Archive for February, 2007

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Dose of Reality #34

February 28, 2007

Dose of Reality

One of the big myths that exploded yesterday was the one about the New NHL and the level playing field that was established after the lock-out. The myth told us that now, all the teams have the same salary cap and they couldn’t spend a dollar more to build their rosters. For us fans in Columbus, we are not to worry about Rick Nash leaving us because the team won’t be able to afford him. It explained why guys like Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov were playing in Columbus instead of big market cities. We all have hope now because no longer will the small market NHL General Managers be constrained by money. Those GM’s that can evaluate talent and blend it into their teams will be winners.

Which is why a guy like Ryan Smyth was not supposed to be traded away because the Edmonton Oilers could not afford him. There is supposed to be room under the salary cap for your superstar. Unless you overpay for the players on the team who are not superstars. The hockey world saw the Edmonton Oilers forced to trade away not only a superstar but the face of their franchise to the Islanders, the laughing stock of the NHL last summer, a team whose GM (Garth Snow) was a journeyman goaltender just last season and who had a freshly awarded MBA from the U. of Maine.

The myth was shattered, that with money out of the picture it would be my GM against your GM and the one who can evaluate talent better would win. What I saw on Tuesday was a slightly different version of the old game: The GM’s roll the dice and put together their teams and with luck they will be in the play-off hunt at the trade deadline. If they continue to make poor decisions (like in Columbus) they will just send out a fax or email and announce whom they wanted to dump so that they can play the same game next October.

Money is still the major factor in the GM’s world, just a smaller amount than in the Old NHL. Why did the Oilers not have enough in the bank to pay Ryan Smyth? Where did it go? The Islanders have a highly paid unproductive superstar named Alexi Yashin, but they still had enough to go after Ryan Smyth. Garth Snow did not go for Smyth as a rental, by the way; he intends to sign him to a long-term contract. In the New NHL, you still need to pay your players a fair and competitive salary and not a dollar more. That is why Doug MacLean played hardball with Dan Fritsche last summer, why he fought Nikolai Zherdev, and why he let Trevor Letkowski go. At that point Doug went out to lunch and forgot the reality of being a General Manager in the New NHL, which is no different than it always was: You better know talent and you better pay the right amount for it.

The reality of being an ineffective GM is what we in Columbus have to live with. If your GM ties up money in unproductive players, the only thing you can do is smile and say “Thank you sir, may I have another!” We’re stuck, fans. A writer for the Globe & Mail in Canada said back in the first week of October that Doug MacLean is “on the verge of killing his play thing” and it appears that he has succeeded. The team doesn’t have much money, attendance is falling, sponsors are hard to find, and the only real prospect we have is the coach. What will happen next?

– Truth Serum

Drew’s note: Sorry Truth, I don’t usually hijack your posts like this, but I wanted to put my two cents in here rather than a comment.  I agree with your criticisms of Doug MacLean, but I would bet that many Edmontonians feel the same way about Kevin Lowe right now.  He paid premium dollars (and years) to guys like Fernando Pisani, Shawn Horcoff, and Dwayne Roloson.  All are okay in their own right, but none of them can hold a candle stick to “Captain Canada” Ryan Smyth.  Overpaying for marginal talent is not a concept native to Columbus.  Unfortunately, I think it will be a prevalent problem for quite a few franchises in this early age of the salary cap.  General managers are not forward-thinking enough to see how today’s moves affect the team’s tomorrow.  It’s important to remember (from a GM’s standpoint anyway) that the salary cap is not a static thing, where today only matters today.  It’s very fluid, and a skilled cap manager with good talent evaluators can do some real damage in the NHL.  My question is, who are these new star GM’s going to be?  Can we identify any currently in the NHL?  Again, sorry for taking over.

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Dose of Reality #33

February 28, 2007

Dose of Reality

I have been dodging Midwest blizzards and working out of town over the last two weeks. I sent some posts into Mr. EOB while on the road, but the God of the Internets was not very kind and returned every one of them to me, saying they could not be delivered. Kind of like a Blue Jacket victory. I returned to Columbus in time to see the Montreal and Nashville games, entertaining matches, but more losses just the same.

