Monday, February 28, 2011

Trade Wrapup: Howson Shoots, HE SC-- what? Oh.

Well, it wasn't a sexy NHL Trade Deadline for the Columbus Blue Jackets... but it will do.

The blockbuster trade anticipated by many Blue Jackets did not happen today, as John-Michael Liles stayed put (dammit!) in Denver.

However, the Blue Jackets acquired some depth on the blueline and potentially some scoring help at the deadline, trading away the last original Blue Jacket, Rostislav Klesla to Phoenix for forward Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto.

Upshall brings 16 goals and 11 assists in 61 games thus far, which is certainly not bad and could come in handy for the remainder of the stretch run into the Playoffs, especially while we wait for Derick Brassard to return from injury.

Lepisto figures to provide depth with the recent injuries to guys like Anton Stralman and... well, Klesla. With Klesla being not-quite-healthy, this trade is an obvious win for the Jackets, going into these last 21 games of the season. The Western Canadian Road Trip gets underway tomorrow, and the Jackets have to get back on the right track after the loss in Nashville.

There are 21 games to go, and realistically, the Jackets need to win 14 or 15 of them to secure a spot in the Playoffs, and even that might not be enough. Seven out of the West's eight playoff teams last year had 100 points or more. The eighth had 95. This Western Conference race is tight, though. That means putting together a run like the one they opened the season with in October and November. It's not impossible, but looking at the standings, it's safe to say the margin for error is slimmer than usual.

I'll tell you... I'm bummed to see Klesla go. There aren't many expansion teams in the NHL that can say they still have guys from the original roster. Columbus can't, anymore.

But all sentiment aside, the move had to be made, and fans know it.

Frankly, more people are mad about trading away Tom Sestito to Philadelphia, for essentially two prospects. Sestito made a really good impression in nine games with the Jackets, tallying two goals and two assists, and adding 11 goals and 21 assists with Springfield this year (figured I'd pull those off the Springfield website before they remove him).

But... it's a business decision that we have to hope is the right one. Scott Howson made the deals he could to get the players that could fill as many needs as possible. The Jackets still need a top-line center... but we'll just have to wait until July.

The Blue Jackets will go to sleep in Vancouver tonight... a better team than they were when they woke up.

And at this point, that is what matters.

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Klesla Moved

The Columbus Blue Jackets have shipped defenseman Rostislav Klesla to the Phoenix Coyotes for winger Scottie Upshall and defenseman Sami Lepisto.

Klesla was the Jackets' first-ever draft pick, and was the last original Blue Jacket from the Opening Night 2000 roster.

The Jackets also threw in Dane Byers. I'll be honest... Columbus didn't draft him and I don't know a thing about him (heh-heh).

In Upshall, the Jackets get a forward who could bring some scoring to the second or third line. He currently has 16 goals and 11 assists through 61 games.

Lepisto's acquisition gives the Jackets some blueline depth and another young and progressing defenseman. His four goals and 11 points are career highs through 51 games.

Both are also healthy, which is always a plus.

Is it over? Not sure. The Jackets may be interested in John-Michael Liles -- the only player I'm really coveting at this deadline, but only for the right deal. As of right now, he's still out there... Buffalo may also be pursuing him.

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A Small Setback...

To: Shea Weber, Nashville Predators
From: Voice of Reason
Subject: Really?

Mr. Weber:

First of all, yes, we understand that you took a nasty hit from R.J. Umberger, your head hit the dasher rather nastily, and there was blood.

I totally get that. Not disputing it whatsoever. While it was not an intentional hit... a penalty should have been called, and the Nashville Predators definitely should have had a powerplay for the remaining five-point-five seconds.

And for the fact that Umberger didn't exactly stick around fawning over you and saying "Sorry, old chap," well... sorry about that, too.

Now, as far as whacking a guy that didn't even hit you in the closing seconds in the process of trying to start something... dude, get over yourself.

Leave the cheap-ass thuggery to guys like Jordin Tootoo. There is a reason why you wear the "C," and guys like him wear... well, how he still wears an NHL sweater is anyone's guess.

But I digress. Honestly, I know you got up and were ready to start something... but I genuinely hope you're well.

That aside...

The Columbus Blue Jackets did not help themselves, or get help from anyone else Sunday. Those unfortunate circumstances leave the Blue Jackets still in 12th, now four points out of a Playoff spot.

Not exactly the way a team wants to go into the last few hours before the NHL Trade Deadline... but at the same time, it's just one game.

But somehow, the Toronto War Room's typical screwups in the goal-review process always manage to leave a really bad taste in one's mouth. Every person watching the damn game saw it.

From the side camera, you see the puck sitting on the line against Pekka Rinne's pad. Then you see Derek McKenzie whack the puck with his stick. Rinne's pad clearly goes back, and you don't see the puck anymore, probably because it's now between Rinne's toe and the padding at the bottom of the net.

From the top view, you don't see the puck all that well, and I can understand that entirely. You see Rinne's glove slam down on the ice and seem to slide something back over the line. Apparently not the puck, though.

Five minutes or more after the ref -- who couldn't possibly have even seen the play because he was on the other side of the goal -- hurriedly signaled no goal... Toronto turned in its latest garbage call.

I could have accepted that before they showed the goal one last time during the intermission. Had they bothered to let the replay go a couple more seconds, they would have seen a stick sweep the puck back from behind the line.

It's maddening. The official line given to the Dispatch's Aaron Portzline was that there was no definitive proof the puck crossed the line. I could accept that if it weren't for that last look at the play.

Mr. Portzline -- for whom I have the utmost respect because of his sticking to the principles of objectivity -- also said the War Room screws up calls for all 30 NHL teams... and I'm sure they do. However, when I count the number of their calls in which the Jackets got the call...? Let's just say it's rare. I recall one or two.

