Friday, October 9, 2015

Last Call

"Being a writer sucks. Every day of your life, you have homework."
-- Hank Moody, Californication

I don't actually feel this way... I just thought it was a damn funny line.

I actually love writing. I've spent more than half my life doing it creatively or professionally (in some form or another), as my career began in journalism. From the middle of high school, I've been involved in newspapers, magazines and then settled into radio and television.

Although writing news is not nearly as fun as writing for... well, for fun... it was a living. However, there's very little room for creativity, and when you're working overnights, your only shot at anything really new in the morning comes from either godawful weather or the fatal accident/murder du jour from police scanners.

But, the bills got paid and the lights stayed on.

It was when I got out of the business and moved over into public relations and marketing communications that I rediscovered what I liked about writing. Convincing people that something was relevant and positive, and had an actual impact -- instead of the sensationalized fear mongering of television -- just felt better.

So, in the summer of 2007, in my first post-news job, I got to write a piece for a tourism industry publication on Columbus having just recently hosted the NHL Draft, and how officials hoped to eventually build on that success to get the NHL All-Star Game.

And that's when it hit me: I could... write about hockey...? REALLY?

So I started looking at outlets, and along the way, I found ... I think it was through this newfangled thing called Twitter that I had recently jumped on to figure out what the fuss was about. They were looking for a hockey writer. So I did that. Then I started coming up with a bunch of ideas, and discussing games and since the NHL plays a lot more often than most other sports leagues, I was thinking to myself that if I put all this stuff together, I could be taking up a whole bunch of space on a site that was about all Columbus sports. And there's more to Columbus than hockey, right?

I mean, it's pretty arrogant to think there's only one sport worth talking about in this town, right?

So, a little over seven years ago... I launched this silly little venture, at the address (still the original, heh-heh), and continued to write for both platforms for awhile. After some months, this became my main blogging gig.

So, my first big shout-out goes to Brian White at Columbus Sports for giving me that opportunity to bring hockey to the site and then occasionally cross-promote my additional yammering on the side.

And it has been a fun ride. I approached it as part-hobby/creative outlet, and part job. Sometimes, I thought of it as too much of the latter, especially during the years of freelance and temp work... which inevitably led to tension and stress in the ol' personal life. Yeah, I suppose figuring out a way to monetize this thing probably would have made that a little easier.

And I don't mean responding to the spammers who wanted to put subliminal links in my stuff.

So when my current full-time job came into the picture a few years ago, I knew keeping up with this stuff was going to be a challenge. Not to mention that this thing became the "third gig," behind my "Clark Kent job" in digital marketing and side job as an adjunct professor at a business school. Then there's the whole "co-parenting a pack of dogs" thing. So... guess that's the "fourth gig," then...?

There are only so many hours in the day, and one can only get away with so much sleep deprivation without something falling short.

In that respect... I have been mostly responsible these last couple years, so that this gig was what suffered.

The problem is... I'm a horrific perfectionist when it comes to my writing. Even game recaps had to have something that at least I would find entertaining in them (wait... writers have egos? Naaaaaaahhhh). Otherwise they're just placeholders in between other stuff where I would put in "work of art" effort... or at least publish after deciding, "Okay, another 15 minutes of revision and tightening... just break out this 5-Hour Energy in the box marked "In Case Of Emergency, Break Glass and Chug Like a Mofo."

That's not to say I've necessarily written anything here that was a "work of art," but there is some stuff on here that I'm very proud to have written. If I ever thought to pursue this as a career, I would probably consider a handful of posts on here among my finest work.

Maybe just a palmful? Couple fingers...?

I digress.

Game wrap-ups... random observations... or some issue would set me off on a rant from a soapbox. Or something would come to me because I was just in a snarky mood and figured I'd write something funny... even if it was funny only to me.

That may have  happened more often than not.

So the next shout-out goes to those who returned to this site after some of my stranger pieces... I appreciate your patience.

So, with all of the above in mind... it's a good time to hang up the poison pen.

Just the poison one, though.

This space was always meant to be an outlet -- a place where I could in one moment provide quality analysis and insight; provide a twist of humor to take the sting out of the rough patches of the seasons in another moment; or just spout off about weird stuff, silly stuff or something that just pissed me off in yet another moment.

I still do -- and I'm sure I still will -- get ideas that I think could be great pieces. However, my age-related wisdom indicates some of those ideas will just sound better in my head.

Yep... finally, at 40... Martini is growing up

"Acidic Wit, Alleged Wisdom" was a slogan I used on this space for awhile... a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that I could be snarky and preachy about hockey -- sometimes simultaneously -- but I didn't (nor should anyone else) take myself too seriously.

And I appreciate the fact that those who have visited, returned and left feedback -- even if it was to bust my pucks over something -- were so supportive. I'd look at traffic, analytics and pageviews like anyone else with a website, but honestly, I was happy if ten people read something I wrote. Ecstatic if a post hit triple digits.

