Archive for the ‘Kris Russell’ Category

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OK, I’ve calmed down.

July 4, 2008

I’ve caught my breath and had time to think about the Jacket roster moves over the past few days.  It’s not easy to take them in single servings, not knowing what else is going on or negotiated without all the servings on the dinner plate.  And as I write this, the team is working on other trades, so things could change even more.

First off, the team replaced David Vyborny’s numbers with Raffi Torres.  Torres is a tougher player who will certainly hit harder than Vyborny and will play adequate defense.

With the signing of Kristian Huselius, the team has picked up the numbers that Zherdev had and a little more.  Huselius won’t make me forget Nick and I admit that I think Z will get better, but he won’t have the mental lapses like Zherdev did, and will pass the puck a bit sooner and shoot quicker.

RJ Umberger will get his 20 goals and maybe (negative comment coming) get Jason Chimera to improve his game.  If Fredrik Modin can play a full season and get his 25 goals, things look bright.

On defense, the team certainly improved.  The team is now bigger, even if Kris Russell stays on the roster.  Ron Hainsey is gone, but it would have been interesting to see what kind of numbers he would have put up on this new 2008 team.  Tyutin is now the guy, unless Klesla can find more goals or someone like Clay Wilson can fill that role.  The team definitely is stronger at the blue line.  Can they score a few more goals?

Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek have replaced Gilbert Brule and Dan Fritsche, even if they don’t make the team in October.   I liked Brule, but he needed a change of address and he too, will probably have better numbers in Edmonton.

Pascal Leclaire has to put up the same numbers and Fredrik Norrena has to improve his game.  Two or three more wins from Freddy would be great.

The team looks better now, but what about the other factors?  If the team can play as well as or better than last season, it needs to also play even against Nashville and win half those games.  It needs to continue to play well against Detroit.  It needs to win against Chicago and St. Louis and stay even with them in the standings.  Five more wins will go a long way, in the standings and at the bank.

The team is now different, but they are not out of the MacLean hole yet. They are on their way to fixing that with a few more roster subtractions and scouting changes. It will finally be Scott Howson’s team at that point, resembling a modern NHL franchise instead of a PEI social club.  That will be a nice way to show John McConnell our thanks and that we won’t forget him.

-Truth Serum

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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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Post Calgary

December 20, 2007

I was busier than I planned yesterday and couldn’t get this post finished. But I’m back at it today and Drew has given me some coupons for a McDonald’s breakfast treat and the local restaurant happens to have free WiFi, so here goes.

I made a remark about officiating and to expand on that: When I saw Dave Jackson skate out on the ice Tuesday night for the Calgary game, my first thought was that, OK, we won’t see many calls tonight. Jackson is a senior official who worked some of the big games in the recent past. Cup Finals, All Star games, Olympics, he has done them all, but he is no longer a rising “star” among NHL officials and after 18 years as an official, he is established and set in his ways. His partner, Chris Rooney has about half of Jackson’s experience and would be the one to make the calls.

And they made a lot of calls and although I did not keep good records that night, it looked to me like Rooney made the majority of calls. Believe it or not, the calls were even, but the Jackets took calls at the wrong time. The call against Adam Foote for cross-checking only 25 seconds into Derek MacKenzie’s penalty was an example of this. I watched Foote raise his arms and push them as far as he could into the back of Dion Phaneuf with Chris Rooney standing about 10 feet away. Did Foote think that he was going to get away with that? If they had a video camera present, they could have shot this sequence for instructional purposes to show what cross-checking is. Foote was hosed because to make things worse, Phaneuf was not standing just outside the Blue Jacket goal crease but was further out and away from the “privileged area” that goaltenders have. As bad as this was, it did establish how the game was going to be called.

Except that later on in the game, Zherdev was clearly tripped on an offensive rush, but no call. Jason Chimera was hit in the face with a stick and probably got stitched up after the game, but no call. On the Glencross goal, Kris Russell was hauled down as he made the pass, but no call was made. So why did the officiating crew decide to call things differently after the Foote penalty? I have no idea, but want to hear what that crew was thinking.

The reason I mention the call against Foote is not to berate Adam for his poor decision, because Foote learned from that and did not commit another penalty the rest of the game. I mention it because it showed that at least ONE player on the Blue Jackets figured the officials out and then adjusted. What was Rick Nash’s problem? He earned a Slaymaker award with three costly penalties on the night when the team badly needed him to do something offensively.

People have remarked that the team has recently resembled a Gerard Gallant-coached edition, with the undisciplined play and lack of planning that marked his teams. I will agree that there are some similarities and that would be the roster, which is almost the same one that Gallant had to work with. Maybe we should re-sign Anson Carter to fill in for some of the injured players we have and the similarity would be complete.

