Archive for May, 2006

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Spotlight on: Defensemen

May 24, 2006

We’re almost finished with our “Spotlight” series here at EOB, where we give our opinions on the players’ pros and cons, a little bit of salary info (if we can find it) and any other tidbits we find interesting. Today, the blueliners get the heat lamp.DefenseAdam Foote
– Age – 35
– Status – Signed through 2008
– Pros – The Blue Jackets captain is still a good defenseman in his own zone, even at his advanced age (and if Chris Chelios is any indication, he doesn’t have to slow down for quite a few years). Foote seems to be a quality leader, one who will be tasked with transforming the team attitude to being a winning one. Of anyone that is currently on the team, he is the one person who could get this done in my opinion.
– Cons – As noted over at Tom Benjamin’s place upon hearing of his signing with Columbus, the Adam Foote of the Avalanche and the Adam Foote of the Blue Jackets are inherently different players. Though he may help in the short term, it will remain to be seen if this signing (big money for older player, kind of sounds familiar) will pay dividends. Foote is not a big offensive force, but he didn’t get the money to score goals.
– If I were GM/Coach – Adam Foote is the captain on a team that needs stability. Unless a great deal rears its ugly head, I’d keep Foote wearing the “C” until his contract expires. At that point, it will probably be time to shake hands and part ways.

Bryan Berard
– Age – 29
– Status – I’m unsure of Berard’s contract status, but I’m pretty sure he’s back this year.
– Pros – Berard is what I (relative hockey novice) like to call a “puck confidence” guy. He’s not afraid to handle the puck for longer than a few seconds. This seems to help increase team puck possession and create a balanced offensive attack, something the Jackets have historically been poor at doing. Brian is a decent power play quarterback who is not afraid to shoot the puck.
– Cons – For a defenseman, Berard is merely an adequate defender. He must be paired with a more responsible blueliner to guard against too many odd-man rushes from the other team.
– If I were GM/Coach – Berard is a decent talent, especially in the offensive zone. I don’t think he is a long term answer for the Jackets, but I’d keep him for now. There is always a market for a Brian Berard type of player.

Duvie Westcott
– Age – 28
– Status – I’m unsure of contract length, but Westcott is signed for this upcoming season at least. – Pros – The most underrated defenseman on the team, by far. Westcott has good skating ability, puck confidence, excellent defensive skills, a heavy shot, etc. Yeah, I’m pretty high on this guy. A Masterson Trophy finalist this year, I predict that Westcott will be the best defenseman in the Blue Jackets system in less than two years.
– Cons – Westcott seems to be a walking case of bad luck. He’s been hampered in the past few years by freak injuries (which is probably why nobody outside of Franklin County has heard of the guy), and he has an incredibly difficult time finding the back of the net.
– If I were GM/Coach – My desk blotter would have 100 sticky notes reminding me that Westcott is the key to my team making the playoffs. Duvie was born to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Keep him at all costs, it is not possible to overpay him. (Maybe this is why I’m not a GM/Coach???)

Rostislav Klesla
– Age – 24
– Status – Signed through 2010.
– Pros – Columbus’ first pick in the 2000 Entry Draft, Klesla is finally showing glimpses of being a top 4 defenseman. He has become more responsible in his own zone, and is capable of throwing his weight into some big hits.
– Cons – Despite his improved overall play, Rusty still has moments where he looks like a lost little puppy. I’m tempted to write these off as tentative play due to injury recovery, but I can’t be sure yet. He still has a penchant for pinching in a little more often than recommended (though not nearly as much as a few years back).
– If I were GM/Coach – The jury is still out (for me) on Klesla. He’s been in my doghouse for years (much to the chagrin of Mrs. EOB, who thinks he’s a good-lookin’ dude who should get a free pass!), and this year showed some signs of respectability. I think he could be a top 4 very soon (and apparently, so does the real CBJ brass), but I’d like to see him perform over an 80 game season before I pass judgement. I don’t think it’s a bad thing that he’ll be here for four more years.

Ron Hainsey
Age – 25
– Status – Signed through at least this upcoming season.
– Pros – Another puck confidence guy on the CBJ blueline, Hainsey is also very quietly active in his own end. He led the team in plus/minus (at +13) this year, and has the skills to become a top 4 blueliner in no time at all.
– Cons – The one thing I would like to see is Ron take his physical game up a notch. He’s a big guy (6’3″, 215 lbs), and the CBJ could always use more physical bodies to wear down the opposition.
– If I were GM/Coach – I would lock Hainsey up for a few years when his contract is close to expiring. I would make him and Duvie the cornerstone of the Columbus blueline as they turn the corner to respectability.

Radoslav Suchy
– Age – 30
– Status – Unrestricted Free Agent
– Pros – A big, steady defensive defenseman (why does it always feel weird to write that?)
– Cons – Not particularly quick or offensive-minded.
– I were GM/Coach – Suchy is the kind of d-man that every team needs, but nobody wants to pay big bucks for. Unfortunately, the Jackets had a bit of money invested in him, which is why I would let him go. There are enough youngsters in the pipeline that will ably fill his spot.

