Thursday, April 28, 2011

What A Wild First Round...

Well, this has certainly been an interesting last two weeks.

I certainly never imagined my first-round picks would go 6-2. In fact, I'm pretty much wiping sweat from my brow after what we've seen. If I heard correctly from the Versus broadcast of the Bruins-Habs Game 7, Wednesday marked the 9th consecutive night that an NHL Playoff game went into overtime. Why the whole "wiping sweat" thing? Three of those games -- Wednesday included -- were three of the four games the Bruins won.

Still, that Boston-Montreal series was one for the ages, and that legendary animosity between the two teams was still there, helped along, no doubt, by Zdeno Chara's careless hit back in March. And certainly more fuel was added to the fire with teh hit by  on  in Game , Andrew Ference's little salute to Canadiens fans in Game 4, and I'm sure Montreal is rallying the cops over Jeff Halpern's run-in with Ference's shoulder in Game 7. And I'm sorry... someone needs to explain to me how that could be a suspension-worthy hit.

But, man... how about that Nathan Horton. OT winners in back-to-back games in the Garden. You can't make this stuff up.

Oh, yeah... and speaking of animosity, The Bruins open up the second round on Saturday against Philadelphia. That's going to be a nasty, nasty series. Some wounds don't heal quickly... only four wins will erase the memory of last year's unholy collapse.

Other First-Round Notes

Washington advanced over the Rangers... my first *bzzzt* of the Playoffs. New York just couldn't match up, and for the first time in years -- dare anyone say it? -- Washington's goaltending might actually be for real.

Rough night for the throngs of Pittsburgh fans packing the R Bar last night for their game 7 against Tampa Bay. Dwayne Roloson? Really? Clutch? Who knew? Stats don't lie... dude has never lost a game seven. After that Southeast Division battle they had against the Caps in the regular season, this Caps-Bolts series could be a classic that goes the distance.

Out West, we almost saw a Game 7 collapse after a 3-0 lead for the second consecutive year, after the Vancouver Canucks' wheels seemed to fall off. Luckily for them, Roberto Luongo got his groove back before Chicago could finish the job. Despite the loss, the Blackhawks proved they still have goaltending that can win in the Playoffs, despite the financial and front office fustercluck that sent Antti Niemi packing.

Nashville finally turned the corner and won a Playoff series for the first time, pounding the Anaheim Ducks early and wearing them down (although Corey Perry got some really good licks in during the series). This sets up an interesting goaltending battle, and a good matchup between a tough and (uh-oh) rested Preds team, and a Canucks team that just faced down one hell of a test.

One year ago, the San Jose Sharks knocked off the Detroit Red Wings in the second round. Doing that again could be a tall task. Detroit rolled over an overmatched Phoenix team, and will only get tougher with the expected returns of Johan Franzen and Henrik Zetterberg. This San Jose team is not the Phoenix Coyotes, though. If they can take advantage of home ice, control the game and rattle Jimmy Howard early, history could repeat itself. I think this sucker definitely goes six or seven games.

Okay... quick picks (let's see if my luck holds up)...

Bruins in 6
Bolts in 7
Canucks in 7
Sharks in 7 (I don't know... maybe it's wishful thinking, but I'm sticking with it).

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Wrandom Wrister: Just Venting

An open letter to the multiple parties who happen to be angering me at this hour:

Damn you, Milan Lucic, for boarding Jaro Spacek, taking a major, and getting your foolish ass thrown out of Game 6

Damn you, Bruins, for putting yourself into two 5-on-3 situations last night, allowing both Montréal goals, and forcing a 24-hour turnaround for a game seven that should not have been necessary.

Damn you, suburb where I work, for not having a bar that has NHL Center Ice... thus, forcing me to drive in severe weather to watch the Game 7 that never should have been necessary...

...surrounded by Pens fans watching and hearing the Pens game.

Okay, I got that out. I feel better now.

Go Bruins!

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Social Media and Our Dysfunctional Hockey Family...

When I first joined Twitter, before I started ever tweeting about hockey, it was in the capacity of having discussions about relevant topics, telling people about fun events coming up, or just staying in touch in a loose forum, or possibly even how it could potentially be used in a business capacity.

Other times, it was just for fun. It's all about conversation, after all.

Now, especially in the last couple seasons when I have been tweeting in connection with this blog… It has become a really fun way to talk about hockey as it happens, with fans of similar interests – namely with my fellow Blue Jackets, Bruins, and Avalanche fans... and whoever is playing Detroit.

Now in the past week, I've learned something else: there are times and rivalries – such as the one between Montréal and Boston — in which twitter conversations can potentially spill over into "anything goes" territory.

Obviously, this is not entirely surprising. After all, hockey fans know the rather nasty history between the Bruins and the Canadiens. This is the 33rd time they have met in the Playoffs, Montréal has advanced in 24 of the previous 32 series. There is also the fact that Montréal has its storied rosters and name on the Stanley Cup for times than any other franchise in the NHL . So, it's easy to understand if Montréal has a bit of an ego about it, despite going Cupless for 18 years.