So here I am back in Columbus and just like that, the team loses Fritsche, dumps Conklin, waves goodbye to Berard and Carter, and further alienates the fan base. No, getting rid of Carter, Conklin and Berard did not alienate the fans, it was the stuff that wasn’t done that rubbed all of us the wrong way. When I watched the Rangers game, Doug MacLean was holding court during an interview, telling those who would listen to him that he was planning some moves, looking for a center, a new Mercedes for his wife, but more than anything he was acting as if he is a “player” in the NHL deal making game, which he most certainly is not. A “player” does not produce losing teams for as long as MacLean has.

I don’t really have much to say about the team at this time. Things have not improved much, unless you count losing games by one goal an improvement. The “scouts” told us what many have known or suspected over the past few seasons. The team has very few good players, very few average players, and too many below average players. How can the ownership of the team accept this? Maybe the Jackets are nothing more than a tax write-off for the McConnell family as some have suggested. But in town like Columbus, a team that has incorporated the city name should make us all proud, but I don’t think anyone following this team is approaching that level of emotion.

The other bloggers who write about the Jackets get all worked up over the team and its lack of progress and most of them don’t even own PSL’s. I am stuck with them, yet instead of depression, I have become numb to all the buffoonery that management displays. I read the comments section on The Dispatch web site and find myself actually understanding why local people don’t care about hockey. How can you develop fans with a team like the Blue Jackets?

EOB lambasted the team over the recent player roster deletions of Bryan Berard, Anson Carter, and Ty Conklin. I believe that most NHL players give 100% and I think these three probably did so. But it is hard to argue with Drew’s main point that they were vastly overpaid and a poor investment. The salary that Carter received from the Blue Jackets was monumentally stupid, on par with the Todd Marchant’s a few seasons ago. Anson Carter is the ultimate mercenary player, a guy who will follow the money no matter where it takes him. We all know that eventually people who do this will hit a dead end and unfortunately that was in Columbus. Carter never before hit the kind of numbers that would dictate the kind of compensation that the Jackets gave him and I doubt if he ever will. He is a decent man who was probably stunned by the offer he received from Columbus and was smart enough to take the money and prepare for an exit when his true abilities were discovered.

As for Bryan Berard, he is gone and maybe out of hockey, too. His limitations were also realized here in Columbus and I doubt if another team will take a chance on him. Sure, he might sign a minimum contract to prove that he can still play at this level, but my guess is that he too hit a dead end.

I watched the Buffalo-Toronto game last night and they had a live interview with Darcy Reiger, the Buffalo GM. During the interview, a very skeptical Mike Robitaille asked Reiger “Why Ty Conklin”? The GM did not go off into glorifying his character or how the team was progressing and Conklin would be a key player in the drive to the Cup like some local GM’s would have. Instead, Reiger quickly and simply said that the “price was right” and that was it. He said that Conklin has some potential, but that he will need a lot of coaching and work to improve and get back to where he should be. Wow, honesty!

Finally, I have to say that I didn’t care if the team signed Modin or not. I like Fredrik and think that he is a solid player, one of the few above-average players on the roster. But how is he going to do if the team does not find anyone who can play with him and compliment his skill set and style? Who is going to be on Modin’s line next season, Alexandre Picard? Signing Modin solves one problem without fixing the other set of issues that follows. The Columbus Blue Jackets do not have a master plan of how they are going to compete, who they are going to do it with, and how they will build the infrastructure to maintain such a plan.

I challenge the hockey fans out there to grab a free ticket to the NHL Draft on June 22 and 23 and let Doug MacLean hear you whenever he steps up to a microphone. We should also let any member of the McConnell family know how we feel. Embarrass them! They need to know that they cannot keep taking us for granted, expecting us to show up night after night, supporting their mediocre team. If they want to treat us like fools, they too will have to suffer like fools.

– Truth Serum

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Directing your disappointment appropriately: A Doug MacLean primer

February 27, 2007

I’ve heard a lot lately about how upset some Jackets fans are regarding the return from Carolina for winger Anson Carter.  While it is troubling that a 2008 5th round draft pick is all we’re seeing, I fail to see how the situation could have been made better on Friday.  I think it’s worth our (CBJ fans) time to examine our frustration and disappointment and make sure we’re angry with team management for the right reasons.

