Archive for September, 2007

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Dose of Reality #73

September 28, 2007

Hockey fans lost a great treasure this week when Jim Lorentz, the color man on Sabres broadcasts, decided to retire. Lorentz was teamed with Rick Jeanneret and the two of them were fun to listen to, even if they were somewhat biased. Lorentz was a former center in the NHL who ended his career as a Sabre. He was always well prepared for games and never got lost during his broadcasts. Enjoy your retirement, Jim.

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When will the NHL crack down on hits to the head? This week, Dean McAmmond of Ottawa received a vicious hit from Steve Downie of Philadelphia. Every hockey league in the world has a penalty for head contact, no matter how clean or incidental the contact is, except for the NHL. For example, take a look at Rule 616 in the USA Hockey Official Rules. (You’ll have to download the PDF)

A minor penalty, major penalty, or major penalty plus game misconduct … shall be assessed to any player who intentionally or recklessly contacts a player in the head …

The NFL does not allow hits to the head, so why does the NHL? And I am tired of hearing the argument that a hit to the head is acceptable as long as it is delivered cleanly, such as with the shoulder. Anyone out there who has ever played the game knows what it feels like when you get a forearm, shoulder, or stick to the head. I never cared how it was delivered, I just hated it, once my head cleared.

***UPDATE***

Downie was given a 20 game suspension today.  Details are here.

-Truth Serum

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Dose of Reality #72

September 26, 2007

Bill Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks and a powerful, behind-the-scenes member of the NHL, died early Wednesday of cancer.  I lived in Chicago and went to many hockey games during my long time there.  Wirtz was not a fan favorite with hockey people in that city, a situation that is probably the opposite of how well-liked John McConnell is here in Columbus.  Most of the reports that you have heard about Wirtz and the team are true:  He would not televise home games, was a penny-pincher who didn’t care about winning as long as he made a profit, drove Bobby Hull and other stars out of town, and other short-sighted stuff.  I recommend that you read Steve Rosenbloom’s piece with the understanding that Rosenbloom made a career writing critical stories about the guy.

Wirtz’s death will probably change the way the NHL does business.  By that, I mean the Chicago franchise will probably become a lot more progressive and fan-friendly, maybe even put itself up for sale.  If the sleeping Blackhawks wake up and start winning, the entire NHL will have to stop taking the team for granted.  Chicago is a great sports town and they love their teams.  Imagine a city of that size, 9.5 million in the metro area, loving hockey again.

-Truth Serum

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Previewing the Red Wings

September 25, 2007

In a continuation of the Central Division Preview Series headed up by Dave at Gorilla Crouch, this week it’s the Red Wing bloggers with their take on the upcoming season.

Gorilla CrouchDave asks his key questions about the upcoming season.

Behind the JerseyChristy sums up her thoughts on the Red Wings’ chances.

George Malik – Over at Kukla’s Korner, George writes the book on Detroit in ’07-’08.

Abel to Yzerman – IwoCPO injects his brand of humor in his look at the forwards.  Look around later today for his look at the defensemen and other personnel.

All seem to agree (and who am I to rock the boat?) that Detroit is the class of the Central.

If any other previews pop up, I’ll add them to the list.  Thanks for stopping by.

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Dose of Reality #71

September 25, 2007

This morning, Aaron Portzline of The Dispatch has a blog speculating as to the opening day roster of the Blue Jackets. His line combinations are:

F1: Rick Nash, Derick Brassard, David Vyborny
F2: Fredrik Modin, Sergei Fedorov, Dan Fritsche
F3: Jason Chimera, Michael Peca, Gilbert Brule
F4: Jody Shelley, Manny Malhotra, Jiri Novotny
Spare: Nikolai Zherdev

Portzline is diligent and writes carefully, but I have to disagree with him on that “spare”. I agree with most people that Zherdev has not had a great camp, but only because he hasn’t put up the numbers that go with his contract. Teams like the Blue Jackets, meaning teams that are not deep in NHL talent and a sure playoff spot, can’t afford to scratch a guy like Zherdev and play Jody Shelley. If the team truly cannot play him, then by all means a trade should be pursued as quickly as possible.

