Archive for June, 2006

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Denis moved to Tampa Bay for Modin

June 30, 2006

Early Friday afternoon, the Columbus Blue Jackets moved goaltender Marc Denis to the Tampa Bay Lightning for winger Fredrik Modin and international goaltender Fredrik Norrena. I happened to see this first on Spector’s Trade Rumors.

The trade clears the picture up for the 2006-07 Blue Jackets. It appears to me that Pascal Leclaire is the #1, and that the top two lines are fairly set at this point. Modin should fit in well with Fedorov and Zherdev on the second line. Michael over at Army of the Ohio wonders if Gallant will put Modin on the first line with Nash (and most likely Brule) because he has somewhat more experience and better production than Vyborny. I don’t think this is likely to happen, mostly because of the chemistry that exists between Vyborny and Nash. This is not to say that there couldn’t be good karma between Nash and Modin, but I think that going into training camp we’ll see Modin on the second line.

Fredrik Norrena is a goalie with no NHL experience, but plenty of international time. Where Norrena fits will depend on how MacLean and Gallant wish to use Leclaire. If, as I suspect, Leclaire is now the uncontested #1 netminder I think Norrena will see 15-20 games as his backup. But if management is not 100% sold on Leclaire as the current full-time guy, I see the Jackets going after one of the many goalies on the free agent market and running a 50-50 split for time (Norrena in Syracuse). The first option is most attractive to me for three reasons. First, I happen to think Leclaire is capable of handling the load. Second, not a one of the potential goalie pick-ups is going to want to play only 41 games. Lastly, why take on $1.5-3 million in salary for a “name” goalie for half your games? I’m guessing that was part of the reason we shipped Denis, so the organization could give Leclaire a raise and bring in a serviceable backup.

I wish Marc Denis the best in Tampa Bay, and I think he has a great opportunity to experience regular season and playoff success. Marc was a class-act from Day One in Columbus, and I expect that Lightning fans will find more of the same in the future. We’re now down to two original Blue Jackets (Vyborny and Klesla), and I’ll be the first to say I’m not too sentimental about that fact. There were only a few pieces from that original squad that I was sad to see go. While Denis was one of them, it seems at this point that the organization is moving in the right direction.

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Picard comes out about illness

June 29, 2006

As reported in today’s Columbus Dispatch, winger Alexandre Picard (the Jackets 2004 first round pick) was suffering from vertigo for most of the 2005-06 season. I don’t know too much about this particular problem, but more information can be found here. It sounds like this could be fairly disorienting for anyone, let alone someone who makes their living on a slippery surface.

Picard reports that he feels better now, and has been educated on how to deal with future spells. Here’s hoping that the young winger will continue to enjoy his good health and go on to a fine NHL career.

Best of luck, Alexandre.

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Crossing I’s: Looking back and forward at once

June 28, 2006

At the 2006 Entry Draft in Vancouver this past weekend, the latest class of potential NHL stars was selected by 30 franchises with the common goal of winning the Stanley Cup. For most of those chosen, we won’t know for years if the selections were good or not. And if you’re like me, you don’t have the time or opportunity to follow junior hockey closely so you’ve maybe heard of two or three guys who were drafted. This is not the place to come for in-depth analysis of the draft.

The Blue Jackets selected Derick Brassard with the sixth overall pick. He is reported to be a playmaking center in the Joe Sakic mold (Doug MacLean’s words, not mine). With Gilbert Brule likely to center the top line of Rick Nash and David Vyborny and Sergei Fedorov centering Nik Zherdev and a winger-to-be-named-later, I’d be surprised to see Brassard wearing the CBJ crest this fall. If he can play, by all means put him up with the team. But at this time, it looks like the center position is fairly full up with the big club (Brule, Fedorov, Manny Malhotra, and maybe Alexander Svitov?). A kid with this kind of potential needs to be playing good minutes on a consistent basis to continue to develop, and it seems to me that these could be earned on one of the top lines in Syracuse (or juniors for another year as MacLean has done with Klesla, Fritsche, and Brule in the past). I think it’s more likely that he’ll be up next year or two and fill Fedorov’s role when his contract expires. But again, I’m not the GM and I’m pretty sure that MacLean doesn’t visit the End of the Bench.

Or does he?

Not that it took a lot of brains or insider access to make the call but it should be noted that I suggested trading Denis in my season ending review of the goaltenders. And now, it’s been reported in the Dispatch (that I’ve seen) that Denis is (possibly) on the block. MacLean is supposedly having discussions with the Tampa Bay Lightning to ship Denis south for Fredrik Modin. This would be a winger that the Blue Jackets need (not to mention a blistering shot).

