Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jarmo's Team

It's been a wild few days here in Jackets land.  The acquisition of young Brandon Saad from the Blackhawks, along with the departure of Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, and Mark Letestu, followed by the signing of Gregory Campbell to center the fourth line.  I'm not going to try to recreate the excellent coverage on Puck Rakers, or by our colleagues over on the Cannon, Buckeye State Hockey, or the incomparable Puck Daddy.

From a fan perspective, Jarmo has put a clear stamp on this team.  This is Jarmo's team going forward, and this is a team that has a lot of thump to it.  Yes, Pittsburgh got Phil Kessel, which is kinda scary, but only if we let them play their game.  If we make them play Blue Jackets hockey, we'll be okay.

I've got to confess, this is all pretty fun to think about.

Have an awesome fourth of July holiday, Blue Jackets fans!!  This is one to celebrate!


Sunday, June 28, 2015

Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

The Sweet, New, Alternate Patch.  Boom!
The 2015 NHL Entry Draft is in the books.  My greatest hope was that we would just eat the good draft position we earned with an under performing year, and re-stock the development pipeline.  My wish was granted, as the CBJ did nothing crazy, though they tried.  That's perfect.  Thank you Santa Claus! The biggest difference between Noah Hannifan and Zach Werenski is where they are on the arc of the development timeline.  There is nothing to indicate which of them has a higher peak, but undoubtedly Hannifan is further along now than the 17 year old Werenski (turns 18 on July 29, according to what I have read).   In short, he is young, and the time spent in development this next year is time well spent.

The bottom line is the CBJ used advantageous draft position to restock the pipeline in a lot of key areas, which is what the franchise needed for long term health.  If you are willing to accept the end of the season run as something representative of what the team, as currently composed, can do, than this upcoming season looks great.  It's more complicated than that, of course, but there are significant additions already coming into the existing squad we watched play last year, namely Ryan Murray and David Clarkson.  Clarkson brings all of the physical, and 75% of the offense that Nathan Horton was supposed to bring, and tore an oblique muscle in his first shift as a Jacket, so was a non-factor last year.  That is unlikely to be the case in 2015-16.  As near as I can tell, no one is having off season surgery this year, which is a definite step forward for the hockey club.

I like the defensive picks we made, as these guys will emerge when we need them to over the next 3 years, when we hope to really be pushing for something.  I especially like the first second round pick of Paul Bittner, Oliver Bjorkstrand's linemate from Portland.  Things that maximize Bjorkstrand's potential have a real impact on how far this team can go ultimately.  Bittner brings real size to the game, and it will be intriguing to see how this develops in the future.  I love this pick.

Keep in mind the two headed (Lake Erie) monster we need to deal with here.  It is in our best interest to establish a winning culture in Cleveland, with the Lake Erie Monsters, while making a significant push for the playoffs with the parent club.  Having Karlsson (Wild Bill), Dano, Rychel, Anderson and Bjorkstrand down there to get things rolling, and establish a winning culture is a huge contribution to the organization.  Let me say this a different way.  Establishing a winning culture in Cleveland will result in box office success for the minor league club, while prepping these guys for the NHL.  We have a large, vested interest in the Lake Erie franchise, and it is a good time to establish that success while we have a glut of veteran forwards at the NHL level.  ERATTA - Oh yeah, I forgot Sonny Milano.  Doh!

Our team needs to establish itself as a force in the Eastern Conference this year.  We have a veteran group of forwards who will need to get that job done.  If we can establish that this year, we have a pipeline of talent that will help to sustain that position.  And if you are serious about a run for the Cup, you have to be in a position to compete, year after year.  We haven't been there yet, but it's getting close.


Friday, June 26, 2015

First Round Point Producers since 2000 (a cool visual)

The other day I was at the local hockey bar talking with a buddy about the upcoming draft. The discussion centered around this year's draft class and the words "depth", "skill" and "potential" were getting tossed around at rather dangerous levels. While it's fun to talk about how good this class could be, my mind started drifting toward things we could actually quantify.  I tend to do that.