In the National Hockey League, as in any professional sport, player value is based heavily on quantifiable performance.  Goals, assists, saves, wins.  These are the metrics that largely determine value and salary.  To be sure, there are other variables not-so-easily measure such as grit, leadership, and toughness.  But I would argue that one’s stat sheet plays a very large role.  And those numbers are viewed through a “what have you done for me lately?” microscope.  I think that this is where Blue Jacket fans need to keep their head and look at these trade deadline deals a little more objectively (and direct their disgust with Doug MacLean to the appropriate point in time).

Anson Carter

Anson Carter

(Former Jacket Anson Carter.  Photo by Jamie Sabau)

In his previous season with Vancouver, Carter put up 33-22-55 in 81 games and was a desirable commodity in the offseason.  Free agency started on July 1, but Anson remained unsigned as the summer steamed forward.  As the Nikolai Zherdev situation in Columbus remained unresolved and training camp was looming large, GM Doug MacLean signed Carter to a one-year contract worth $2.5 million on September 13.  It was being reported at the time of the signing that there were clubs offering in the $1.5-1.8 million range.  Doug decided to take chance (and thus reason) out of the equation and offer $2.5, well over market value. 

If the Canucks had opted to trade Carter at last year’s trade deadline, it would not have been inconceivable to have expected warm bodies (prospects) and or high draft picks in return.  Carter was having one of his top professional seasons, and at least provided a reasonable facsimile of a viable scoring threat.  One year later, Carter has put up 10-17-27 in 53 or so games for the Jackets.  Expecting the same return on vastly different results is an error, in my opinion.  Given Carter’s numbers, it’s hard to expect too much in return.  Unless your prospective trading partner has a perfect spot for that player, or is willing to overpay (a la Don Waddell), any team holding Carter is going to “lose” on the deal. 

It seems to me that all people can see is how well Anson played last year, and then say we should have gotten more.  In this era of the short attention span, last year is not only gone, it barely happened at all.  All anyone sees is a third or fourth line forward with 0.51 points per game.  Besides, it could have been worse.  Which brings us to our next subject up for examination…

Bryan Berard

Bryan Berard - Seive 

(It’s a seive, folks.  And a bad joke, to boot.)

Coming out of the lockout, Jackets management was surely hoping that the fans would forget how woeful the organization was in previous years and would be impressed by big-time free agent signings.  Adam Foote and Bryan Berard were inked to deals meant to show the fan base and the league that the Blue Jackets meant business.  A year after posting (due to the lockout) a decent 13-34-47 in 58 games with the Blackhawks (let’s not forget the -24 rating), Berard was signed to a two-year contract worth $5 million.

It was hoped that Berard would deliver offense, and at least be a serviceable d-man.  The offense was there (at least by CBJ standards) with 12-23-35 in 54 games played over two seasons.  But the serviceable d-man was absent, with Bryan earning a -34 rating  in those 54 games.  I don’t remember what the market was for Berard in the summer of 2005, but I’m betting it wasn’t $5 million over two years.  A guy who returned from a career-threating eye injury to put up 108 points in his next three seasons (220 games worth) is a heartwarming story.  But if I wanted a heartwarming story, I’d watch it for free on the Hallmark Channel.  I wouldn’t pay $5 million for a defenseman who can’t play defense.

The longer Bryan sat out with his back injury (which cost him a total of 82 games over two seasons), the more apparent it became to everyone, including Doug MacLean, that Berard was on his way out if/when he returned to action.  Everyone (management, fans, etc.) was hoping that Berard would do well when he returned.  Why?  So we could get the most in return for him at the trade deadline.  Doug knew he made a mistake, and tried to rectify the situation to the best of his ability.  Unfortunately, a day before the trade deadline Doug MacLean came to the realization that many of us had long before.  Nobody wants Bryan Berard.  He was placed on waivers yesterday.  Any team that wants him will get their shot with nothing being returned to the Jackets.  I wouldn’t give anything for him either.

Ty Conklin

Ty Conklin

(Former Jacket Ty Conklin.  Photo by Jamie Sabau.)

Prior to June 5, 2006 Ty Conklin was regarded as a decent backup goaltender.  But certainly one you didn’t want to have to rely on to win the Stanley Cup.  When Dwayne Roloson went down with a knee injury that day in Game One of the Cup Finals, Conklin was needed to do just that (if only for part of one period).  Coming in cold, Ty mishandled a puck behind the net and gave it to Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour who netted the game winner.  Conklin finished the game, and sat the bench for the next six games as the Oilers got that close to winning another championship.  Roloson was retained by Edmonton, and not surprisingly Conklin was let go.