The concern (for me and apparently Doug as well) at this point is that Pascal Leclaire has not weathered an entire season as the #1, and while there are no durability concerns he simply hasn’t proven himself over 55-60 games. For this reason, I don’t see Denis going anywhere just yet unless a #2 goaltender is included in the return package. If MacLean can wait until February to make an assessment on Leclaire, he can likely still move Denis before the trade deadline.

My hope is that if/when this becomes the case that the Blue Jackets do not chase after an aging star that will only help the team for the short-term (if at all). Denis certainly will not fetch the return that Roberto Luongo or some others may, but it is important to make sure that fair deals are sought. We should not be looking to add older players and asking them to fill roles that are above their ability.

Looking ahead

The picture for next year is becoming clearer as time passes. It’s evident that Jan Hrdina, Trevor Letowski, and Radoslav Suchy will be allowed to seek employment from other teams. Of the three, I had hoped that the team would try to retain the services of Letowski but MacLean reports that he is asking for too large of a raise. Losing Hrdina will open a roster spot for Gilbert Brule. Suchy’s roster spot should be ably filled by one of the many young defensemen in the organization. The following is EOB’s projected lineup for opening night.

Forward 1: Nash, Brule, Vyborny
Forward 2: Zherdev, Fedorov, newly acquired winger
Forward 3: Chimera, Malhotra, Fritsche
Forward 4: Shelley, Svitov, Balastik
Defense 1: Foote, Klesla
Defense 2: Berard, Westcott
Defense 3: Hainsey, Johnson
Goaltender: Leclaire, Denis

I would feel fairly comfortable with these forward lines. Line 1 has the proven scoring ability of Nash and Vyborny, and the grit of Nash and Brule.

Line 2 has the flash of Zherdev and the reliability of Fedorov. The open wing spot could be filled by many types of player. A power forward type would be very effective here (Shanahan on a one or two year contract is me dreaming, but that’s what I do) to take the heat off of Zherdev. And Shanny has proven he can play with creative Russians in Detroit (I’ll wake up soon enough).

The third line is a checking line that has a nice combination of size, speed, and sound defensive ability. I see this as the energy line, as each of these guys is looking to go out and pound the other team and can use the physical play to create turnovers and scoring opportunities.

Looking at my projected fourth line, it looks a little like Saturday afternoon lunch. It’s the leftover hodgepodge. Shelley is a big winger who can hit and not much else, Svitov is a mostly unproven talent who has shown flashes of creativity, and Balastik is a shootout and power-play sniper who is not quick on the ice. This line will have to be carefully matched up against the opposition, as it is overly weighted towards the offensive side of the ice (and that’s not saying a whole lot right now). Mark Hartigan could crack this line as well.

I picked the defensive pairings based on 1) having an offensive D-man with a stay-at-home “responsible” player, and 2) mixing the left and right handed shots.

Foote and Klesla fit this mold, and if Klesla continues his growth this will definitely be the hardest hitting pairing on the blueline for the Jackets.

Berard and Westcott will provide a little more offense than the top pairing, but still have the ability (with Duvie in the mix) to clear the crease.

Hainsey and Johnson will be the pairing that could either be the sleeper surprise (Hainsey looks to be the first good CBJ offensive blueliner and Johnson loves to hit), or the weakest link. There may be a newly acquired defenseman who will step in here, or possibly Ole-Kristian Tollefson from Syracuse.

As noted above, I really don’t see the Jackets getting rid of Marc Denis or letting him remain the #1 netminder. Pascal Leclaire will be the goaltender that we ride for the next 5+ years, and his time is now. Denis will play 30-45% of the games, and I see him out by March. If a move happens soon, expect a quality #2 in return to back up Leclaire. Neither of the current goalies wants to share time, and both want to be (and probably could be) the #1 guy. In my opinion, this is a good problem to have. You’ll have Leclaire playing to prove he deserves the job, and Denis playing to prove to his future employer that he is worthy of being a #1 minder. Teams will be cautious about Denis because he has spent almost his entire career with the lowly Jackets, but I have a strong feeling that whoever takes a chance on him will be justly rewarded. If we didn’t have Leclaire at the point his is right now, I’d be happy to have Denis as the last line of defense. But I think this is a chance that the organization has to take.

