Sunday, April 7, 2013

Torn


The season is into its last stages and, although there hasn't been much written here, a whole lot went on with the CBJ. We have player transactions, GM transactions, scout transactions, and I'm pretty sure they cleaned house with the custodial staff at NWA (janitor puns!).

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The 2013 Season... So Far.

It's been awhile since I updated the blog so I thought it would be nice to give a little summary. Anyone reading this blog probably knows a decent amount about how this season has gone for the Blue Jackets, but I'd like to offer an opinion or two on a few things.

"Look at Carrie Underwood frowning up there!"
Frederick Breedon/Getty Images


1.  Team Effort.



-This is what we were promised. It wasn't going to be a spectacle. It wasn't going to be easy. It wasn't even going to be pretty. But this year's team was one that was going to work hard.

-It's tough to tell at this point if this promise has been made good. The boys haven't looked great most nights, and there were definitely times they got caught not giving 100%.  The Jackets just don't have the scoring or goaltending to allow big mental lapses to permeate their game, which is essentially why they sit at the basement of the Western Conference.

-However, if the last two games can be considered a trend then it looks like it's turning around. Two back to back 60-minute efforts have revealed more about this team than I expected to learn in a 30 hour span that saw them go 1-1. The biggest difference this year seems to be the attitude of the players when they get behind (or what gets conveyed to us from their facial expressions and body language). These guys don't give up after a bad first period.

-The fact that they sent Johansen down after that LA Kings game is also some evidence that they take the promise seriously. During that particular game I couldn't help but see some bad body language and sub par skating coming from him. He does need to clean it up a little bit and hopefully the management has explained everything to him in such a way that he can feel motivated to improve.

2. Team Chemistry.

"You and I will not make garbage. We will produce a chemically pure and stable product that performs as advertised. No adulterants. No baby formula. No chili powder."

-Aside from last night's game against San Jose, chemistry has been very hard to come by. The first few games were insanely bad from a chemistry standpoint. Players obviously had no idea where, when and how to pass the puck in order to move toward the opposing net, and it seemed to get worse when trying to make it out of the Jackets' zone. Gradually, the passing has been smoother and transitions quicker. But the rest of the league is also trending in the same direction, so it needs to continue to improve if the playoffs are going to be a possibility.

-Which brings me to another point. The Jackets are going to come to a crossroads this year with regard to their assets. They have a slough of 2nd/3rd line forwards and a ton of defensive depth. These players can get pretty valuable and it would be tempting to trade a now asset for a later asset, even if it doesn't turn out to be a 1st overall pick like most of us dream about. But then again, if we're just starting to see the tip of the iceberg with Todd Richards' system and this team developing chemistry, it would be a shame to see it picked apart so soon.

3. Fan Experience.

columbussports.org
-It was tough to foresee this, but I've had a better time at the games this year than in years past. The "undersell" that management pushed in the offseason and the pleasant surprise of even having a season after the torturous lockout has really enhanced the atmosphere. Well, it's those factors, combined with lower ticket prices and a team that doesn't just wave a white flag after they let in a bad goal.

-The minuses are similar to previous seasons: $9 beers, fans who think they know what's going on in the game and really don't, random people wearing sweaters of NHL teams that aren't even playing on a given night (I'm looking at you, penguins fan), and the swaths of opposing fans who can vary in number and annoyance depending on the opponent.

-The Social Suite was a great use of some empty space. Kudos to the digital media team for setting it up and running it so well. I was tumescent at the thought of free beers in the suite, but it wasn't the case (and wisely so on their part. Free beer Gris is a handful). If you don't follow @RobMixer on twitter, get on it and pay attention when he offers extra tickets.

-And last note: The Arch City Army is a good time. It's a great fan experience and I hope they (we, I guess) grow in number. A few of the guys seem to like drinking, but it doesn't interfere with the fun and I'm certainly not going to criticize someone else for enjoying a beverage. Brian Klein does an excellent job organizing everything and seems like a great guy. If you're in the mood to go to a game and don't know anyone in the ACA, don't worry. It's a pretty congenial atmosphere. In the social suite, one of the CBJ digital media guys was saying that the ACA deserves seats in the lower bowl, beneath the cannon. If there were a way that the Jackets could make that happen without losing money, it would make the games a million times better for everyone involved. Let's cross our fingers that, among other things, this gets put into action a few times a year.



Friday, January 25, 2013

A Role Model

We all grow up with people around us. Some of them are just unbearable, awful, terrible people. Sometimes these people damage us physically or psychologically...