I understand that the team is not very deep and not matching up to Calgary and others very well. If you take this game and the Boston loss together, it showed that the NHL has figured out that the way to beat the Jackets is to keep them away from the crease area and not allow them to follow-up on their shots. For both games, the Blue Jackets took more shots than their opponent, but have one goal to show for it. Instead of calling up Derick Brassard to help with the scoring issues, maybe they should consider Tommy Sestito and his size. A lot of you are saying that Ken Hitchcock needs to send a message to the players, but he did that by benching the 6’3″ Kris Beech in the third period. The team has to compete better for offensive opportunities in the crease area and you do that by establishing position and taking the punishment that comes with it. Beech and the other forward have to play this way.

The team is competing better this year, but as the season goes along, I see a few guys who won’t go into no man’s land to get some chances. Calling guys up from Syracuse is not going to help because those guys aren’t ready yet. We’ve tried Alexandre Picard many times and he still is not ready. If you think Marc Methot is ready, do you honestly think he will put up better numbers than Kris Russell?

-Truth Serum

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Mid-December

December 14, 2007

December is half over and the Jackets are holding steady, the only regret being the giveaway to Anaheim and maybe their lack of effort against Minnesota. They’ve earned eight out of a possible twelve points so far. There is a tough one coming up in Boston and then the newly motivated Calgary Flames arrive in town on Tuesday. I’ll take two points from these two games.

The last game against Colorado, 4-1, was not a thing of beauty. You didn’t see any great offensive plays nor did you see Nash and Zherdev free-wheeling through the Colorado defense. What was on display was how the team can play defense when it has nothing else in its bag. I have been critical of Adam Foote in the past, but on Wednesday he showed a lot, blocking a shot with his shoulder and making Ryan Smyth‘s life miserable. It was almost a turn back the clock night for Foote as he played Smyth the way the NHL allowed before the lockout. Of course, the NHL allows Smyth to play the old way all the time, except now he doesn’t have to pay a price for his interference and obstructing. Hats off to Adam Foote and I hope he can get away with it for more games.

At the same time we were treated to the return of Kris Russell to the lineup. He played the same way he has all season. He hasn’t scored a goal yet, but came close a couple of times. He was tough in his own end and wasn’t over matched. On the goal that Colorado scored, there seemed to be some confusion between Russell and the 5’11” Duvie Westcott on coverage. But it was a solid night for Russell.

The same night the Jackets played our old friend Joe Motzko scored two goals for the Washington Capitals. Joe is one of the many ex-Jacket defensemen playing in the NHL. Congratulations, Joe.

What about the 13,000 (really?) fans that showed up? The team is playing hard and is much better than last season (or any season), but the lack of fans is alarming. I read all the excuses over at Puck-rakers about how they still suck or ownership won’t spend money or they’ve been burned before. But with Hockey Entertainment Sales Agents (scalpers) almost giving tickets away, a person can walk up and get lower bowl seats for a nice price. The team itself has a promotion every game. Some promotions will throw in a few adult beverages to help get through the game if you are still depressed thinking about how bad they are. A hockey team is a terrible to thing to lose.

-Truth Serum

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Two Losses

December 12, 2007

I’ve been out of town and missed the last two home games, the loss to Minnesota and the OT giveaway to Anaheim. My brother in-law is too cheap to buy Center Ice, so I went out to my car on Saturday to listen to the game against the Wild. For your information, George and Bill didn’t sound much better on XM Radio. I was able to watch the Anaheim game (thank you Slingbox) and was baffled by some of the roster moves of the Jackets.

I don’t understand why you would bench a promising rookie defenseman who is doing his job and meeting expectations with a guy who has a history of taking penalties and turning over the puck. The seasoned player who replaced the rookie is minus 4 while the rookie is only minus 2 in twice as many games. If you don’t want to put the rookie on the ice in situations where he could be overwhelmed, then put him on the ice in Syracuse where he can develop and build his knowledge base. But why put in a guy who has trouble playing NHL defense?

The Jacket defense has always been suspect, from the days of Frank Kucera and Lyle Odelein to Scott LaChance and Jamie Pushor and Cale Hulse. The foundation of the defense is Adam Foote, who unfortunately will be remembered for his contract instead of his play. The team took Rostislav Klesla as its first draft pick, but we are still waiting for him to establish himself and play accordingly. The knock on Kris Russell is that he is too small, but that is what the experts said about Brian Rafalski, John-Michael Liles, Mathieu Schneider, and Kimmo Timonen, all under six foot and all playing steady defense in the NHL. If the Jackets don’t have confidence in the 5’10” Russell, then they should move him and start playing the 5’11” Westcott all the time. But history shows that the Blue Jackets have yet to roster four NHL-quality defensemen.

