Saturday, July 9, 2016

Musing on Hartnell

These next few years, the discussion will often return to Scott Hartnell, the length of his contract, and his production will dictate that trend.  While Hartnell's speed will continue to be a concern as he ages, I go to my oft-repeated evaluation that speed was never a big part of his game.  He hasn't gotten dramatically slower since he scored 28 goals 2 years ago, and his goal production of 23 last year did not represent a dramatic fall off on an underperforming team.

Yet in this year's free agent frenzy, I saw a free agent given a contract of equivalent money and term as Hartnell has remaining merely because he was considered fast.  However, that player's carreer point total does not even add up to Hartnell's production since he has been with the CBJ.  Yes, that player is 27, and Hartnell is 34.  But if Hartsy was going to lose a step, he probably did it when he was 30, and yet he remains a productive winger.

To phrase my argument a different way, Scott Hartnell has plenty of speed to chase down the mouth of the goal, the place where he does most of his scoring.  Even if he loses another step between now and age 37, when his contract ends, he's still going to be able to outrun the goal.  Hartnell does not score his goals on break always and in transition, he does it out of set piece offensive possession when getting someone to the net to disrupt things is very important.  Getting into and out of transition, and into a set piece of offensive possession has a lot more to do with our young defensive corps than an aging left winger.  And there is certainly hope on the former for the upcoming year, particularly if Zach Werenski continues to develop on the pace he has shown.

At the end of the day, you need goals to win.  When people look at moving Hartnell, I always ask, where are you going to get the goals to replace Hartnell's production?  I think it is fair to think that Oliver Bjorkstrand will contribute some goals in this upcoming year, but no one on the free agent market that got huge term and huge money is even close to Hartnell's point production over the last 2 years.  His contract and cap hit look pretty good compared to some of the contracts that were handed out July 1.

If Hartnell's production falls off dramatically, than that changes things.  However, he put up goals on last year's dysfunctional team, and has had some time to adjust to Tortorella.  I do wish Torts would ease up on the penalty thing.  Scott Hartnell and dumb penalties are things that go hand in hand, and it allows him to play with an edge.  He is not as effective without that edge.  Perhaps they will be able to strike a balance in the upcoming years.

The buy out of Tyutin and Boll alleviated the cap space crunch that created pressure to move Hartnell, while you could, and while he was producing.  So in all likelihood he will be around this year.   I hope he has a productive year again.

GO MONSTERS (Champs!)!!!

Friday, June 24, 2016

"They Draft You for What You Will Be in Your Prime"

Random Photo
The quote over on Puck Daddy by Pierre-Luc Dubois (PLD) was "they draft you for what you’re going to be in your prime and not for what you are right now.”

I think that sums up what Jarmo Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets scouts are projecting, a higher eventual ceiling versus what is available now.    And indeed, that seems to fit the need of the team.  Circumstances, time, and a good post by John Kemp precluded me from writing my third 'Calder Cup Quandary' post about the forwards.  But there it is.  Our minor league team just won a championship, but we're supposed to pick a guy who is going to jump over them because he was the consensus pick?

Pierre-Luc Dubois will come up through the system.  He thrived with a late season position change to center, an area of need for the Blue Jackets, and many teams in the NHL.  He acknowledges he needs more development time.  Jesse Puljujarvi is a right wing, who by benefit of consensus of all the pundits, has been deemed better, and more deserving of a roster spot on the Blue Jackets than Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Except the fact that the pundits never compared Puljujarvi to Bjorkstrand, they just compared him to his peers.  Except perhaps the Blue Jackets scouts.  When viewed through that lens, I am really starting to warm to this pick.

Here is something to think of; Pierre-Luc Dubois will be a Lake Erie Monster.  I like that thought a lot.  They say that Puljujarvi doesn't need to be a Monster, but how does that fit our organization?  So welcome to the Blue Jackets Pierre-Luc.  Do your thing.  Develop at your own pace.  We have roster issues of our own at the NHL level, we don't need you clouding those now.  Bjork, Bjork, Bjork!!!