Jaroslav Halak stepped it up and even led them to the Eastern Conference Final last year. That team got Habs* fans going again, and got them really excited about hockey for the first time since Jose Theodore inexplicably got the Vezina Trophy over Patrick Roy in 2002.

Fast forward to about a week ago, as I had to bring my Bruins flag inside due to the weather whipping up a bit, and mused on Twitter that the elements must be Habs fans.

Seemingly immediately, a guy by the handle of "BRUINS_SUCK_..." (well, guess...) counters with "Yes... and we will blow you right out of the Playoffs!"

Just for context... it wasn't even Game 2, although the Habs did win Game 1.

Those of us who watch hockey with Hootsuite (or some other Twitter app) in hand are a fun bunch. We tweet play-by-play, celebrate goals, comment on forechecks, even talk with fans on other teams. Here in Columbus, seeing hockey dialogue get nasty is actually pretty rare... even when our guys are playing the Red Wings and Predators.

However, Playoff hockey is a different animal, and Bruins-Canadiens is a different beast altogether. The first NHL game I ever saw was a Playoff game between these two teams nearly 20 years ago. If you want to see definitive proof of how much these two teams and their fans hate each other, Google "Andrew Ference." Top result: he was just fined $2,500 for flipping off the Canadiens crowd after scoring. I'd put the video here, but I don't want it to seem like I endorse such behavior.... *snicker*

Fast forward to Thursday. The Bruins had come out of hibernation and won Game 3 after the Canadiens shot out to a 2-0 series lead. Mrs. Martini's working late, and the game's on Versus. I hadn't seen anything from Mr. "Bruins Suck ###" since Monday, but this game was going to be nasty -- on the ice... and on Twitter.

Game on.

The Bruins come out hellaciously sloppy, and the Canadiens score first, as they had in their two wins.

So a few minutes later, this Habs fan says, "Will the trend of the team who scored first wins continue?"

I retweet and reply "I prefer the 'Carey Price's six straight losses in the Bell' trend." Strangely enough, the Habs' goaltender had lost six straight games in his home arena the Bell Centre, while Tim Thomas had actually won four straight there. Fun little stat.

Michael Ryder scores early in the second, and I was feeling good. Then, Mike Cammalleri and Andrei Kostitsyn score 55 seconds apart to put the Canadiens up 3-1.

"How are you feeling now?"

Same guy. @Jeremyj1992. I'm thinking, Oh, crap. It's on. This is what I get for using both teams' hashtags during games...

"Eh, I could use a beer."

[Ference scores and "salutes" the Montréal crowd.]

ME: "See? Right after I crack a beer. I knew something was missing..."

JEREMY: " lol. Maybe I should get one"

ME: " Why not... it's a party, right?"

[Patrice Bergeron ties the game up with just under three minutes left.]

[Intermission.]

[Damn. Habs rookie P.K. Subban scores 1:39 into the third to put the Habs up again... 4-3.]

JEREMY: "I had a beer. Habs scored. New trend?"

ME: " Not sure.. I'll let you know... "

[Game keeps going. Bruins are getting scoring chances, and clamp down on defense. Canadiens aren't getting many shots through, but scary nonetheless.]

JEREMY: " ... "

ME: "Yeah, we might be on to something, dude. Stop drinking."

JEREMY: "Never!"

ME: "Good thing we're not doing a beer-a-goal... can you imagine?"

[Chris Kelly scores for the Bruins to tie it up at 4.]

[a few minutes pass]

JEREMY: "Maybe I should get one now"

[I don't see this until the clock gets under a minute...]

ME: "Before a stoppage, are you NUTS?!?!?"

So, the game goes into OT, which any hockey fan will tell you is nerve-racking. I decide to try something I hadn't done in years. Back in 2001, before every Colorado game, during their 2001 Stanley Cup run, I would have a Coors (because, hey, it's from Colorado). Eternal Bruins legend Ray Bourque finally hoisted the Cup that year.

That stupid little beer superstition never worked after that. But, I figured, why the hell not?

I looked in the cellar for beers from Boston. I found a Winter Sampler... I figured, hey... hockey's played in the winter.

Okay. Winter Lager it is.

Michael Ryder scores 1:59 into the OT, tying the Playoff series at two games apiece.

So, I had started on this post about four days ago about Twitter having the potential to be the world's largest arena to hockey fans to cheer in, and occasionally spew venom at one another in. However, that evening I realized one could also argue that Twitter can also be the world's largest living room.

And if a Bruins fan and a Habs fan can have a civilized conversation during a Playoff game... wow.

Anyway, because of this crazy occurence, I sent a direct message to Jeremy to ask permission to talk about it here, and he said yes. So... HUGE thanks on that, dude.

One day in the future, when someone visits the Library of Congress and goes through the Twitter archive looking for evidence that peace on Earth is possible... maybe they will find this document to civility.

Maybe we really are one big, happy, dysfunctional family of rabid hockey fans...

...some of whom occasionally think about hitting one another with sticks.

(Didn't want the ending to seem too... "Kumbaya." Sorry.)

Go Bruins!

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* - For the occasional non-hockey reader: Canadiens (les habitantes)

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Finally... A Real TV Deal...(?)