Legitimate-but-disallowed goals? Let's just say I've run out of fingers.

It just sucks because I know what I saw. We all know what we saw....

However, I have always said this and I will say it again: Just like you still have to kill bad penalties, you have to overcome the bad calls from the lazy jackasses in suits in Toronto as well.

And Matt Calvert did just that, just minutes after the extended review break, notching his tenth of the year -- and fifth of the week. Kris Russell had the other goal, which tied the game at two.

It was such a great game to watch. Just a shame to lose it on a big, juicy rebound... punched in by David Legwand with less than two minutes remaining.

Deflating? Sure, a little....

Dooming? Absolutely not.

Just a little less room for error, that's all.

Up next... the Western Canadian Road Trip, starting in Vancouver on Tuesday...

...but first, today's 3 p.m. NHL Trade Deadline. We'll see what pans out. Will try to get updates as they come -- if they do... you never know with Scott Howson.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Matt Hatter

Does anyone happen to have access to who the last guy was to get a natural hat trick as a rookie?

Matt Calvert -- in only his 20th career NHL game -- not only broke a 2-2 tie against the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period... he blew the while damn game open, capping his natural hat trick early in the third.

It was one of those individual efforts that makes a hockey fan drool.

There are few words for what happened in Nationwide Arena last night. Matt Calvert took over the hockey game after the Blue Jackets fought back to a 2-2 tie after the first period.

Matt Calvert took the ice, and showed the crowd of 16,000-plus (including a few thousand fans who have largely stayed away for the first four-months-plus) that it is okay to believe in this team.

And believe me... it is okay. In fact, I really encourage it.

Friday, Columbus showed that it belongs in the NHL Western Conference Playoff race. And maybe... just maybe... Scott Howson doesn't need to make some huge blockbuster deal before Monday at 3 p.m. to solidify this team and steel it for the Playoffs in April.

We have been calling for something... anything to happen to get this team going, and Howson has stood his ground. And, unlike many of the Blue Jackets teams before them... these Jackets have raised their level of play and found ways to win, even when they spot opponents a goal or two.

Case in point, last night. After the CBJ gave up two goals early, R.J. Umberger made fans forget all about the missed penalty shot earlier in the period when he took a pass from Derek McKenzie and put it behind Ilya Bryzgalov. Four minutes later, Jakub Voracek got just the right deflection to score from the goal line.

Then Matt Calvert took over. First, the tie-breaker from the top of the faceoff circle. Then knocking a puck out of the air on a seemingly broken play in front. Then... the clincher and the ultimate show of pure persistence... Calvert gets the rebound of his own one-timer and roofs it over Bryzgalov.

If there was ever a prime example of good things happening when you shoot the puck... it's Matt Calvert. It's so easy to speculate what he could have done in an entire season, but you can't dismiss the value of starting the season in the minors. The kid came up to the Jackets hungry... and last night he feasted.

Can someone put in an early MVP vote for a guy who has only played 20 games?

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Riveting Waiver Claim...

The Jackets have added some veteran experience on defense at half-price, claiming Craig Rivet off re-entry waivers.

The move gives Rivet a home after a season in which he has only played 23 games -- tallying a goal, two assists, and a minus-5. Per the Buffalo News, Rivet had been a scratch in the Sabres' last 18 games.

As the team's captain. Yikes.

Still, from the sound of it, he's a well-respected guy. It looks like a good depth move... veteran leadership is never a bad thing to have in the locker room. Plus, you never know how a guy reacts to a new atmosphere... so, it's not sexy, but it's a solid pickup.

Welcome to Columbus, Craig.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Zherdev On Waivers... aaaaand "Ignore"

Great news everybody! Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is telling everyone the Blue Jackets will be buyers before the NHL Trade Deadline Monday at 3 PM!

More good news! Nikolai Zherdev is on waivers! That means the Jackets can jump all over…


… I can't even finish that sentence with a straight face.

It's not that I'm surprised that Zherdev is on waivers. Frankly, I'm amazed the Flyers ever plucked him from the KHL to begin with. I guess if Zherdev was so interested in playing in the NHL, maybe the KHL isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Maybe the Flyers figured third time was a charm. Maybe he would find a way to drop the attitude and actually display some sort of work ethic.

So much for that idea.

So goes the latest sad chapter in the career of Nikolai Zherdev. Once a promising Russian forward and prospect for the Blue Jackets, now reduced to a footnote and a waiver claim…

…if anyone bothers to claim him.

But enough about him. Let's talk about guys that hockey teams like the Jackets want. Heck, who do the Jackets want?

The biggest needs still appear to be a top-line center and a puck-moving defenseman.

Now, if you only had to choose one, which of those two key positions would you choose? And who would you want?

My own take is, if I'm wanting a puck moving defenseman, I want to give the Avalanche a call and see what they want for John-Michael Liles. The guy has been dogged by trade rumors for the past couple years, as he's been in and out of the doghouse. However, I do like his point production, at six goals and 33 assists this year, and three of those goals were on the power play. His big question mark is whether he is solid enough defensively... so buyer beware, I suppose.

As far as centers, I took a peek at Thursday's Bleacher Report featuring its "power rankings" of top 20 trade prospects at the deadline -- it lists Rostislav Klesla and Kristian Huselius, by the way.

The pickings are decent, although the question here is either  
a) is he the top line center the Jackets need, or  
b) are the Jackets willing to commit to someone who has a higher price point and/or could be gone in July via free agency?

Their top centers are Brad Richards, Jason Arnott, or Stephen Weiss. I don't think Richards or Arnott would come to Columbus, because they are still not "in it" yet. Expect them to go to teams who are well above the line. So, that leaves Weiss, who apparently carries a $3M-plus cap hit, and still has time left on his deal. Unless Howson makes another deal to make some room, Weiss may not be practical. So, I think if there is a deal for a center, it will be a surprise, because the CBJ don't need another "depth" center.

