Archive for June, 2007

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Dose of Reality #59

June 30, 2007

James Mirtle is one of the best hockey bloggers out there and his site is regular read for me. Last night, he posted The Death of a Franchise and the post AND all of the comments are worth your time. The Nashville situation has opened a can of worms for the NHL and the outcome will reverberate throughout all of professional sports in North America.

Moving on to another topic, I see that The Dispatch didn’t care to pursue the comments of Adam Foote. I know they sort of operate on a policy that the only TV station that they will attribute is their own, WBNS (channel 10), but the headline this morning Blue Jackets will keep Fedorov, Foote told me that they have their stories written and don’t want distractions. Couldn’t the writer, Aaron Portzline, bother to ask the team for a comment on Foote’s remarks of wanting a do-over on Columbus?

Finally, Drew and other bloggers in the area are putting a lot of time on posts about the CBJ roster and prospects for next season. I don’t really think much about the subject because I believe next season will show us not how much better the team will be but that they won’t get any worse. Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock want to put an entertaining product on the ice to keep the fans coming into Nationwide while saving money and TOTALLY re-evaluating the players in the organization for the 2008-09 season. Money and roster space are tied up in two aging players, some future stars, and a lot of unknowns. I am resigned to another season out of the playoffs, but am excited about getting a more accurate glimpse of the future. The open issues of Pascal Leclaire, Gilbert Brule, Nikolai Zherdev, Joakim Lindstrom, and Rostislav Klesla are going to be resolved over the course of the season. Probably some good-byes will be said to a few in this group, but at least they will be given a thorough evaluation by Howson and Hitchcock as to how they fit into the Blue Jackets future. There might even be some pleasant surprises out there, like Kris Russell or Derick Brassard, that will expedite this whole process. But by March of 2008, we all should know if we have a real team or not.

-Truth Serum

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Draftees: Where did they come from?

June 29, 2007

Patrick’s comment yesterday on the Aaron Johnson post regarding the QMJHL interested me.  He mentioned that someone in the front office seems to really like players from the Q, but they tend not to pan out.  Patrick also noted that the Q is regarded as the weakest of the three Canadian junior leagues.  While the latter statement is not easily quantifiable by me, the first is pretty easy to view.

What I can say regarding the competitiveness of the three leagues is this: since the creation of the QMJHL (the youngest of the three) in 1969, here is the breakdown of Memorial Cup champions by league.

  • Western Hockey League: 17
  • Ontario Hockey League: 14
  • Quebec Major Junior Hockey League: 8

So on a very base level of judging competitiveness, Patrick is correct that the Q is the lesser of the three leagues.  (Stat freaks and fans of the Q, please note that this is a broad statement made for the purposes of moving on to the next point and not intended to indict the Q in any way.  Q fans especially may want to keep reading.)  Moving on…

In the last seven years (junior league information was not readily available on NHL.com for draftees in 2000 and I’m lazy to take the five minutes it would require to complete the results), the Columbus Blue Jackets have drafted 71 players.  Here is a breakdown of the top five leagues/countries and the average draft position of a player selected by the CBJ from that league.

  1. Ontario Hockey League: 13 players, average pick of 113
  2. Quebec Major Junior Hockey League: 11 players, average pick of 102
  3. Western Hockey League: 9 players, average pick of 129
  4. Russia: 7 players, average pick of 131
  5. Various high school leagues: 6 players, average pick of 155

This does give me a little insight.  Columbus drafts players from the Q at a higher average position than any other group.  But this also includes a slew of players who very likely were not expected to make the NHL (I’m just rambling so I sound smart, you can quit reading at any time), so I decided to only include picks in the first three rounds (1-90) and reevaluate.  I know that with the limited history of the Blue Jackets drafts this will not be a great statistical sample, but I don’t care.  The results?

  1. Ontario Hockey League: 7 players, average pick of 50
  2. Quebec Major Junior Hockey League: 5 players, average pick of 23
  3. Western Hockey League: 3 players, average pick of 42

The OHL had the most players selected in the first three rounds (led by Rick Nash at #1 overall in 2002), but the Q led in the more important area.  Players selected from the Q in the first three rounds have an average draft position of 23.  I have to say, this shocked me.  If you take Aaron Johnson out of the equation (he barely squeaked into the top 90 at #85 in 2001), the average draft position for QMJHL players is an astonishing 7.25!

