Five Days in April: A Blue Jackets Journal, Part 2

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This is Part 2 of my retrospective on the Blue Jackets’ 2014 playoff appearance. I managed to get to 3 games, and Part 1 covered the first two days of my attendance. Today, my view from game 3. It’s a return to Columbus, the first taste of postseason at Nationwide in years. It’s also my second ever Stanley Cup Playoff game.

Day 3: April 21

I can’t focus. I have emails and meetings and experiments to tend to, but I just can’t stay on track. I keep looking at this thing on my desk, a simple piece of paper that’s in my way physically and mentally. It’s a game 3 ticket, a standing room spot. As a rule, I don’t wear hockey jerseys during the day of a game. Today I’ve made an exception, and it’s a constant reminder even when I don’t see that Ticketmaster barcode.

20140421_174627With the day a blur and done, it’s time to escape. I can’t help but grin like a fool the whole bus ride down, and the exit is onto an amazing scene: the plaza is packed. The party atmosphere is infectious. Everyone here has the same ideas: celebrate and prepare for the best hockey of the year. This is the perfect way to build on the excitement from Saturday, to share in the jubilation, and I’m glad there are so many to share this with.

20140421_174640Nationwide itself looks great. The glorious glass of the main entrance now has playoff art adorning the center windows, welcoming all arrivals to the special event. As I slide indoors, the decoration is noteworthy here too. American flag buntings are covering all the rails in the lower bowl, offering more patriotism and thematic coloring to the already welcoming view. My first visit to Columbus three years ago was memorable but surrounded by Red Wings fans. Today, the color blue brings balance and (hopefully) a home-ice advantage.

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Draft 2014: Look at the Shadow!

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It’s the first round of the NHL Entry Draft! And for the first time in years I don’t really care! It’s easy to understand for Columbus fans: for once, I’m not looking to the future for hope. The afterglow of a playoff season will do that, but the Jackets all seem poised to not suck again next season. A great goalie and a brilliant young d-man are wonderful starting points, and shedding an ineffective player for a potentially great one continues to excite. But for me, there’s another looming reason why I don’t care: the shadow cast by 2015 Draft.

Look, I’m sure there are some good players to come from tonight’s selections. Bob McKenzie’s list looks as impressive as ever. I just can’t help but keep clicking on someone else’s HockeyDB page: Connor McDavid. I’ll just leave this here for a moment and we’ll come back to proper thoughts.

He’s so much fun to watch. More importantly, McDavid is also in some pretty great company.

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2014 CBJ Offseason: The Trade That Actually Happened

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2014 Offseason Title

Three days ago I dreamed a dream of Paul Stastny. I maintain this probably won’t happen for Columbus, but Stastny’s worth discussing as a player just because he’s so good and he’s going to boost some team (for a price that won’t be too painful). Inserted in that commentary was this part of the cap hit setup: “Second, let’s say the Jackets miraculously move Umberger.”

Yesterday the miracle happened, and the outcome is simply mind-blowing. Not only did the Blue Jackets trade Umberger, they got a seriously good player in return. Without retaining any cap hit. And they only had to sweeten the deal with a 4th round pick. And Hartnell is the same age as Umberger. Really. I’m not lying.

whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat

Okay, Calm Down. Was This a Good Idea?

Yes, headline font. Let’s take a breath here. Did the Jackets actually gain anything making this trade? Let’s do a first level comparison between the two players. For the three seasons from 2011-12 to 2013-14, let’s look at CF%, relative CF%, and ZS% for each player, individual possession stats with some very basic context on usage. (Stats again from the ever-essential Extra Skater).

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2014 CBJ Offseason: Let’s Dream, Shall We?

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2014 Offseason Title

The 2013-14 season was good to the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it wasn’t perfect. Despite a great show of forward depth, the CBJ were still lacking in top-level forward talent. There are some exceptions to point out, of course. Ryan Johansen’s 33 goal campaign is the obvious one, while Brandon Dubinsky’s continued great possession play (think Patrice Bergeron lite), and hints from Nathan Horton (with some weight given to his strong play in Boston and Florida) also stood out. As a fan of the team, I’m greedy about success and I want more.

Obvious statement time: bringing on more top-tier talent isn’t a simple task. Are there any good chances for this on the team? Maybe one of the upcoming rookies makes the team (Bjorkstrand, Rychel, Wennberg, Dano), but it’s unlikely they become great right away. Boone Jenner could take another step forward, but there’s no certainty.

The Cap Picture

Right now, CapGeek projects the Jackets to have $22 million in cap space for the 2014-15 season. Let’s assume two moves. First, let’s give Ryan Johansen a $6 million contract (somewhat arbitrary, somewhat comparable to the low end of a Toews/Bergeron deal). We won’t worry about term for now, we’ll just imagine the coming season. Second, let’s say the Jackets miraculously move Umberger, but retain $1.5 million worth of cap hit. That would bring the available cap space to around $19 million to fill 2-3 defensive spots and 2-3 forward spots. Splitting the money evenly leaves between $3.17 to $4.75 million per player.

