.

Part of the myth of tanking is that this was the path to success for the Penguins.  They got Sidney Crosby is a rigged draft [adjusts foil hat to protect brain waves] which has netted them one Stanley Cup.  If memory serves me correctly, both Crosby and Malkin were out for extended periods the year they won the Cup, and the team won anyway, suggesting that Marc-Andre Fleury is a lot more important to them for winning a Cup than Sidney Crosby.  They also had a hard working team that won without the stars (Jordan Staal slid up the lineup at center I believe).  They had a good team!  It wasn't about their draft position.  Once that team got broken up, how many Cups have they won because of that draft position?

Edmonton has won the lottery 4 freaking times in recent history!  Where has it gotten them?  No where!  Because their team is top heavy at forward, and has no back end.  Let's run down the list of sure fire franchise savers: Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Nail Yakupov, and now Conner McDavid.  Every single one of these guys was supposed to be a sure fire franchise savior.  The reality is, no one player ever saves a hockey team, because hockey is the ultimate team sport.

So let's think about this.  We lose the lottery.  All three of them, because we have a 90% chance of losing each draw.  I figure Shanahan already made a deal with Bettman, and totally wastes a tank because they were going to win it anyhow.  I don't care how good Auston Matthews is, he is not going to make that hot mess we watched last night a playoff team next year; which is what I think Toronto fans expect.  Edmonton wins one of the lottery spots because it's what they do (thanks Geico).  Another Canadian team wins one because Bettman is sympathetic, and the CBJ pick fourth.  Worst case we pick sixth.  Then in the second round, we revert to our finishing position, which is the important thing.  Drafting relatively high in the later rounds is what allows you to build a team through the draft.

No matter what happens, we get to push another load of better than average talent into our developmental system.  The Lake Erie Monsters are not just a one man show.  There have been key players pulled out of their lineup all year long, and they have managed to keep winning.  There is depth down there.  We have more good players coming up out of juniors to join the ranks of the Monsters next year.  We are getting ready to load another round of good players into juniors.  THAT is our benefit from this year.

We will get a really good player to add to our team.  Ideally we draft at least fourth, and we may get an impact player.  Otherwise we'll get someone who might need and extra year of development.  It is the cumulative impact of the group of players that makes a difference, not the one.

Lots of our young players have sniffed the NHL this year, to give them a feel for what they need to be.  That they go back into the development system is a normal course of their development into NHL players.  We already have a very young team.  Teaching them to lose is the last thing we want.  Teaching them to win is what we want.

I am not crushed that we eliminated ourselves from having an 80% chance of losing, and now we have a 90% chance of losing.  We've had an 80% chance of losing before, and shockingly, we lost!  We also tend to lose when we have a 90% chance of losing.  I will say that we have played the game enough to have lost those 10-11 times, so the pressure of the odds are building in our favor.  But Shanahan took care of that before he left DoPS, so the odds won't really figure in this one.

Interestingly though, we do get three rolls of the dice.  That is a new dynamic.  So we shall see.

Don't drink the Kool-Aid.  The tank is not the answer!

GO JACKETS!!!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Torts Opts to Play Rangers Hockey

Nick Makes the Rangers Pay Attention
My biggest take away impression from tonight's 4-2 loss against the Rangers, is that John Tortorella used his rookie players to play Rangers hockey against the Rangers.  That New York won that battle shouldn't be surprising.  That the Blue Jackets youngsters kept pace with that should be informative.  So in the end, for a seasoned ticket holder (yow!) it was a fun game to watch, while cherishing a high draft pick.  Anything in the top 4 will work just fine; can you say Tkachuk?

Which is irony, writ large.  Our faithful beat writers for the Columbus Dispatch, Aaron Portzline and Mike Arace remember well when Keith Tkachuk ruined Kevin Dineen's knee, finishing the old Hartford Whaler's career while he was playing with the CBJ.  The most ironic possible ending for this would be for Matthew Tkachuk to take this team to the promised land.  Based on his World Juniors performance, Matt Tkachuk would be like adding a second Boone Jenner to the roster, creating depth at the skill and tenacious play positions (you can't get enough of that).  It is possible that coming up dry in the NHL lottery is a trend that will continue for the CBJ, but numerical odds are an implacable foe in the grand history of things.   Whether you hit in one particular lottery or another becomes irrelevant when you are present in the long run.  The statistical hold that Edmonton has possessed must break at some point, and they will have to use those assets to build a complete team.  The problem is that they will be selling at the bottom of the market, and a package of Jack Johnson and Dalton Prout might be attractive for Edmonton for someone like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, a former Crosby-esque savior of any franchise.  As mentioned earlier in this space, at some point you have to come to grips with building a back end of your hockey team.