Hindsight Vision into the Blue Jackets First Round Drafting

Rick Nash selected 1st overall in 2002
If you hold an empty Molson Canadian bottle up to your ear you can hear whispers of Doug MacLean talking about drafting Rick Nash.  Doug may have good reason to brag, Rick Nash still owns the Blue Jackets franchise team records for goals, assists and points. So that one worked out pretty well for Columbus.  How did they do the other years? I've put together a couple of visuals to take a look back and see how the Blue Jackets 1st rounders did throughout their career and who may have been available but overlooked at the draft.

The first chart below shows each of the players drafted in the first round since 2000 and how many points per year they have earned. The "points per year" doesn't evaluate drafted goalies at all and it severely limits the value the true defensemen bring.  I had considered using their All-Star status as a way to measure value but then we start to look at players like Nick Foligno (home team voting) and John Scott (gasp!).  So for now, I am going with points as a way to evaluate how they have done.  If we look at 2002 we see that Rick Nash is at the top of his class and by a decent margin.  A goalie was drafted number 2 overall that year, but many of the other forwards don't seem to have come very close to what Rick has accomplished.  Doug MacLean is a genius*!

We can start to see players like Crosby and Ovechkin really stand out overall.  As we move along to 2007, we see the 2016 Ted Lindsay, Art Ross and Hart Award winner Patrick Kane with a big lead.  You may be surprised to see who has the second most points per year among first round draft picks in 2007.  It is Jakub Voracek. Man, I wish the Jackets still had him!


The next chart takes all of the first round draft picks since 2000 and filters it down to just the players that have averaged over 25 points per year.  This time the chart shows the order in which they were drafted so all of us Blue Jackets fans can have some good referencing material for our complaining.
The first 3 years, there's not too much to chirp about.  The Blue Jackets were a new organization in 2000 and needed a defenseman, in 2001 they decided to lock up a "long-term" goalie with Pascal Leclaire and in 2002 they landed Rick Nash.  Pretty good start.  What could go wrong? In 2004, the NHL had a very deep draft class.  With SO MANY talented players that year and the 4th overall draft pick, the Blue Jackets are sure to get a franchise player.  Unfortunately the Jackets drafted Nikolai Zherdev and missed out on many All-Star players.

In 2004, many would call Picard a bust, but there weren't that many drafted after him that had stellar careers in the NHL.  In 2005 the Blue Jackets drafted Gilbert Brule over Anze Kopitar, yeah, that one still hurts. The next year Derck Brassard was drafted and despite it not working out in Columbus, he has been a solid player in the NHL. Claude Giroux is sitting there at 22, but at the time that would have been quite a stretch to draft him 6th overall. In 2007 Voracek turned out to be one of the best players behind Kane, so kudos to the scouting staff and Scott Howson for that one.

The Blue Jackets could have really benefited by losing more in the 2007 - 2008 season.  A higher draft position could have meant drafting Steven Stamkos, Drew Doughty, or Alex Petrangelo.  At the 6 spot, the CBJ drafted Nikita Filatov.  I lost one of my favorite hats to one of his hat tricks, and we didn't get much else from him. Colin Wilson and Mikkel Boedker may have been better choices, but those players wouldn't have turned the franchise around in short order.  The Jackets made the playoffs in 2008 - 2009, so their 2009 draft spot was 21.  John Moore seemed to be a good choice at that position. The next year the Jackets selected Ryan Johansen 4th overall and he developed into a terrific player.  The Blue Jackets traded away their 2011 first round pick (Boone Jenner was an early 2nd round pick) and 2012 was the year they drafted Ryan Murray. The 2013, 2014 and 2015 drafts are a little too recent to draw that many insights from.


