Archive for April, 2010

29
Apr
10

Trail Mix

The biggest upset of my hockey-watching life was last night and today was a bit of recovery from the hangover after the big win. Just a few news items to share with you today:

From BlueJackets.com:

The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed defenseman Cody Goloubef to a standard three-year entry-level contract, General Manager Scott Howson announced Arpil 29. As is club policy, terms were not disclosed.

Goloubef, 20, (pronounced GO-luh-behf) registered three goals and 11 assists for 14 points, 64 penalty minutes and was +13 in 42 games during his junior season at the University of Wisconsin (Western Collegiate Hockey Association) in 2009-10. He ranked third among club defensemen in points and plus/minus rating and helped the Badgers reach the National Championship game.

Nice to see one of the second round draft pick getting his chance in the pros, I doubt that we’ll see much of Goloubef in Columbus except for training camp. Will be interesting to see what kind of contract he received.

Puck-rakers had the jump on the newly signed goaltending prospect:

Wesslau would be the unknown among Blue Jackets fans. He’s a 25-year-old with a big frame: 6-4, 198 by last measure. He’s spent the last two seasons playing for Djurgardens in the Swedish Elite League.

In 32 games with Djurgardens this season, Wesslau had a .917 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against average and three shutouts. His save percentage was second in the league behind Jacob Markstrom. In 15 playoff games, he had a .940 save percentage and 1.80 goals-against average.

The one-year contract has a two-way option. Wesslau will make considerably less money at the AHL level than he would if he was recalled by the Blue Jackets. The plan, at least on paper, is for Wesslau to play in Springfield next season, with Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon the 1-2 punch in Columbus.

“(Gustaf) knows the situation, that we have two NHL goalies here,” Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson said. “He wants an opportunity to come over (to North America) and play.”

It’s not news that the Blue Jackets organizational depth at goalie is not good, and this more than likely mean the Blue Jackets will not be re-signing either Dan Lacosta or Kevin Lalande.

And finally from today’s Dispatch:

Kevin Dineen, a former Blue Jackets player and development coach, was given clearance by the Buffalo Sabres to interview for the Blue Jackets’ job, according to NHL sources. He has spent the past four seasons coaching Portland, Maine, of the American Hockey League, Buffalo’s top minor-league affiliate.

Neither Howson nor Dineen would comment on the report.

On Monday, Howson was granted permission by the Vancouver Canucks to interview minor-league coach Scott Arniel, who has spent the past four seasons coaching Manitoba of the AHL.

It was unclear last night whether Howson had asked for permission to interview Nashville associate coach Brent Peterson, even though the Predators’ season ended Monday in a first-round playoff loss to Chicago. Predators general manager David Poile did not comment through a spokesman.

The rumors and innuendo will now begin to fly as two of the up-and-coming coaches from the AHL will get their chance to stand behind the bench of the Blue Jackets. Random thought: do these guys want to coach the Jackets? I mean, it has been one of the most volatile coaching positions in the NHL since its inception, and there is no history of success. Or Kevin Dineen, Arniel, Boucher, etc. see it as a great opportunity to make it big with a team that has no tradition and history, that has a lot of the right pieces in place, and has a fan base just waiting to be tapped.

Finally, my prediction for the second round series opening tonight (Wings-Sharks). As I type this, it’s the end of the 1st intermission, and the Wings are down 3-1. That’s why I’ll go ahead and say Wings in six.

Go Jackets.

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28
Apr
10

I can’t hear you Ted

An epic epic collapse was complete tonight with the Washington Capitals falling in game 7 to the #8 seed Montreal Canadiens. After being down 3-1 in the series, the Habs came back to win the series and shock the Red Nation. I guess we won’t be seeing Obama at a hockey game this year…

I really look forward to Washington Capitals Owner Ted Leonsis’ rationalization and explanation of his teams failings in the playoffs. Will he give credit to “the player” who predicted this type of collapse? Doubtful. Will he admit the team wasn’t where it should be and fire Boudreau and his awesome PR department? Probably not.

As chronicled almost 4 weeks ago, “the player” mentioned earlier, Blue Jackets own RJ Umberger, called out the Capitals for not playing the right way. These comments sent shock waves through the blogosphere, and will ring true for a while now that he was proven right.

It won’t happen, but I’d absolutely love to see my good buddy Nate Ewell send out a bit of an admission and/or apology for his personal attacks on Umberger after his comments about the Caps. Meanwhile we can all look forward to The Pensblog guys eulogy of the Caps on tomorrow’s Puck Daddy.