But returning to current events, I really enjoyed tonight's game.  Tortorella attempted to match speed against speed, which is the Ranger's strength.  Who should know better than Torts?  And at some point, Bjorkstrand, Milano, and Kukan were going to have to face the Rangers.  They have that under their belt at this point, which will be good experience for next year.  Torts will use this game to illustrate that they can do this against the Rangers if they maintain their poise, and he will be right.

Tortorella is a damn good coach.  Don't lose sight of that.

I, personally, am truly sorry to see Scott Hartnell benched tonight. He lingers one goal shy of 300 goals, but I don't think Tortorella has served him wrong by benching him.  That is John's way of saying 'get it done' and I think Hartnell will. Outside of this God forsaken season, I think Hartnell is a huge asset for this team.  He may not like Tortorella's approach to his playing time, but he can't argue it is not justified.  I love Hartnell as a player, but I am in Tortorella's camp on this one.  If you don't earn your time, you don't get the time.  Tortorella didn't come here to finish last, I promise you.  This year was cast in stone before he arrived (NHL worst start ever if you throw out WW2).  Worst.  Start.  Ever.  That is the inescapable stink of this year that we will thankfully shed in another week, other than wearing it for the rest of our lives.  Tortorella gets it, and will make sure it doesn't happen again.
So.  Note to fans.  I love the start of training camp.  I'm jonesing for hockey, its fun to see them flying around the ice!  Get over that.  They will be lucky if Torts lets them have a puck in the first three days.  Hey, I have a training camp T-shirt!  I'd rather have a winner.  Torts, do what you gotta do brother, I got your back.  At this point seeing them bake in training camp will be as entertaining as watching them glide around thinking they are bad-asses.  The start CANNOT suck Torts, and anything you have to do to make that happen is fair game,

Looking forward to taunting some Black Hawks fans as they fail to show for our finale.  So...

GO JACKETS!!!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Sonny Starts, Isles Finish

Sonny Milano
In a near perfect result for this dismal season, the CBJ got skated off the ice in the first period, but still scored the initial goal on their lone shot for much of the first period (Sonny got the other shot), while the Islanders pumped in 3 goals.  The CBJ rallied, and tied the game by early in the third period, gave up another, but were unable to tie the game in the waning moments.

The loss puts the Jackets tantalizingly close to the cellar spot, and the maximizing of lottery odds, which is all the remainder of this season is good for.  Torts isn't looking for moral victories, and neither is the team.  But they saw exactly where a 15-1-1 run at the end will get you (nowhere), and that effort is not there any longer.  I don't blame them, I don't have a problem with it.  Two home games remaining, make those entertaining or win them, no matter, we have done what we can on maximizing the odds.  We've done the cellar dweller thing before, lost the lottery, but won the war since we got Murray.  We just need to hit once when it matters, and it is to be hoped that the hockey gods hear our wails of anguish.  Drop Auston Matthews on this team and you've got something newsworthy.  Drop him in Edmonton and it's more wasted talent.  Arguably, since this is Toronto's league by the way, you get more news coverage in Toronto, but they are blowing that thing up and I'm not sure it will recover as quickly as a CBJ team that is poised to go somewhere if they will simply quit shooting themselves in the foot.

So throw us a bone hockey gods.  Torts is here to make sure it won't be wasted.

I didn't get to see the game, but listened to it while sitting in traffic for an hour and a half near Louisville on the way to visit the Predator-in-law, and it seemed like Sonny did okay in his NHL debut.  This is good work by the Jackets management, giving lots of guys a taste of what the NHL is, while maintaining a winning squad up at Lake Erie.  I sure hope they solidify their playoff position, and the taste of the NHL should keep them motivated for more.  The reality of this year is that it is about getting some reps for the young guys, with the knowledge that the reps will pay off in the long run.  Seth Jones may have 200 games in the NHL, but these are his major reps as 'the man', and the experience will help him a lot moving into next year.

The sun is setting on this season for the CBJ, but the beauty of the game is that it rises again next year, and we start with a clean slate.  We recognize that this year, where perhaps we were deluded last year on this issue.  But we get to enjoy a few more games before summer, and that will be fun.