Or, what if we gave out $7 million to one player and left $2.4-$4 million left for the other open spots? It’s a contract level that wouldn’t cripple the team (and with the cap likely to rise again next year, the impact would only diffuse with time). Who should be the target for that kind of contract? Paul Stastny.

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2014 CBJ Offseason: Let’s Talk About Ryan Murray

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2014 Offseason Title

One of my favorite recurring Twitter things among CBJ fans was the praise heaped at Ryan Murray. It was a treat to watch him play this year. That’s a totally subjective evaluation, and so are the claims that he looked cool under pressure, controlled with the puck, and seemed to be a great skater. I happen to agree with all those ideas, and I’ll have to dole out a stern talking-to if you don’t think this play isn’t just the coolest.

Yes, Ryan Johansen has become a brilliant player and I’m a fan of his effort on the goal (Johansen’s the subject of a future post), but did you see that pass?! Holy smokes you guys! That was a damn rookie d-man springing a guy through the LA Kings. I think this is my single favorite play of the Blue Jackets’ regular season. An underlying reason for that feeling is what this event promises: these two players are the future of the franchise. In one glorious pass and dangling finish we get to see them working together.

But like most things, I’m unwilling to believe a few seconds as illustration of the whole season. Sure, the pass was a moment of catharsis. Was Ryan Murray actually worthy of our adoration beyond that single blip? Thankfully, the answer to that is “yes.”

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2014 CBJ Offseason: Depth Thoughts

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(Unofficially this is the start of some random musings and reflections on the Blue Jackets’ offseason, both as a look forward and some thoughts on the past. I’m sure you already do this, but check out some of the recent articles at The Union Blue, BS Hockey, and The Cannon for different perspectives and to see how lively the CBJ blogging world can be. My second Five Days in April post will be up this weekend. Today, a post with a failed Douglas Adams reference in the title.)

2014 Offseason Title

On this side of the Stanley Cup playoffs and before the NHL draft, the hockey fan mind floats to free agents. Which players get resigned, and which are left to enter the open market? Aaron Portzline gave a nice primer to the Columbus UFA situation about a week ago, so I’ll point you at his article first. He discusses the likely returnees, and likely departures. Forward depth is a real consideration in this article, with two 3rd/4th line players listed as likely coming back to the Jackets, and one moving on.

I’ll start with MacKenzie (listed among Portzline’s likely returning figures), but it’s the other two I find more interesting. I like Derek MacKenzie the person, and I’m not entirely opposed to DMac the player returning. I shared some positive thoughts on him mid-season, but I hope any new contract isn’t too large. MacKenzie is a positive force in the community and by all accounts a great presence within the team. His on-ice performance isn’t always inspiring, but in a 4th line role it’s not upsetting to see his return.

Comparing the Depth

Now let’s look at the other two depth forwards in the Dispatch UFA list: Jack Skille and Blake Comeau. Each would feature in a 4th line role (assuming a return next season). While Skille is listed as the likely return, which of he and Comeau is the player that should merit another year in Columbus?

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Five Days in April: A Blue Jackets Journal, Part 1

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The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs were the first time I seriously followed a team in the NHL postseason. Every other time I’d been invested in the whole event, but never quite at this level. Over the course of five days and in two cities, I managed to see three games of the Blue Jackets’ first round series. I’ve collected some of my thoughts, and this will kick off some retrospective coverage of the Columbus season. Part 1 spans April 19 and 20.

Day 1: April 19

When they write textbook definitions of a “perfect day,” that ambiguous “they” have this one in mind. A long weekend washed by golden rays and the perfect roads ahead. I-70 (and I-470) are glorious with weather like this. The undulating hills, the fantastic curves around Wheeling, probably my favorite place to drive. We’re hurtling through the American countryside, observing the slight hint of green in the background as leaves begin to bud and pop. Any other day, this is the highlight. Today begins a journey through fandom and a bit of madness.

We left Columbus around noon and made good time. No stops, just straight through. 70 (and 470), up 79, onto 376, and into the city. Pittsburgh is a dramatic city, and its sudden appearance hasn’t grown old yet (although I’ve only been 4 times). You swoop down a hill, cut through a tunnel, and then wham. Bridges, stadiums, picturesque skyline. Hill, hill, hill, darkness, Major American City. HBO didn’t even have to try to make the entry magical. I love it, but today I’m not here to spread that admiration toward the local sports teams.

A few turns later and we’re at the hotel, the check-in process started. It’s already clear I’m not among friends with all the gold and black coating every person walking around. This is Pittsburgh, after all. I’m carrying my Jeff Carter jersey (I’ll wear it later) and wandering the lobby while Jason picks up room keys. And then, for a moment, there’s Fox Sports Ohio broadcaster Dave Maetzold walking through the first floor. He spots my jersey (and one of another Columbus supporter nearby), and leans toward the receptionist. “You take good care of those Blue Jackets fans,” he tells her. He smirks, and I give a thumbs up. I suppose this is a positive moment, right?

