Archive for the ‘In the system’ Category

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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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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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2007 Spotlight on: Right Wings

June 15, 2007

In a continuation of the season ending review process, here is my take on the right wings in the organization.

Right Wing

David Vyborny

– Age – 32

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – A skilled playmaker, Vyborny is solid in all aspects of the game.  He tirelessly plays defense, looks to set up his teammates, and makes those around him better.  If you see David make a glaring error on the ice, you’d better mark that day down because it doesn’t happen very often.

– Cons – The one knock on Vyborny that sticks is that he doesn’t shoot enough.  He has the skill to score the highlight reel goals (see December 26, 2006 against Boston if you can find the video), but is often unselfish to the point that it’s painful to watch.  The only other negative thing regarding Vyborny is that this is likely his last year in Columbus, as he has stated his desire to return to the Czech Republic to raise his family.  And you can’t really complain about such noble intentions. 

– If I were GM/Coach – Beg and plead with Vyborny to get him to stay as long as possible.  His chemistry with left winger Freddy Modin was great last season, and it would be nice to have the two of them serve together a few more seasons.  That’s the business response.  The personal response will be to throw David a low-key party in May next year (because no matter how optimistic I try to be, this team is not making the playoffs next season as of right now), give him his retirement watch, and send him across the Atlantic with the best wishes you can muster.  We’ll see what happens.

Nikolai Zherdev

– Age – 22

-Status – Signed through 2008-09

-Pros – When he decides to grace the team with a little effort and unselfish play, Nik Zherdev is a jaw-dropping talent.  He’ll never win a Selke Trophy, but he has shown (in stretches of time as long as an entire period!) that he does know how to play defense.  Where Zherdev earns the fan’s dollars is with the puck carefully dancing on the end of his stick.

– Cons – Where do I begin.  I suppose the most important negative about Zherdev as a hockey player is his attitude.  He often comes across as a lazy primadonna, unwilling to play any resemblance of a team game if it sacrifices his ability to “be cool”.  Reluctance to pass the puck, often drawing his linemates offside, and lackluster effort regarding his defensive responsibilities are just a few of the reasons that Zherdev is vilified by fans, media, and anonymous teammates alike.

– If I were GM/Coach – With two seasons and $5.75 million left on his contract, I’m willing to bet that the whopping (10-22-32) in 71 games was the last thing other than a career-ending injury that anyone involved with or cheering for the Blue Jackets organization wanted to see.  For the fans, it sucked hard to have a guy hold out for more money and then have him go out and put up one dud of a year.  For the management, Zherdev was catered to, bombed, and in seven months went from a guy on the rise to an untradeable cancer.  So… what would I do?  What can you do?  I would keep him on the second or third line and hope he plays out of his funk this season so I can realize some trade value.  Zherdev will play well for someone, but I don’t think it will be for Ken Hitchcock.  Nik currently has 50 goals for Columbus in his NHL career.  I’m putting the over/under for the total goals he scores in the Jacket crest at 75.  What’s your bet?

Dan Fritsche

– Age – 21

-Status – Restricted Free Agent

-Pros – A hard-nosed grinder, who started coming into his own last year until his freak wrist injury (tendons severed by a skate blade).  Dan fit in very well with Manny Malhotra and Jason Chimera on the third-line.  He hits, plays solid defense, kills penalties, skates hard, scores a little more than expected (his 82-game pace last year was for 17-21-38), and is another guy who gives quiet effort whenever he hops over the boards.

– Cons – While no particular body area seems to be recurring, Danny has suffered more than his share of injuries in his relatively short NHL career.  He’s played in 137 games, and has missed 29 games over three seasons in four separate incidents.  Fritsche’s aggressive style of play does put him in the line of fire more than some NHL’ers.

– If I were GM/Coach – Danny is another great fit for Ken Hitchcock’s system of full-ice responsibility.  His ability to mesh with his linemates makes the third line one of my favorites to watch.  Qualify Fritsche with an offer, and unless things get incredibly out of hand I’d match any offer he sees from another team.