GO JACKETS!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Building From the Back Forward

Ryan Murray and David Savard
A big part of this blog is my personal journey to understand what is happening in front of me when I am watching Blue Jackets hockey.  This upcoming season will be my tenth as a season ticket holder, probably evidence that is admissible in any hearing on my sanity.  But nonetheless, that journey continues.

And of course, this is a time for grasping for understanding if ever there was that time, because few of us, including the 'pundits' expected to be here.  So for maximum understanding I think it is important to ignore the Blue Jackets for the moment.   I will circle back to that at the end.

My basic premise, the wisdom from the old General Managers such as Craig Patrick, is that when you are building a franchise, you build it from the back forward, rather than from the front back.  As evidence I submit the Nashville Predators and the Minnesota Wild as the basic premise, and the Edmonton Oilers and the Atlantapeg Thrashers/Jets as the opposite of that premise.

Realistically, it will be better to summarily deal with the second premise first.  Edmonton has won 3 of the last 5 draft lotteries, and has selected exclusively forwards as the best talent which was pretty much true.  Atlantapeg has traded away or lost to free agency more top line talent than any franchise and their best defenseman is a converted forward, albeit a beast at the defensive slot (Byfuglien).  Between the two of them since the Jackets got serious in the league (post lockout, 2006) the Thrashers and the Jets share zero playoff series wins.  None of the three teams (including the Blue Jackets) have won a playoff series, yet Nashville and Minnesota have won several.  Both teams are in the hunt in the West, yet none of the former (Columbus, Edmonton, and Winnipeg) are sniffing the playoffs this year.

A more graphic validation of the concept could not be found.  Build from the back forward, goal tending and defense, and you have some playoff series to your credit. If you build from the front back, as have Edmonton, Atlantapeg,and Columbus, you don't.  So at some point as a franchise, you eventually have to cross that bridge of defensive priority if you want to be successful.  The Jackets did it this year, trading a sublime center talent for a sublime defenseman.  At some point you have to make the change to defense.

And in this context, the Dalton Prout contract makes ultimate sense.  You can't commit to building from the back unless you have waves of talent coming through.  The Prout contract serves as a bar for making the team for the minor league players.  If you want to make the big dance, you have to outplay Prout, and I don't think Tortorella is done optimizing his game.  With Prout you are trying to sign a young Brooks Orpik type player that will give you that physical presence.  He doesn't play like Orpik, who is now a veteran, instead of a young defenseman.  Orpik had a +/- of -36 in one of his early years.  It takes time.

The David Savard contract makes sense in this way as well.  He didn't have the year he wanted, as did so many Blue Jackets, but he is still a good young defenseman.  In the proper role, he will be a good defensive player with a developmental upside as he continues to gain experience for many years to come.

The Blue Jackets had to make this choice at some point in their history, and Jarmo and JD have opted to tackle that strategic goal now.  From now on, we'll try to slot with those that build from the back forward, and to stake ourselves in that game we'll trade top end 'front building' talent for top end 'back building' talent.  The change hurts us in the short term, but will likely play long term benefits.  Since we screwed up early by losing 8 straight, this is a good time to make the change from 'building from the front' and focus on building the defensive corps.

The Jackets took another step forward in that arena today, signing Zach Werenski to an Entry Level Contract (ELC).  This was craftily done by Werenski's agent and Jarmo, as he signed an amateur tryout contract and reported to Lake Erie as his first step of turning pro.  That places him at Lake Erie, saves a year of his ELC (3 year length by the CBA), and likely helps to shield him from an expansion draft.  Lake Erie is gearing up for a playoff run, and the Jackets are not.  You want him in Lake Erie taking his first steps at learning the pro game.  Following the initial move, they promptly inked the ELC.  This is a good faith showing on all sides.

So now we have Ryan Murray, Seth Jones, and Werenski as top defensive prospects all under the age of 22.  This is a dramatic transformation of the back end for the Blue Jackets, and we will continue to pay the price to build this way, as these guys won't really start to peak until they are 25 or 26 years old.  But they could be really scary by then.

The Blue Jackets have finally committed to building the back end to a level that could potentially compete in a playoff situation.  To do so, they sacrificed that rarest of commodities, a true Number 1 center.  To get to the Cup, you probably need that piece, and we don't have it any more.  To lay the basics for a Cup, which is regular trips to the dance, you need that back end.  Don't be surprised if that trip to the dance isn't next year.   But I think it is coming.

GO JACKETS!!