Archive for April, 2008

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Second Round Predictions

April 25, 2008

The higher seed is listed first. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Eastern Conference

Montreal vs. Philadelphia. The Flyers surprised me against the Capitals (I picked the Caps), but I don’t think they will be able to rough up Montreal. Montreal in six.

Pittsburgh vs. New York Rangers. I thought the Rangers would fall to the Devils, but I never thought Sean Avery would be able to intimidate the whole New Jersey team. Pens in six.

Western Conference

Detroit vs. Colorado. Detroit is not wounded the way Minnesota was against Colorado. Detroit in five.

San Jose vs. Dallas. Coin toss, but I’ll go with an upset and pick Dallas in seven.

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Turnover coming?

April 9, 2008

So who will be gone from the defense corps?

Hainsey, Klesla, Tarnstrom, Hejda, Russell, Tollefsen, Rome, Wilson, or Methot? I’ll go with the mob here and agree that Tarnstrom will be playing somewhere else next season, maybe in Europe. That gets the number down to eight of the current defensemen, not including any acquisitions. One or two or them will have to go, either to Syracuse or another team.

The Blue Jackets gave up 218 goals last season, the lowest total in franchise history. Pascal Leclaire had nine shutouts, second in the NHL, and some credit should go to the defense. The team dumped its foundation, Adam Foote, at the trade deadline and then stopped winning. Foote actually scored his only goal of the season while playing for Columbus, but the team missed his punch and stopped scoring when he left. The mob out there (see Puck-rakers and other bloggers) think the defense had a lot to do with the fall of the team. For some reason, although their reasoning is not rational, these pucktards maybe right.

Their biggest villain is the #1, Ron Hainsey. Hainsey led the team in scoring, although none of his goals came at even strength. He was not the primary in shutdown situations, with that role given to Jan Hejda and then to Rusty Klesla when Foote took his act to Colorado. Hainsey had a 5.0% SOG number (percentage of shots on goal that scored) which put him in the middle of NHL defensemen, but he exceeded only Klesla and Kris Russell on his own team. These numbers aren’t really a cause for alarm; it is his market position that troubles a lot of fans.

You see, Hainsey is suddenly very marketable with these numbers, along with his size, his UFA status, all while doing this on a bad Blue Jacket team. Suddenly, Carolina and others find him very attractive and might be willing to pay him $3.5 million next season. Good for Ron, but it gags a large portion of the fan base here. For the good of both parties, it might be better to let him go.

But that leads to building your defense around Klesla and Hejda, which is not inspiring. Klesla, as you know, is the team’s first ever draft pick and he has turned out to be capable, but nothing more. Jan Hejda was a great find last year with a +20 number and a salary of only $1 million. He is also a UFA, so how much do you want to pay for very little goal production? Klesla makes around $1.5 million and he is only good for seven goals and 20 points a season, even though he earns less than Duvie Westcott. The market puts a value of about $1.5 million on Hejda, so do you want to tie up nearly $3 million on two players who will put up the same numbers as a single Ron Hainsey? Before you say yes, two players take up two roster slots. Maybe you should keep one of them and get better numbers from one of the younger players or make a trade to fill the other roster spot.

Kris Russell had a tough season as a rookie, but Ken Hitchcock did not throw him to the wolves the way Doug MacLean did to Klesla in his rookie year. The team probably thought that they could use Russell in situations where they had a lead or were tied and his offensive skills would contribute. Instead, the team could not score goals and Russell was placed in games where opponents were confidently pounding away at the Jackets because our scoring was just not there. If the team comes out of camp with more offensive strength, look for Russell to stay and contribute more. If not, look for Russell to play somewhere else.

Aaron Rome came out of nowhere and shined. If he can do it again and put up a 20 point season, the numbers he has put up in the minors, he will be more than adequate.

Filling out the prospects, you have Clay Wilson and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. I think only one of them is going to play here next season. Clay Wilson showed some flash and certainly has the confidence to be a puck carrying NHL defenseman. If he can get stronger in his own end, he stays. If NHL forwards can park in front of our net and have their way on him, he heads back to Syracuse.

OKT is a Hejda-type defenseman, focusing on defense and content to head man the puck. He seemed to play that way until he started being a tough guy, when his play suffered. If he becomes the tough guy and the team doesn’t sign someone else to fill that roll, he stays with the team, but his minutes go down. This is up to Howson and Hitchcock. And they still have to see if Marc Methot can play here.

Of the eight guys left on the team, two of them will probably move on to other organizations through free agency and one or two of them will probably be traded or sent to the minors. I have a feeling that the team will make a trade or sign a UFA to fill out the defense corps.

-Truth Serum

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First Round Predictions

April 7, 2008

Before I leave town, my quickie predictions. The higher seed is listed first. As always, I welcome your thoughts.

Eastern Conference

Montreal vs. Boston; Montreal in six.

Pittsburgh vs. Ottawa; Pittsburgh in seven.

Washington vs. Philadelphia; Washington in five.

New Jersey vs. NY Rangers;  New Jersey in six.

Western Conference

Detroit vs. Nashville;  Detroit in six.

San Jose vs. Calgary;  San Jose in five.

Minnesota vs. Colorado;  Minnesota in six, after which Adam Foote will request a trade to Columbus.

Anaheim vs. Dallas;  Anaheim in five.