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Live: Chvrches at The LC 6/10/14

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My summer concert schedule kicked off with a bit of a dud at the LC. Brilliant young Scottish band Chvrches (the group responsible for the 12th best song and 4th best album of 2013) was set to play their biggest show as a headliner. And then they faced the one thing they couldn’t overcome and I couldn’t work around: nature.

You see, I’m a spectacled person (if memory serves I have 20/400 vision in my left eye) and I don’t use contact lenses. This seems like needless personal detail until pouring rain interferes with a concert. A light shower isn’t a problem, but heavy rain ruins the entire thing. And unfortunately, that’s exactly what hit the show, only 5 songs into Chvrches’ set. At that point I abandoned the LC lawn and took shelter in the A&R bar until the heaviest rain (and lightning) passed.

In a positive light, what parts I did (and could) see of Chvrches were outstanding. “We Sink” set a delightful dark mood as the show opener, and the booming bass did wonders in bringing the crowd to life early. The entire refrain sequence of “Gun” makes a great translation to the lout and immediate of the live setting. Throughout, Lauren Mayberry’s vocals were high points. She gave a technically impressive performance (replicating the notes hit on record), all while adding energy necessary to give the show even more force.

The standout best song of the set was Chvrches’ biggest song, “The Mother We Share.” “Mother” was saved for the very end of the main set, and has been tuned to near-perfection. A combination of familiarity, distinctive melody, and those opening handclaps (yes, seriously) brought the soaking crowd to a roar for one last hurrah (before an encore). I’ve previously sold the track as the band’s 2nd best piece, but it was easily their top song in Columbus, a Great live work.

But the nagging problem returns: I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed by the sum of the night. The opener was a nondescript DJ, a serious downgrade from the playlist used prior to his performance (I’d much rather listen to more LCD Soundsystem, and cutting off “Wolf Like Me” is a crime). And then the rain. I understand that many in attendance were delighted by the soaking experience, but no vision and general discomfort left me sour.

Go see Chvrches. They’re fantastic. Do avoid the rain. It sucks.

Best Albums of 2013: 10-1

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We’re about to turn the calendar over to Ja… wait… June? Oh. You don’t say. Well, here’s a list of great albums from 2013 because I enjoy this nonsense and it’s fun for my own dumb reference anyway. Feel free to complain.

Best Albums 2013

10. San Fermin by San Fermin – What would happen if you mixed The National and Dirty Projectors while cranking up the “baroque” knob? Now you can find out! Oversimplification aside, the debut effort by San Fermin is uneven and lovable. The pacing is a bit odd and the instrumental breaks aren’t always memorable. Paired with those weaknesses are some breathtaking highs. Opener “Renaissance!” sets an amazing tone, “Torero” boils deliciously, the drums in “Bar” simply must be experienced, and you’ve already heard the great single “Sonsick.”

09. Make Good Choices by Sean Nelson – You probably remember the song “Flagpole Sitta,” that fun 90s one-hit-wonder by Harvey Danger. This is the debut solo effort by that band’s singer, and it captures the same kind of charm and style found in the releases from his former project. And if you’re like most people, you won’t realize the strength of that compliment. We get thoughtful lyricism, strong melodies, and that distinctive voice, all packed and delivered to a 2013 audience.

08. Cerulean Salt by Waxahatchee – There are two ways to approach Cerulean Salt. The first is to love singer-songwriter/folk fare, and to gravitate to the slow burn energy of the quiet songs. Powerful singing and haunting melodies are sure to hit home with you. The second (and my way) in, is to fall for those brilliant loud tracks, soak in the glorious guitar fuzz. No matter the path you pick, the record is likely to grab your ears. And before you know it? All the other tracks will rise and add to a great whole.

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CBJ 2014 Playoff Preview: Better Know a Penguin

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I’ve already gushed about the Blue Jackets making the playoffs (and I make no apologies), but it’s time to move past the “hooray they did it” phase and consider “what are they getting into?” You’re going to see countless preview articles, so I’ll join the chorus and start with a look into the Penguins. Specifically, it’s time to think about the biggest threats to Columbus winning the series.

When Malkin Returns, Their Top Two Lines Are Terrifying

Warm Body – Sidney Crosby – Breathing Human is a lethal line just on its own, but when the Pens follow up with Evgeni Malkin – James Neal? It’s an onslaught of over point per game offensive terror for 2/3 of any given game. That is the trick though: Crosby and Malkin average 22:58 and 20:04 time on ice per game, respectively (via Hockey Reference). If a team can somehow keep them in check and jump on the chances generated in that remaining 18-20 minutes of ice time (assuming no overlap, which happens sometimes), then maybe they can beat the system. Both parts of that idea are easier said than done, of course. Capitalizing on Pittsburgh’s lack of depth is crucial, but a team can still be at the mercy of puck luck (and that depth issue is somewhat mitigated when Goc is in the lineup). As for “keep in check,” if Bylsma opts to overload with Malkin-Crosby-Neal (or if the Pens get a powerplay)? Then the opposition is for a rough ride.

Oh, and it sounds like Malkin could be back for Game 1. Gulp.

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