Gregory Shamus/Getty images
But sometimes during our formative years, we interact with people who shape our outlook of life in a very positive way. People we look up to. We observe their behaviour and almost universally laud it. And, while imagining ourselves in the future, we think of them. We find ourselves emulating these people in small ways sometimes. In the way that we treat others. In the way that we walk, talk, work and play, even in how we spell wourds (not an actual Canadian spelling). Whether or not these people actually end up being good is up for debate. But at some point, we see them as such and they help us develop ideas of ourselves and how we can press to be better.

This is just a thought. And coming from a Canadian hockey fan, I can see how many would think that it's putting my nose in the air to the American hockey market and to the established American hockey fans. But I'm going to write it because I believe it's true. Columbus Blue Jackets fans should look up to Winnipeg Jets fans as our role models.

I was never a Jets fan. But I watched the Jets beat Pittsburgh tonight.

Watching the Jets tonight, I felt good. The players did well against a much better Pittsburgh squad. The Winnipeg side hunkered down and won a game in which they were outmatched before any skates touched ice. And for that, the players and management should be commended. But the Winnipeg fans should get more credit than any individual player for every single win that gets accrued in the MTS Centre for the next decade. Their support may have been a fun affair for the past year and a half. But it was also a heartwrenching affair for the past 20 years, and it may not get a lot easier over the next 20. The team could end up as the CBJ of the Eastern Conference, perennial non-qualifier for the playoffs that will also not get access to the top picks in the draft.

The fans seemed engaged. They were on their feet from the get-go. They were vocal, but still relatively courteous. They were expecting a disaster, but still full of hope. They had a shit ton of fun. And they probably still would have, even if the Jets had lost.

The Manitoba walrus is known to be an affable creature, always up for a photo shoot.

After the past two games, I have an overwhelming sense of dread about the coming season. I was at the home opener and saw a lot of very tentative people wandering around. They wanted the CBJ to be different, but were ultimately disappointed by the result. I was one of these people at the home opener.

If the Blue Jackets are going to be awful, then they're going to be awful. As fans, there's only so much we can do about it. Staring blankly at the new jillion dollar Jumbotron and wolfing down mountains of free food as the Jackets' brass shows us a montage of optimistic footage while not uttering a sound is one way of showing your support. You bought a ticket and it's your right to do what you want while at the game, so long as it doesn't interfere with the enjoyment of others. That game was one of the biggest sellouts for a home opener, after all.

But what was unnerving was the long stretches of silence. The drunk morons shouting "shoot it" (which is the hockey version of "they took our jobs!"). The people gossiping about their neighbours while the puck was in play and the score was close.

Last year, my wife and I were lucky enough to see the Jets play here in Columbus and meet some Jets fans during and after the game. They knew hockey inside and out. They knew when to cheer and when to shut up. And after the game, they were affable people who we were happy to share a few drinks with. This is what I would love to see in CBJ fan culture one day.

I love you, Columbus. And I want hockey fans to feel welcome. I want them to enjoy their time at NWA. But I also want them to know what it would feel like for a deafening roar to engulf the arena and for the Jackets to FUCKING RESPOND.

Our team is frustrating. But we should count our lucky stars that we still have a team to root for in the greatest professional sport in the universe. They may not be the best team every night (or any night), but they would not exist if not for the collective interest of the fans. Let's keep pitching in with our bodies where our personal budgets allow. But when we find ourselves in the privileged position to root for the CBJ in person, let's show up with the same emotion that we expect from the team.

Maybe to get the crowd going we will need some Manitoba Superjuice




Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Season, New Way to Lose

Monday night was a good night for hockey. The air was frigid, there was a light snowfall in Columbus and there were reasons for optimism about the Blue Jackets, heading into their home opener against Detroit.

And then the game happened. It was entertaining, fast, back and forth and at times it was pretty violent. In the end, the Jackets lost. But this time it was due to reasons other than Mason/Nash/lazy players/out of shape players/shitty team defense.

This time, the loss was mainly due to poor puck management, lack of discipline and missed D-zone assignments.

While you may look at those reasons and say "yeah that's the same thing as lazy players", I'd agree that there is some overlap. The difference is that you can play a hard working game while still having the latter set of faults. And I think that's what they did.

The reasons that they lost have to do with problems that are fixable with more teaching. The season is young and there are clearly some rusty parts needing to be cleaned off and shined up. You can teach Johansen that an offensive zone penalty in the third period is an egregious offense. You can teach a better neutral zone puck management system that can result in fewer than 15 icings per game. And you can teach guys to pay more attention to the back door.

There were still some times during the game where the Jackets looked lackadaisical. Sloppy. Unsure of themselves. But as the game wore on, those moments became fewer and further between.