-Truth Serum

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There’s losing and then there’s losing

April 4, 2008

What can you say about last night’s loss to the Red Wings except that it is symbolic of the whole season?  To quote the late Casey Stengel, “Can’t anybody here play this game?”

At least Aaron Portzline got to slam Detroit.  Hey Aaron, I can show you some areas of Columbus that you can photograph.

-Truth Serum

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Your 2008-2009 Columbus Blue Jackets

April 3, 2008

With the Blue Jacket season about to end, I start to think about next year. I did this a lot growing up a Red Wing fan. The Detroit team that I cheered on 25 years ago was pathetic, finding all sorts of ways to lose games, hiring bad coaches, playing to half-empty arenas, and working desperately to hold the fan base. Even after Mike Ilitch bought the team and hired Jim Devellano, there were some false starts that kept the team from becoming the juggernaut that it is today. But things worked out and you know the rest.

So when I think about next year, I examine this year’s roster and wonder who will be back. I hear all kinds of grumbling from disenchanted fans, but I haven’t heard much from the organization itself. I never heard Ken Hitchcock complain about the loss of Adam Foote or Sergei Fedorov. That tells me that Hitch is a coach who will work with what he has and not bug his GM to go out and get somebody else. Not everyone liked Hitch in Dallas, but he never played mind games with his players in the media. I can’t speak for what went on in private, but unlike Doug MacLean, he does not publicly ream his players.

It has been said frequently that we need a good center. Really? Who doesn’t need a good center? A Hitchcock team plays defense first, preferring to frustrate the opposition into turning over the puck. Detroit plays puck possession, believing that if you own the puck, the other team can’t score. It is easy do this when you have Nick Lidstrom playing defense for you. If a Detroit opponent gets the puck, they have to get by Lidstrom and the other capable defensemen before they can even get an offensive chance.

So with Columbus needing a certain type of center, can they either grow their own or obtain one? The first option is certainly the most cost-efficient, but who fits that description? A case can be made for Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek to become that type of center, but I don’t see a member of the current roster fitting that description. Michael Peca and David Vyborny were that style of player, but they are finishing their careers. So signing a free agent or trading for one will have to be considered. So which fast, strong, free agent defensive centerman will want to play in Columbus? Before you give me an answer, think about this: All NHLer’s want to win and play for the Cup, so what will attract them to Columbus? If they can get the same money from Vancouver, Chicago, the Islanders, Toronto, or one of the other second tier clubs, why would they come here? For the streetcar system? There is only one thing to offer them, a bigger paycheck. I don’t question Mr. McConnell’s willingness to pay a premium, but I do wonder how much of a premium he is willing to pay, even with Howson and Hitchcock running things. Fedorov will look like a bargain compared to what the available talent will command.

There are other things that I am thinking about for next year and I will get into them in the near future. Obviously, the team needs to re-evaluate and take action with the defense. Who will be in goal next year, the same pair or do we roll the dice? Will there be any turnover in the coaching department? The team only offers one-year coaching contracts that all expire on July 1. Meanwhile, all of the other teams in the Western Conference are going to make some changes that directly affect Columbus. You know Chicago will be better next season and there is always Detroit. Nashville is stabilized and St. Louis is right behind us.

-Truth Serum

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David Vyborny

April 2, 2008

The end of the Jackets season is near, unless you count the NHL Draft Lottery on Monday as the final termination point. The team may fight its way out of the lottery with two wins, which might be a positive on a year that showed some promise.

Anyway, with the season over, we will finally get a break from the constant complaining and negativity that permeates Puck-rakers. Most of the time I shrug it off, but I have to admit that the constant berating of David Vyborny got to me. I will be the first to agree with the fact that he has not had a good season, but then again, neither has Fredrik Modin.

Vyborny came here very quietly and will leave the same way. He was a fine man off the ice and he worked very hard when he put his skates on. He was a throw-back player, the kind of athlete who knew that he was playing a game and cheating time for a while longer, knowing that someday the bill would come. Well, it is due now and Columbus will never be the same.

I have written in this blog many times that the Jackets need to evaluate players not just on their physical and hockey skills, but on other things like intelligence, keeping their composure, and their character. Vyborny’s character was way above that of his teammates and probably stronger than most players in the NHL. He did a lot the little things almost perfectly, most likely to compensate for his lack of size. Remember, he joined the league before the Lockout, back when holding, hooking, and interference were not called and a player of his size was fair game. But now, age has caught up to him and he cannot deliver what is expected anymore.

I hope the team finds a way to honor him on Sunday. When Doug MacLean was the public face of the franchise, Vyborny was the guy who tried his hardest to follow through on some his GM’s pronouncements. He always had a smile on his face even though he was unhappy with the way the team played during those years. He did not like losing anymore than the next guy, but he worked his hardest every second on the ice, playing all the forward positions and even the point on powerplays.

One thing I will always remember about Vyborny was when he chided the Detroit fans for booing Sergei Fedorov whenever he touched the puck. “How can they call themselves Hockeytown when they boo him like that?” was what he said. Before you say that this was merely a player routinely sticking up for his teammate, remember that David is a Czech and Fedorov a Russian. Even though the Prague Invasion happened forty years ago, most Czechs will never forget. Jaromir Jagr wears number 68 in remembrance, not because he likes NASCAR numbers. Vyborny had respect for Fedorov and could not understand why others did not.

On Sunday, I will be sad like I always am because my local NHL season ends. But I will be even sadder because David Vyborny will never skate for the Blue Jackets again.

-Truth Serum