After all of this, I have learned something.  I have been holding in my mind a perception of the Blue Jackets inept 1st round drafting abilities. If I'm ever caught in a bar discussion over CBJ draft picks, I'm very quick to point out 2003 and how HUGE of a miss that year was.  Overall, the Jackets haven't done too bad considering.  Scouting talent and predicting future success is not easy and even after I look back over 15 years of drafts with a skeptical eye, they did all right. The recent draft picks are doing well over at the Lake Erie Monsters, so maybe there is hope after all.

The Blue Jackets have the 3rd overall pick in the Draft tonight so tune in and see who gets selected. Hopefully in a few years we won't be talking about the players that the Jackets should have drafted in that spot.

* not actually a genius

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Calder Cup Quandary: The Defensemen

Werenski Takes A Twirl On the Big Board at the Q
One of the rumblings that will arise out of the Calder Cup Championship won by the Lake Erie Monsters is the lasting impact it will have on the Blue Jackets Defensive Corps.  While the goal tenders played well down the stretch, the Defense played just as well, blocking shots, sweeping away rebounds, skating the puck out of trouble.    They deserve a lot of credit as well.  Yet that performance raises interesting questions moving forward into the 2016-17 season for the Columubus Blue Jackets.

First and foremost is the hiring of Brad Shaw as Associate Coach to replace Craig Hartsburg.  Shaw will run the defense, and it is widely reported that the lure of blue chip prospects like Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, and Zach Werenski are a big part of why he came to Columbus.  But, Werenski did not win the Calder Cup single handedly, and the Blue Jackets have a full roster of 1 way contract defensemen already signed.  So let's ponder this a bit.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Calder Cup Quandary: The Goal Tenders

The Goal Tending situation for the Blue Jackets just got complicated, in a good way.  Anton Forsberg just served notice that he is a champion goal tender, setting up, as Aaron Portzline put it, 'an epic battle in training camp' among the goal tenders.  This is such a great thing for the organization that it is hard to put into words.

When Joonas Korpisalo was sent down from the Blue Jackets at the end of the season, he was given the net in Lake Erie, and Jarmo pretty much assured him that if Bob got injured next year, he would come up from Lake Erie to take Bob's place, and CMac would remain the backup (IMO).  However, Korpisalo had the misfortune to lose a playoff game, thereby opening the door for Forsberg, who promptly went 9-0 to seal a Calder Cup Championship.

The currency among organizational goal tenders just became wins.  Past Vezina trophies do not count.  If you want the net, you need to win.  And the organization now has three goal tenders with the pedigree to win in the NHL.  Forsberg has not had the greatest of luck at the NHL, but he was outstanding he went down to replace Brad Thiessen (sp? Sorry!) who did a stellar job coming up from the ECHL while Forsberg and Korpisalo were in the NHL.  Forsberg took his game to a new level down the stretch and was instrumental in getting the Monsters into the playoffs.  Korpisalo won the first playoff series, but faltered against Grand Rapids, and Forsberg took the net and refused to let it go.

Coming into next year, with an expansion draft looming, this young tandem looks really strong.  Bob will be pushed this year, no doubt about it, and a shaky start will result in a loss of the net in rapid order by any of the goal tenders.   The currency is now wins.  Anton Forsberg has shaken the foundations of the organization with his performance.  You want the net?  You gotta win.  And how awesome is that for the fans?


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters

Last night the Lake Erie Monsters won the Calder Cup as the AHL Champions by sweeping the Hershey Bears.  Oliver Bjorkstrand, the playoff MVP, won the game by bouncing a greasy goal off the Hershey goal tender Peters with 1.9 seconds remaining in the first overtime period.  A sell out crowd of 19,665 watched the Monsters bring the Calder Cup back to Cleveland for the first time since 1964.

In an exceptionally tightly played game by both squads, someone had to lose.  There were a few times when I felt Hershey started to tilt the ice their way, especially in the third period, but the Monsters seemed to always respond.

To Captain Ryan Craig, Coach Jared Bednar, and all the Lake Erie Monsters who flew so high this year, a heartfelt THANK YOU!  You finished the job you started on, and gave us all a ton of things to think about in this off season.


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!


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.


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.


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!