Ron Hainsey is starting to show some promise and I think all in all, he will meet expectations and is the real foundation. He is putting points on the board and not making the mental mistakes that he has in the past and is playing like an NHL defenseman. Defense is all about skating and positioning, being able to read the situation and reacting with text-book efficiency, no puck skills required. Decision making is based upon applying pressure and risk-taking, a process that some Jacket defensemen have not figured out and that is more worrisome than a Zamboni fire. Until somebody comes along and outplays Hainsey, he is the guy.

A lot of fans out there are ranting about lack of secondary scoring or the need for another good centerman, but I would like to see better play from the defensive corps. The team needs guys who can put pressure on the opposition into turning over the puck or force them to take low-percentage chances, get the puck up to the forwards, and keep the play in the offensive zone. If it takes bigger players or more minutes from one of the team payroll leaders, I don’t care, but get the job done.

– Truth Serum

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Hitched Horses

November 27, 2007

The Blue Jackets have performed above the expectations of just about everybody so far this season, much to the delight of this writer.  The easy mentions for reasons why are usually picked from this list of four: Hitchcock, Leclaire, Nash, and Zherdev.  I can’t argue with any of those picks as integral to the early season success of the team.

One of the things that’s intrigued me about hockey, especially recently, is who is playing against whom.  I’m not talking about Jackets vs. Wings.  I’m talking about this: when Henrik Zetterberg comes over the boards, who are we sending out against him?  As a neophyte to the game of hockey compared to many, educated solely by hockey video games, I assumed that rolling lines meant they went on the ice in order.  The more I watched and learned, this perception slowly changed.  I began to notice that the better players were out on the ice more often, which made good sense.  What only later began to dawn on me was that you’d better not have Jody Shelley on the ice when Pavel Datsyuk was out for the Wings.

I’m not sure why this didn’t dawn on me earlier (before you start laughing too hard, I’m talking about many years ago.  It’s not like I just picked up on this yesterday), as in football you match up defensive backs with wide receivers, and in baseball you commonly play the lefty/righty matchups at the plate in the late innings.  But for some reason, I was slow to connect the dots.  The I started to learn the different roles of a hockey forward: sniper, playmaker, grinder, etc.  I watched Draper, Maltby, and McCarty out against the Jackets top line time and again, and I slowly woke up.

So now that I’ve found all these great new-to-me hockey stat/analysis/etc sites, I started asking questions.  The broadcast media has been all over the “Speed Line” of Jason Chimera, Manny Malhotra, and Dan Fritsche.  I’ll be the first to admit they can be fun to watch, and based on what I heard on TV I was under the impression that these guys were the ones put out against the top line of the opponents.  So I decided to do a little checking

I went over to Behind the Net, and pulled some of the data.  In the following analysis, I’m only comparing NHL players who have played 10 or more games as of last night.

One of the stats at the center of Desjardins’ site is his “Behindthenet number”, or what I’m hoping he won’t mind I’m going to call “Rating”.  Essentially, it is the expression of the difference (at 5 on 5) between the team’s plus/minus rate when a player is on the ice and when he’s off the ice (note this is a rate per 60 minutes of ice-time).  He uses this number for each player combined with shift chart data to show quality of competition data and quality of teammate data, among other things.  These are the things that interest me in regards to my question: Who does Ken Hitchcock have playing the hard minutes in the hockey game?

My suspicions

Based on what I’ve heard from broadcasters, print media, friends, and my expectations from what I know of playing styles, I would expect the following players (in no particular order) to be leading the team in hard minutes: Michael Peca, Manny Malhotra, Jason Chimera and Adam Foote.  Peca is a former Selke winner, which indicates that someone thinks he plays decent defense.  Malhotra and Chimera always seem to play decently in their own end, so I assumed they’d be on the list.  And finally, Foote plays on the first D-man pairing, so I figured he’d see more hard minutes than most.

So what did I find?

The findings

584 players had played 10 or more games as of last night, here are the top ranked Blue Jackets.

Adam Foote – 24 games played, tied for 5th in the NHL in strength of opposition: 0.25

Jan Hejda – 23 games played, tied for 12th: 0.21

Nikolai Zherdev – 24 games played, tied for 12th: 0.21

Rick Nash – 24 games played, tied for 18th: 0.19

For additional information on this metric, check out the site.  Also, for reference, Sammy Pahlsson leads the NHL in this category at 0.33.  The average rating for players in my sample is roughly zero as you might expect (plus/minus at EV is a zero sum event).

So what about Peca, Malhotra, and Chimera?  Peca is tied for 116th with 0.08, and the entire Speed Line (plus Brule) is tied for 363rd at -0.03.