I am not a member of the Nikolai Zherdev Fan Club, but simply do not think that it is time to give up on Z and potentially squander him. Yes, the argument can easily be made that Zherdev is the one who squandered all of his opportunities and we can also thank Doug MacLean for signing Zherdev to the exact contract that he and his agent sought, but do we really want to give up on him at this time? And you have to think of next season (the real point of this season) and see the roster hole created by the departure of Fedorov and think about having to fill the places of Zherdev AND Fedorov. Portzline makes a lot of good points in his blogging and reporting, but you get more scoring, fewer penalties, more options, and a piece that the opposition has to defend against with Zherdev compared to Jody Shelley. Shelley gets about five minutes of ice time a game, so the pay rate is about the same when prorated. If Zherdev’s time is up (and the signs are becoming apparent), then trade him and get some value.

The other part of Portzline’s blog covers the defense:

D1: Rostislav Klesla, Jan Hejda
D2: O-K Tollefsen, Adam Foote
D3: Duvie Westcott, Kris Russell
Spare: Ron Hainsey

Again, I have to ask, where is the thought process? I strongly think that Russell will move to the second pair within a month unless he gets injured, but Portzline is counting on a consistent Klesla, a healthy and rational Adam Foote, and Duvie Westcott not taking the penalties that he is prone to AND matching up against strong NHL forwards AND not trying to carry the puck too much. Do all of these things fall into place this season? So if you think you have a Kris Russell who can play the way Westcott should, why do you need to dress Duvie and scratch Ron Hainsey? Hainsey suffers from the fact that he is a big, fast defenseman but does not score at will. He is not Scott Stevens, but he has adapted his game to the new NHL and does not go out and try to drive people through the boards. The fans think that he should put up 15 goals per season and have the occasional fight, but you will get those numbers from Russell and supposedly Klesla. If a game is getting physical and tough, who would you rather see on the ice, Hainsey or Westcott?

-Truth Serum

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Dose of Reality #70

September 21, 2007

In case you haven’t heard, Absolute Hockey is having some difficulty getting their money together to buy the Tampa Bay Lightning.  None other than Doug MacLean himself is part of the Absolute group, but I doubt if he has any of his own money put up.  The Jackets are hoping that the sale goes through because they would be off the hook for his $800,000 buyout.  I have mixed feelings about this; I would love to see Doug get out of town and screw up another NHL franchise, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him assigned to some scouting duty in the prairies of Manitoba, either.

Maybe we Blue Jacket fans could get together and show our generosity and donate to Absolute Hockey.  It’s not tax deductible, but neither is a Blue Jacket PSL despite the sales line you hear from your customer service rep at Nationwide.  If you want to know more about what Doug has done for hockey in Central Ohio, check out his old blog, The Secret Diary of Doug MacLean.  This site has been around for a long time, long before the Fire Doug MacLean site,  but obviously is inactive.  But if you read the diary, it will help you appreciate our former GM much more and perhaps you will feel like making a contribution so that the good people of Tampa Bay can benefit from his management.

I’ll check with Huntingon, the official bank of the Blue Jackets, to see if a deposit account can be set up so that you can simply hit one of their branches and unload some money.

-Truth Serum

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Dose of Reality #69

September 19, 2007

Blackhawks 4, Blue Jackets 3.

I enjoyed watching the future of the team last night. Watching Brassard, Brule, Voracek, Zherdev, Tollefsen, and of course Kris Russell, was a lot of fun, exciting, even comforting. Sure, the Blackhawks won the game and Jonathan Toews is going to be a fine NHL player, but the future looks good for Columbus. These kids are going to skate from start to finish, to compete, and they are going to find a way to win. It was almost worth the $80 that the team charged me for a pre-season contest.

But I especially loved watching Kris Russell play the game. His head was always up and he was always moving. In case you haven’t heard (sarcasm), Kris is only five foot whatever and he weighs less than an Ohio State safety! But you know, guys that size who have talent and brains and desire usually figure out a way to gain an edge and sonofagun, he uses his skating ability to always be in position so that he doesn’t have to play bang the body or catch up! He is going to be great and it was a pleasure to watch him play as if he has been at an NHL blueline all his life.

I wouldn’t want to be fighting Russell for a roster spot.

-Truth Serum

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Blue Jackets 2007-08 Season Preview

September 18, 2007

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.

Additions

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.

Subtractions

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).

Thoughts

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.