Three days and change left. What happens is anyone's guess.

At least we have a game to keep us occupied tonight.

Go Jackets!

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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Still Climbing...

The New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche all did their jobs last night.

The Columbus Blue Jackets most definitely did their jobs last night. The result... they are temporarily just two points out of the eighth Playoff spot in the West.

It won't stay that way, because Los Angeles and Anaheim -- two of the four teams tied at 68 points -- play each other this evening, so one of those teams will definitely move up tonight.

Obviously, we can stalk the standings all we want... but if the Blue Jackets keep winning, the points will take care of themselves.

But enough about factors beyond the Jackets' control... let's talk about the present and future of the CBJ -- in more detail... Rick Nash and Matt Calvert.

Nash, obviously, has been an absolute beast of late... putting up five goals and four assists as part of a five-game point-scoring streak. He opened and closed the scoring last night, including a power play goal in the closing minute.

And Matt Calvert...  that guy is freakishly fast. He has great jump, gets down the ice, and creates opportunities. That goal he scored into an open net to put the CBJ up 2-0 was not the first time he had picked up a turnover from Pekka Rinne last night. The guy's got feet... a lot of hustle. You can't say enough good things about Calvert's play.

So a lot can be said for scoring three goals in under nine minutes (and four in a period), but what about the Jackets defensively?  That was one hell of a clamp-down in the third. The Jackets outshot the Preds 13-6 in the first, then had a lapse in the second, with Nashville putting up 11 shots to the Jackets' four. This game was scoreless through two largely because of Steve Mason and his resurgent play in the second half of this season.

And with that effort in goal, the Jackets turned it back on in the third. With the shot count knotted at 17 through two, the CBJ allowed only three shots on Mason in the third. Obviously, the Jackets' shots started going in as well, for Nash, Calvert and Antoine Vermette, who scored a beauty from the doorstep off a gorgeous centering pass from Kris Russell.

One Preds blogger's preview gushed about how much the Preds love beating the Blue Jackets, spewing about their franchise's stellar record against Columbus. No lie... this series is lopsided. After all, the Preds have won about 75 percent of the games in this series.

Remarkably, however... the Jackets are now 6-1-2 in their last nine home games against Nashville (dating back to the 2008-09 season), which is a huge improvement. The problem against Nashville has been on the road, and that's the tough task for Sunday. The Jackets have not won in the Bridgestone Arena since Monday, April 3, 2006 (0-10-5 since then), so extending the franchise-record road win streak will not be easy.

That's in the future, though. Obviously, there is no looking past Phoenix on Friday. The Coyotes currently own an eight-game win streak, a run that has propelled them to the Pacific Division lead. With a chance to finally get out of 12th and potentially as high as 9th, the Jackets have to focus on continuing their stellar play at home.

Every point counts... not that anyone needs that reminder. The good news is, the Jackets are playing every game with that sense of calm urgency.

And if they keep playing that game, more good things are still to come.

Wrandom Wrister
Did anyone else really enjoy seeing Jordin Tootoo get pounded on by Jared Boll, after Tootoo pulled that cross-check? I mean sure, it was a draw, but the bewildered "why-won't-you-fall-down?" look on his face was priceless. Here's a tip, Jordin: It's harder to knock a guy down when you're not hitting him from behind.

And the extra penalty, to boot! Why yes, we will take that power play goal, thank you.

See you Friday. Go Jackets!

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Wrandom Wrister: The Scary Thing About The Underwood Trade...

The Nashville Predators are extremely dangerous right now, and have proven as such by what hockey pundits -- or at least guys with a warped sense of humor, like me -- will forever remember as the "Underwood Trade."

Ottawa traded Mike Fisher to Nashville for the Preds' first-round pick... a trade that had an Ottawa radio station banning Carrie Underwood's music and dubbing her the "Yoko Ono of Hockey."

Now, I don't care much for Carrie Underwood's music, or just about anything country for that matter. But comparing her to Yoko Ono?

The Ottawa Senators were hockey's Beatles? Really?

Please. Ottawa is not even hockey's O-Town.

However, there is something we really need to worry about... and I'm not just talking about Blue Jackets fans...

It's a week away from the Trade Deadline... do we know whom our favorite players are dating-slash-married to?

To hell with whether Carrie Underwood is hockey's Yoko Ono...

...what if this is just the beginning of a vast Nashville Predators conspiracy?

Think about it: Nashville has yet to win a Playoff series. However, they have made the Playoffs more often than not, and Barry Trotz is Nashville's first and only head coach... in nearly eleven seasons. That in itself is a freak of nature.

Those SOBs are building an All-Star Team, dammit. The "Underwood Plan" is just the next step.

Think of it... getting your city's budding country music starlets to date/marry hockey players. He craps out... bang, he's married to a millionaire country singer. She winds up the next Gretchen Wilson, Mindy McCready, or some other interchangeable one hit wonder... bang, married to a millionaire hockey player.

See? Everybody wins... in Nashville.

Be afraid... be very afraid.

Who is Rick Nash dating? What about Antoine Vermette? Matt Calvert?

Good God! Crystal Bowersox is originally from Ohio, isn't she! She's a sleeper cell!

Now, don't get me wrong, I realize some will see this as a ridiculous conspiracy theory (or just a ridiculous attempt at humor)...*

...but the Blue Jackets are playing the Preds twice this week, before the trade deadline.

I'm only suggesting a little extra security detail for the guys, okay? Especially on the road on Sunday.

Thanks for reading... go Jackets!

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* - I'll admit it right now... it's both.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Playing At A New Level?