With such a small data set, I’m required (by law!) to make very broad brush strokes to paint my picture.  So what’s the problem that Patrick’s indicating with the Jackets using so many high draft picks on Q players?  It probably has to do with the fact that none of them are stars, and only one (Pascal Leclaire) has shown that he might be a regular NHL’er. 

Immediate disclaimer: In the 2006 Entry Draft, the Jackets selected Derick Brassard (at #6) from the Q and in 2007 they selected Jakub Voracek (at #7) from the Q.  Both of these players are too young to pass judgement.

Still, that leaves Alexandre Picard (#8 in 2004), Pascal Leclaire (#8 in 2001), and Aaron Johnson (#85 in 2001) as Q alumni who have played with the big club.  Leclaire shows flashes of extreme promise, but has been unable to stay healthy long enough to know for sure.  Picard has done well in the AHL, but has struggled mightily at the NHL level.  And finally there is Johnson, who never quite found a permanent spot on the club and was not extended a qualifying offer.  He will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

Many would argue rightfully that it takes at least five years to properly evaluate a draft.  I don’t disagree, I just dont have that much data to work with.  So some of you who have gotten this far may be asking yourself, “what the hell is Drew’s point?”

I’m glad you asked.  One line in particular in Patrick’s comment sparked this whole mini-research project for me, and it was probably the line that contributed the least to his point (correct me if I’m wrong, Patrick).  It was:

Someone in the organization likes this league above the others.  It worked for Sidney Crosby and not so well for Alex Picard.

I understand his point, but I wanted to make a rebuttal.  There are plenty of good NHL players who have come from the Q.  There have been eight players elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame, including Mario Lemieux, Ray Bourque, and Patrick Roy.  Plenty of current NHL’ers played junior hockey in the Q, including Sidney Crosby, Brad Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Manny Fernandez, Ales Hemsky, Daniel Briere, and Roberto Luongo.

Sure, the Blue Jackets haven’t exactly mined the best there is out of the Q.  But they really haven’t cherry picked any of the other leagues, either.

So what did you learn from this post?  Probably to avoid any posts I make that started out with, “So and so said something the other day that made me think…”

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

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Dose of Reality #58

June 28, 2007

So do we, Adam!

“Well, Adam Foote has finally broken down and admitted he regrets the day he put pen to paper to go to Columbus, Ohio.”

Read it here and then call the Jackets and ask for a refund if you have season tickets. Maybe Foote will consider offering us a rebate.

Will he still be captain?  Should he?

-Truth Serum

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A roster spot opens

June 27, 2007

Aaron Portzline reports in today’s Dispatch that the Blue Jackets will not be extending a qualifying offer to defenseman/winger Aaron Johnson.  The 24-year old Johnson is a restricted free agent.

“It was a tough decision,” Howson said. “But (Johnson) was going to get a one-way contract in an arbitration hearing, and we just weren’t comfortable with that decision.”

Hockey for Dummies Alert: As Portzline explains, a one-way contract would enable Johnson to make NHL money even if he was playing in the minor leagues.  Many players who are on the NHL bubble (frequently shuttle back and forth between the NHL and minor league hockey) are issued two-way contracts that have different salary levels depending on which team (major or minor) owns the contract at the time.  One-way contracts are frequently awarded to established players who are not expected to spend time in the minors. 

Aaron Johnson

Drew’s Analysis: Though Johnson did see time in 61 games, anyone who has watched him play would have a tough time arguing that he was an established NHL’er.  With the Jackets looking to get better and the salaries of Fedorov and Foote cramping the cap a bit, it’s no surprise that Howson and Co. are making changes.  By all accounts Aaron was a likeable guy and a hard working player, but that only gets you so far.  His talent level hasn’t risen to the point where he’s worthy of guaranteed money, and in this day and age with a salary cap in place, that’s enough to be shown the door.  It’s not any big loss for the club, especially with Mark Methot playing good minutes as he did at the end of the season.

