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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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8 comments

  1. I was stunned when I saw today’s article. I don’t think we are one or two players away from the play-offs and this article confirmed it. While there was some contradiction between the scouts, ex. Westcott, the consensus seems to be that there is a lot of weakness in a lot of areas. The most interesting comments for me regarded Rick Nash. I remember reading a few years ago that he ate Froot Loops for breakfast. Not exactly the breakfast of champions. Maybe he needs to work on his diet and conditioning more. It can only help.
    Tara


  2. Tara,

    Stunned is a good way to put it. You’re right on the inconsistency between scout’s views, but I that’s to be expected. I was thinking about Westcott last night, and I still believe that if he can stay healthy he’s a top 4 talent. Unfortunately, we’ve never seen him for a whole season.

    And I forgot about the Fruit Loops thing. I’m hoping that this is something he is actively working on. He’s locked in for, what, three more years? We need him to be a stud, not a fruit loop.

    Thanks for stopping by.

    Drew


  3. I’ve already mentioned it on Kukla and at HFBoards, but I promise this’ll be the last time I do. Really.

    … am I right to quirk even the slightest bit of a brow at the timing of this, after I spent a sick-filled weekend and then some working on a similar sort of article? Albeit they’re more professional, have better connections, and have dome this for years.


  4. Heh… I sort of understand what you mean. But I think the topics of the articles are separated enough to not have cause to suspect anything.

    It’s like when I’m watching a game on TV and I make a valid point only to hear one of the announcers repeat what I just said, word for word. I’ve checked my whole living room for bugs, but I still haven’t found them.

    Keep up the good work, Mike!


  5. The Dispatch article was a breath of fresh air in that the real culprit is clearly MacLean.I’ve always said that he has overvalued his talent and yes Ron Hainsey should not be your best defenceman. It will be tough for Doug to trade what talent he has or think he has. Doug was severely hosed on the Federov trade and what he has done this season with Brule is unmentionable. I was angry when he brought LeClaire back too early from his knee operation without a minor league conditioning stint. All other teams do this why not Columbus? Easy answer: blame management. Nash needs a month this summer with T.A. Goodman in California , he of UFC fame, the same spot where Chris Chelios works out every summer. It is rumored that Nash’s % body fat is a little high.


  6. I think in the Leclaire situation, Dougie was guilty of CHA (covering his ass).

    With Ty Conklin looking stunningly like Swiss cheese in his time in front of the CBJ net, MacLean knew that folks in Columbus would soon tire of the paper goalie and would cry rather loudly for Leclaire to return, healthy or not. Me personally, I wouldn’t. But I strongly believe that many people in this town would. Rather than hear people use Ty Conklin as a reason why CGMDM is inept, he brings Leclaire back too soon and when he gets injured he’ll throw up his hands and wonder why things went wrong (and hope the rest of us go along).

    Seeing Nash unleashed would be quite a sight. Let’s hope it’s something we experience while he’s here in Columbus, and we don’t have to watch him do it to us when we trade him away for a third-line center and a few draft picks.

    Okay, cynicism off. 🙂 Thanks for the comments, Patrick.


  7. maclean reminds me of bush. he only surronds himself with yes men. the only people that work
    for him are from his home town. i think to judge him fairly is his strenghts are in the marketing. when it come to contracts, player development he s below average. in addition , this
    market columbus is one the three top markets in the league.. detroit and pittsburgh never had this
    kind of support when they struggled in the mid
    1980s….


  8. Pete,

    Interesting thought regarding CGMDM and CPOTUSGWB, and one that makes me both laugh and cry at the same time.

    Good point on the marketing. I’ve said before that I appreciated what MacLean did in the very initial stages of this franchise. But the people will eventually stop coming if nothing is done to fix the product.

    Thanks for stopping by, Pete. Come back anytime.



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