It's no sure thing, but if they can keep their enthusiasm level up and Richards can teach them a new system in the next month, we could be looking at the second ever playoff appearance for the #CBJ. And if the team is going to go down, I'm sure all of us would much rather see them go down swinging than to go quietly into the night.

Also, this happened on Monday.




Tonight, the Jackets take on Phoenix at 10pm. Let's hope they can play like they've got something to prove, and do so with less than twenty icings or turnovers.





Sunday, January 20, 2013

Home Opener 2013

On Saturday night, the Jackets laid out a dirty win with some ugly moments. Under the circumstances, I'm sure every Jackets fan who saw the game ended up pleased. I personally was out of town and watched the shootout come up live on the NHL network at a bar. From what I can recall, there were a lot of "woooo"s on my part and a lot of "why is that guy cheering?" on everyone else's part.

The Red Wings forwards can tell you the preferred cologne of every NHL goaltender.
Justin Sabau/Getty
The team's performance leaves me even more excited for the season opener Monday against the Red Wings. If you're reading this blog, live in Columbus and have an extra $20, I'd encourage you to go down to the Arena District tonight. The game is scheduled to start at 7:30 and although it's sold out, there should always be scalpers there, ready to negotiate. If worse comes to worse, you could just watch the game in the industrial liquor dungeon also known as Rbar. The over/under for godsmack songs played before and after the game is currently at 7.

We have tickets ready to go and plan on patronizing a few of the Arena District businesses that we've neglected for the past few months. I'm anticipating a good time.

The only wrinkle in the whole equation is the Red Wings. Historically, they've always been dominant over Columbus and their fans are a giant pain in the ass. But I'm not going to sit around and begrudge success. The historical dominance and the annoying fans would also make a potential win that much sweeter. It only makes it more compelling for one to be there.

The reasons to believe that the Jackets will get blown out are existent: history is one. Talent level is another. The fact that the Red Wings got their dicks cut off and served to them with a garnish by St. Louis on Saturday is probably the most compelling reason to believe we will get slaughtered.

But don't despair. This year's edition of the Red Wings brought to you Amway are a serious downgrade over recent years' releases. They've lost some guy named Lidstrom who was apparently pretty OK. They also lost some guy named Holmstrom who never got into a fight. And they've also lost Brad Stuart, who was a solid Dman during his time there.

from taunter.com
The Red Wings' lineup is a confusing mix of low draft picks from recent years (Abdelkader, Helm, etc.), old guys winding down their days (Franzen, Datsyuk) and a few projects (Bertuzzi, Cleary, Coliacovo). The team was supposed to have been cut off at the knees after the last lockout but due to the good management, coaching and scouting they'd done over the previous decade, were able to keep the reign going for another seven years. With the retirement of Lidstrom and Holmstrom this year, the tide may have finally turned.

In any case, I will be happy to see NHL hockey back on, and to hopefully see a group of guys representing the Columbus Blue Jackets who don't just bow down to the opponent and let them have their way.




Monday, January 14, 2013

What I'm Looking Forward to This Season

Although Santa Claus never brought us the gift of a CBA, he allowed his little friend black pete to beat us with reeds whilst mongering rumors about meetings in New York and an upcoming NHL season back in 2012.

Black Pete is an offensive european punitive christmas character. Black Pete is not endorsed by this blog. 
Alas, after the new year had come and gone a cloud lifted and a CBA was agreed upon. Now we have an actual (truncated) NHL season to look forward to.

So what can we expect? Basically, you can throw out any posts you read on this blog over the summer. Our stats have gone out the window due to the shortened season. But over at the Union Blue, they had a good blog about predictions, if that's what tickles your fancy.

This post isn't about predictions. This is about stuff that I'm really looking forward to now that I can get back to the business of being distracted by NHL hockey.

1. The Home Opener

-January 21 2013, versus Detroit. This game could end up being absolute torture, like most DET-CBJ games. I remember the first one I went to was around Thanksgiving of 2010. The jackets were on a roll and had introduced their third jerseys and everything was going to go absolutely perfect up until that point. If my memory serves me correctly, they began a losing streak that saw them go from top-3 in the league to cellar dweller in about 2-3 weeks. The Red Wings weren't nothin' to fuck with back then.

Detroit, Michigan and the fans thereof however have always been fair game. During that game, I immediately understood why people in Ohio complain incessantly about Michiganders. There is a reason that the Red Wings don't sell out a lot of playoff games and it has little to do with the economy, the shitty (but undersized and hence easy to sell out) arena and the overpriced tickets. They don't sell out playoff games because their fans are the worst. The team that most of them bandwagoned onto is good, but the fans are no better than the people who go to Chumbawamba concerts (RIP chumbawamba).