Eat it

27
Apr
10

Get the ball rolling

As announced by The Dispatch today, the process has begun in earnest to find the next bench boss for the Blue Jackets:

The Blue Jackets search for a new coach has begun inching forward, The Dispatch has learned.

Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson on Monday was granted access by an NHL club to one of the candidates on his short list. It’s believed the candidate was Scott Arniel, coach of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose in the Vancouver organization.

With now 4 different clubs searching for a head coach (Columbus, Atlanta, Tampa, and New Jersey), I find it highly unlikely that Howson will be dragging his feet with the potential candidates teams being eliminated from the playoffs or catching a break in their schedules.

In New Jersey the buzz is growing that Ken Hitchcock is the logical replacement for Jacques Lemaire:

Ken Hitchcock, out of an NHL job since being fired as head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets on Feb. 3, is ready to make a comeback and take aim on 600 career wins.

“Do I have the burn to coach? You bet,” Hitchcock said. “But that will have to wait until someone talks to the Blue Jackets.”

Hitchcock, 58, has two years remaining on his contract with the Blue Jackets at $1.3 million per season. But that would likely be a minor point if Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello wants him.

It could, in fact, be a perfect fit. Hitchcock’s coaching philosophy is not unlike that which the Devils have adopted for over a decade. He is respected and won a Stanley Cup with the Dallas Stars in 1999, where he coached current Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner.

As of Monday night, Lamoriello had not contacted Hitchcock. The GM does not rush into coaching searches.

The article goes on to talk about what Hitch has been up to since leaving the Jackets:

This is an opportunity, however, to get a coach like Hitchcock whose 533 career wins rank 11th all-time.Hitchcock was an assistant coach for Team Canada, helping that squad win a gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics in February. Otherwise, he has been working on his physical conditioning and watching hockey on TV since being fired by the Blue Jackets.

“I just dropped out of sight. I got out of town and have enjoyed time with my family and with friends,” he said. “I’ve worked hard on physical conditioning because I know the grind that the league is. I’ve done that and I will continue to do that.

“I have a unique situation where Columbus has been gracious enough that, if there are no jobs in September, I have a senior position there I can go back to and hopefully continue to help them.”

Hitchcock has had weight issues and knows the demands of coaching in the NHL.

“It takes great energy. You can miss it all you want, but you have to make sure you energize yourself,” he said. “Between the Olympics and the break since then, I’ve gone to the back of the bus and I’ll wait my turn. Hopefully some day I’ll get a call.

“It’s really helped me energy-wise. I really haven’t had a break since 1996. I’ve been going at it job to job. There really was no break when I went to the Flyers and there was really no break when I went to Columbus. So this is the first kind of real break I’ve had and it’s been great to get the energy back.”

Hitchcock is ready for a comeback. Although he cannot talk about the Devils and doesn’t want to comment on what happened to them in the playoffs, he watched closely.

“Where I live hockey starts at 4 o’clock, it doesn’t start at seven, so I’ve watched a lot of hockey,” Hitchcock said. “I haven’t missed any of the (playoff) series. I’ve been watching them all.

“That’s one thing I’ve been able to do is really stay on top of every series and everything that has gone on. It doesn’t matter what game is played. If I wasn’t watching the games, I was able to DVR them and watch them the next morning. I’ve had a unique experience doing that.”

It has to be an odd time for the guy. He will end up in the NHL next year, and I will definitely look forward to Hitch reaching the 700 win mark in the near future, be it with New Jersey or somewhere else (except Detroit!)

26
Apr
10

Season in review, The Good News

The Joltin’ Junior: You guessed it, in Kris Russell’s 3rd season with the Jackets, he was one of the few bright spot’s on this year’s CBJ team, and boy did he impress. While statistically it was not a drastic improvement over 2008-09’s stats of 66gp 2-19-21 and a -10 rating up to 70gp 7-15-22 and a +3 rating. While Russ is seen as the future “star” offensive defenseman for the organization, he ranked 3rd on the Jackets among defensemen in scoring, but led the blue-liners in +/- ratings. With posting a +3 rating this season, Russell established himself more as a threat than the liability he was in his first two seasons. In my opinion, if Russell had been able to post 15-20 more points this season, he’d be my MVP (and probably a lot of peoples’).