Regular readers of this space likely recall that every so often, I yammer on at length about what a garbage TV deal the NHL has. For those who are new, it usually occurs when I'm talking about something else, and I get distracted and sidetracked by the fact that Gary Bettman is such a horrific commissioner.

However, even I may have to admit that the NHL and NBC Sports Group may have actually done something right for a change.

I won't lie... when I read that the NHL and NBC were going to make a "big announcement," my heart sank a little. I thought, "Great... how many more years of paltry, maybe-a-game-a-week coverage do we have to put up with now?"

This week, the two sides announced an exclusive media deal, which will extend their media partnership through the 2020-21 season. And you know what? Depending on who you are, maybe it's not so bad.

For one... the NHL actually makes money! About $200 million per season over ten years. Not too shabby. Finally, the NHL is not a charity case anymore.

About 100 regular season games televised exclusively by the NBC Sports Group... up to 90 of which are on Versus. It's about double what Versus is currently offering, I think.

First impression here... honestly, I'm not overly impressed. I think NBC could stand to put more games on earlier in the season, although a Thanksgiving Friday game is an interesting touch. However, I understand that college football is king on fall Saturdays. I do hope they start sneaking a few games in on Saturdays in December, when the college regular season is over, especially after making viewers sit through another mediocre home season of Notre Dame football.

After the New Year, though, NBC really needs to increase the NHL presence. Come on... the pre-taped ice skating, snowboarding and "extreme sports" drivel? I'd be embarassed to promote that. My money says an NHL Game of the Week would get better numbers.

On Versus... well, double the games. That's progress, I suppose. The problem is, will that also mean kissing the Penguins' and Capitals' asses twice as much? Guess we'll find out.

Now, I will say that at first glance, this postseason thing looks really good. A chance to be able to watch every postseason game in its entirety on some NBC Group station?

"Tonight's episode of 'Real Housewives of New York' on Bravo will not be seen tonight... so we can bring you STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HOCKEY!!!!!"

Have you ever heard sweeter words?

Seriously, though... this is probably the best part of the whole thing.

No more of this "after we show you highlights, and a mandatory update on Disney Crosby's concussion symptoms, we now join the game you wanted to watch in the first place in progress for about 3-4 minutes, before we switch back to the game we selected."

Now, from a hometown standpoint... maybe the Blue Jackets get a second game on Versus each year? Hey, get better on-ice performance, maybe that'll get better. I find Versus' coverage largely unimpressive anyway.

The biggest caveat for me in this whole thing is that "exclusive" part. Does this mean moving game times and more potential blackouts, because Versus has to be showing the only game on TV? You don't need me to tell you how annoying that is, right?

Overall, this looks like it could work, if the NBC Sports Group is as committed to this as they sound in their take on the deal. I won't lie... I'd been rooting for ESPN this whole time. Hockey without Gary Thorne calling it just doesn't seem natural.

When's Thorne's contract up with ESPN? Can we get him?

Thanks for reading!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Also this week:
Coyotes Fans Deserve Better

Coyotes Fans Deserve Better...

A few days ago, I received my Phoenix Coyotes sweater in the mail. The original away one, with the stick-wielding Coyote and that crazy-cool southwestern motif and everything. Got it on eBay.

I always loved that original sweater, but never owned one until now... although Mrs. Martini did give me that sweet "DesertScape" third for my birthday several years ago, which I still wear and love.

I got it so I could wear it for the second-straight Coyotes-Wings series in the Playoffs (with my "Throw The Snake" shirt from last year underneath), in the hope that they could make another good run at the Wings this year, and make 'em sweat a little.

That was not to be.

The problem is... now Coyotes fans are sweating. A meeting later today could determine if would-be owner Matthew Hulsizer will be able to keep the team there, or if the Goldwater Institute will successfully block the sale, likely clearing the way to sell the team to another buyer who would move the Coyotes back to Winnipeg.

Don't get me wrong. Hockey is to Canada what baseball is (for some strange reason) to the United States. Winnipeg losing its team in 1996 sucked. Quebec losing its team in 1995 sucked. Hockey belongs in Canada, and economic conditions -- like paying salaries in American dollars, and trying to keep up with free-spending American franchises -- made it too costly to keep those teams. And while I understand that...

... I also understand that losing a sports team sucks for fans. I know my personal experience of it was when Art Modell took the Browns out of Cleveland.

Art's spot in hell is still waiting for him... but, I digress.

This situation in Phoenix is wrong. Yes, it's in the damn desert. Yes, their attendance numbers have been bad, despite their great on-ice performance amid the distraction of all the ownership-related chaos around them -- and that had to suck, because I'm sure some WalMart Wingnuts took up some of the seats that real hockey fans could have occupied.

But, damn it... it's wrong.

Phoenix Coyotes fans deserve better than to watch what could be the last hockey game in Glendale Arena while chunks of people on Twitter are saying "Let's get this game over with so we can move the team back to #Winnipeg... #GoJetsGo"

Coyotes fans deserve better than to hear Brian Engblom say, "We know who owns the Phoenix Coyotes -- Pavel Datsyuk." Sure, it's a joke, and Engblom's kind of a d-bag anyway... but that's a really cold, dickish thing to say, man.