Blue Jackets fans are beginning to see that team that they saw at the beginning of the season… You remember, the team that started 14-6-0. That team that managed to earn points on the road. That team that led the Central Division for all of an hour back in November.

That team that found ways to win more often than not.

These guys look familiar… And damn, it is good to have them back.

Make no mistake, the Columbus Blue Jackets are still trying to climb out of a hole into a Playoff spot, but they're showing that this is a team that will not go quietly. With a pair of teams just a handful of points behind them already starting to make moves to make way for rebuilding, the Jackets are playing like a team looking to be buyers a week from Monday.

Or, given the market conditions, at least to not be sellers.

The Blue Jackets have now won six straight on the road, and are 6-0-2 in the last eight games on the road. The good guys are also now 7-7-2 in the Central Division.

Ready for the really freaky part? Look at the Conference Standings, under home and away records. The Jackets are just 14-13-2 at home... but look at that 15-10-4 record on the road.

Five games above .500 on the road?!?!? Crazy. Just think... a few more wins at home in December and January, and the Jackets are above the line.

Now, this win over Chicago is only one game. It's up to Columbus to finish the season above the line. No one seems to think they can, or that they're even worthy.

Case in point: Look at this piece from ESPN Chicago from last night.

"Blackhawks have sunk to Jackets' level"? Really? Maybe by some freak possibility... a little credit to the Jackets for how well they have played of late?

Note to ESPN Chicago: Screw you. If your home team had managed its finances and contract cap hits better, and had chosen to keep Antii Niemi, you wouldn't be lamenting the Blackhawks' current conference position right now.

Seriously... you sound like Lakers fans after they lost to Cleveland this week.

But if bashing your team for "sinking to the Jackets' level" makes you feel better, that's your prerogative.

Meanwhile, the Columbus faithful will enjoy the fact that our team is working hard and playing at a higher level against a talented Chicago team that just happens to not be executing very well.

Now... doesn't that sound better?

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Important Stretch Begins Tonight

The Columbus Blue Jackets begin for game stretch before the trade deadline tonight in Chicago, and all eyes — or at least more eyes than usual – will be on R.J. Umberger.

Umberger has become quite the hero in Columbus, not only as a result of his play in a CBJ uniform, and in a Buckeyes uniform a few years before, but that man was a freaking beast the other night against L.A.

Seriously… he leaves the game in the first period, with an apparent injury to his leg, and not only does he come back in the second and finish the game... the dude dives to block a shot in the closing seconds of regulation, and then nearly wins it in OT.

R.J. Umburger is a freak… and I mean that in every positive way possible.

There are a lot of guys in the NHL that could learn a thing or two about toughness from R.J. Umburger. The running joke on Twitter in Columbus today consists of all those one-line jokes about Chuck Norris… you know the ones... "Chuck Norris doesn't do push-ups, he pushes the world down," et cetera. Just take out Chuck Norris' name and putting Umburger's.

The Blue Jackets will need that kind of toughness this evening, as they take on the Chicago Blackhawks, in a stretch of four games that includes three Central Division games.

These four games will likely determine whether the Blue Jackets are buyers or sellers a week from Monday at the NHL trade deadline.

Chicago has put up points in their last four games 2-0-2, and are for for into in the last 10. Meanwhile, the CBJ are 6-3-1 in their last 10, and while they have been putting up points, they need help, and they need to win games in regulation as often as possible. They also need the teams immediately above them to lose in regulation.

One glance at the Conference Standings illustrates my point. The Jackets sit at 62 points, six points out of the playoff spot — as high as sixth place, in fact. If the Western Conference keeps up this kind of play, we could see more than a couple playoff spots determined by tiebreaker at the end of the season. Any team currently below the line could go on a major tear, and be as high as fourth in a couple weeks. Then again, a team above the line could go on a major schneid, and hit the golf links in mid-April.

All Trade Deadline talk aside, the Blue Jackets need to be in that first group. That having been said, let's hope the CBJ stay relatively hot tonight and get back on the winning track to come home Tuesday.

Cheers… go Jackets!

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Ten Days... And The Clock Is Ticking...

Lately, I have been so fixated on the prospects of a Columbus Blue Jackets run into the playoffs, that I temporarily lost sight of something very important.

I am realizing as I see all these little trades going back and forth that we are just 10 days away from the NHL Trade Deadline, and most CBJ fans have no idea whatsoever what our guys are going to do — if anything.

Frankly, it's a little scary. The Blue Jackets are certainly within striking distance of the playoffs. However, the way the Western Conference has been playing, six points could be a big hill to climb, even with 25 games to go in the season. However , if the Jackets are looking to make waves at the deadline — which is a week from Monday at 3 PM Eastern — they will have to come up huge in the next four games.

And there is not one easy win in those next four games – tonight in Chicago, home games Tuesday and Friday against Nashville and Phoenix… and then the start of a season-high, five-game road trip in Nashville next Sunday.

GM Scott Howson could make a move any point between now and then. Or, he could stay where he is. Either way, it's a gamble.

However, it is a gamble he might feel a hell of a lot better about either way, if the Jackets can get at least six points in these next four games.

However, as much as fans and bloggers (myself included) seem to think that Howson needs to make a trade sooner rather than later, what do the Jackets have to offer?

Look at some of the transactions that have happened in the last few days. The Boston Bruins are gunning for a deep run in the Playoffs, getting Tomas Kaberle from Toronto for a couple of picks and a prospect . The Flyers are looking serious again after nabbing Kris Versteeg from Toronto for a couple of draft picks, and the Nashville Predators are looking to solidify a playoff berth by grabbing Mike Fisher from Ottawa.

Or, if you believe the folks at one Ottawa Radio Station  … maybe Carrie Underwood just pulled some strings on that last one.