Right away the draft from 2003 came to mind. Rightfully so,  2003 is the year that gave the NHL the next wave of super-stud talent.  The first round alone had 16 players make at least one All-Star game.  Names like E Staal, Vanek, Carter, Parise, Getzlaf, Perry, Kesler, Richards, Seabrook, D Brown, Horton, Michalek, Suter, B Burns, Phaneuf. 
Now that's a draft class where a GM really can't miss on a player. Well, unless you draft Nikolai Zherdev I suppose.

Curiosity got the best of me and my new obsession was to find a way to visualize how the different draft classes have performed. I started coding, web scraping and building visuals and after a couple of hours, I came up with this chart.  Now while this visual satisfied my craving, it was thrown together really quickly and there are quite a few things to point out prior to you consuming.
  • Goalies aren't going to be very high on here.  Sorry goalies, your value will be measured some other way, but not here
  • Defensive player abilities are unfairly represented on this. This chart looks at point production only.  So the heavy shot from the point on a Power Play may bump you up, but that solid shut-down guy won't find glory in this
  • This starts in the year 2000.  I'm sure there were some amazing draft classes before then, but I had to start somewhere in the last 15 years, right?
  • In the interest of time, I calculated "points per year since drafted" and not "points per year active in the NHL".  I wish I had a better excuse for this, but it boils down to a lot more work to get to that level and I play for "Team Lazy".
  • Using points per year unfairly penalizes a player that misses a significant number of games due to injury. Let's all subscribe to the fact that they live in a galaxy far, far away and move on.
  • Hey look, Rick Nash is a pretty good player from his draft class. That Doug MacLean is a genius!


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Draft Day is Coming

Ever since I took the Union Blue, all I can think
about is defensive depth - Jon Snow
Now that the Stanley Cup festivities are over, and the Blackhawks have salted their modern day dynasty, we can move on to things more relevant to our CBJ, which is the upcoming draft.  If you want to get a flavor for how people think we will draft, the Cannon and BSHockey  have mock drafts posted.  Check them out.  The idea of drafting a defenseman, Provorov, is a good one.  A Russion defenseman to play along side Tyutin while he learns his trade would help.

But I found Jarmo's comments, published in this Puck Rakers story very interesting.  Jarmo said that to abandon your draft board to draft by position, particularly in the first round, is unwise.  The part of his comment I found interesting was where he said that by the time the draft pick broke into the league, your situation might be totally different.  With that in mind, the player that I hope is still available when we pick is Mikko Rantanen.  Here is the Hockey's Future write up on him.  A 6'4", 195 lb right wing would look good alongside any of our many centers, and he looked really good in the world juniors playing for Finland.

With 2 high second round picks, there will be plenty of opportunities to add good organizational defensive depth.  It is my belief that the 'system' of ranking young hockey players does a better job with forwards that it does with defensemen.  Jarmo will therefore rely on his scouts, who will have seen all these kids several times.  It will be interesting to see who they pick.  It's like Christmas in June, with all that new talent coming into the organization.

The draft is a good time.  I'm starting to anxiously await the draft, and the blessing of Development Camp, which will come soon after.  Time for our little mid-summer hockey fix before the long drought of August.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Glass Bangers - Stanley Cup Edition

Since I am sporting a wicked summer cold and confined to quarters, so to speak, I figured I'd knock out a Glass Bangers edition.  Like someone randomly pounding on the glass at inappropriate moments, it will probably be mildly annoying, but with an awkward entertainment value.  It's who I am.

Nationwide Arena

The Dispatch ran an article in today's paper that the fund for upkeep of the arena is essentially dry.  I guess this doesn't really surprise me on a lot of fronts, and I'm not concerned for now.  If it persists for a long period of time its a concern.  First off you have to remember that the financing plan for the Arena was based on the wildly optimistic revenue estimates of the Casino folks, that I never believed for one moment.  The first thing I did when they announced that deal was to look to see what happens if Casino revenue does not meet expectations.  Well, this is what happens.  It's all written in as part of the deal that was signed in the first place.  This was an outcome that was foreseen.  I guess we need more gamblers.  
2013-14 Stanley Cup Playoffs in
Nationwide Arena

Second the first thing this fund did was to replace the woefully inadequate original equipment scoreboard and sound system with a state of the art system for the All Star game.   A maintenance fund ideally has some time to build before you drop a big dollar investment right out of it.  But it was sorely needed, and the new scoreboard definitely enhances the Arena experience.  Anyone who was there and heard them play In the Air Tonight before Game 3 of the playoff series against the Penguins knows that every dime was well spent.  I still get chills...