The Good Old Summer Time

If any major trades occur, or any CBJ rumors pop up you can expect some thoughts here. I may post some thoughts on baseball (like why the Reds should hurry up and trade Adam Dunn), college football (are the Buckeyes worthy of at pre-season top 5 ranking?), pro football (can Romeo Crennel remake the love story he wrote in New England?), and basketball (yeah right).
Of course, I might just get the bug to keep writing about hockey every few days, who knows.

In any event, thanks for reading. I always look forward to the one or two of you who actually comment. If anyone has any ideas for a column or questions that you’re just dying to have answered by the EOB editorial team, fire them over. Comment on the site or leave me an email at aharris9@columbus.rr.com

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It’s funny to me

June 27, 2006

The other day I was driving home from work, and for the first time I wish I had my camera with me while driving. On the right shoulder of the road was a man who was standing over his motorcycle (out of gas maybe?), wearing a Pittsburgh Steelers pleather coat, with no helmet on.

I’m sorry, I think that’s a riot.

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Return from exile

June 27, 2006

A lot has happened in the last week (for me and the NHL). I turn my head for a minute, and quite a few things occurred. I had a wedding-filled weekend being an unruly groomsman, so I didn’t have time to check the web for updates on the game of hockey. There have been some trades, a draft, and an awards ceremony. I really don’t have much to say about the draft (you’ll get a little blurb in an upcoming post), because I don’t have enough interest or time right now to follow junior hockey. The NFL draft is somewhat interesting to me because I know some of the players through the first few rounds, having watched them on Saturdays. I’ve never seen any of the players that were drafted in the latest NHL draft, so it’s not as interesting to me. I make no apology for this fact; I don’t think it’s necessary.

The big trade in the last week was between Vancouver and Florida. Boiled down (chaff aside), it was Todd Bertuzzi for Roberto Luongo. Big Bert goes to Florida to play for Mike Keenan. Snobby Sir Luongo gets shipped to Vancouver, and at press time is still working with one year left on his contract. I said a few days back that Roberto wouldn’t be in Florida much longer, and now he’s gone on to the Northwest Division. It will be interesting to me to see how the Canucks fill out their team this year. Bertuzzi is gone, and rumors have Jovanovski and Naslund out as well. It’s hard not to see a changing of the guard. The Sedin twins started to live up to expectations this year, but they will need help putting the puck in the net for this team to have a chance at the Cup. The organization is also thin in signed defenseman, and will have to make moves here as well. While Luongo will help them in goal, I have to wonder if he’s not making a one-year stop in Vancouver and looking to move on to greener pastures in 2007 (Detroit, Colorado, Toronto, anyone?).

It’s looking like unless anything major happens, I’ll be updating on a slightly less frequent basis than during the season. I’ll be checking the usual suspects (A2Y, Cason, Offwing, Death Cab for Woody, and Army of the Ohio) for news and opinion, and I recommend stopping by to check out their sites for yourself.

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Title reflections

June 20, 2006

I flipped on the tube to find the clock at 11:00 in the second period, Carolina leading Edmonton by a score of 2-0. I only needed to watch for about one minute to realize that the game was already out of reach. Edmonton was unable to control the puck through the neutral zone as the defensive posture of the Canes worked to near perfection.

Fernando Pisani scored early in the third to close the gap to one, but Cam Ward continued his stellar play en route to the Conn Smythe. The 22-year old rookie has shown his organization and the National Hockey League that he is a ready for prime time player.

As the seconds ticked down late in the third, I calmly sat back in my chair and got ready for the best minutes in sports. My favorite part of the playoffs is the end of the last game of each series and seeing the handshake line. I play adult hockey, and we do this after every game. It doesn’t mean much to most of us, but I feel it’s an important sportsmanship lesson. Seeing guys who get paid to play the game do the same things I’ve done, is the second greatest thing of the evening.

Of course the ultimate thrill for any hockey fan is seeing the team captain, and then each player of the winning team, take the Cup, give it a kiss, and hoist it over his head. Anyone who has strapped on skates has dreamed of this moment from Day One. Children win the Cup in their minds on a daily basis. Which of us has not skated in from the left wing boards, put a wrister over the goalie’s shoulder in OT, and thrown up our stick, gloves, everything else in jubilation at winning the Ultimate Prize? I know I have.