Aaron Johnson
– Age – 23
– Status – Signed at least through the upcoming season
– Pros – A good skater with a mind towards the offensive end of the ice, Johnson is not afraid to throw his body around.
– Cons – Aaron hasn’t developed the puck confidence yet, but he’s working on it. He’s not a huge guy (barely topping 6′, just a shade under 200) so he’ll have to work for every inch of ice.
– I were GM/Coach – Johnson is still learning his position at the NHL level, so I’ll keep him around because he shows promise. If he’s still at the same point in two or three years, I’m sure that there will be someone to step up and fill his spot.

In a flash
Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is a young blueliner who is not afraid to get physical (we saw him in five games this year). He has some things to learn in his own zone, but I think that is typical of most young defenseman. I’ll look forward to seeing this guy on the Nationwide ice soon.

Up next, the goaltenders.

Also, I’ve updated the link list on the sidebar. I’ve added CasonBlog (a good Hurricanes weblog), Jes Golbez’s Hockey Rants (good eye on NHL and international hockey), and Behind the Jersey (a Red Wings fan who has a great Behind the Blog feature interviewing other hockey bloggers).

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Matching Ruth, class optional

May 21, 2006

In Oakland yesterday, Barry Bonds hit his 714th career home run to move into a tie for second place all-time with Babe Ruth. In an AP story by Janie McCauley, Bonds stated “This is a great accomplishment because of Babe Ruth and what he brought to the game of baseball and his legacy in the game of baseball… It’s just great to be in the same class.” When informed in his press conference that the fan who caught his record-tying blast was an Athletics fan, Barry replied, “If he doesn’t like me, give me the ball.”An amazing accomlishment you may have Barry, but class you do not.

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Bud feels bad for Barry

May 19, 2006

Fans across the baseball landscape are not happy with Barry Bonds (it took them long enough to admit it). Dressing up as syringes, booing him at the plate, cheering when he gets plunked by Russ Springer. Personally, I have never liked the man. He has an unapologetically bad attitude about being in the public spotlight. There are greater misdeeds for which to dislike a man (like… steroids?), but that’s what stands out about Barry to me. And now baseball commissioner Bud Selig feels bad about the taunting, and wishes the fans would tone it down.

I’ve been on the fence for a long time with my feelings for Bud. In my eyes he’s presided over some good and bad moments in baseball history. He’s overseen the shake-up of the divisional realignment and added a few teams to the playoff picture (good). He’s also toyed with Reds fans on the Pete Rose issue and stopped a tied All-Star game (bad). At least with Gary Bettmann you have a commissioner (NHL) who is enough of a “character” that you either love him or hate him (does anybody love Gary?) With Selig, you have the loveable loser. It’s tough to generate a real feeling either way on this guy. Maybe that kind of bothers me, but other than that… meh.

It’s good that on one hand Selig can say that there will be no special ceremony for Bonds when he passes Ruth, but on the other hand feel sorry for the guy at the same time.

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Me, laugh at a Red Wing???

May 18, 2006

I see commercials for these things every day during my lunch hour, but I never paid much attention. Special thanks to Vancouver Canucks Op Ed for putting some good humor out there.

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Spotlight on: Right Wings

May 18, 2006

In a continuation of the season-ending process, we will resume examining the various position players on the Blue Jackets. We’ll give our opinions on the pros and cons, a little bit of salary info (if we can find it) and any other tidbits we find interesting. Today, the right wingers get put under the microscope.Right WingsDavid Vyborny
– Age – 31
– Status – Signed through 2008
– Pros – A consistent 20-goal scorer with great hands and good ice vision. David is a great two-way player (the only one the CBJ had until Fedorov showed up). Perhaps the most underrated talent on the squad.
– Cons – In the past, Vyborny has been hesitant to shoot the puck. I think the biggest downside (as a Columbus fan) is that David will likely be gone in two years when his contract expires. He has expressed his desire to raise his children in the Czech culture, which I think is extremely admirable. I would still be sad to see him go.
– If I were GM/Coach – Vyborny is the most steady forward you have on your team. He can play in all game situations, and has terrific on-ice chemistry with budding superstar Rick Nash. Enjoy the years that #9 is willing to give.

Jaroslav Balastik
– Age – 26
– Status – Restricted Free Agent
– Pros – Balastik fits the textbook definition of a sniper. He works to find the open ice in the offensive zone and has a quick shot that can easily find the netting. In the new NHL, Balastik made a name for himself as a top shoot-out artist (6 for 9 on the season, including the game winner in Detroit on March 25).
– Cons – Not known for being a great skater or passer, Balastik is leaning towards being one-dimensional. Has to work very hard to maintain proper defensive positioning to make up for his lack of superior skating ability.
– If I were GM/Coach – Sign Jaroslav to a one or two year contract, and see what he can do as he continues to learn the new NHL. He has the potential to put up 30-40 goals a season, but first must get past the mark of 12 he set this season.