Mr. and Mr. Consistency: Both RJ Umberger and Antoine Vermette had outstanding seasons. Most importantly they played in all 82 games during the season and were the only two players to do so. Both players also posted career highs in points, Umberger with 23-32-55 and Vermette with 27-38-65. Certainly both players would say the wins and losses of the team are what matters more, but the individual production of these guys is certainly something to hang their hats on. Let’s not forget that both guys are Scott Howson acquisitions as well (Umberger for Colorado’s 1st round pick in 08 aka Adam Foote, and Vermette for Leclaire and Columbus’ 2nd round pick in 09)

Voracek’s Surge: While a large part of the season was stinky for the sophomores, Jake Voracek was able to surge ahead in the final stretch of games. He posted 8-13-21 in the final 23 games of the season after only posting 8-21-29 in the first 58 games of the year. This slump and breakout can be blamed on Hitchcock and his misuse of Jake’s talents, or it could’ve been just a legitimate slump. Let’s extrapolate what Jake did in the final 23 games over the entire season, and wow, he’s putting up around 30-50-80… the Voracek of the future? Let’s hope so.

Return of the Calder: Much like Jake Voracek, Steve Mason was able to together a nice string of wins and solid performances in the final throes of the 09-10 season. Mason had a rough season, but in the final 23 appearances, did not give up more than 4 goals but once in that span. In that stretch, Mason posted a .919 save percentage and 9 wins and 3 shutouts. A stretch pretty similar to his play throughout the 2008-09 season.

Performance against Chicago: After starting the season series against the ‘Hawks at 0-2-2 the Blue Jackets were able to battle back and post two unlikely wins in the final two match-ups. Most notably was the shocking 8-3 destruction of the Blackhawks in Nationwide. Two days later the Blue Jackets traveled to the Madhouse on Madison where most expected an ambush and public execution at the hands of the Blackhawks. 60 minutes later, another unlikely victory. This was impressive to me because of the situation the Jackets were in, season over, little to play for, and they come out and top the class of the Western Conference in two straight games.

****Quick note: Sorry for the delay in posting this, I’m currently in the busiest part of the school year and needed to catch a break somewhere, unfortunately the blog is what suffered. With the coming coach interviews there will be a renewed focus on sharing my views and providing any news you may actually get from this blog. Thanks for understanding, if you don’t, oh well. Go Jackets. ****

20
Apr
10

Season In Review, The Bad News

In the type of season the Blue Jackets just completed it’s easy to focus on the negative, to place blame, and especially feel down-trodden and depressed. Players, coaches, front-office, and fans felt the pain of 2009-2010, and while in most sports situations, it’s a gamble to spend so much time, effort, and money on a team with the chance of no return. The Jackets could be in tough shape come next year when it comes to season ticket renewals, but when the product on the ice is improved, everything else will follow.

All of that said, today I’ll focus on the not-so-good aspects of the season, to hopefully give a sense of closure and completion to many of the issues the Jackets faced.

Goaltending: Could also file this as “Sophomore Slumps Part 1” Steve Mason took a nose dive from his stellar rookie season and personified the over-mentioned slump in his second pro season. A comparison of his stats in two pro-seasons:

  • 2008-2009 61gp 33-20-17, .916% 2.29 GAA
  • 2009-2010 58gp 20-26-14, .901% 3.06 GAA

It’s a bit deceiving considering the improved play Mason showed under Claude Noel. In 7 of the final 10 starts, he posted a save percentage greater than .906. Mason showed great amounts of inconsistency, some nights coming ready to play and allowing one or even zero goals for the opposition (5 shutouts to be exact) or he would start and give up a ridiculous amount of goals see New Jersey (3/23), Los Angeles (3/8), Vancouver (1/5)…. you get the idea.

Mathieu Garon was an interesting story. He was what a back-up goaltender should be winning more than he lost, and giving the Jackets a chance in every game he played. The oddest thing about Garon was the success (at home) and lack of it (on the road). Looky here:

  • Home 13gp 6-0-4, .920% 2.20 GAA
  • Away 22gp 6-9-2, .893% 3.18 GAA

I am thankful that the Jackets went out to acquire Mathieu Garon in the off-season and Mason should now realize that Garon can certainly hold his own and the new coach should and will be quicker to yank whichever goalie is struggling.

The Blue line: Whether it was due to the attack of the injury bug (Rusty Klesla early on, Jan Hejda early and late), or the bizarre conditioning issues of Mike Commodore, the CBJ’s blue line took some big hits to the players that came through so many times last season.

Newly acquired at the beginning of the season, Anton Stralman was a jolt to the league-worst power play and put up the best numbers of all d-men with 6-28-34 in 73 games played, but also had a +/- rating of -17 which was the worst amongst defenseman, and the worst on the entire team. An interesting story for the off-season will be whether or not Howson decides to re-sign Stralman and what role he could play in 2010.