Conclusions

It’s not surprising to me that Foote and Hejda are leading the team.  They generally form the top pairing, and should play tough minutes.  Zherdev was a huge surprise to me, as until this season I’d thought of him as a defensive liability.  The same goes for Nash, to a lesser extent as he started to show some d-zone responsibility last year.  The huge shocker goes to the fact that all four of those guys are in the top 20 in the NHL is strength of opposition faced.  Perhaps three games so far against Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Lidstrom is skewing the stats?  In any event, it was interesting to see those two forwards up there.

The final interesting item lies in who is being protected from the big boys.  Ringing in at 570 of 584 with a -0.21 strength of competition is rookie defenseman Kris Russell.   I think it’s nice that the team has the luxury to be able to groom Russell in NHL game speed against competition that is relatively weak.

So now I know who Hitch is riding to success so far, and I’ll be interested to see if/how this changes as the season progresses.

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

– Drew

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Dose of Reality #77

October 16, 2007

The name of this series has not changed yet. Due to the huge number of suggestions and ideas from our readers, we here at EOB will need more time to properly evaluate them all.

So The Dispatch, some bloggers, and fans are worried about things like who will be the top center, the lack of goal scoring, Duvie Westcott, and the future of Jody Shelley. So lets take a look at these issues.

The team has never had a top center in its history. We traded away a good one, Todd Marchant, and have never replaced him. I’m not saying that Marchant was a Grade A centerman, but he was at least restaurant quality. I don’t really think having a Joe Thorton or Mats Sundin is realistic at this time and the team is competitive without one. Is Scott Howson out there shaking the trees looking to make a trade for one? I don’t think so, unless he can find a Thorton-type player out there that he can steal. I just don’t see the issue that important at this time because the season is young and the team is not scoring that much, a historic Columbus problem. Which leads to the next issue, scoring.

The undefeated Minnesota Wild have scored eleven goals in five games or 2.2 per game. The twice-beaten Jackets have scored ten goals in four games for a 2.5 clip. San Jose and Chicago are two teams in the West that have a better record than Columbus and above .500, are also scoring less than the Jackets. Obviously these three teams have winning records because they play better defense. So if we are going to be a low-scoring team, we better shore up the defense and goaltending or it will be a short season. In fact, Scott Burnside of ESPN has something to say about this:

So, when does “it’s early” become “it’s too late”? Well, if history is any indication, many teams will have crossed that all-important line by Halloween.

A quick look at the standings on Nov. 1, 2006 shows that teams that endured a rough start to the season found it very difficult to get back into a playoff spot, especially in the Western Conference. Of the top eight teams in the West, only one team didn’t maintain its standing within the top eight — the Edmonton Oilers, who held down the eighth and final playoff spot last Nov. 1 but tumbled all the way to 12th by the end of the season. The Calgary Flames (3-7-1 a month in) were the only team that managed to shake off a wobbly start and qualify for the postseason.

The wheels have come off in Nashville where, after two wins to open the season, Chris Mason has collapsed and the Preds have lost three straight. Phoenix and Columbus, both of whom have played surprisingly well out of the gate (2-3 and 2-2, respectively), simply don’t have the horses. Throw them all together and you’ve got five of seven teams likely to be sitting in about the same place when the season closes out next spring — outside the playoff dance hall.

The Blue Jackets are currently at .500 and their tenth game will be against the Sharks on October 27.

So lets jump to Duvie Westcott next. I get comments all the time saying that I am too hard on Duvie, I put too much value into Kris Russell, and that I should lose 30 pounds. Well, I do get upset with Westcott at time because of two things; his penchant for taking a penalty because he gets beat and the high number of turnovers that he creates. Both of these are fixable if he will play his position better (more conservatively) so that he does not get beat and if will come back to reality and play at the appropriate level of his skill set. I look at Kris Russell who is quite a bit younger than Westcott and he matches up to him in a number of ways. The two areas where Russell draws praise are A, his knack for being in the right position all the time and B, his puck carrying skills that create offensive opportunities. Before you all jump on me and point out the times when he has coughed up the puck, please note that Russell is even with two points and Westcott is minus two with no points. Russell has 2:00 and Westcott has 16:00 in penalties. And as I have said, it won’t take much for Westcott to change, just stay in position and pass the puck more.

And I’ve lost 15 pounds.

We all have known that Jody Shelley has a limited shelf life. He is a role player who took over an unfilled position on the team a few years ago to keep other teams honest. He has always worked hard and given us 100%. He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and much more intelligent than you expect. Role players have short careers and Jody’s eyes are open, fully understanding this. I have been surprised by the fact that he has yet to make an appearance this season, but I understand what Ken Hitchcock is thinking by keeping him out of the lineup. But I am not worried about Jody because if his days here in the Columbus lineup are coming to an end, I will see and/or hear him on broadcasts, see him doing commercials, and see the kids all filled with joy as they attend his hockey schools. He will do well.

-Truth Serum