Now, surely there are still some marquee names out there.

One methodology that as well tested is looking at the cellar dwellers in the league and look at who they might be willing to unload. Unfortunately, the most likely candidates to be unloaded are guys that are either overpaid or in the last year of their contracts. This means the Jackets could very let well lose them by July 1 — and depending on what the Blue Jackets give up, anyone they trade for could be a very expensive rental.

Honestly, one guy at the top of my wishlist would probably be John-Michael Liles in Colorado. Sure, there has been a lot of talk about him being in the doghouse the last couple years, but he is still a good, young player who has shown he can move the puck as well. The big question is, what would the Avs want in return for him? After all, he does lead to team in assists with 30.

The other question is… what do the Jackets have to offer? Obviously, Mike Commodore is a clear candidate, if for no other reason than to get his salary off the books. It frees up some cap room for free agency in July. I think the Blue Jackets could get a decent mid-round pick for Commodore, IF there is a team out there that feels like taking on that salary.

Obviously, there have been murmurs about other guys that the Jackets might dump, maybe Kristian Huselius or Rostislav Klesla. It’s hard to say. From what other teams have seen of the Blue Jackets this year, the best-performing or at least the most consistent players that teams would want are probably guys that Howson would never part with under any circumstances.

So, maybe Howson will stand.

However, in all reality, the Jackets need to win these next few games, or else the point is probably moot.

Maybe the best case scenario is seeing if Howson has been right all along… that the Jackets have the personnel they need to win. Hopefully, we'll get to find out.

The only thing that is certain is that Blue Jackets fans may not be willing to sit through another rebuilding year. If you think the crowds have been small this year…

…well, let’s just leave it at that.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Foppa Knows Best...

And, in no time at all, he was gone.

Again.

Peter Forsberg's abrupt announcement yesterday capped off his latest (but certainly not greatest) comeback attempt.

It is easy to be upset, especially considering that it seemed like such a surprise to everyone. When even teammates Milan Hejduk and Adam Foote were telling the Denver Post that it was a surprise to them, you know it was something that Foppa kept pretty close to the vest.

It's also easy to be upset if you're in Avs fan, especially if you had tickets to that debacle last night. Not only do you find out earlier in the day that Forsberg is retiring, and that you'll never see him on Avalanche ice again... you see the rest of the team lie down and die on that same ice a few hours later.

Honestly, sure... if I were one of those fans, I would be kind of pissed.

However, Peter Forsberg had to go the way of his gut… or rather, his feet.

The foot problems that plagued him the last few years — and were the focus of seemingly countless surgeries — proved to be the end of Foppa's career. However good he looked on the ice on Friday in Columbus -- and he looked like the Avs' best player at times -- he was apparently playing in pain again by the second night of the back-to-back nights in Nashville. When he says it's time, it's time.

And so, with two Stanley Cup rings, two Olympic Gold Medals and the 2003 Hart trophy highlighting his illustrious career, Peter Forsberg has retired.

Sure, there are select few who made jokes about diapers and medication the other night, but I think every hockey fan knows that Foppa felt he had to do this, and then did the right thing by stepping away when he felt he couldn't do it anymore.

Peter Forsberg could have milked this thing, put the spotlight on himself and kept beating a dead horse, but he didn't. He gave it everything he had, but he knew there was a limit.

Considering sports fans had to sit through the annoying Brett Favre retirement/unretirement debacle for the past three years... it's nice to at least have closure.

Farewell, Foppa.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

A Valentine (Of Sorts) for Hockey Widows...

Valentine's Day is a wonderful holiday. It is the one day (probably shouldn't be the only one, though) in which we step back and take a moment to appreciate our significant others and the important role they play in our lives.

I open with that for the benefit of any women reading this. Ladies, just so you know: Most of us really don't just think of it as "Pink Puck Night."

And gentlemen, if that is actually on your gift list for today, I will suggest right now: It is better to go to dinner with her empty-handed, rather than with one of those pink pucks.

Yes, instead of spitting my usual venomous humor on MartiniHockey.net today, I'm thinking more along the lines of a tribute of sorts to all the actual and self-proclaimed Hockey Widows, and try to atone for our sins as puckheads.

And though I have said before that Mrs. Martini is not necessarily the oppressed Hockey Widow she would have you believe... I, too, have not been without sin.

I mentioned last week that our first NHL game was in 2000. October 18, a date immortalized in dating history. The Jackets’ seventh-ever game, our first NHL game...

...and, by some misguided notion on my part, Mrs. Martini’s birthday present.

I still vaguely remember the e-mail conversation a few weeks prior:

Me: "Guess where we are going your birthday... I have acquired two tickets to the Colorado Avalanche versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on October 18! Isn't that great?"

Her: "That's awesome!"

Anyone will tell you, you can't necessarily read a person's tone when they're typing what they're saying. Of course, in my youth, I was not considering this minor detail. I was just thinking, "Woohoo! Bitchen! We're going for first NHL game together!"

Worse yet, I’m wearing the CBJ sweater she bought me for my birthday, and she’s wearing one of my Avs sweaters, subjecting her to rookie fans who were still developing their hockey manners.

So... this was a good example (actually, two or three rolled into one) of where I was clearly in the wrong.

Somehow, inexplicably, she is still with me all these years.

Honestly, if there is any real advantage for our significant others in relation to our rabid hockey fandom, it's the fact that we're pretty easy to shop for. Sadly, we're not cheap to shop for... hockey swag is pretty freakin' pricy.

So, on that note, I would like to take a moment to wish Mrs. Martini a Happy Valentine's Day, and a special thank you for not killing me up to this point.

And for all the Hockey Widows and Widowers (I assume there are a few jilted guys out there), I think I can speak for all of us fans in saying Happy Valentine's Day, we love you, and we promise not to drag you to an NHL game tonight.