For those high-fiving and gloating Jets fans... yes, you have a rich hockey heritage, and it was your team first. Yes, you did start the White-Out tradition. And yes, it's wrong that you ever lost the team to begin with.

But I propose this: Remember what it was like when you lost the team. Coyotes fans have had to sit through two years of uncertainly, amid financial, legal and political bullshit. For hockey fans, that's painful. And I can identify... at some point, this could be us in Columbus. I sure as hell hope not, but hey... arena leases, poor attendance and rallying community groups have been trending topics here.

Yes, hockey belongs in Winnipeg.

But the deal's not done, and the ink's not dry. Show some freakin' class.

Phoenix fans... I, for one, am pulling for you. Good luck.

Throw The Snake.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

It's Playoff Time...

Here we are, fans... Playoff time! Time to watch some of the best hockey you'll see all year! Time for teams to step up and compete for Hockey's Holy Grail!

Time to lock up our razors for (hopefully) the next two months (and for our wives to mercilessly make fun of us for such a silly ritual)! Honestly, Mrs. Martini just might shave mine in my sleep.

And, of course, time to make our unscientific picks for who's going to win it all. There's a reason why hockey doesn't have bracket pools... because anything can happen on any given day. Oh. And the fact that they re-seed after each round... that makes it tricky, too... unless you do it with magnets.

My first prediction is that I'm probably going to get  hosed in my West picks at least once, because it's so rare that all top four seeds in a conference win their first round series. That having been said, it's probably going to happen, and I hope to all that is holy that it's Phoenix.

Without further ado...

The First Round, In Brief:

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(8) Chicago vs. (1) Vancouver
The winners of the Presidents' Cup this year will have one hell of a fight to get to the Stanley Cup Finals. Just not in the first round. Both sides have excellent weapons up front, but this one's going to come down to goaltending. Everyone can see the Canucks are hungry. The chances of Chicago repeating with another rookie in goal? Interesting, but not promising. Vancouver's road to the Cup Final will go through Detroit or San Jose. Canucks in 5.

(7) Los Angeles vs. (2) San Jose
A Southern California series... nice. Good for the really dedicated fans willing to stay up until 1 or 2 to watch some Playoff hockey. L.A. rides its resurgence back into the Playoffs against San Jose, who is looking to follow up last year's remarkable run. I don't think anyone saw San Jose coming this far this year, until they solved their goaltending issues by snagging Antti Niemi out of exile. It will be a tough road for him this year... through Detroit and Vancouver. Sharks in 6.

(6) Phoenix vs. (3) Detroit
I love this rematch. However, as good as Phoenix has been the last two years, Detroit is always dangerous. Henrik Zetterberg may be out for Game 1, but the Wings have plenty of key pieces that can help them go deep in the Playoffs, as much as I don't want them to.  As much as I pray I'm wrong... Wings in 6.


(5) Nashville vs (4) Anaheim
The Predators keep fighting like hell to get into the Playoffs, and have the worst time turning the corner once they get there. They will fight hard for this one... and they'll have to. Corey Perry was a beast en route to the Rocket Richard Trophy this year. Teemu Selanne had more than a point a game at the age of 40. Pekka Rinne has been solid in goal, especially in the stretch, has has great help up front with Erat, Kostitsyn, Weber and Suter. This series will go the distance. Ducks in 7.

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(8) New York Rangers vs. (1) Washington
Washington instantly increased its Stanley Cup hopes at midnight on July 1, 2010, when Jose Theodore became an unrestricted free agent and went home to sit by the phone for three months until Minnesota hired him for mop-up. However, their goaltenders are still pretty green in Playoff action, and will rely heavily on guys like Ovechkin, Knuble, Backstrom and Arnott. New York is good-but-not-great, but if some of their money guys find their games, this could be a long series.

One of Washington's goaltenders could pull an Antti Niemi and take them all the way. They could even make the second round. Just not this year. Rangers in 7.

(7) Buffalo vs. (2) Philadelphia
Philly followed its improbable run to the Cup Finals with one hell of a season, and only lost the top spot in the last couple weeks. The Sabres fought their way into the Playoffs with a really good second half. The Flyers are going with the rookie Sergei Bobrovsky in net, and he has some strong performers on front of him. Frankly, I see the Flyers contending for at least a spot in the Cup Final, unless their young netminder falters. Flyers in 7.

(6) Montréal vs. (3) Boston
This was a matchup I genuinely hoped for. It is always a classic, but I have been itching for a Bruins-Habs series recently, and would have had it last year, if not for the meltdown in Boston in Game 7 of the Eastern semis. Montreal has some good talent, and Carey Price has been a nice comeback story this year, but I just don't see them standing in the way of (spoiler alert) the Bruins' run to the Stanley Cup Finals this year. Bruins in 6.