Looking at the rest of the defensemen, it was a weak year all-around. All the current roster d-men finished on the minus side of things save for Kris Russell (+3) and Grant Clitsome (even). Speaking of Russell, the “offensive-defenseman of the future” put up the 3rd most points on the team, behind, get this, Fedor Tyutin, and the previously mentioned Anton Stralman. Taking a look around the league, the point production from the CBJ’s blue line versus that of current playoff teams is a problem of depth scoring.

Mental Psyche: No lead for the CBJ’s was safe this season. They were a league worst in blowing a lead after the first and second periods, (13-8-6 leading after 1st period, 24-7-4 leading after 2nd period) and the only reason I can possibly see for this horrific stat is simply the youth of the roster. 20-somethings do funny things like get distracted and lose focus. As a teacher of students grades 5-12, I can say teenagers will only focus for very short bursts of time, so imagine what late teens, early twenty-somethings with fame and fortune are thinking about?

Blowing leads and not battling back from behind are aspects of this team that we’ll just have to hope get better and fade away as they mature together. In relation to blowing leads, is the atrocious 15 shootout/overtime losses this season. When the pressure was on, this team was bad. Overtime and shootouts require much focus and minimal mental lapses that can cost the team the game. After watching a week’s worth of playoff hockey, if this year’s CBJ had found a way in, it wouldn’t have been pretty… again.

Sophomore Slumps: Mentioned earlier was the over-discussed slump of Steve Mason that plagued the Blue Jackets from the opening road trip of the season. While there was an uptick at the end of the season, both Voracek’s and Brassard’s slow starts helped doom the offense from the get-go.

Jakub Voracek:

  • 08-09 80gp, 9-29-38, +11
  • 09-10 81gp, 16-34-50, -7

Derick Brassard:

  • 08-09 31gp, 10-15-25, +12
  • 09-10 79gp, 9-27-36, -17

Voracek’s “step-back” was nearly nullified by the end of the season in my opinion. He plowed through the end of the season as one of the hottest players on the ice and ended up posting 50 points in only his second NHL season. Brassard was a disappointment throughout the season. The biggest plus of his season? He didn’t have a major injury. There is no way that he did not learn a ton this season and must come into 2010 ready to play and impress.

Game Operations: From opposing teams goal songs being blasted in Nationwide Arena after they score, to opposing team fans participating in on-ice intermission antics while still wearing their jerseys, something has got to give. It has been a much-talked about subject already, but having opposing goal celebration music as part of the rotation is a complete and utter failure. If I’m not mistaken, the line from the Jackets was that “Chelsea Dagger” came up randomly post-Chicago goal during the January 16 matinée game in which the Jackets fell to the Hawks 6-5. Loads of Blackhawks fans were in the building, and not only was this a slap in the face to CBJ fans, but it can’t make the organization look very intelligent to other fan bases.

Attendance/Ratings: I will refer you to yesterday’s post that included stats about television ratings for the Jackets this season. Losing a quarter of the viewership was probably easy to do after the losing streak of November-January, especially when you consider the viewership records during last season’s run to the playoffs.

Attendance saw a modest drop-off from the 2008-2009 season that averaged 15,544 fans/game. The 2009-2010 lose-fest attracted 15,417 fans/game. Not bad considering the typical results this year. What does it mean? Hard to tell, next year will tell us a lot, and if attendance is poor, guess what? Winning is the way into fans’ homes and their pocketbooks.

Hitchcock: When Ken Hitchcock came to Columbus, he brought credibility, a resume, great quotes, and a system to a team that had none. He leaves Columbus making a mark that will not soon be forgotten. In his 4th season with the Blue Jackets things just didn’t click. The future hall of fame coach had a slumping goalie, sophomores who didn’t produce, and a banged up blue line, a perfect storm ensued, and the man was canned. Hitch compiled a record of 125-123-36 guiding this team to the playoffs just a year ago, but couldn’t push the right buttons in 2009-2010.

As I noted previously, the loss of Hitch was tough to take. I had an affinity for the man who was hard-nosed and to the point. There was always little question for how the man felt about a player or a call, and I can appreciate his honesty, it’s something lacking in many aspects of this technological world where people can hide behind computer screens and Blackberry’s. His presence behind the bench is missed by me, and I’ve got to keep faith in Howson to make the right hire for this team in the near future.

