It’s been too long, people. I’ve been quiet, consumed with things the average hockey blog reader simply does not care about. And in my carefree absence, I completely forgot that I’d committed to produce a season preview for my beloved hockey squad. So putting the excuses behind me, on with it already!
I’ve noticed that it’s been very popular thus far in the previews I’ve read to go through the roster and give thoughts on each player. I did this after last season, and I’ve made the decision to take more of a “Zoomed Out” approach to my preview. I’ve done my microscopic analysis, now it’s time for me to see the forest for the trees, so to speak. I’ll examine personnel additions/subtractions, and some general thoughts.
Scott Howson – General manager. I’ll be brief, here. Simply put, a change was needed. We had the GM full of fire, brimstone, and bluster. And now, it appears (before games have been played and hearts begin to break) that we have a sound businessman at the helm. I’m excited for the change at the top, if only to see how things will be different. A lot of candidate names were bandied about, and every time a name was withdrawn you could feel the knife turning in the guts of many CBJ fans. All that is behind us, and we must support our team and let them know that we expect a plan for competitiveness. Howson will not have the seven-year leash that MacLean had, let’s hope that things work out for him and the patient fans.
Jan Hejda – Defenseman, acquired as an unrestricted free agent from the Edmonton Oilers. This signing didn’t garner much press beyond I-270, but I think if you look beyond the surface that this deal could be the best the Jackets made this summer. Why? Well, I’ll explain my train of thought. Scott Howson was the assistant GM in Edmonton prior to joining the Columbus organization. I read many accounts from Edmonton fans when Howson left that they were concerned that the brains of the front office left, saddling them with Kevin Lowe. Hejda made his NHL debut with Edmonton last season, and one could easily make the mental connection that Howson is familiar with what kind of player he is. When the free agent signing period started, the Blue Jackets sat quietly (which seemed painful to some fans who apparently would prefer that we spend $8 million on Scott Gomez) and let the rest of the NHL fight over the high priced stars. Newly minted as GM, Howson picked up who he presumably thought was the best value at defense for our system. Howson knows his coach, knows the type of player the coach is looking for, and went out and got a player one could reasonably assume he knows well. If Hejda is good enough for our GM, I’m willing to say it’s a good signing. Not every deal has to be for millions of dollars to make sense.
Jiri Novotny – Center, acquired as a free agent from Washington. I don’t know a lot about Novotny, other than that he was included in the trade from Buffalo to Washington in the Zubrus trade. I remember that he was the young whippersnapper who I mentally gave credit for injuring Sergei Fedorov last preseason, but I won’t pretend to know about strengths and weaknesses. I’m hopeful that he will be able to add depth down the middle, as this is something the Blue Jackets sorely lack.
Kris Beech – Center, acquired as a free agent from Washington. Here’s another guy I know little to nothing about. I would guess he was brought in to add depth as well, and will provide competition for playing time either on one of the checking lines or in Syracuse.
Michael Peca – Center, acquired as a free agent from Toronto. After Alexander Svitov shocked the world by opting to play in Russia instead of for the Blue Jackets (if you did not detect the sarcasm in the previous sentence, please read it again and see what you think), CBJ fans were left up in arms about what to do about the lack of depth in the center position (forgetting that we’d added depth at center all summer… see above). The eyes of everyone locked on Michael Peca. “Hey, everybody!!! Mike Peca is still available. It would give the CBJ an opportunity to sign someone for more than a million dollars a year and save our ‘free agent season’!!! Let’s do it!” Respectfully, Peca is a noted face-off artist and plays hard-nosed defensive hockey. Realistically, it’s a lot of money for a guy not noted for his scoring ability, not to mention one who spent much of the season on Injured Reserve due to a broken leg. Offensive players who can’t play defense are of no use to this organization, so in this respect I guess I appreciate the fact that at least on paper the addition of Peca “makes this team harder to play against”. And to piggyback on my Hejda comments, Howson knows him so it should all work out, right? We’ll see.
Alexander Svitov – Center. Signed a two-year contract extension, and then weeks later decided to stay in Russia to play at home. I won’t even begin to assume that I can know what it’s like to be thousands of miles away from home (and getting paid millions to be there). So I’ll look at this practically: for all Svitov was pumped up to be, we’ll be missing a grand total of 18 points. Let it go. I mean, heck… even Peca (15 points) did almost that in less than half as many games. Now that’s trading up!
Anders Eriksson – Defense. A guy you never really notice, Eriksson was a 6th/7th defenseman on a team not noted for it’s defense. Read into that whatever you want. On the one hand, it’s nice to have someone available to suck up some even strength minutes (usually with a plus rating). On the other, it’s not like we lost the best defenseman in the league.
Bryan Berard – Defense. One word: finally. Next!
Aaron Johnson – Defense. Even when the team was suiting up Fedorov on the blueline, Johnson got moved to fourth-line winger. That’s not a good sign. He was not tendered a qualifying offer and has since signed with the Islanders. We wish you the best in your future endeavors.
Doug MacLean – General Manager. Again… fairly brief. As time wore on, it became apparent that Doug was unable to admit mistakes. I know that nobody willingly makes moves that would jeopardize their own career. I’m not suggesting that Doug knew then what we all know now. But instead of trying to right the ship, MacLean always seemed to try and cover his own ass. That might work once, but after a few times (okay, maybe a few years in some owners cases) people catch on. We wish Doug the best in Tampa (and really feel bad for Marc Denis).
Sarah mentioned in her preview that she’d be happy if the Jackets were still in the playoff picture past November. I think most Blue Jacket fans feel the same way. We’re not asking for a Stanley Cup to be delivered in June (though please do not assume we wouldn’t answer the door if the UPS man delivered it), just to have an opportunity to be competitive.
All the right things are being said as we go into this season. We’re trying to be a harder team to play against. Physical conditioning is being addressed (I guarantee Scott Howson doesn’t want that call from Brian Burke suggesting that his players get in shape). Winning starts with attitude, and the way of thinking in Nationwide Arena is changing.
I want to look forward to games against Detroit and Colorado, and not simply throw up my hands in futility at the opening face-off because we are a scrimmage team to them. I want to play meaningful games in March (hell, even in January would be a change). When Barry Melrose gets his two minutes each week towards the end of the season to talk about the playoff picture, I want the CBJ crest to be on the screen fighting for that 8th spot. I don’t want to be the laughingstock of the NHL. I don’t want journalists and bloggers in other cities to refer to us as patient fans because we have to put up with the same shit year after year.
I want competitiveness.
Will I get it? I think so. I don’t expect the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs, but I expect that they can pull things together and make some semblance of a run. The Central Division will be more competitive this year, with Chicago and St. Louis both improving. Nashville is not expected to be as dominant this year, and Detroit is Detroit. It will be a difficult road to hoe, but with all the talk being about how much tougher this squad will be I think it should be fun to watch.
Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench. Hockey starts soon, so we’ll be back on a more regular schedule. Be sure to stop by and see the other previews noted in the previous post.