Position overview

According to TSN.ca, these are the only three guys regularly playing right wing for the Jackets.  So who fills in the other spot(s)?  Failed experiment Anson Carter played there much of the season before getting shipped to Carolina, Gilbert Brule played some wing, Aaron Johnson was moved to winger late in the season as it became more and more apparent that he can’t play defense at the NHL level, Steven Goertzen spent a little time last season with the club but hasn’t been seen in Columbus since Hitchcock took over, and Joakim Lindstrom spent a little time there as well (if I remember correctly).  Though the first three slots at this position are pretty well decided as of this moment, I’d go after a right winger who can fit into that second to fourth line spot.  It’s a pipe dream to imagine that Zherdev is going to be able to stick on the second line all year, and it would be nice to have a guy who could fit in that spot when the inevitable occurs.

In the system

TSN.ca notes the following players as right wings in the Blue Jacket organization: Steven Goertzen (see above); Tim Konsorada (has been statistically underwhelming in 28 career AHL games, which is code for “never heard of him”); Adam Pineault (spent one day with Columbus this past season, but did not play.  I’d imagine we may see him some this season.); and Brandon Sugden.  Sugden’s inclusion shows how far behind TSN’s coverage of the CBJ is, as Brandon announced his retirement on December 7, 2006.

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2007 Spotlight on: Left Wings

June 13, 2007

In a continuation of the season ending review process, here is my take on the left wings in the organization.

Left Wing

Rick Nash

– Age – 22

-Status – Signed through 2009-10

-Pros – Rick possesses proven scoring ability, and playing under Ken Hitchcock he has developed into a more responsible defensive player as well.  When Nash is on his game, he is one of the top players in the league.

– Cons – Rick has been known to press too hard, and sometimes refuses to let the game come to him.  When he gets in these stretches, he will constantly have you on the edge of your seat.  Unfortunately, you rarely stand up and cheer. 

– If I were GM/Coach – Give Rick the captaincy.  He’s become the complete player we all wanted, and I have to wonder how much the team can rally behind Adam Foote these days.  Rick is the face of the franchise, and the next weapon to add to his arsenal is leadership.  I’d stop spending so much money on guys over the age of 35, and start finding ways to get more players like Nash (in terms of skill, tenacity, etc.) in the organization.  I know it’s not that simple, but that has to be a management goal.

Fredrik Modin

– Age – 32

-Status – Signed through 2009-10

-Pros – A prototype player for Ken Hitchcock’s system.  Fredrik is sound defensively, and works hard in the offensive zone.  Despite performing a little below expectations, Modin has showed that he still has gas left in the tank.

– Cons – It’s hard for me to find something not to like about Freddy Modin.  I guess I’ll have to say I’d like to see his offensive production improved in the upcoming season.  To me, Modin is one of the two Blue Jackets that I simply don’t worry about.  David Vyborny is the other.

– If I were GM/Coach – I pat myself on the back for getting a three-year extension signed with Modin (thanks, Doug!).  Modin should anchor the second line this year, and continue to play in all situations.

Jason Chimera

– Age – 27

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – A fleet grinder, Chimera occassionally displays scoring prowess.  You can count on Jason to kill penalties, throw his body around for fun, and put up 30-40 points in a year.

– Cons – Entering the offensive zone with the puck at blazing speed, Chimera is famous for not doing anything with the puck and skating around the perimeter of the boards.  A different “move” would enable the Jackets to convert his speed into more scoring chances.  Also, it sometimes seems like Jason closes his eyes before loosing a booming slapshot.  I’ve never seen anyone miss the net so regularly from 20-30 feet.  And not just by an inch or two, we’re talking multiple feet, here.

– If I were GM/Coach – I try to keep Jason around as long as possible.  I see Jason as a “heavier-hitting-if-slightly-less-skilled” version of Kris Draper.  A guy who can contribue a medium amount of skill with his willingness to bang around and help the team (in ways that don’t show up on the scoresheet) is someone worth rewarding.

Jody Shelley

– Age – 31

-Status – Signed through 2007-08

-Pros – Jody is a hard worker, a fan favorite, and is big.  Oh, and he throws a nice haymaker.

– Cons – A hard-working guy who can’t skate well, stickhandle, or score is still a guy who can’t skate, stickhandle, or score.

– If I were GM/Coach – I let Jody play out this final season of his contract, and do not re-sign him.  I said this a year ago, and Doug MacLean had him signed to a two-year extension shortly thereafter.  Please, Mr. GM-to-be-named, do not sign Jody Shelley to another extension.  I love the guy as much as the next fan, but we don’t need him.  Others who can contribute more to the team can throw fists around as well.  Thanks.