Well, at least I can say that in Columbus... since we don't have a game tonight.

For those in other markets who do have games tonight: Might want to open with roses when you pick her up, boys.

Happy Pink Puck Night.

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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Game 55 vs. Colorado: Two Wishes Granted

Well, it was good news on two fronts.

Hockey legend Peter Forsberg had a good game in his first game in the NHL in three years… and the Blue Jackets won.

Plagued with foot and ankle problems over the last several years, Foppa took the ice and easily looked like the best and fastest player on the ice for the Avalanche all night.

At the age of thirty-seven.

From that turnaround in the neutal zone about three-and-a-half minutes in and weaving through opponents to try to put a shot on net, Forsberg was fast and furious, and for a good chunk of the first period, the Blue Jackets were hard-pressed to keep up with him.

Unfortunately for the Avs, it seemed rather tough for Foppa’s own teammates to keep up with him. If his teammates had been able to connect with his passes, this would have been a different hockey game. Just watch… a couple more games to perhaps establish more of a rhythm, and this Avalanche team could be dangerous if they avoid more injuries to key personnel.

Not to mention the fact that Forsberg has to still feel good, foot-wise. No one knows how the rigors of the remainder of the NHL season will impact him. He even got into a nice battle in the corner toward the end of the second, in which he tripped Derek Dorsett and held Jan Hejda – and then seemed to be looking for a call.

Oh, yeah… the Foppa that Avs fans love – and opposing fans hate – is most certainly back.

What was important was that, even with the rough start that saw Colorado shelling Mathieu Garon over the first several minutes, and then a bad turnover that led to Philippe Dupuis’s goal late in the opening period, the Jackets did not lose composure. They managed to keep the Avs’ attack contained the rest of the way, even when they couldn’t get the offense going themselves. Rick Nash and Derick Brassard changed that in the second period. The Nash goal in particular was crazy, the result of a cross-ice pass from Jakub Voracek that left Peter Budaj going post-to-post… but just not quickly enough.

Nash wasn’t done, though. Less than seven minutes later, Nash hustled to the end boards to get a takeaway, then tapped a pass to Brassard, who wristed it in from a tough angle past Budaj.
Major kudos on the Jackets’ effort Friday. They kept the Avs off the board for much of the first period, which they did not manage in two prior meetings this season – both 5-1 losses. The Jackets stayed after the Avs, and even with the lateness of the offense, they didn’t dig themselves a huge hole.

The Jackets are looking good, fans. They are winners of four of the last five. Of course, there is still plenty of hockey to be played in the next couple weeks before February is over – and all those games are in the West, and all are against teams above them in the standings. The Jackets need to capitalize on the momentum they’re getting right now, keep winning, and hope for a little help when they can get it, because the Western Conference isn’t getting any less tough. Even if the Jackets have snapped out of the funk they suffered in December and January, they have to make sure it’s not too late.

Hopefully Derek Dorsett is okay, after hitting his head on the ice in a fall, after Forsberg inadvertently knocked his feet out from under him near the boards early in the third.

Next up is Dallas on Sunday…. Go Jackets!

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Peter Forsberg vs. Columbus: One Fan’s Conundrum (Not Really)

Something weird could still happen, but one of the finest players to come out of Sweden – and arguably the best player of his time in the NHL (aside from Gretzky, of course) – is expected to be on the ice tonight in Nationwide Arena.

And although I will still be wearing Union Blue tonight, there is a little part of me that wants to see a good game from Peter Forsberg.

In a perfect world, Foppa will have a hat trick – or at least a good game – in a 4-3 loss to the Jackets tonight.

Come on… for all the CBJ diehards out there… we all have our “pre-Jackets” teams. I have been a Boston Bruins fan from the first NHL games I watched – Andy Moog, Ray Bourque, Cam Neely and guys like that. I started following Joe Sakic and the Nordiques that last season before the lockout – whenever it was possible, anyway… I lived in Southern Ohio at the time, so watching hockey was more or less unheard of unless someone had a dish. Thank goodness for Sega and EA Sports' NHL game franchise, too... singlehandedly kept me from going nuts.

By the way, back then lockouts only shortened the season instead of eliminating them. Take notes, Mr. Bettman. Lockouts make very unhappy people.

By the time the shortened 1994-95 season came around – and better yet, I had transferred to a school where there were hockey fans and I could actually watch it – this kid from Sweden took the league by storm and won the Calder Trophy, little more than a year after he led Sweden to a Gold Medal in the Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Again, didn’t get to see that live (see above), although thanks to eBay, I did eventually get the Swedish postage stamp that immortalized “The Goal” (the Swedish Olympic version, not the Bruins version… although the latter should have stamp too, damn it).

If I had any hockey skills whatsoever, Peter Forsberg would be considered one of my heroes, up there with Super Joe and Ray Bourque.

Fast forward to Foppa’s first game against Columbus. My first NHL game, and Mrs. Martini’s too. All loyalties to Colorado were gone four nights out of the season from then on, since I and others finally had a team to call our own. So, Forsberg had two goals and assisted on two more, en route to a 5-1 win in Columbus that night. It was also the night Patrick Roy tied Terry Sawchuk on the all-time wins list. It was bittersweet. Obviously, it was not a horrible night for a Forsberg or Avs fan, but on one night out of four when Foppa, Super Joe, Patrick Roy and the Avs could go to hell as far as I was concerned… yeah, not pretty.

So, what happens as Peter The Great returns to Nationwide Arena tonight?

Yes, it will be great to have him back on the ice for one last (and hockey gods willing, healthy) hurrah. However, there are no divided loyalties here. The Blue Jackets have to take care of their own business. The Avs have 20-something other games to get their stuff together, because they’re in a similar hole as the home team. You know what, they’re rebuilding anyway. It’s not like the Avalanche are in danger of relocating after this year/after a Lockout or anything like that.