Speaking of the Dispatch

The word dropped this week that the Wolfe family has sold the Columbus Dispatch to New Media Investment Group.  It is to be hoped that New Media are hockey fans, and maintain the excellent newspaper coverage we get of the home town hockey team.  The Dispatch has maintained two beat writers, Aaron Portzline and Shawn Mitchell (who replaced 'the Condor', Tom Reed) and a columnist, Mike Arace.  This results in excellent coverage, something that I have always really appreciated.  I'm an old school guy.  I like to start my morning with a cup of coffee and a hard copy sports page with a lot of hockey news in it.  If it weren't for the fact that summer is just basically awesome, this would be a very difficult time of year for me.  The Dispatch has an awesome sports page, with great coverage of a lot of things.  If you doubt this, pick yourself up a copy of the Nashville Tennessean, and see how bad it could really be.  We want our hockey news, New Media.  Please maintain this excellent tradition.

Regarding the Captain

The more I think about Nick Foligno as the Captain of the team, the more I like the idea.  Of course it is a role he will grow in, but this is a wise choice.  When last season was going off the rails due to injury early in the year, the team was able to field credible line ups which should have been able to win, but couldn't muster the will to play Blue Jackets Hockey.  The aforementioned style of hockey is physically demanding on the players, and the subconscious of the human brain defaults to conserving energy, and must be overridden by conscious will.  Our players have that will, to be sure, but in the doldrums of the early season, when three quarters of the schedule lie before you, that will can become uncertain.  A stronger team structure will help in times of uncertainty.  

Nick is a pretty unique guy.  I think he is going to excel in this role, and he's the right person for the job.  Here's a little anecdote about Nick.  It was in late May, the year of the lockout shortened season. You'll recall we missed the playoffs by a point. I had had major knee replacement surgery, and it was the last Friday while I was on disability before I had to go back to the salt mines, so I paid a visit to Front Street Friday.  Nick was there signing autographs.  Well, the line was long, I didn't have anything for him to sign, so started checking the rest of the festivities out.  

After hanging out a bit, I noticed that the line was dramatically shorter, so I figured 'what the heck', I'll jump in line and figure it out as I go.  So who's in line in front of me?  Dancing Kevin.  So I''m thinking this should be fun.  And, while I was in line a kind member of the Jacket Backers gave me a program with Nick's picture to sign, so I'm all set.  When I get up to the head of the line, Kevin naturally has Nick sign 'the belly', and they get a few pictures of that which requires Nick to get up and leave the table, and they all have a few laughs.  Then Nick comes back, sits down, and he's ready for the last guy in line, me.  

So I gave him my program to sign, and told him that as a season ticket holder I really appreciated their stunning run at the end of the season, and that they had done a really good job.  You know, the regular blah, blah that I'm sure the players hear from the fans a lot. But on this warm May morning, and incredible transformation came over him.  His eyes just started burning with intensity, and he got excited, and he emphatically told me 'We're gonna be even better next year!!'.  Well, yeah you got that right,Nick!  First home playoff win ever.  What are you going to say?  

That was two years ago.  Nick has come miles since then.  He's the right guy for the job.

The Clorton Effect

The whole dynamic of the Nathan Horton for David Clarkson deal has yet to be really felt in Blue Jackets circles, and it will be interesting to watch that develop this year.  I have seen at least one discussion this year where an author forgot to include Clarkson in his projected CBJ starting lineup.  I think it highly unlikely that we will see a lot of a Hartnell, Wennberg, Dano line this next year because of the pressure of Clarkson's presence.  As well as the young guys played down the stretch last year, they are going to have an even harder time cracking the CBJ line up this year.  Add to that an expected level of regression in the form of a sophomore slump, and you get an expectation that some time up in Cleveland playing for the Monsters for Dano and/or Wennberg would be considered a normal part of their development.  