In other news: Other restricted free agents in the Jackets organization that were tendered qualifying offers: centers Alexander Svitov and Andrew Murray, left wingers Curtis Glencross and Joakim Lindstrom, right winger Steven Goertzen, and defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen.  Also, RFA right winger Jaroslav Balastik was not extended an offer.

Coming up: Here at the End of the Bench, I’ll be wrapping up the season-ending Spotlight Series in the next few weeks (hopefully very soon).  The contract of Sergei Fedorov is a figurative noose around the team’s neck right now.  I’ll be interested to see if there will be a buy-out in the near future.  Based on the lack of noise on this topic in the last week, I’m guessing it won’t happen.  And if it does happen, I’d suspect it would be in the next two days before the free agency signing period begins on July 1st.

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

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2007 Draft: A recap (part one)

June 25, 2007

The long anticipated draft weekend has come and gone.  I’ve taken a moment to relax and reflect.  In the aftermath, I felt exhausted but I’m not really sure why.  I didn’t work all that hard, stay up too late, or party too hard.  Still, it was a whirlwind twenty-four hours for me. 

It’s very unlike the NFL Draft (which I have not been to) for me.  For one, I’ve heard of maybe 25% of the players expected to go in the first couple of rounds.  Also, NFL draftees will very likely be seen in the league within four to six months.  I could probably count on one hand the names of the kids I’d heard of in the NHL Draft, and I would guess it’s safe to say that no more than one or two of these kids will play in the NHL during the upcoming season.

For me, the weekend was about the experience of being there.

Friday

We (Mrs. EOB and I) parked in our usual spot about a half-mile from the Arena, and got to Battelle Plaza at about 4:00.  We entered a few forms to win something (we love filling out forms for free stuff), collected our complimentary NHL Draft towels (what’s with everybody giving away towels, these days?), and headed into the arena for the blogger meet-up at the Bud Light Arena Pub (BLAP). 

The line to get Rick Nash’s autograph stretched down one side of the arena.  I have to wonder if the people we saw at the end of the line even got to see him.  We meandered past the static line, and headed into the BLAP.  For all the people crowding Battelle Plaza, the trophies on display, and the autograph session, the bar was remarkably uncrowded. 

Mrs. EOB and I filed toward the back of the pub to the area Mike had said he would stake out.  There was a local sports talk radio show broadcasting from the back room, so I was initially concerned I wouldn’t be able to hear the conversation.  This turned out to not be an issue.  As we walked into the room, I saw Truth Serum sitting with his wife so I went over and said hello and made the appropriate introductions before strolling to the back table to formally meet Mike (since I’d already stalked him while he was working one day). 

In addition to Mike of Army of the Ohio and Truth Serum from right here at End of the Bench, I also enjoyed meeting with the following folks:

It was great to meet with you all, and thanks for coming.  (And Mike, thanks for organizing just about everything!)

For me, it was great to have the diverse mix of folks together in one room.  You had people like me who write for relatively small sites that very likely generate team specific traffic, and some of the heavy hitters like Eric, Paul, and Greg who had the chops and experience to get themselves credentialed for this international event.  But when you look past the appearances, we were all normal people and hockey fans.

The conversation was plentiful, and the topics diverse.  I’m sure that if a draft hadn’t been slated to begin in a short while, we could have sat there all night talking hockey.  But the crowd began to thin, and a few of my non-blog-reading friends had showed up and were ready to grab a seat.

One of the things Eric asked us was what we expected the attendance to be.  I’d read in the Dispatch that they expected a standing room only crowd.  I read this as wishful thinking, and told Eric that I expected about nine or ten thousand people.  As we took the escalator to the upper bowl to find seating, I still hadn’t seen the inside of the arena to gauge my prediction.  We stepped through an entry tunnel to view our options, and I was stunned to find that there were almost no seats empty.  The sections behind the stage were shut down, but all open sections were looking very full.  The usher told us that Club Level seating was opening to accept the overflow, so we hit the stairs and found four seats.

We got settled just in time for the beginning of the festivities and the unveiling of the new jerseys.  The crowd was much louder (and bigger) than I’d thought it would be.  Jody Shelley and Dan Fritsche came out and modeled the new home and away jerseys.  I’ll have a little more of my thoughts on this in my next post, but I will say now that I like the new duds.