Most of all, I wanted it to be fun, and I wanted it to convey the excitement I feel every time I turn on a game... or better yet, take my seat and see the Columbus Blue Jackets take that ice... whether it's tonight at Opening Night, or any night henceforth.

So I'm going to do that now... just without the snark, and without the venom.

And not here, where I write behind a handle... that's what Twitter is for. I can keep my misbehavior to 140 characters or fewer.

It's time to go back to my writing roots and put my name on something I can occasionally send to my mother... who swears her hometown newspaper has been awful since I left for grad school nearly 18 years ago (yes, she's incredibly biased).

I don't recall ever sending her anything I've written here. Heaven help me, I'm not sure what she'd say if she ever read the piece I wrote about Boomer.

All told, I have thoroughly enjoyed running this little rogue corner of the CBJ blogging community.

So to all the writers I've met, bonded and clinked glasses with, and who have shared kind words about my work, a huge thanks. Your feedback and friendship over the years has meant and continues to mean a lot to me.

To Matt Pfeffer, the CBJ Artillery and the force behind a huge thanks for the opportunity to contribute content and be part of continuing to grow something really exciting here in our hometown.

Finally, a huge thanks to you for stopping by and reading this stuff over the last seven-plus years. I hope you've enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it.

So as I've said since it all began: "If it's a Hockey Hour, it's a Happy Hour."

And the next one is getting underway. Here's to our team, and here's to you.

Go Jackets!


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Marquee (Trade) de Saad

Ho... ly... $#!+.

As if there wasn't already plenty of stuff happening in the Columbus Blue Jackets' world right now, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen just pulled off another big deal to show the NHL that he is not messing around.

On the eve of the Free Agency deadline, the Columbus Blue Jackets figured into a seven-player trade that brings two-time Stanley Cup winner (at the age of 22) Brandon Saad to Columbus.

The deal also included two prospects, forward Alex Broadhurst and defenseman Michael Paliotta, in exchange for Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov, Corey Tropp and Jeremy Morin.

Side figured significantly into the Blackhawks just-finished 2015 Stanley Cup run, putting together eight goals and 11 points in the postseason. Those stats came after a regular season in which he amassed 23 goals and 29 assists in 82 games.

To say he has some upside would be an understatement.

The downside?

Well, I don't want to assume... but I think there's a little bit of each and every one of us fans in Columbus that's thinking it.

How much are the Blue Jackets going to have to pay?

Chicago media that I read after the trade announcement indicated Saad and the Blackhawks were pretty far apart, money-wise. The numbers I read had Saad looking for $6-6.5M per year, which Chicago couldn't pull off with its current cap woes.

This means we are back in that dangerous territory of signing a restricted free agent to his second contract... a la the Ryan Johansen incident of last off-season.

Sure, the wounds of that incident have pretty much healed, and everyone is happy, for the most part... but that situation was dicey. The Johansen camp saw the light and took a bridge deal that basically put the weight on RyJo to prove himself. I think most will agree that he certainly established a fine argument this year, and he will most certainly get paid when that deal is up.

Kekalainen was able to get that deal and avoid a bloated second contract to young kid (albeit, a really freaking good young kid), but he had help from the fact that no one had really tainted the market with such a bloated contract before this one.

But that was last year.

This year, Calgary has set that market, with its insane, six-year/$34.5 million deal with former Bruin Dougie Hamilton, whose rights they acquired the day of the Entry Draft.

And that's where I'm leery. Pandora's box has been opened. Big money is going to be on the table to keep Brandon Saad as a Blue Jacket.

And lest we forget that Saad has been on 2 Cup teams in the past three years in Chicago.

So we have come to come to grips with the fact that -- unless Kekalainen can sell Saad on this culture and brick-by-brick approach but this front office is taking in Columbus, and get him down to somewhere in the $4-5 million range on a bridge deal -- Brandon Saad is going to get paid.

And I'm probably not gonna like the number.

This assumes that some GM in the NHL doesn't go balls-out and sign Saad to an offer sheet... which Kekalainen already said during Tuesday's conference call that the Jackets would match. Unlikely, but... you never know.

Yep. Scary.

However... it is Jarmo. And if anyone can get this done at a good price, for a guy who can definitely make this team better... it's him.

In Jarmo We Trust... some of us, a little more nervously than others.

Thanks for reading.

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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Tank That, Toronto

Another game, another glimpse at the team that just will not quit.

Not content to have a nine-game win streak downgraded to a ten-game point streak and then stop there, the Columbus Blue Jackets extended their run to 11 games without a regulation loss, by scorching the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-0.

It was a second shutout the season for Sergei Bobrovsky, who seemed to energize the crowd with every single save he made of the 35 shots Toronto put on net.

While other teams fans are drooling over the prospect of landing Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel, Jackets fans can begin looking deeper into that depth chart of draft prospects to determine who the next brick will be in the CBJ system, while McDavid begins his NHL career threatened with fading into irrelevance in Edmonton.