I’ve been lucky enough in my lifetime to see two of my teams win a title (Cincinnati Reds in 1990, and Ohio State football in 2003). I try and remember every game I watch that I may never see this again, but I’ll always live with hope. Fans are always reminded that to say “We won the game” is not technically correct because a fan doesn’t actually play the game. True fans realize that this is both correct and incorrect. As a fan, I did not score the goal, steal the base, or make the tackle. But my loyalty as a fan of both my team and the game are what enables the players that do these things to earn the money and fame they receive. Long-time loyal fans support a team through thick and thin. I’m proud to call myself a Blue Jackets fan from Day One, and I’ll feel like a part of the team should “we” ever be lucky enough to win the Cup.

Despite what I’ve heard from many sources, fans of every team deserve the hope of winning the Stanley Cup. If the only teams that should be allowed to win are either Canadian teams or Original Six teams, why should the “rest of us” even bother playing the game? The reach of a sport grows because of fan popularity. Although the NHL may not have the marketing appeal of the NFL, it has still grown enough as a game to have franchises in 30 cities across Canada and the United States. Fans (new and experienced) put as much of their heart into cheering for a team in Raleigh, Tampa, Nashville, and Atlanta as they do in Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton. There are statistics that some people can (and maybe will) show me that supposedly refute my claim. But I say that you can’t measure heart. Fans of all teams put their heart into their team. On the Edmonton bench after the game last night, you could see the pain in the faces of each player, and practically feel it through the television. Don’t think that their fans were not experiencing the same thing. Detroit fans know how they felt after the Wings lost the Edmonton series. Don’t think for a minute that Nashville fans didn’t feel the same way after losing to San Jose. Being born or living in a “traditional” hockey market does not mean that you (as a fan) deserve to win any more than John Doe in Atlanta who picked up the game two years ago and really enjoys watching hockey. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, entitlement is a sin against true fandom. Be gracious in both victory and defeat, hubris is not a becoming trait.

With this said, I issue my congratulations to both the Carolina Hurricanes and their excellent fans for their first Cup win. I hope you all can enjoy your victory, and that it means as much or more to you as it did the first time you won it on your driveway/backyard pond/neighborhood rink. I’d always rather see my Blue Jackets win, but seeing the pure joy on any grown man’s face (regardless of jersey color) as he raises the Cup over his head is enough to force me to blink back a few tears.

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This and that

June 19, 2006

I didn’t get a chance to see the Game 5 OT victory for Edmonton because of my softball game, so I was excited to find out that I’d be able to watch at least one more game this season. Game 6 was played on Saturday, and I was spending some time with Mr. & Mrs. EOB, Sr. for Father’s Day. They live in a part of the world fortunate enough to have CBC a part of their programming, so I got to watch Hockey Night in Canada for the first time. For the most part, I enjoyed the broadcast. Don Cherry is one wild dude. I’ve noticed more and more while watching sports (particularly hockey) on television that while I hear and process what the announcers say, most of the analysis and commentary that means anything to me comes from my own brain. Ron MacLean seemed to be a good play-by-play man, and largely stayed out of the way of the action. There was one OLN guy who did some of the quarterfinal and semifinal games (I can’t remember his name) that had a very prominent East Coast accent, and I would mute him almost every time he was on the tube (every shot was “A DRIVE!!!!”). All in all, I enjoyed HNIC. Maybe someday we’ll get CBC coverage in Columbus.

My boiled down analysis of Game 6: Edmonton was definitely in control of this game. Carolina (despite the return of Erik Cole) did not have their legs in the game, and it showed up on the penalty kill as Edmonton started to find their groove. The Hurricanes need to dig for everything they can in Game 7, because after Monday there will be no meaningful hockey (depending on who you are) until at least October.

The Blue Jackets came to terms with Manny Malhotra this weekend (3 years, $3.6 million) and started the process of solidifying their third line. Still unsigned (on this line) are Jason Chimera (restricted free agent) and Trevor Letowski (unrestricted). If I were the GM, I’d try to solidify the position of my organization by locking these two into deals before Saturday when the Entry Draft begins. I don’t think that you necessarily draft to fill spots on your NHL team (like you do in the NFL and NBA), but I have to think it would help to know that you have a solid line for two or three years.

Finally, I’ll be sad to see hockey go into hibernation after tonight’s Game 7. I don’t follow the prospects that much (at all), so if I have anything to say about the Jackets’ draftees it will likely be a repeat of what I’ve heard from other sources. Make sure to stop by EOB to see what are sure to be random thoughts on baseball, college football, and the free agency period in the NHL until the 2006-07 season starts spinning up. I don’t have any goals as far as writing goes for the off season, so I’ll have to see how it goes. Thanks to all seven of you for reading these last few months. I look forward to continued fun here at the End of the Bench.