Shortly after dealing Marc Denis to Tampa Bay for Fredrik Modin and Fredrik Norrena, Columbus GM Doug MacLean decided he needed another goaltender in camp to push the competition and signed Conklin to a one-year contract worth $1 million.  Rather than sign someone for less money or a more experienced name to mentor Pascal Leclaire, CGMDM went out and signed a lightly battle-tested Conklin to a salary worth more than all but eight guys on the roster at the time. 

Some folks will tell you, “it’s a two-way contract, so when he’s playing in Syracuse it doesn’t count against the cap.”  That is true, but to those people, I say this: IT’S STILL MONEY!  The cap is something that good teams worry about.  Losing money is something bad teams worry about, and the Blue Jackets have absolutely hemorrhaged dollar bills for Bryan Berard, Scott Lachance, Ty Conklin, Adam Foote, and on and on.

Conklin spent much of the year in Syracuse, and in his 11 appearances with Columbus he sported a (2-3-2) record, with a 0.871 Save% and 3.30 GAA.  Here’s a guy who makes $3,500 per save.  That’s almost Roberto Luongo money right there, he’s getting almost $3,850 per save (and going down by the minute).  Bottom line for me, one million dollars is too much to spend on a two-way contract.  Unless a guy is in Syracuse on a rehabilitation assignment or is a top level pick working his way through the system, he shouldn’t be making that kind of money in the AHL.  It’s my opinion, maybe not shared by all.

This morning, Conklin was shipped to Buffalo in exchange for a 2007 fifth-round pick.  I’m sure this doesn’t bother folks as much as the return for Carter (it is a 2007 draft pick after all -sarcasm off-), but it should cause all Jacket fans to look back to the signing of Conklin and scratch their heads a bit.

Conclusion

Three players, roughly $6 million in 2006-07 salary, and two fifth-round picks to show for it.  Jackets fans, don’t be upset with Doug MacLean for not getting more.  The greatest GM on the face of the earth couldn’t have done much better.  Be upset with Doug MacLean for overpaying for this talent in the first place.  It’s a theme, one that should be increasingly alarming to fans who keep pumping money into the MacLean machine in the form of tickets (including yours truly).  We need a responsible GM in place who can put together a competitive team for a reasonable price.  Not one who consistently mortgages the future of the franchise on second-tier talent.  At least if you’re going to blow millions, do it on a [edit: former] superstar.  Like Sergei Fedorov… yeah… that’s the ticket.

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

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Your Monday Hit List, a day late (again)

February 27, 2007

A lot has happened in Columbus and the NHL in general since we last talked.  I meant to get to this yesterday, but found myself stuck in my office at home trying to reconfigure my network for longer than anticipated.  So in typical bullet fashion, here is your “Monday” Hit List:

  • In Madison Square Garden Saturday night, the Jackets come back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Rangers 3-2.  Anders Eriksson picks up his first marker of the season, and Rick Nash and Jason Chimera both beat Henrik Lundqvist high glove side on the penalty kill to down New York in regulation.  The two short-handed markers were the first time Columbus had more than one in a game in their short history.  I didn’t watch the game play-by-play, but I have to say that coming back from a very early two-goal deficit is not something this team does very often.  I was about to say it’s not something they could have done a few weeks ago, but this team has been down and up so many times this year it’s probably just not true (at Anaheim in January, anyone?).  It was a gutsy effort, and one game the Rangers would surely like to have back.
  • Sunday the Predators came to town, and I expected the usual (aka, the worst).  After the second, it’s 3-1 Nashville and I’m heading home from my mother-in-law’s house.  On the short drive home, we hear that Shelley gets his first of the year (and upon viewing the replay, it appears that Zherdev finally got the dipsy-do to work to set up the score), and it’s 3-2 Preds.  I got that feeling based on how the guys were playing that a tie score was inevitable.  The Jackets continued to pressure the Central Division leaders, and netted the equalizer on a blistering Ron Hainsey shot from the high slot.  Columbus carried the play for the rest of the third and in OT, outshooting the Predators 21-7 in the final 25 minutes, but couldn’t put one past the goal line and were forced into the shootout.  Alexander Radulov scores while David Vyborny, Nikolai Zherdev, and Rick Nash all miss.  Nashville wins.  Another gutsy comeback, but this time no victory.  There’s only one more opportunity for the Jackets to steal one from the Preds, on March 10th.  As it stands, the season series still has the Jackets with zero wins through seven games.
  • Defenseman Bryan Berard is placed on waivers.  I read his remarks in the Dispatch on Saturday, and (as a Jackets fan) decided I’d be happy if he never wore the funky CBJ crest again.  The best line was, “Hopefully, I’ll get moved somewhere and play in the playoffs,” Berard said. “I’m not playing as well as I’d like to play right now, obviously. But not being one of Hitch’s guys, I’m not playing as much as I’d like, either.”  Really, Bryan?  You think that ‘not being one of Hitch’s guys’ is why you’re not getting the playing time?  First off, it’s probably because you’re not performing on the ice.  Earning a -5 +/- rating in 10 games while obviously not performing as expected, did you expect the coach (unless it’s your mother) to give you more ice time?!?  Secondly, who exactly are “Hitch’s guys”?  Last I checked, Ken Hitchcock coached his first game for Columbus on November 24, 2006.  The only guys I’ve seen that have only played for Hitch in Columbus are… Ty Conklin, Curtis Glencross, Zenon Konopka, and Mark Methot.  Other than that, every other player on the roster has played for another Jackets coach.  So maybe you meant to say, “I’m not one of the guys who buys into Hitch’s system of defensive responsibility as evidenced by my career -82 +/- rating.  No way am I going to be forced to play defense, even if I’m ‘technically’ a defenseman.  Forget it.  Trade me to a playoff contender so I can get out of this town.”  As of 11:30 AM on trade deadline day nobody wants you, Bryan.  So long, we hardly knew ya.
  • Just saw in many places that Ty Conklin has been traded to Buffalo.  No word on what Columbus is getting in return at this point.  As things progress, this past off-season is looking more and more like the straw that will break Doug MacLean’s back.  More thoughts on this, and the Carter and Berard situations later.
  • Dan Fritsche is out three weeks with a lacerated wrist, suffered in the second period of Sunday’s game against Nashville. 

I’ve got more thoughts, but they relate to trades/free agency and CGMDM and I’ll have them up later.

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

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Jackets pay $2.5 million for future fifth-round draft pick

February 23, 2007

Please ignore the obvious inconsistencies in the title, I’m trying to make a little joke with flawed math.

As found at NHL.com, winger Anson Carter was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for a fifth-round draft pick in the 2008 draft.  Signed late in the off-season by CGMDM to protect against Nikolai Zherdev not being available, Carter has underperformed this season while scoring (10-17-27) in 56 games.  At times Carter was a high energy winger who could score the dirty goal.  As I noted in the last post, it seems that maybe management has seen another side of Anson’s game, as he was routinely relegated to fourth-line duty with Jody Shelley.

It’s been widely known for weeks that Carter would not likely see February 28th in a Jackets uniform, and today the book closed on this particular chapter in Anson’s career.  This is the seventh time Carter has been traded.

The question for Jackets fans right now is who takes that roster spot?  Curtis Glencross (acquired from Anaheim a month or so ago) was recalled from Syracuse and participated in the pregame skate before sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch.  I’ve got to believe he’ll get his opportunity to prove he can play on the fourth line.

With Carter ($2.5 million) gone and defenseman Bryan Berard ($2.5 million) also likely gone either this weekend or season’s end at latest, there is $5 million in salary cap room freed up to try and make the team better.  As of this minute, the fabled Fredrik Modin contract extension has not been signed so it remains to be seen what fraction of this relief will be taken by Modin’s new deal or if he’ll re-sign at all.

Though he likely didn’t want to make the hire, having Ken Hitchcock on board has probably extended Doug MacLean’s tenure in Columbus for at least another year.  This offseason will be critical for CGMDM to prove to Columbus fans and the ownership group that he’s not just a smooth talker and can actually produce results.

I can’t help but smile when a scout’s comments are published in the Dispatch and say, “Then there’s (Alexander) Svitov. … Sometimes this front office doesn’t want to admit when they made a mistake. They feel like if they play them long enough, it’ll work itself out. That filters through the room and leaves a bad taste.”  If the front office can’t admit that a second or third line center is a mistake, what makes anyone think they’ll admit that their GM is a mistake?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I like that taste.