Alexandre Picard

– Age – 21

-Status – Restricted Free Agent

-Pros – This guy displays no fear (as long as he doesn’t have the puck).  I’m stretching right now to list this as a pro.

– Cons – Picard often looks like he’s not quite sure what to do offensively.  Defensively, he can skate fourth-line duty, I think, but on the “fun” side of the ice he is lost.  He seems to do decently in Syracuse (26-33-59 in 93 games played), but the NHL game still is above Alexandre’s head.  I have no idea if it’s a case (solely) of pushing him too fast to where he is, or if he is one of those guys who simply plateau’s at the AHL level, but he’s not contributing all that much right now.

– If I were GM/Coach – If I can re-sign him at a discount from his current $984,000 salary, I talk to Alexandre to set the expectation that unless there is a significant injury problem in Columbus that I will expect him to put a full season in at Syracuse.  Go from being a half-point a game guy in the AHL, to being (hopefully) a full-point per game guy, and then we’ll talk about putting you on the third or fourth line in Columbus.  If he’s going to demand any significant raise, I don’t know how you hold onto a property like this (yes, it’s a business, he’s a property).  He’s a guy you’d be afraid to let go too soon, because he does have a lot of room to grow.  But it’s difficult to justify paying $1,000,000 a year for a half of a point per.

Position overview

It’s far from being an embarrassment of riches, but with the presence of a guy like Rick Nash who is on the cusp of All-NHL status, a very solid second-liner in Fredrik Modin, and a serviceable grinder in Jason Chimera the left wingers may be the deepest position on the big club.  With Shelley and Picard, you’ve got one guy who’s very likely on the downslope of his career and one who desperately needs to experience an upslope.  I don’t see this group changing all that much, if at all, this year.  Unless something falls into the new GM’s lap, the left wingers are set.

In the system

TSN.ca notes the following players as left wings in the Blue Jacket organization: Philippe Dupuis, Curtis Glencross, and Jaroslav Balastik.  I’ve not seen Dupuis play (he had 11-11-22 in 51 games at Syracuse last season); Glencross, who came to Columbus with Zenon Konopka from Anaheim for Mark Hartigan and Joe Motzko, has showed he can score in the AHL (25-26-51 in 60 games last season) but has not done much in the NHL; and Jaroslav Balastik was assigned to HV71 of the Swedish Elite League after 8 games this past season so I doubt we’ll see him donning the CBJ crest anytime soon (unless they have an “old-timers” shoot-out competition).

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Try not to read between the lines

May 4, 2007

I saw on CBS Sportsline today that the Blue Jackets signed goaltender Steve Mason to a three-year entry level contract.  The 19-year old netminder was selected in the second round of last year’s entry draft, and recently was named the OHL’s goaltender of the year.

While he had a heck of a year, I hope the Jackets management (whomever this may turn out to be) will let him season in the AHL before throwing him in the shark tank.  The article brings up the goaltending struggles of the big club, but I’d be more worried if the words were coming from a Jackets spokesperson instead of an AP wire report.  I need to stop looking at this so deep.

And in other news…

As seen in yesterday’s Dispatch, defenseman Duvie Westcott has finally received a clean bill of health and was cleared for takeoff this week.  Playing in only 23 games this past season, Westcott was out for much of the second half with post-concussion symptoms.  Duvie says he hopes to schedule regular workouts during the offseason to prepare for training camp.  Unless major changes are in place with personnel, I would assume that Westcott will compete for the 4-6 defenseman spot.  A year ago I said that Duvie could be the best D-man on the team in a few years, but I think that the injuries he’s suffered have set him back considerably.  I still believe he has that potential, but he will have to remain healthy to have a shot.

Stay tuned for the Spotlight Series starting up in the next week or two (or whenever… it’s the offseason!).  Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench, come back soon.

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CBJ Prospect Update: Kris Russell

December 29, 2006

I don’t normally mention junior or minor league players in the Blue Jackets system, mostly because for many years there hasn’t been too much to talk about.  The times they are a changin’.

Truth Serum mentioned Kris the other day in comments on his column, and as it turns out he’s not going to be the only one noticing the young defenseman.

Russell, a rear-guard who plays for the Medicine Hat Tigers and currently for Team Canada in the World Juniors, scored two goals for his country to help the team clinch first place in their group.

Full story at TSN.ca

Kris was the Jackets third pick, 67th overall, in the 2005 Entry Draft.

Hat tip to Truth Serum for the find.