Owner John McConnell spoke before the draft officially began, and was introduced to the usual standing ovation.  People in Columbus are very grateful that he helped to bring the NHL to our town, and every time he speaks at Nationwide those in attendance show their appreciation.

I’ll have a slightly more detailed recap of Friday night up later (as the picks wore on, my commentary dried up considerably, so don’t start expecting five-star reporting, please), but the evening wore on in an interesting mesh of cheers and boos.  Mrs. EOB and I booed Gary Bettman with most of the crowd when he started talking.  We booed when other teams were announced, especially Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville, Toronto…. oh who am I kidding, we booed just about every team to varying degrees.  The crowd was especially derisive when Detroit was put on the clock, starting chants of “Red Wings suck” combined with vociferous booing and catcalling.  The gentleman (I’ll take the high road for a brief moment) behind me did his best to personally try and make more noise than the assembled throng of Blue Jacket fans by creating an extremely loud whistle right in my ear, while yelling “NO CLASS!” at the chanting fans.  What I really wanted to turn around to him and say (among other things) was a hearty, “so I guess Red Wing fans save all their class for cheering on Sergei Fedorov, eh?”  But I sat tight, plugged my ears to save my hearing, and booed with the rest of the crowd.  But when Steve Yzerman stepped to the podium, almost all of the bad blood simmered and the crowd clapped and cheered, myself included.  Stevie Y is an important hockey figure, even to those of us who never were or are no longer fans of the winged wheel, and we’re not afraid to show a little respect.

New Jackets GM Scott Howson stepped to the stage to announce the seventh pick, and was met with thunderous applause, cheering, and chants of “Let’s Go Jackets!”  I’m sure he couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the hockey fans in Columbus.  The Jackets selected Jakub Voracek with their first-round selection.  I’ll be the first to admit I had no idea who he was, but upon reading the reviews and scouting reports later that night and this weekend it sounds like he is a pretty good prospect.

After the Jackets picked, a considerable number of people went home.  But the crowd was still a good one, and there were still 22 more picks in the opening round.  Things that stuck out to me from the rest of Friday night:

  • The aforementioned Red Wings episode
  • The cheers awarded to Phoenix Coyotes owner Wayne Gretzky
  • The big roar Pittsburgh received when they were announced (it’s only three hours from Pittsburgh to Columbus, so I guess a lot of fans made the trip or already live here)
  • The chorus of boos heard when both the Leafs and Rangers were announced.  I knew I didn’t like those guys, but I didn’t know I was part of such a large movement.

The first round wrapped up, and we headed home tired from a long day at the arena.  I’ll have more later regarding Saturday, and my notes from Friday’s action.  If I’m feeling spry, I’ll also upload some pictures from the blogger meetup.

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

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Dose of Reality #57

June 24, 2007

I had a great time at the pre-Draft get together organized by Michael of Army of the Ohio. It was nice to meet the people that have such interesting things to say on their own Hockey Blogs. It was also nice to have Anheuser Busch beverages for $2.

I would state without out a doubt that Columbus done good and put on a nice NHL Draft. Nationwide Arena was full on Friday, the fans gave John McConnell and Wayne Gretzky lots of applause, they booed Gary Bettman, and showed pity to the Nashville Predator fans that made the trip, giving them encouragement and courtesy as their team disappears. I was proud of my town on Friday.

Now if we can just get through the next season, right? At least (sorry, Nashville fans) we will finish ahead of one team that beat us up on a regular basis, but Chicago and St. Louis got better, Detroit maintained, along with most of the other clubs in the West. I’m not sure how Phoenix will fare next season because their plight is similar to ours: Hold the fort one more year while the young guys get better.

Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock have their work cut out. As long as they give 100% game after game and show some improvement, I will give them 100%

-Truth Serum

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Last minute reminder

June 22, 2007

Draft reminder

 There will be, of course, the blogger/hockey fan meetup at the Bud Light Arena Pub at 4:15 (or the R-Bar at 4:30 if the BLAP is closed/unavailable).

Also, check out Mike Turner’s megapost on the draft over at Army of the Ohio.

And be sure to look over to the Neutral Zone Trap for a nice long list of things to do in Columbus this weekend, courtesy of Sarah.

Hope to see you out this afternoon!