Welcome back to the ice, Foppa. I hope you have a good game tonight. Just not too good. You understand.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wrandom Wrister: Another “Goalie Fight”…? Another ‘Not’

It’s official: The “Goalie Fight” is officially a lost art.

It seems like now, since the Brent Johnson/Rick DiPietro non-fight last week, every goalie wants to give it a try.

So, as a follow up to my post last week, I submit for your approval and/or jeering... Wednesday night, Bruins vs. Canadiens:



Tim Thomas, I’m a Bruins fan… admire the heck out of your play, but… really, dude?

Again… one swing, maybe two? Did a punch even connect before the sweaters came off?

This wasn’t a goalie fight… this was an awkward first date in the backseat of a car….

Where are Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon when we need them?

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Matt Cooke Entering Bertuzzi-esque Territory

What a difference a few years without Mario Lemieux makes.

I was in Pittsburgh a few weeks ago for a regional retreat, and after the initial meetup and networking session, a few of us went out with our hosts and representatives from other cities to just hang out, catch up, and have a round or two of Yuengling — which, as anyone from Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania, will probably tell you, is one of the finest beers in the world (and they're right).

So, at this place called Redbeard's Bar & Grill -- friendly staff, great atmosphere, definitely check it out -- which has this mural (link is to the picture on their website) of Pittsburgh sports heroes. Obviously, you have your guys from the Steelers, and I guess the Pirates were good once, so they have a couple guys up there. Anyway, toward the bottom, there is a picture of Mario Lemieux, which I believe was based on a classic photograph of him as he's looking over his shoulder.

Yeah. Disney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are up there, too. There... there is your mention, boys.

Anyway as you can see, it's a pretty nice mural. Lemieux should be up higher, but I understand. I'm biased.

Mario Lemieux was one of those guys who embodied the spirit of hockey, and the way it was meant to be played. He thrived in an era in which stars were scoring 100 goals more often than not, and breaking 100, 150 total points, sometimes. The later years of his career, after his comeback from Hodgkin's (See? Sports hero!), was around the time that scoring had decreased, and he spoke out a lot about putting an end to the clutching and grabbing that embodied the league in the late 90s.

However, that's nothing compared to what his team is doing now.

Michael Rupp? I can understand that little hook in that little smack to the back of the head he put on Rick Nash and the first period. One can argue that he simply asserting his will on his home ice. It's not exactly clean, and it certainly should have been called, but it wasn't. I can understand.

However, the hit that Matt Cooke pulled with 5:22 to go in the first? Absolutely not. His hit from behind, which you can see here, is just the latest in a long line of dirty hits and dirty play in general. He also put a nasty knee-on-knee on Alex Ovechkin over the weekend (Ovie's no Boy Scout, but the point is that it's uncalled-for).

I was slightly amused to read in the Dispatch that Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said that Fedor Tyutin looked "right in Cooke's eyes," and saw the hit coming.

Really, coach? Saw that from the bench, did you?

Okay, let's have a look. The only eye contact Tyutin could have had with Cook was maybe 2 seconds before that, when he was looking to see who was in his own zone. From there, Tyutin was playing the puck, and had his back to Cooke, with his head down, and to the side to look ahead of him. Sorry, no one's peripheral vision is that good.

Cooke not only had his hands up and shoved Tyutin into the glass, he left his feet to do so.

I'm sorry, Coach – well, not really – but you're an ass. If you believe what I'm guessing is Cooke's story that Fedor Tyutin looked him right in the eyes and knew that hit was coming, you have about the same sense of hockey fundamentals as Todd Bertuzzi, Brad May, Marc Crawford, and Brian Burke.

No one has to ask what I'm talking about.

Tyutin, thankfully, was not hurt. I'm almost amazed Cooke got four games. Jeremy Roenick was saying Cooke should get 20 games.

Then again, look at the precedent: Todd Bertuzzi served 20 games when he ended Steve Moore's career. Gary Bettman even reinstated him after the lockout. By that logic, what the hell could we have expected Matt Cooke to get?

Let's face it, Matt Cooke would have to injure his own captain to get Bettman to even get off his ass and pay attention.

Those prospects, obviously, are doubtful.

And Mario used to worry about clutching and grabbing. Sad.

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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Game 52: He's Umby, Dammit...

Wow. Who the hell do you give a game puck to in this game?

R.J. Umberger is a really easy choice, since he found a way to factor into all four Blue Jackets goals, including potting two of them.

Yet, one can certainly argue for Kristian Huselius, who put in the other two goals. But it struck me as the graphic goes up that Huselius was scoring just his 10th and 11th goals of the season.

Huh?

What's his salary again?

Do I care? As long as W's are worth two points... not particularly. When you score is just as important as how many.

Don't get me wrong... the puck still goes to Umberger, but I'm not going to be down on Juice just because he hasn't been the point-a-game player we all want him to be. It's a nice way to bounce back after being a healthy scratch on Friday, though.

What matters at this moment is that, at worst, the Jackets are five points out of eighth at the end of the night. Then again, it could be seven or more again by Tuesday. What matters is where the Jackets are 30 games from now.

To hit 95 -- or at least that was last year's benchmark to make the Playoffs -- the Blue Jackets need to win 21 of those 30 games (barring OT or shootout losses, but no one wants to rely on those).

The rest of February after Tuesday is Western Conference play, so every point is huge, especially with most of the conference sitting above Columbus. We have seen good things this weekend. If my count is correct, they have now killed 13 straight penalties -- I might add that each of the last two nights involved a lengthy 5-on-3 the Jackets killed. Not too shabby.