As far as expectations for Clarkson, a physical presence, and some goal scoring.  I'd pencil him in for about 17 goals, based on dropping his high year and his low year, with a hope for 20 goals or more.  I think Blue Jackets Hockey fits his style of play, and I think he will achieve a level of comfort with it pretty quickly.  Things in Toronto did not go the way he wanted them to.  I think he will be pretty motivated to have a good season, which could bode well for the CBJ.

Well, that should be enough for today.  Looking towards the summer milestones, the draft, and free agency.  Have an awesome summer everyone!


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wait, What? Cody Goloubef Signs One Way Contract

I couldn't find a shot of Goloubef so I went with a gratuitous Vinny Prospal pic 
Tonight the Dispatch is reporting that Cody Goloubef has signed a two year, one way (NHL) contract for $700k and $800k.  Cody was at the NHL level all of last year, as the CBJ were unwilling to expose him to the waiver wire, where they believed he would certainly be plucked.  Honestly, I agree with their assessment on this, but here's the rub.  Cody has flown below the radar for a long time.

First of all, he is a second round draft pick (2007), which is the kiss of death for the CBJ.  In our history, only one other second round pick has made any kind of lasting noise at the NHL level (see Jenner, Boone).  Yes, I know that Danny Fritsche played a lot in the early years, and I loved him, but he played on some of our most woeful teams, so I'm not counting that (not Danny's fault, he did his job).  So here's some evidence of how much Cody has flown under the radar.  I've done my best to show up at Development Camp and Training Camp to get pics of the players so that I don't grossly violate copyright law.  I have no pics of Cody.  There is always someone else at camp who has the name recognition, or is a little more well known, or actually shows up where I can get a picture (a significant issue).

But Cody played well down the stretch, and played reasonably well all year.  Granted, he didn't play well enough to unseat Wisniewski from his position, Jarmo had to do that.  But Cody is a lot like David Savard last year, ready to break out.  So I like this signing.

But here's the rub.  I've heard all off season, based mostly on bald statements by Jarmo, that we need to 'upgrade our defense'.  Yet here are the guys on the Dispatch, referring to a 'formidable group' of defensemen, in this quote from Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch:

As much as the Blue Jackets like Goloubef's all-around game, he still is not a lock to be a lineup regular. Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, David Savard, Ryan Murray, Kevin Connauton, Dalton Prout are a pretty formidable group, and Justin Falk came aboard at the trade deadline.

I like these players.  I didn't like the Wisniewski trade, as I felt it weakened our defense.  I thought Falk had size on his side, but a training camp with HCTR's system might upgrade his play, otherwise, I was not impressed.  If Kevin Connauton can turn in a season that produces on average at a lower level, but lacks the peaks and valleys (i.e. consistent) of 2014-15 than we may have a good group.  It's not a flashy group, that left with Wiz, but its a solid group.  But will that get you to the playoffs?

For an interesting viewpoint, I'd recommend Jeff Little's commentary over on the Cannon.  Jeff is probably the most thoughtful writer on the CBJ who doesn't hold the title of 'ink stained wretch' (e.g. Messieurs Portzline, Arace, and Mitchell).  To summarize though, Jeff thinks that more action is probable on the blueline.  And I have to believe his logic is persuasive and aligns with Jarmo's statements.  The qualifier I want to offer is that Jarmo doesn't often enunciate his strategy in public, and saying that they need to upgrade defense with his monotonic calmness doesn't quite ring true to me.

Let me paraphrase Jarmo's comments:

 I'd like to announce to the other GM's that I need defensive help since I traded Wisniewski and Reilly (predictably) bailed on me so I would like to offer my prospect for your bona fide NHL defenseman.  Ok, You got me.  I'll throw in a fifth round pick.  