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

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Impartial views: NHL scouts dissect the Jackets

February 22, 2007

Check out today’s Dispatch for what I consider to be a great feature.  In my opinion it’s one of the best pieces put together by Michael Arace and Aaron Portzline all season.  They talked to five NHL scouts and asked them to assess the Blue Jackets, the good and the bad.  The article is a great service to all CBJ fans out there. 

For those Jacket fans who had concerns with the way things were going, your fears are confirmed.  For those who think we’re one or two players away from the playoffs, it’s quite an eye opener.  I’m making it sound like a very depressing article, but after reading the comments from the scouts I was left very refreshed.  I’d be less so if my job (team management, scouting, player development) was linked to the criticism.  But as a fan, I like to see this sort of thing brought to the forefront.  As they say, “the first step is admitting you have a problem.”

I want to pick out a few items from the article and highlight them here with some comments, because I think there are some good discussion points. 

Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is a tough guy, but he’s a No. 6 defenseman at best. It’s a tough league, I know, but you don’t want one of your defensemen fighting every night.

Jackets bloggers (including myself) have been quick to praise Tollefsen for his toughness and willingness to drop the gloves, but I think this is a point worth considering.  Most regular fighters/tough-guys aren’t defensemen.  At first glance, I dismissed this as chance.  But upon further consideration, it makes sense. 

If a fourth-line forward is at best out of the game for five minutes, the team will not miss him.  More than likely, he would take two to five shifts per period and his name wouldn’t be called in that time period.  At worst, he gets injured and the team needs to call up another warm body to play four to seven to ten minutes a game.  Either way, the team loses 8.3% of it’s numerical strength at forward and likely even less strength if you factor in the skill of the average player involved. 

When a defenseman is lost, the effect is much greater on the team.  Most teams dress six defenseman, meaning the numerical strength lost is 16.6% when a defenseman serves his five minute fighting major.  In the most recent CBJ game, the defensemen averaged around 33 shifts each for the whole game, or 11 per period.  In other words, every 1:48 a defenseman could have expected to get his name called in that particular game.  A blueliner serving a five minute major forces his mates to cover two to three of his shifts.  A team can’t “work around” a defenseman serving a fighting major like they can with a forward.  I don’t think that OK Tollefsen dropping the gloves less is going to put this team in the playoffs, don’t get me wrong.  But it’s something to think about, and I have to imagine that this will be addressed prior to next season.

Side note: As I was doing the TOI research for my above point, I noticed two very interesting things about Tuesday’s game.  First, Bryan Berard had the least number of shifts and TOI of all the defenseman.  I would think that with the Jackets trying to prove to prospective trade partners that he is healthy, they might play him more.  Actually, now that I think about it, with the Jackets serving nine minor penalties and Berard not playing on the PK he probably ‘made the most’ of his opportunities.  Secondly, Anson Carter (also supposedly on his way out the door) had the second least amount of TOI (9:18) on the team behind Jody Shelley.  Again, wouldn’t you try to showcase guys on your team that you’re trying to get rid of in order to maximize return?  I would guess this would be CGMDM’s plan.  Has Carter underperformed to the point where Hitchcock has said, “I’m putting a team on the ice that will win games.  I don’t care (Doug) if you want Carter to get 16 minutes a game, he’s not helping the club and he’s on the fourth line.  Deal with it.”??  Just a thought.

I’ll take Fritsche on my team any day. Of all the guys on this club, he’s the one who shows up every night. And he’s figured out the kind of goals he’s going to score in this league. He’s only going to get better, too. Smarter.

People outside of Columbus are taking notice.  Will Dan Fritsche be the next Kris Draper type of player, a strong, reliable third-line center?  That remains to be seen.  You can’t question the kid’s work ethic, however.  The fact that Danny is from Parma (Cleveland suburb) is a nice story for the team to sell to ‘new’ hockey fans in Ohio, but it doesn’t matter one lick if the kid is no good.  The Blue Jackets should focus less on his roots and more on what he does for the team.

“(Prospect) Kris Russell is absolutely dynamite. He has what today’s game needs — vision, speed, he competes, he can make a play and score. I like him better every time I watch him. I know his size isn’t great, but playing against bigger guys doesn’t bother him. He’s going to be a big-time player.”

We highlighted Russell’s performance at the WJC back in December, and this gives Jacket fans hope that defense won’t always be a sore spot in the lineup.