(5) Tampa Bay vs. (4) Pittsburgh
Tampa Bay is back in contention. It took a little time and a lot of patience, but they're back. How will the veteran experience of Lecavalier and St. Louis blend with young guys like Stamkos in the first round? We're about to find out. On the Pens' end... hard to say if they can expect to contend for long with Crosby still shaking off that concussion. This will be a fight, but I'm giving a slight edge to the Bolts here. Lightning in 7.

For the Finals, I think in the West... Vancouver has the pieces in place to win if they stay healthy, but there will be a hell of a fight in the Conference Finals against either San Jose or Detroit.

In the East... I say Boston exorcises the demons of the Game 7 disaster of last year, and turns the corner. Could be a classic Cup Final.

Alright... cheer me or jeer me as you wish. Thanks for reading!

Go Bruins (and anyone playing Detroit)!

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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

*Sigh*... CBJ Went Out Like That...

You know, sadly, it's almost fitting at the Columbus Blue Jackets lost again because of two power-play goals scored on a 5 min. power play because of someone's dumbass mistake.

And to make matters worse, it's the last game of the season, and the culprit who made that dumbass mistake to get that five-minute major is a guy who can't even realistically be held accountable, because it is the last game of what is likely his last season, because nobody wanted him... except the Blue Jackets, for some reason.

Seriously, though… I would love to take a look inside of Craig Rivet's head, just to try and figure what the hell he was thinking.

I'd really hate to think that it was something like, "You know, since I've already punched him in the side of the head while still holding my stick — thus making sure I get the ref's attention — while I'm at it, you know what? I think I'll cross check him in the face.

Thank you, Craig. Nice going.

I could have sat through another overtime or even a shootout loss, rather than see the Blue Jackets' last shot at redemption summarily dispatched by one boneheaded move.

Even in the franchise's lowliest seasons, there was always still some semblance of pride and hope, as long as the Jackets won that last game on home ice.

But enough about that jackass, he's not the Blue Jackets' problem anymore. God knows Scott Howson has bigger fish to fry.

Tell you what, though... it's going to be hard to let this one go. The Jackets fought back from being down two goals in a wild second period in which Buffalo scored three of the first four. If Derek Dorsett's wraparound in the second wasn't impressive enough, how about the impressive ice awareness of Jared Boll, skating backward toward the gola to tap in a rebound of Matt Calvert's shot for his career-best seventh of the season?

Even Kristian Huselius got in on some of that hero stuff, finally finding twine in his fourth game back from injury, off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Antoine Vermette.

Holy crap, I thought, our guys are actually going to make this one count...

Yeah, at some point, I've got to stop doing that during games.

Hell, Juice even scored again, but by then it was too late, with only :23 left in the season.

And Jackets fans are left to ponder what lies ahead in the offseason, and whether it will mean a shot at the Playoffs.

Next year.

Again.

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Saturday, April 9, 2011

Adam Foote: One Last (One-Fingered) Tribute...

Oh, Mr. Foote… we hardly knew ye.

Actually, we got to know you quite a bit over the last 19 years. On the Avalanche side of the line, we have a guy who put in a lot of good years. They weren't always pretty years, but you and many others weathered the storm as Québec climbed to respectability in the Eastern conference. Then, before the 1995-96 season, the Nordiques move to Denver and became the Avalanche. We saw you raise the cup twice -- in 1996 and 2001 -- as Pierre Lacroix built and maintained a monster in the NHL. Through smart trades to acquire talent and stockpile draft picks, and occasionally through free agency, Lacroix made the Avalanche perennial contenders.

Then, things got a little crazy. Lacroix started throwing ridiculous amounts of money at players from that magical 2001 Cup run -- $8-$9 million each for Joe Sakic (though worth every cent) and Rob Blake, for instance. These were moves that fans, players, and executives alike knew would bite the Avs hard when the next CBA established a salary cap. It was inevitable.

As money got tight, and contract time came around for you, the Avs low-balled you on an extension, and you started shopping.

Enter Doug MacLean and Columbus.

I remember I was at work when I heard the news from our sports anchor that MacLean had snagged the great Adam Foote. I think I can safely say I was among a great number of fans who are very excited about this move, we knew what you embodied. You were one of those "locker room guys" that teammates talk about when they describe the greats: a prominent voice in the locker room, the guy who wasn't afraid to call guys out on their efforts.

A leader.

Our new captain (eventually). Of course. Absolute no-brainer. Sure, that price was a little steep, but overpaying is part of the free agency period. Sad, but true.

There are a couple of good years after that… not matching your numbers from the previous two seasons or anything, but passable. The leadership was what was important.

Hurray for leadership.

And then, in year three... the bomb dropped. The 2008 NHL Trade Deadline was upon us. The Jackets were five points out of the Playoffs. Fans buzzed about the possibility of the Jackets actually being buyers for the first time ever at the Trade Deadline, to make that final push and earn our first Playoff spot. And the Jackets tried to lock you into a long-term contract.

I know it's a "numbers" game. You wanted more, and Columbus was looking for something a little lower. It's understandable.

What I — and undoubtedly a lot of other Blue Jackets fans — will never understand... is why you did what you did next.