I stated it that way to show how improbable Jarmo's comments really are.  I guess Porty's comments are a little improbable as well, in that our existing group is 'formidable'.  Taking the two statements at face value, I'd lean towards Porty.  Defensive help is the kind of thing that comes available during the season.  The offseason, and Free Agency are times when you overpay for services.  Given the defensive capability of our forward group, it is a reasonable approach to see what Tyutin, Johnson, Prout, Murray, Connauton, Goloubef, Savard and Falk (in no particular order) can give you.  The wild card at this point is Murray's health.  If this last little while is an abberation, he could make this into a damn fine defensive unit.

Our team is not on a cup run this year, barring miracle.  We are still doing ground work.  Finding out what our current crop can do is part of the ground work.  So if we take Jarmo at his word, some changes on the blue line are in the offing.  However, he never mentioned that he might want to see what the current group could do before he made those changes.  Ultimately, he has until the next trade deadline to make that choice.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Summer Reprise - Congratulations Nick!

First and foremost, I'd like to apologize to the Blue Jackets fans and Management for spoiling their surprise announcement of Nick Foligno as the new Captain here.  It's not fair to everyone, so, sorry.  It's summer, it's been really busy, and I am still fundamentally going it alone on the blog for the nonce.  It's the offseason, my compadres at the blog are raising their children, an appropriate expenditure of their energy, but the life of a hockey franchise moves on at a certain pace.  Our youthful Blue Jackets just matured a notch today.  You can't compete for a Stanley Cup if you can't decide who your Captain is going to be.

Nick Foligno is a 'regular guy', in the circle of uber-fantastic hockey players that he runs in.  He seems comfortable in that situation, and has made the most of the talent he has been given.

Congratulations to Nick, and congratulations to the Blue Jackets.  This is a good way to go.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Monster Mania!

Ahhhhh!   Look what Icethetics has done!!!!
The lads over at Puck Rakers are forecasting that the deal is going to go down, and that starting tomorrow, the first domino of the transition of the Blue Jackets AHL affiliate from the Springfield Falcons to Cleveland's Lake Erie Monsters will fall tomorrow.  Check out the rendering from Icethetics that I found on a Google search of Monsters images.  How cool is that gonna look!?!  Think of the possibilities!

Gosh I am super excited about this move.  I have lots of friends in Cleveland that are kinda 'meh' about hockey and the Blue Jackets, but with this connection I have many nefarious plans for road trips already starting to come together.  This is a great time for a Cleveland team to get started, as the CBJ have a lot of talent in the pipeline, the pipeline is going to get some significant additions this June, and the affiliate should be a good team for awhile.  The games are played at Quicken Loans Arena, home of the Cavs, and a very nice facility for an AHL operation.

This is just such a great, natural fit that will allow us to keep a much closer eye, as fans, on the development of our prospects.  This is a very nice move by our business folks, and they deserve an 'atta boy'!

The affiliation with Springfield has been really positive for the Blue Jackets, and for Springfield.  The team made the playoffs for the first time in many years with Jackets talent on board, and it has been a mutually beneficial arrangement.  The Falcons have been good to us, but I really look forward to having our minor league players more accessible going forward.


Monday, April 13, 2015

DBJ's 5 Thoughts on the 2014-15 Blue Jackets

I didn't watch half as much CBJ hockey as all of you (You raise a family with three kids under the age of six and tell me with a straight face that you can watch 80-odd games of 7PM puck drops!), but I've kept abreast from afar and will keep my comments out of the weeds.

Using a familiar format from days past, here are my 5 Thoughts on the season just past:

1. Fire the conditioning and medical staff members.  Now.  Something went terribly, terribly wrong in the way this season came to pass.  That and that alone is the reason why the CBJ are done right now.  When healthy, they were a wrecking ball.  But that was, what, six weeks across the entire season?

Get people into Columbus who can keep a hockey team strong and healthy.  Period.

2. Foligno for Captain on the presumption that he realizes that he's keeping the seat warm for Jenner.  No disrespect to Nick but rather a stated perpetuation plan with a relatively older player and a younger player in the mix.  That's just responsible planning.