The Jackets and the faithful at Nationwide quickly reacquainted with an old friend, as defenseman Ryan Murray returned from yet another injury, that ankle sprain that he sustained upon his return from a knee injury. He scored the 4-0 goal in the second period, and then joined the Fox Sports Ohio team during the postgame show. The guy played with some serious jump all night, and what I am sure has been a hellaciously frustrating season for him.

But man, was it good to see him back, or what?

The Jackets were able to pretty much dominate throughout the game, putting up some pretty good shots and chances throughout the first before finally breaking through at the 13:51 mark with Artem Anisimov's goal. The play materialized quickly, with Nick Foligno getting the puck to Dubinsky, who immediately got the puck to Anisimov, who had more room in the slot for a gorgeous shot.

Boone Jenner would net the second goal just over two minutes later -- although it sure seemed a lot longer, because a potential goal was waved off when James Reimer barely kept the puck from crossing the line.

Scott Hartnell had he how-did-he-do-that-from-that-angle Chili Goal,with exactly a minute to go in the first.

It seemed the Jackets could not be denied last night, especially with Jeremy Morin got the 5-0 goal on a shot from just inside the blue line. However, the score would stand from there, thanks to Sergei Bobrovsky.

And that seemed to be the theme of the night: Another very satisfying look at what this team could look like when it is healthy. The Jackets rolled all four lines, and they all looked really good for most of the game, making it very difficult for Toronto to establish any kind of rhythm, especially through the first two periods. Then Bob did the rest.

The traditional post game hug at the end of the congratulatory line... man, that never gets old (I just can't ever get a good pic from my perch in 206). The home crowd did not get to see that enough this season.

And yet, as grueling as this season has been, it will be hard to let this one end this weekend, as so many of us are already waiting eagerly for October.

We still have a couple more of these to treasure, though.

See you Friday. Go Jackets!

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Monday, April 6, 2015

Celebrating Our "Irrelevant" Team

"Mamas, don't let your underage kids troll on Twitter..."
                                                  -- Willie Nelson

The "non-relevant" Columbus Blue Jackets earned a franchise-record ninth-straight win with the additional style points of taking the season series from this young, misguided lad's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Now, if a Playoff spot is the only mark of a team's "relevance," I'm not sure anyone can technically argue with him.

However, he has been very quiet since the Pens lost both Saturday against Columbus and Sunday against Philadelphia, except to call for Jim Rutherford's head for selling Playoff tickets before the Pens actually clinch.

The little twerp is sweating. I'm happy with that.

Honestly, I was surprised the Pens had fallen that far, to the point where the stars could align and they could actually miss the postseason -- outside chance... but man, is this week gonna be fun to watch, or what?

While some outside of Columbus might look at the Jackets's streak as largely a "wetting-your-pants-in-a-dark-suit" accomplishment -- and they will say what they want, so why worry about it -- it's the drive to succeed that remains with this team, that makes it that much more impressive.

Yes, being out of the Playoffs sucks. It sucks hard.

The guys in the dressing room would probably agree with you, too.

But they haven't quit. And that's what matters.

The chemistry that the Jackets struggled with for much of this season due to injuries, has begun to solidify... ironically because of injuries, and the guys who have stepped up to fill holes on the roster.

And that is what has fans eagerly anticipating what a season with a healthy roster could bring in 2015-16.

What this Blue Jackets team did against Pittsburgh on Saturday was about as close to a perfect day (at least from my perspective) as you can get.

Even those potential moments of doubt that some will say have been all too common this season... the feeling that this game would be one for the ages -- no matter the outcome -- was in the air.

The biggest moment of doubt, of course, being the 11:07 mark of the second. When Brandon Sutter scored to put the Pens up 2-0. The jackets had been fairly solid to that point, despite trailing. But that 2-0 hole... again... you had to wonder.

After all, this was Pittsburgh, who were 3-6-1 in their previous ten games coming in... and were determined that of all the dives they could perform this season, diving out of the Playoff race was not going to be one of them.

Then again, this was also Pittsburgh, against whom the Jackets turned heads across the league in the first round of the Playoffs last year, before losing the series in six games.

Now, the Jackets are turning heads again... maybe not for an unheard-of stretch run that will get them into the playoffs, but for what is coming.

The team that knew they would have to "score by committee" after Captain Quit shrugged his way out of town for New York, is beginning to see standout scoring from its core group, many of whom are locked up for at least the next three years. The team now has four players with at least 20 goals, including Nick Foligno with 30 after Saturday's hat trick.

Meanwhile, the youthful talent on this team has had a chance to get some practical NHL experience, get sent down to the AHL, and then come back stronger to fill roles vacated by injuries.

And then there's that streak the Jackets take into MSG tonight, to try and extend it to ten against the Rangers. And the Rangers have been no slouches. They have ridden a 23-8-3 record since the All-Star Break to the top of the Metropolitan Division, and are contending for the Presidents Trophy this year.

No spoiler role here. Just aggressive, hard-checking hockey on both sides.

Four more games, before a torturous offseason that will feel way too long.

But even under the circumstances, if you're not enjoying this ride right now... you may want to check your pulse.

Go Jackets!

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