Instead of sticking it out for a Playoff Push that could have very well been successful… you demanded a trade and bolted back to the Avalanche, where a sweater was waiting for you to play that night. Sure, there's a history there. Sure, maybe you didn't think the Jackets have what it took to finish the job in March and April.

But, seriously? Come on… surely you were aware that Jose Theodore was the starting goaltender in Colorado? Hockey fans still in the womb knew there was no way a Cup was going to happen.

The fact that the Jackets made it to the playoffs the next year without you, while you sat at home... helped a little bit. But… well, some things never go away.

I know… it's not healthy. I recall a quote by Carrie Fisher* in one of Esquire's "What I've Learned" interviews, which has always stuck with me:

"Resentment is drinking poison, then waiting for the other person to die."

Sure, it sounds nasty, but it's just a metaphor. No one here in Columbus actually wishes you any harm.

We -- and I don't speak for everyone, but I know it's more than just me...

We just think you're a selfish jackass who bailed on Columbus like a coward.

I'll be the first to tell you, I hate to think that all of a person's good deeds can be negated by just one terrible thing they did.

But, hey… That's hockey.

So... from my pre-lockout "Avs fan" side of me... good job, good luck, and take care.

From the eternal "Blue Jackets fan" side... good riddance...

...and, take care. (I never could drink poison without a chaser...)

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

* - The one in Star Wars, not to be confused with Mr. Carrie Underwood's wife.

Nashville Happens... Again...

You know what… I'm not going to do it.

The Jackets lost. In Nashville. Again. What it comes down to, that is really all that needs to be said.

Clearly, there is no need to go into any sort of forensic analysis of the loss. Honestly, I just don't feel up to it -- the game was blacked out wherever I went last night, although, strangely, I was able to tape it. There's probably no way I'd be able to take watching it anyway.

That would be like consciously turning it to MTV when you know there's an all-day Teen Mom marathon. No one deserves to suffer that much.

We certainly didn't need TV to tell us last night was that a 4-1 loss to Nashville predators sucks. The 0-12-5 record in the last 17 games in Pick-A-Name-and-Stick-With-It Arena sucks worse. Simply put, the Blue Jackets have gone from a very brief Central Division lead — and #2 in the conference — down to 13th in the West.

Remember a month or so ago,when the Jackets were only four points out, in 12th place? Who knew those were the good times?

Buffalo essentially has nothing to play for, except maybe to avoid playing Philadelphia in the first round of the Playoffs (not that Boston's a preferable matchup for them, either). It's going to be a loud building with the home finale, but also because Sabres fans travel well.

Now, here the Jackets are... 34-34-13, 16 points out, one game to go and seemingly careening out of control.

After the thrashing they got from St. Louis in the last go-round at home, the Jackets should know what disappointed fans look like. They're not supposed to be wearing Blue Jackets sweaters...

They're supposed to be wearing these...
Like I said... they travel well. Passed this group on the way downtown to go out with Mrs. Martini last night.

Just once, send them home disappointed. C'mon... they came all this way...

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Make Fans Give A Damn

The Mission, should the Columbus Blue Jackets choose to accept it, is pretty simple and straightforward.

Tonight and tomorrow are the last two games this season. The last two games that fans will see CBJ sweaters on the ice. The last two times we will see many of the faces we've grown accustomed to the last couple years.

Like I said, the Mission is simple: This is your last hurrah, boys. Make fans give a damn.

I have tried encouraging words… I have tried inspiring locker room speeches… I have even tried a tough love speech over the last couple weeks.

Hell, I have even risked eternal damnation by writing to the Hockey Gods, just to get a measly win over Floridaobvious violation of the First Commandment (not the NHL one).

Of course, I do not delude myself into thinking that anyone is printing these out at posting them on the chalkboard in the locker room. That'd be a trip, though....

Word has come down today that Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash is done for the season, apparently with a back injury. Add to that the loss of Kris Russell to a broken ankle, and an ailing Steve Mason, and we're seeing an unspectacularly-executed season coming to a waning, bitter end.

On to Nashville this evening, where lately the Jackets have had a hard time winning in Bridgestone Arena. In fact, the last time the Blue Jackets won in Bridgestone arena, I don't think it was Bridgestone Arena yet. It might have even been two building names ago.

The Jackets don't seem to have any additional incentive to win, so here's hoping they'll make something up. The Preds are looking to clinch tonight, so there's their incentive. Plus, as one Predators blogger noted quite indelicately a couple months back… the Predators love beating the Columbus Blue Jackets.

However, obnoxious fans aside, the Predators have proven time and time again to be a damn good hockey club. Even with the fact that they have never won a playoff series… and regardless of whom they're playing, I'm not sure that is going to change. However, it seems like every year they are loaded with some really good hockey players… and hey, Jordin Tootoo is always good comic relief.

All kidding aside, it's hard to argue with the fact that Barry Trotz is still the franchise's first and only coach. The dude's obviously doing something right.

Who knows… in 11 years, that might be Scott Arniel. Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. Gotta start playing well in March first. One step at a time, folks.