Foligno with the C, Jenner and Dubinsky at minimum with the A.

3. My old boss in the corporate finance world had a fantastic saying: Feed the Eagles, Starve the Turkeys.  That should apply with the CBJ.  And in a lot of other places, but we'll keep the focus on hockey.

4. Thank God that giant distraction called the All-Star Game is behind us.  Let's stay focussed on the real prize: The Stanley Cup.

5. Next season will be John Davidson's fourth season with the Blue Jackets, and it will be Jarmo Kekalainen's second "and a half" - he was hired in February 2013.  By any reasonable standard, it's time for the pair to show on the ice what they've accomplished in their jobs.

Playoffs or bust.

"Hope" is a four-letter word.

Columbus Blue Jackets 2015-16: NO EXCUSES.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

CBJ Cannon the Ultimate Anti-Tank Gun

Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets rallied, rallied, again, and rallied again to defeat the New York Islanders 5-4 in a shoot out.  Finishing the season 12-0-1, the Blue Jackets will end up picking 8th in a loaded draft unless someone behind them wins the lottery and pushes them to 9th.  This fits the organizational need well, as we will get good players to feed into the player development system that ensures the long term health of the organization.

Kudos to the 2014-15 Columbus Blue Jackets, who were unwilling to leave the franchise record books alone, and established the longest point streak in franchise history, as well as a goal scoring record, along with the record for most man games lost to injury (508; 6/game).  Unfortunately, they also flirted with the longest losing streak in franchise history early in the year, and had multiple long losing streaks, the weight of which collapsed our playoff hopes.  Nonetheless, the players were determined to finish the season in style, and refused to collapse when the Islanders put late goals on them.  That the team has shown growth this year is evidenced by the fact that they lost these games to the Islanders earlier in the season, collapsing when the explosive Islanders hung a few goals on them.  Not so last night.

The stretch run with this team was extremely entertaining.  As I have mentioned many times, I've watched lots of these strings get played out, and you can tell when people are going through the motions.  They show up, they try to play hard, but if the other team wins, well, meh.  This team just kept battling last night, extending their season by 5 minutes and a shoot out, before coming out with the last regular season win in the venerable Nassau Coliseum.  

New players like veteran Scott Hartnell, as well as new comers Alex Wennberg, Marko Dano, and Jeremy Morin have been assimilated into the work habits and 'never say die' attitude that served the club so well last year, and that they were unable to re-create for long stretches of the season this year.  Next year David Clarkson will need to be assimilated, but to me, the Blue Jackets style is a good fit to his game, and with more realistic expectations, he should be a good fit to the group.

As a literary tool, foreshadowing can be effective device for creating good writing.  So here is some foreshadowing of a subject that we will repeatedly visit over the off season.  The need for stability.  Let's get Letestu and Calvert into the fold, and the line up for next year is essentially set.  The players have made a convincing argument that the room should be preserved, and management should back them up on this.

By the time the dust had settled after the CBJ failed to make the playoffs the year after our first playoff appearance, we had done a complete roster turnover.  That seems unnecessary this year, and rather as an antidote to the early season struggles, we might want to attempt stability at least once in franchise history, just to say that we have tried it.  If you sign Letestu, Calvert, and McElhinney, you have your team going in.  There is not a darn thing wrong with establishing a veteran team that forces the young talent to kick the door in.  Injuries will happen, the young guys will get their chances.

If this whole Lake Erie Monsters thing comes through, we will want a good team there as well.  Karlsson, Rychal, Bjorkstrand, Anderson, Forsberg et al need to establish a winning culture in the AHL, and prepare to kick the door down in 2016-17.  If they want to jump to the big club, they need to jump over people.

Even though it may not feel like it, this team made progress this year.  It is to be hoped that we reap the benefit of that progress next year.  I am disappointed by the fact that we didn't make the playoffs.   But the players did the next best thing down the stretch, and as a fan, I appreciate that.  Way to fight to the last.  Well done gentlemen, well done indeed.