I think (David) Vyborny is a great player. I mean that, too, a great player. There isn’t a team in the league that wouldn’t take him in a heartbeat.

Further proof that the end of next season is going to be bittersweet for Jackets fans as David Vyborny will likely return to his home country.  He will be sorely missed.

 Scout 2: “(Rick) Nash looks like he’s finding his way under Hitch. I still get the feeling that he wants to be a dominant player, but I don’t know if he’s committed to it in the offseason. His frame is big, but he’ll be scary when he fills it out, adds a lot of muscle.

• Scout 3: “Everybody is bewildered as to why Nash isn’t scoring. I don’t know if he’s in great shape, to tell you the truth. I don’t know if he’s a ‘today’ type of player, in terms of his conditioning and his diet. I don’t know if he’s into that.

Two scouts said it, and while it shocked me at first… they might be right.  Rick has put on weight since joining the team his rookie season, but it doesn’t appear that he is a highly conditioned athlete.  Perhaps this is something that will come with time, as I imagine at the age of 21-22 it’s easy to coast through preparation because you were able to do so for your entire career up to now.  But for Rick Nash to routinely be near the top of the goals listing, he’ll have to be a year-round type of guy.  It would also be a great leadership initiative on his part.  If Rick Nash has to work that hard, so should everyone.  We’ll see where this goes in the near future.  It’s a great point that I don’t think a lot of Columbus fans thought about until now.

I thought Brule would have a better rookie season, but look what he walked into. Not an ideal situation for a kid. He should be back in junior hockey right now, the big man on campus. Then he ought to spend a season — at least part of a season — in the minor leagues.

They don’t allow their kids to mature at a level where they can best mature. I still think Brule’s going to be a (heck) of a player, but they’re killing him right now.

Klesla is a better player than I thought he would have been, but one or two years in Syracuse would have helped him a ton. He’d be a better player now if they wouldn’t have fed him to the wolves.

I’m going to address this in a future post, as there is a lot to talk about.  Truth Serum has hinted about this topic from time to time, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him chime in on this as well.

Blue Jacket fans, there is a lot of work to be done before we’re given a winner.  Do you trust the current management team to make this happen?

Introspection is not a quality that’s encouraged in Columbus hockey fans.  I hope that the Dispatch writers (and myself as well) have given you something to think and talk about.  Drop a comment on the post and leave your thoughts on the situation at hand.  We’d love to hear from you.

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

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Tollefsen in the spotlight; Johnson watches from the press box

February 20, 2007

There is an article in today’s Dispatch highlighting the decent season being had by rookie defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. Aaron Portzline does a good job chronicling OK’s growth, especially compared to expectations.

Tollefsen’s rise in the ranks of the defensive corps was a bit of a surprise, when it was expected that Aaron Johnson would be the next young blueliner to be a regular. Portzline goes on to state:

Injuries to Berard (back surgery) and Westcott (concussion) have helped clear room on the blue line, and while Johnson has struggled — he’s been scratched the past five games — Tollefsen has jumped at the opportunity.

Long-term injuries as noted to Berard and Westcott have certainly opened the door and allowed Tollefsen and Johnson to play regularly. I won’t disagree that Tollefsen has been the better player of the two, either. But Portzline’s claim that Johnson has struggled lately I don’t think is a completely accurate picture of the situation at hand.

Aaron was -2 in his last game played against Phoenix, but his recent string of healthy scratches (7 of last 8 games) has coincided with Bryan Berard’s return from injury.

It’s been no secret since Berard has returned that he is being actively shopped to teams before the trade deadline (Doug MacLean said as much in today’s Dispatch, and not for the first time). Prospective trade partners would consider Bryan a risk proposition (and likely still will to a degree) if he did not play as much as possible once he was cleared to play. With Johnson being the sixth defenseman on a team with an injured Berard, he quickly becomes the seventh on a team that needs to showcase Berard in order to move him and must sit to accommodate.

As Portzline mentions, Johnson cannot be sent to Syracuse without first clearing waivers. At his current salary ($450,000, of which only roughly $126,000 remains this season), it’s a near certainty that Aaron would be playing in a different uniform (a la Ron Hainsey last year).

The blueline is young, to be sure, and probably getting younger with Berard very likely gone (either in the next week or by the end of the season). But I have confidence that the youthful core of the defense will continue to grow and someday soon be something in which to take pride.

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