Blue Jackets fans have been waiting for the past week-plus to see this hockey team actually dig deep. A win tonight would guarantee a winning record, not that that's much comfort for the fans who have suffered through 80 games so far — or at least the last 20 games. A loss will drop the Jackets to .500, and put them in danger of falling below it for the season, which -- considering that this team was at one point second in the Western Conference (if only for an hour) -- would be a very bitter final nail in the coffin.

And Jackets fans deserve so much better than to see that.

Dig deep, guys.


By the way... don't forget, you still have today and tomorrow to get your nominees in for the 2011 Crowdsourced NHL Awards on Dark Blue Jacket's Facebook page. Pick the players you think should contend for the hardware until the end of the CBJ/Buffalo game tomorrow night. After that, DBJ compiles the noms and you get to go back and vote for your favorites by April 16th. So, click the link above to get there.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

C'mon... Don't Go Out Like THIS....

Uncle... Uncle!

Uncle, dammit! UNCLE!!!!

The Columbus Blue Jackets' 2010-11 season has devolved into this... this... what's the word I'm looking for...?

Oh, right... Hell.

A deflection by Steve Ott on a shot by Brad Richards with not one CBJ player within a meter of him. Two empty net goals. A growing injury list with Kris Russell (broken ankle, apparently) joining Rick Nash and Steve Mason.

Even saying that Russell has a broken ankle is a sign of the times. In a Playoff Push, we would only say he has a "lower body injury." No one's being coy anymore... what the hell's the point?

That's how badly this in going. Last chance for the Jackets to play spoiler, and... nothing.

Hell, even Garon held up alright last night. But offense? Something to reward his effort? Nope.

Safe to say no one is gunning for any sort of hardware come NHL Awards time...

...or are they...?

[Cue transition....]

As you may have heard/read from my esteemed CBJ Blogging Community colleague Dark Blue Jacket on Tuesday (and if you haven't, do so), some members and chapters of the Professional Hockey Writers Association -- and apparently the Columbus guys are now included -- are boycotting voting in the 2011 NHL Awards. So, he has proposed getting fans involved in the fun, with the 2011 Crowdsourced NHL Awards.



Submit your nominations for who you think should be up for NHL hardware this year, on DBJ's Facebook page through the end of Saturday's season finale against Buffalo. Pick players from any team... they're league awards, after all.

Then, starting after the game... vote for your favorites until April 16. Winners will be announced at the end of the voting period.

Most importantly... wherever you are reading about this, and participating in the nomination and voting process... tell your friends about it, and get them to join in and have some fun with us. Seriously, this is a poll for hockey fans. Come one, come all.


Columbus hits the road for Nashville Friday.... Go Jackets!

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Inconsistency Trivializes the Headshot Rule

The NHL has sent a clear message this weekend: "Head hits with the elbow will not stand, and we will continue to be consistent in the enforcement of this rule.

"Unless it's Todd Bertuzzi, in which we will consistently slap him on the wrist for his transgressions. Because, after all, we must follow the precedent set by our jackass commissioner, and his blind assertion that Bertuzzi was fit to return to the NHL after the vicious and premeditated attack that ended Steve Moore's career."

Am I disputing the hit that Jan Hejda put on Marcus Kruger on Friday? No. Am I disputing the punishment? No. I'm only saying the punishments for head hits have to be handed out fairly and consistently.

And that is the part that I do question: The fact that Matt Cooke was suspended after the launch of the NHL's "crackdown" on head hits. Then, not even a week later, Todd Bertuzzi gets no supplemental discipline after, whether it was intended or not, putting an elbow to Ryan Johnson's head.

Oh, I'm sure there is a logical explanation for all of it. Perhaps an inappropriate relationship between Bertuzzi and so in the front office. Maybe he has some dirt. Maybe he caught somebody in the front office with a hooker. Ridiculous speculation, sure... but how does one explain his lack of suspension logically?

We'll never know. Sadly all we know is that he continues to play on a contender, and has a chance to get his filthy hands on the Stanley Cup.

Yes, I do rail on Bertuzzi a lot. I know it gets old. Believe me, nothing would please me more than to stop talking about the S.O.B. However, since the NHL cannot seem to enforce it's own rule, I feel the need to say something.

The new, vaguely-defined and inconsistently-enforced rule on headshots came out of something that the NHL blew off as a "horrific accident" — the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty.

Sure enough, NHL got to test it right away with the Matt Cooke hit on Ryan McDonagh. McDonagh finished the game, but Cooke got tossed for the rest of the season and Mario Lemieux took a stand this week that Cooke will not return for the Penguins, even after that suspension is over.

It's also important to keep in mind that Cooke's violation was blatant. He was skating towards McDonagh, and got his elbow up to make the hit.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's say we bought Bertuzzi's story that his hit on Ryan Johnson was unintentional, and that was actually "backing off the hit." His elbow still made contact with the head. Johnson finished the game. No supplemental discipline.

This made me think, okay, maybe the NHL is trying to factor in "unintentional" hits to the head.

So, now we come to Friday. Hejda's elbow clearly hits Kruger in the head. That's indisputable. It also didn't seem intentional... it's not like Hejda was leaning into him and shoving an elbow in his face. He could have been trying to get his arm up to brace against the collision, and horribly misjudged where his arm was. I don't think the intent to injure was there... sure, the arm comes up and hits Kruger, but if the NHL can take a guy like Bertuzzi at his word, why not Hejda?