Hitting some twine on the power play would be nice, though.

We'll see what happens Tuesday.

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Saturday, February 5, 2011

Game 51: Wings Grounded, Now to Focus on the (sp)Oilers

So, last night's game against the Detroit Red Wings wasn't so scary after all.

Don't get me wrong… it's not that the Detroit Red Wings are not a scary team overall. They remain the Blue Jackets' biggest obstacle in the Central Division, even in light of the Jackets' woes against the Nashville Predators.

The Detroit Red Wings, after all, were the same team that started Columbus on the downward spiral they experienced through December and most of January. An impressive three points in a home-and-home against Detroit a couple weeks back seemingly ended the Blue Jackets' schneid.

It's not hard to figure out that the one thing that can take away the intimidation factor of a team like the Red Wings is doing your job, and doing it well.

The Blue Jackets did that last night… and in The Joe, no less.

But the way the Blue Jackets won last night was also impressive. When I think of the Red Wings, I think of the great teams of the mid- to late-90s... the ones in which you always heard the play-by-play guys talking about how the Wings rolled out four lines, and how that checking line could score as well as shut people down.

And that was what we saw the Jackets do last night. Not only did the team work hard and shut the Wings down, but also what we also got to see a guy like Jared Boll step up as a role player of sorts, as he scored a goal. Plus, Andy Murray put up a damn fine effort to get free for that empty netter at the end.

Of course, Antoine Vermette chalked up a pretty impressive goal. (I certainly do not mean to slight him… ladies obviously dig "Twan" a lot... sorry)

Now, the focus turns to the Edmonton Oilers, who look to play spoilers tonight -- it's about the only thing they can do now this season. So, the Jackets really can't afford to screw up here. Well... anywhere, really.

The big story, of course, is the NHL debut of Columbus' 2009 first-round draft pick, John Moore. Moore got the call a couple days ago as the Jackets were leaving for Detroit. In 47 games with the Springfield Falcons this year, Moore has three goals, 15 assists and is a minus-14.

Young players making their debuts in the second half of the NHL season usually means one of two things: 1) It's a shake up of the roster meant to light a fire under some guys, or 2) the good guys are testing out some prospects because the season is over. I'm sticking with #1. The chatter about Moore has been very good, and over the years when we've seen young prospects get the call up, they tend to work hard, because they obviously want to impress the team and the fans. Look at the impressions that guys like Tom Sestito and Matt Calvert have made this year.

Personally, I'm pretty stoked to see what John Moore can do. The Jackets have needed some new blood, and I think this is the best way to test young players and find out if they're ready for the NHL. Put them in there and put your faith in them when you're trying to climb into a playoff spot.

This is a test. I can't wait to see the results.

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Wrandom Wrister: Time To Clarify What a "Goalie Fight" Is

Dear Hockey Media:

Please cease and desist all references to the little skirmish between Brent Johnson and Rick DiPietro on Wednesday night as a "goalie fight."

Sure, it certainly looked like a goalie fight, or at least look like it was going to be a goalie fight, but that was not a goalie fight.

Yes, they were technically goalies (however questionable that is in DiPietro's case). However -- and I really don't think I am the only one here -- my recollection of the criteria for a fight implies at least two participants. What we saw Wednesday night was Brent Johnson throwing a punch and Rick DiPietro falling down.

And apparently managing to injure himself. Again.

Ricky Schroder could have lasted longer. Little Ricky from I Love Lucy — the six-year-old — would've at least stayed upright for another 5 seconds or so.

Disney Crosby put up a better fight this season.

Rick DiPietro went down faster than a child star on a coke binge.

So, let's review. This



Is not a goalie fight.

This



…is a goalie fight.

Or this (you'll have to go in about a minute)...



Look at them. Take notes. Note these instances in which the combatants clearly do not seem to like each other very much. As much as I hate to admit that Patrick Roy technically lost both of these fights, these are GOALIE FIGHTS.

I'm almost embarrassed as a fan to even call the Johnson-DiPietro debacle a hockey fight.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Back To Work

It's really quite simple, but as I've said before, the question is whether it is executable.

There's an old saying, "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging."

The Columbus Blue Jackets' dangerous slide across December and January began and ended with the Detroit Red Wings. The end of that slide was the home-and-home that helped set off the 3-1-2 run that the Jackets had before the All-Star Break.

Not bad, but for all that work, the Jackets did not escape 13th in the West.

So, it's time to stop digging. The good guys are tasked with improving on that run, starting tonight. Hopefully the legs are fresh and the Jackets are focused, because a good February could make the Jackets' season. A bad one will break it.

Tonight's tilt against Chicago is the first of seven games in 13 nights, and the first two are against Central Division opponents (the trip to Detroit is Friday). The CBJ are 5-6-2 against the Central this season, a record that has to improve starting now. There are 11 division games left, and the Jackets can't expect to still have a prayer if they can't win more than six or seven of them.

Still, we can't neglect the rest of the schedule. The next two weeks also feature a road game against the Penguins, with or without Disney Crosby, and games against key Western teams also looking for Playoff spots: San Jose (8th), Colorado (9th) and Dallas (3rd, and leading the Pacific).

Then there's Saturday's game against Edmonton, who are looking for a #1 draft pick at this point. It doesn't make the game any less crucial, though. A win is a win, and even the wins agaisnt the dregs of the conference have to be earned.

At this point, there are no games the Jackets can afford to lose. The point span from fourth to 14th currently stands at nine, and the Jackets are just five points out of a Playoff spot in a very competitive West. Some bad luck for the teams above them can get the Jackets closer. Some bad luck for the Jackets could end this tenth season. The Jackets won't clinch this month, but they can very well put themselves out of it.

Tonight, it's back to work. Go Jackets!