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.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter and Instagram....
and/or you can "Like" the blog on Facebook
or add to your Google+ Circles.

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!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter and Instagram....
and/or you can "Like" the blog on Facebook
or add to your Google+ Circles.

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!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter and Instagram....
and/or you can "Like" the blog on Facebook
or add to your Google+ Circles.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Seven... Seven... Seven...

The proverbial alignment of the stars could not have been more perfect. Jack Johnson, the man who wears the number seven on his sweater...

...scores his seventh goal of the year... send the Columbus Blue Jackets to their seventh straight win.

Seriously? That's pretty much your mic drop moment right there.

I couldn't write anything nearly good enough to enhance that story.

Not that that inability ever stopped me from trying anyway.

I will say, in a lame attempt at humor,  that I did feel an urge to go to Hollywood Casino and play the slots. Or buy a lottery ticket.

Good thing it's a school night, or else I would be surrendering to another one of those foolish impulses, in which a fellow of my age should not be indulging.

Besides... I'll take this game over a lottery wi-- wait, how much money are we talking, here?

It was a game in which the Jackets largely outplayed the Devils for much of it. In what seemed to be a rare occurrence of late, taking shots and getting them on goal we're not problems this time around. For the most part, the Jackets maintained their composure and prevented New Jersey from clamping down and controlling the tempo.

The Jackets had a couple really good stretches of offensive pressure on Cory Schneider.

Most importantly, they capitalized on their opportunities... likely sensing -- as some fans did, no doubt -- that those opportunities may not be plentiful, considering the barrage of potential calls that the on-ice officials missed.

However, it seems to me that would be poor form to complain that a few more calls didn't go your way after winning. That's more of a Pittsburgh Penguins fan move... so, I'll just leave that to the experts.

What mattered is that the Jackets quickly bounced back to start the second, after giving up a Mike Cammalleri goal in the last minute of the first. The penalty that carried over from the first was just a few seconds from being over, when Alexander Wennberg flicked the puck toward the net, and Nick Foligno redirected it past Schneider.

The Jackets then took the lead a few minutes later, after Brandon Dubinsky schooled Schneider on a penalty shot, after being hacked twice by Stefan Matteau on a breakaway.

Still, despite some sloppy play, and seeming disoriented at times by the Jackets' pressure, the Devils capitalized on a breakaway from Dainius Zubrus, which Zubrus was able to keep alive after Bobrovsky's initial save, and Cammalleri got his second of the night after getting a couple whacks at the puck, which got in under Bob's blocker and off his hip.

Two-and-a-half minutes left, and a late, game-tying goal.


However, the Jackets were again unshaken.

Case in point... the smooth play of Ryan Johansen, who managed to maintain puck possession with a guy on him all the way behind the net before passing the puck to David Savard just inside the blue line. From there, Savard found Johnson coming into the slot to Schneider's right, and Johnson backhanded the puck past Schneider for the winner.

Seven, baby.

Can you really blame a guy for not being able to keep his feet after seeing that puck go in?

I know I can't... at least as long as he's not hurting himself in the process. It has, after all, been that kind of season.

There are two more division games in this homestand... first against the Isles on Thursday, and then wrapping up against Pittsburgh on Saturday.

And so, after a pretty successful March, the Blue Jackets are probably healthier than they've been all season, as they go into the campaign's final six games, riding a seven-game win streak and demonstrating the grit, determination and skill that shows this team will be a force to reckon with in the future.

But for now... on to the next one.

Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter and Instagram....
and/or you can "Like" the blog on Facebook
or add to your Google+ Circles.