The opportunity to rub in a win will be glorious. Watching those dickweeds waddle out of our gleaming palace muttering "this rink sucks" and "Detroit is way better" will be worth the price of admission... But naturally I know that Jan 21st will end with me gulping down my tears and clenching my fists.

2. Away Games

-I'm a big fan of watching away games at the Rbar. I live just close enough that I can walk there and it's been a home away from home for my wife and I during the hockey season. The food isn't great, the women are far from good looking and the service makes me feel like I'm a ghost, but hockey is paramount there. My plan is to go there for the third period of any close road games that I'm not working nights for. Hopefully I won't fall asleep in the bathroom this year.

The one thing I've never been able to figure out about Rbar: Why don't they have bubble hockey? Can a hockey bar even claim to be a hockey bar without a permanent USA-USSR match being a feature?

3. Arch City Army

-I'm fairly reserved in public. So I decided to do a 180 and get a ticket package with ACA this year. My tickets before were right in front of the ACA guys when they started up the group. Although they did get on my nerves once or twice, I admire their enthusiasm. When it came time to decide upon a ticket package, I took the best deal available and got tickets with ACA. I got the scarf this summer and still haven't been to a game with the army. It may not fit my personality, but we share a common goal and I'm willing to shed some of my shyness and make some new friends. NWA was a ghost town the first time I stepped into the building. If the team is going to build confidence this year, it would be a hell of a lot easier knowing they have fans watching them instead of mannequins.

4. New CBJ Fans

One of the great things about being an enthusiastic hockey fan is getting other people into it. I have a few friends who are not hockey fans per se, but have shown an interest. I'm looking forward to being able to teach them basic things about the game I love. Some people don't really take to hockey. But sometimes the most unlikely people become develop more passion for the game than you could ever imagine. So if you're a Columbus fan and you're looking for a cheap new year's resolution this year, take a non-hockey-fan friend to a game. You'll only have to do it once and it might actually be pleasant, depending on who you choose.

5. Nick Foligno


"Yes Nick. That's exactly the pose we were asking for"

Foligno will be a fan favorite. He's gritty on the ice an likable off it. Sometimes he destroys guys with clean checks and occasionally he'll win a fight. Foligno did show some scoring flair with the Sens, and even though it wasn't prolific his goals seemed to come at very clutch times. If we are lucky enough to have clutch times this year, let's hope he's getting the ice time to make a difference.








Wednesday, January 9, 2013

So You're Saying There's a Chance.


A new season brings new hope of success. Yes, even if you are supporting one of the most moribund and historically dysfunctional teams in the NHL. Here's a quick recap of what we can hope for, in our hearts of hearts.

Forwards:

Basically, we have a lot of spare parts. This is bad, because none of them are a real game-breaking talent as of yet. But it's also good for several reasons previously alluded to. Here are the reasons for optimism:

-It's harder for other teams to focus their checking attention on a single line, which is the approach most teams use.
-It can create a meritocracy, where hard work is rewarded by more ice time, since there aren't many forwards to play favorites with.
-Filling in for injury will become relatively straightforward. We have a lot of forwards (Dubinsky, Johansen, Anisimov, Brassard, Letestu, Mackenzie, Prospal) who can play center or wing in a pinch. This also makes Todd Richards' line juggling a lot more interesting.
-It's worked in other places. If you look at teams like Nashville or even Phoenix, you get the sense that they're rolling a lot of interchangeable parts. If the right system is employed and bought into, this can work to a team's advantage.

Defence:

This is the strength of the team. If you asked me this question last year, I would have said the same thing. But this year, I mean it even more. The lineup speaks for itself, and the fact that there is more young talent waiting in the wings with Murray, Savard, Moore and whoever comes aboard this summer makes this a long-term strong point. I'm not sure that they can be a true bulwark because we've rarely if ever seen them play well together. But certain pairs have been promising (Nikitin/Tyutin, Wiz/Johnson) for longer stretches. If the goaltending can hold water, this part of the ship will be doing most of the rowing.

Goaltending:

The Mason/Bob combo is anyone's guess. Crazier things have worked (Mike Smith). Bob has been able to put up great numbers in the KHL, but it's unclear if those will translate well to North America. Let's just hope that the leaks are kept to a minimum and the ship doesn't capsize.

The Hedge:

The jackets will have 3 first round picks in the 2013 draft, so even if we see the team bail water all season, help will inevitably be on the way. Depending on how things shake out, we could end up with multiple blue-chippers in one of the deepest drafts of the past decade. I get the feeling we're not drafting too many goalies this year but the skaters will be taken based on talent, with an increased emphasis on leadership and maturity. This has been Howson's slant ever since getting burned by Nikita Filatov, and I find it encouraging.