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

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.

Continue reading “Five Days in April: A Blue Jackets Journal, Part 2”

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

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.

Continue reading “2014 CBJ Offseason: Let’s Dream, Shall We?”

2014 CBJ Offseason: Let’s Talk About Ryan Murray

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

(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.)

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

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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COLUMBUS CLINCHES 2014 PLAYOFF SPOT

Baby Hockey Jesus

IT HAS HAPPENED. THE DAY HAS ARRIVED. THE HOUR IS HERE. ANOTHER TIME-BASED CLICHE TO POINT OUT THE FACT THAT THIS HAS BEEN AN EXCRUCIATING LONG WAIT FOR A PLAYOFF APPEARANCE.

THE COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS ARE GOING TO BE IN THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE APRIL 23, 2009! THANKS TO STABILITY IN GOAL, GREAT PLAY BY THOSE BROUGHT TO OHIO IN THE NASH TRADE, AND THE EMERGENCE OF A REAL TOP LINE CENTER IN RYAN JOHANSEN, THE BLUE JACKETS ARE MAKING A SPLASH THAT ACTUALLY SEEMS SUSTAINABLE. THAT LIST HINTS AT THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF MANY MEMBERS OF THE TEAM, BUT IN PARTICULAR IT’S HARD TO UNDERSTATE JUST HOW IMPORTANT JOHANSEN’S GROWTH IS TO THIS SUCCESS. MOST NIGHTS, HE FACES AND DESTROYS ROUGH COMPETITION, WHICH ONLY OPENS UP MORE CHANCES FOR THE OTHER TOP-9 PLAYERS. COLUMBUS BLOGGERS AND REPORTERS HAVE SPENT A LOT OF TIME TALKING ABOUT #19 AND ARE DESTINED TO DO EVEN MORE IN THE WEEKS AHEAD. THE PRAISE GIVEN TO HIM WILL BE WELL-DESERVED.

THERE ARE WEAKNESSES PRESENT FOR THIS CLUB (PARTICULARLY ON DEFENSE), AND THE JACKETS WILL HAVE AN UPHILL BATTLE AGAINST THEIR MOST LIKELY PLAYOFF OPPONENTS (PITTSBURGH OR BOSTON), BUT THEIR PUCK POSSESSION STANDING IS QUITE STRONG FOR ONCE. IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THIS TEAM TO STEAL A SERIES THIS YEAR, AND IT MIGHT NOT EVEN REQUIRE BOBROVSKY IS STANDING ON HIS HEAD (ALTHOUGH THAT’S A WONDERFUL EXTRA THING TO HAVE). HECK, A FEW MINOR TWEAKS, PERHAPS A NEW BACKUP GOALIE, AND ANY GROWTH BY THE YOUNGER MEMBERS OF THE BLUELINE COULD MEAN INCREDIBLE THINGS FOR THE JACKETS NEXT YEAR TOO!

I KNOW, I KNOW, “ENJOY THE MOMENT,” BUT IT’S SO EXCITING TO REALIZE THAT BOTH THE NOW AND THE FUTURE LOOK GOOD FOR THE BLUE JACKETS.

PLAYOFFS! PLAYOFFS! PLAYOFFS! FINALLY!

(apologies to Brett for the genre abuse that was this post)

2013 NHL Draft: Rapid Reaction

We’re less than two hours removed from the end of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, so it’s the perfect time to make brash comments about the long-term success of all these young men and the franchises who picked them, right? Maybe not exactly, but here’s my rapid reaction to what we saw tonight.

Nobody Knows Anything Yet. I know, that kills much of the rest of this article. But it’s hard to get around the fact that most of these players will never make the NHL and those that do are perhaps 3-4 years out from making their debuts. Outside a select few (perhaps the top four, maybe one or two more players), we won’t see any of these player in NHL arenas next year (excepting their rookie and training camp appearances). Accordingly, any draft day grades (especially on a day without many roster players traded) that suggest “Team A made great selections” is full of crap. Typically teams drafting early in the first round get better players, everybody else is essentially a dice roll from our perspective. Continued success across many years would suggest systemic success for the scouting/talent evaluation of a particular franchise but we’ll not know that from this draft for quite a while.

Columbus Holds Their First Round Picks (And Almost No Team Moves Very Much). As a whole it was remarkable just how few pick-for-player trades happened Sunday. For Columbus in particular, this sets up free agency as the crucial test for Kekalainen and Davidson to reform the Blue Jacket team. But about the picks? I’m not qualified to make scouting evaluations about these players, particularly European guys. However, links with profiles and comparables are useful here:

Alexander Wennberg (14th overall) – Corey Pronman’s profile, Copper & Blue Comparables, TSN profile
Kerby Rychel (19th overall) – Corey Pronman’s profile, Copper & Blue Comparables, TSN profile
Marko Dano (27th overall) – Corey Pronman’s profile, TSN stats page
Dillon Heatherington (50th overall) – Corey Pronman’s profile
Oliver Bjorkstrand (89th overall) – Corey Pronman’s profile, TSN stats page
Nick Moutrey (105th overall) – Corey Pronman’s profile
Markus Soberg (165th overall) – Russian Machine Never Breaks Profile, Elite Prospects Page
Peter Quennville (195th overall) – NHL.com Highlights/Notes

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