Trevor Letowski
– Age – 29
– Status – Unrestricted free agent
– Pros – A speedy winger on the smaller size, Letowski is a tireless defender who fills in ably on the penalty kill.
– Cons – His production has never been stellar in his NHL career, and his size will relegate him to third or fourth line play for his career.
– If I were GM/Coach – I would try to sign Letowski to a one year deal and keep him on a line with Chimera and Malhotra. These three could develop into one of the premier checking lines in the NHL. If Letowski’s production or value slips further, he could be trade bait at the deadline for someone looking for checking depth, or relased in the offseason.

Steven Goertzen
– Age – 21
– Status – Still in his rookie contract.
– Pros – Goertzen is a rough and tumble player who gives everything he has every game.
– Cons – Steven does not have big-time NHL offensive skills, so he will not be a scoring line winger (though his assets do fit him well as a checking forward).
– If I were GM/Coach – If Goertzen can chip in 4-8 goals per year while developing the ability to play defense and make life tough for the opposition, he could be worth maintaining. Every team needs fourth line wingers, why not give him a year in Jody Shelley’s spot?

In a flash
I haven’t seen enough of any right wingers in Syracuse to have any thoughts. Columbus has very few true right wingers I played left wing in an adult hockey league for two years, but I don’t know how important is this. Are wingers generally interchangeable? I know I never played right wing if I could avoid it, as I always seemed to drift to the “wrong” side of the ice. I know the pros are better than me at maintaining positional discipline, but I don’t know if a kid grows up to be a left or right winger.

Up next, the defense.

Thanks for reading.

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Rebuilding year?

May 15, 2006

Human nature is a very funny thing. It always strikes me as very curious when a fan of a hockey team does a quick 180-degree turn and sings a different song. What I’m specifically referring to in this instance is how the tune changes once a team is eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs.

One of the great things that the NHL (and NBA, though I don’t follow basketball) playoffs is that they sell a precious commodity to fans, and that is hope. There are 30 NHL teams, and 16 (53%) make the playoffs. Some talking heads complain that this is too many teams (this might have been true when there were only 24 or so teams). Compared to baseball, this argument seems quite valid. In baseball, only 6 of the 30 (20%) squads see post-season action. In the NFL, it is 12 of 32 (38%). Is sixteen too many?

My first argument to the contrary is economic, and that the hockey financial system needs as many teams playing the second season as possible. Hockey is, by far, the “poorest” of the four major sports in North America. The more teams playing extra games means more money. Hockey teams get very little television money compared to other sports, so every little bit helps.

My second argument centers around marketing and growing the game. As near as two weeks from the end of the regular season, it is not uncommon to see 24-25 teams in contention for a playoff spot. I’m sure it is hoped by the powers that be that the “increased meaning” of these late season games (for so many more teams than other sports) will translate into better television ratings, higher attendance, and a buzz about the sport in general. This doesn’t always happen in reality, but I have to think that this hope exists. I haven’t personally been able to enjoy this yet, as a fan of the Jackets. But I can guarantee you that the time will come when Columbus will be competing for a playoff spot in the last two weeks. When this happens you’ll be sure to find me on the edge of my chair like Grandpa EOB, not able to watch my team while glued to the tube at the same time.

Back to my original idea, here. In college sports, there is constant talk of a team having a rebuilding year. This is a product of the system where a player does not stay for more than four years (usually), and it is not uncommon to have a season or two where the team is young and learning. Usually, these rebuilding years are accompanied by not making the post season. It is possible for a season to start out labeled as a rebuilding year, only to morph into a productive (for the purposes of this argument, the opposite of rebuilding) year. If your team is projected to have a good to great season and they do so only to falter in the playoffs, this is different. The team did not regress into having a rebuilding year. They simply didn’t close the deal. There can only be one champion each year. I don’t believe it is fair to the team you support if anything less than a championship is labeled a failure.

Circumstances (Detroit playing so well in recent memory) may dictate that you expect more than a first round exit, but nobody (fan or team) in the world of sports is owed anything. There are fans of teams in many sports that would kill for a first round playoff exit (at least for starters). Regular season games offer the prospect of post season play. Playoff games offer the hope of advancing and winning the title.

Sports sell hope, and this is what all sports fans buy… hope. Mixing this with entitlement is a mistake. Be happy that we have sports to create a diversion from some other less exciting aspects of our lives.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench. Come back soon.

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Back in the WHL

May 9, 2006

Jes Golbez, over at Hockey Rants, recently attended a WHL title game (edited per attention of James Mirtle) between the Vancouver Giants and the Moose Jaw Warriors which saw the Giants win 7-5. Why should you care? Four words: future star Gilbert Brule. The whole story…

Quick hits

Ilja Bryzgalov? A few months ago, I thought he was the guy the Ducks put out against the Jackets to rest Giguere. Now, everyone is realizing that maybe JSG will be trade bait in the off-season.
– I wish that the playoff schedule would allow me to see more of the Buffalo/Ottawa series. This has to be some of the most entertaining hockey I’ve seen. The 7-6 games are fun, and the 2-1 thrillers are no less.