So, two seemingly unintentional hits in the span of a week. In both cases, the guy getting the hit finished the game. The first guy gets no suspension, so the second guy's fine, right?

Of course not. Because the NHL never set any sort of guidelines for how such an important rule is enforced.

Should Jan Hejda sit? Sure, he should. His elbow made contact with the head, and there's no way around that. He messed up.

But you can not suspend Jan Hejda, and not also suspend Todd Bertuzzi. Whether or not the new CBA wiped his slate clean, it's idiotic to not treat anything he does with increased scrutiny after what happened in Vancouver. But, hey, that's the NHL under Gary Bettman: Lip service and grandstanding to serious issues, uneven enforcement of rules and general lack of leadership.

If the NHL can't or won't enforce the rule consistently, what the hell is the point?

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

Just Shy... Again

The Columbus Blue Jackets came back from two goals down. Maskim Mayorov scored his first NHL goal. The Jackets snapped their 0-for-infinity power play. Hell, Anton Stralman was the first star of the game with three assists.

And the Jackets still lost.

Following the recent more-often-than-not trend of falling short in “getting-the-second-point” situations… well… that’s what they did.

It was one of those games in which the only way you could tell who scored was whether the horn went off. It was that kind of game. Patrick Kane opens the scoring going the other way, and the barn goes nuts… our barn. And you can’t tell me all of those people in the stands were Blackhawks fans before last June.

But, when the team is underperforming and CBJ fans aren’t buying enough tickets, you’ll have that. Hopefully, when that top-to-bottom look at the organization that John P. McConnell was telling the Columbus Dispatch about happens, we’ll see that change.

As rough as the situation is, I’m an optimist, so it’s important to focus on the good things here. Take Mayorov’s goal. Not only was he in the right place in the right time, he had the presence of mind to catch that deflection (and barely legally, hence the review) for his first NHL goal.

Derick Brassard ended the team’s three-weeks-plus power play drought – and when you’re on a 5-on-3, you have to snap that streak – with the slapper to tie it up at 2. And then it was looking really good in the third when Sami Pahlsson redirected a puck past Corey Crawford. The great thing about that goal was the fact that two CBJ players were right there in front of the goal when Stralman launched the shot from just inside the blue line.

As short-lived as that lead was, the Jackets put pressure on the Hawks all night. Yes, the Blackhawks got the second point – which helps them keep distance from Calgary for eighth with two games in hand – but the Jackets made them earn it.

Yes, the game was a loss, but it was a loss to a hungry team. What is important is that over the last couple nights, Columbus fans saw something they desperately needed to see: A team that hasn’t quit.

It’s easy to write off a team when it looks like it’s just “playing out the stretch.”

Right now… this is not that team.

Wrandom Wristers
  • Crawford may have stoped the shot, but for some reason I really enjoyed seeing Jakub Voracek’s full-speed charge at the net in the shootout. After seeing a couple guys get too fancy and run out of room a few games back, it was nice to see.
  • Ding, dong, the witch is dead! Bill McCreary is retiring after calling tonight’s game between Buffalo and Washington. Great news for anybody who has ever had a bad taste in their mouth when they played Detroit and McCreary was involved.
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Friday, April 1, 2011

Rough Loss... But Moving On...

Jason Chimera.

Why did it have to be Jason-freakin'-Chimera?

A guy known to not-just-once miss an open net for the Blue Jackets... is suddenly tapping in easy rebounds in the clutch against the Blue Jackets?

Harsh.

Still... the Jackets made for an interesting game against the Washington Capitals. Antoine Vermette and Scottie Upshall tallied goals for the second straight game, along with Fedor Tyutin.

However, perhaps the most encouraging items to draw from this game -- at least in terms of looking to the team's future -- were the two assists each from Matt Calvert and new call-up Tomas Kubalik, who made his NHL debut.

Now, the Jackets' focus turns to tonight's home game against Chicago.

Early this season, it looked like the Blackhawks' woeful lack of prowess in salary-cap era economics would make them miss the Playoffs this year. Now, with six games remaining, the Hawks are clinging to the eighth spot, although they do have six games to make a climb, perhaps even avoiding red-hot Presidents' Trophy winner Vancouver, and start out the first round in Detroit. Then again, the next week could be a total disaster for them, and Dallas or Calgary could catch them.

To an outsider, the Columbus Blue Jackets are simply playing out the stretch (and mathematically, the good guys are out as of last night), and maybe getting some kids in to get some playing time. But the diehards don't see it that way. Yes, we get to see some young players get some valuable NHL experience… but we're also still counting on seeing some good hockey before the season is over. The Blue Jackets must not go quietly.

Plus, I want to see if Kubalik can duplicate last night's impressive debut on home ice. Love to see a good game from Calvert, too.

After all, while it is important to focus on the present, it helps to fans and get a glimpse of the team's future as well.

There is still hockey to be played in Columbus. Go Jackets!

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