Tomorrow, The Good News

19
Apr
10

Boyle fails, TV ratings, and more

I don’t know anyone who missed this last night, but if you did, the video clip doesn’t do the situation justice… The teams had just battled to a scoreless end of regulation, with the Sharks dominating most of the play and Craig Anderson absolutely standing on his head. Former Miami Redhawk (just in case CBJ-ers didn’t know that) Dan Boyle will never live down this gaffe, and could signal the coming “winds of change” in Silicon Valley.

Info on the home front:

  • The coaching search seems to be in a holding pattern until seasons are complete for the NHL and AHL playoffs. I’m sure there will be a significant uptick in activity once the opening rounds are completed in both leagues.
  • Found a great article from the New York Times website, talking about in-arena music and specifically mentions the change away from the “Hey Song” aka “Rock and Roll Pt. 2” because of Gary Glitter’s questionable activities… Check it out here
  • Final season end TV ratings for all but two American NHL teams, courtesy of Puck the Media

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (FS Pittsburgh) – 8.05 (Up 26.2%)
2. Buffalo Sabres (MSG Buffalo) – 6.45 (Down 19%)
3. Detroit Red Wings (FS Detroit) – 4.21 (Up 5.3%)
4. Chicago Blackhawks (CSN Chicago) – 2.45 (Up 131.1%)
5. St. Louis Blues (FS Midwest) – 2.33 (Up 21.4%)
T6. Boston Bruins (NESN) – 2.18 (Down 13.8%)
T6. Philadelphia Flyers (CSN Philadelphia) – 2.18 (Down 8.8%)
8. Minnesota Wild (FS North) – 1.67 (Down 27.4%)
9. Washington Capitals (CSN Mid-Atlantic) – 1.6 (Up 46.8%)
10. Colorado Avalanche (Altitude) – 1.56 (Up 13%)
11. Columbus Blue Jackets (FS Ohio) – 1.39 (Down 25.3%)
12. San Jose Sharks (CSN California) – 1.11 (Down 20.7%)
13. New York Rangers (MSG) – 0.89 (Down 18.3%)
14. Dallas Stars (FS Southwest) – 0.74 (Up 27.6%)
15. Phoenix Coyotes (FS Arizona) – 0.62 (Up 55%)
16. Tampa Bay Lightning (Sun Sports) – 0.60 (Up 27.7%)
17. New Jersey Devils (MSG Plus) – 0.58 (Up 48.7%)
18. Los Angeles Kings (FS West) – 0.48 (Up 50%)
19. Anaheim Ducks (Prime Ticket) – 0.42 (Up 50%)
20. New York Islanders (MSG Plus) – 0.36 (Up 100%)
21. Atlanta Thrashers (SportSouth) – 0.33 (Up 26.9%)
22. Florida Panthers (FS Florida) – 0.25 (Up 8.7%)

A bit disappointing to see the CBJ’s drop a quarter of their viewership, but impressive if you consider who the CBJ rank behind. The Jackets TV ratings fall behind the darlings of “NHL on NBC” and Versus, but surprisingly rank ahead of big markets like San Jose, New York City, Dallas, Phoenix, New Jersey, and Los Angeles.

15
Apr
10

Stanley Cup Playoff Round 1, more picks

This, ladies and gentlemen, is why they play the games, and exactly why the Stanley Cup Playoffs are superior to any other sport when it comes to determining a champion.

Take absolutely nothing away from March Madness or the Superbowl, because they vastly outdraw the NHL in popularity and spread, but what we are able to witness up to 7 times per round, is pure heart, talent and determination.

Does anybody here actually think the Sharks are a worse team, top to bottom, than the Colorado Avalanche? The Avs were better last night yes, but this is exactly why they play up to seven games. A series of games should bring out the best (and worst) from each team, determining who is the best.

Are the Pens really that easy to dominate? Hell no. It really seems to me they were not “up” for this game like they should’ve been, and now all that the Senators have done is woke up the beast.

The Wings and Devils may indeed have their hands full with the Coyotes and Flyers respectively. The Wings looked like they had a pulse against the Yotes who were amped up for the first home playoff game since I started watching the NHL in earnest. The Devils on the other hand maybe suffered the same fate as the Pens and were just plain not “up” for the game, and probably misjudged Flyers Goalie, Brian Boucher.

All that said, here are some picks for tonight:

#8 Canadiens vs. #1 Capitals, Capitals in 5 games

#6 Bruins vs. #3 Sabres, Sabres in 7 games

#6 Kings vs. #3 Canucks, Canucks in 7 games

Starting Friday:

#7 Predators vs. #2 Blackhawks, ‘Hawks in 6 games




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