Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jackets' July: "Oh, yeah!" "Oh, $#!+!" "Oh... Whew..."

It's the story of the Blue Jackets' July this year...

James Wisniewski was signed by lunchtime on Free Agency Day, completing the second major phase of Scott Howson's "Project: CBJ Re-Boot," and Jackets fans rejoiced. Howson had already acquired Jeff Carter via trade, so the Jackets finally had a top-line center and a top offensive defenseman, plus got some additional help on defense after rescuing Radek Martinek from the Island.

After an eternity of searching and a little trial-and-error on Howson's part -- and mostly error on his predecessor's part -- the Blue Jackets had all the pieces in place to kick off their second decade.

So, it seemed like a good time for me to take a break, and more importantly, give the Mrs. a break... because I dragged her through a long postseason with the Bruins' Cup run.

Plus... all was well in Blue Jackets Land....

Wait...

JUICE did WHAT?!?!?

The joy of the signings turned to mild horror with the news that Kristian Huselius tore a pectoral muscle while lifting weights. First of all... freakin' OUCH. Second of all, the feeling that hit me was much like when I saw that the Cleveland Browns' Peyton Hillis is on the cover of Madden 12, and is thus destined to end his season early in some horrible manner... a lot like "C'mon, we didn't need this bad news."

So, the Jackets stopped the bleeding by adding Vinny Prospal to replace Huselius. Not the first guy I thought of, but if he manages to stay healthy, we're looking at something really good.

For the record, the guy I would have targeted (provided he could have been acquired at a reasonable price) was Chris Drury... coincidentally, also a guy who missed significant time with the Rangers with a knee injury. Still, I think he could have been a help in the leadership department in the right environment... which New York clearly is not. If the Rangers were any good at developing team chemistry... well, they wouldn't be working on another Cup drought right now.

Yeah, they won the Brad Richards Lottery... rather, they paid the Brad Richards Lottery. Don't expect his name on the Cup anytime soon. It's the Rangers' usual M.O. -- pay out the wazoo for some coveted guy, and spend almost every April wondering what the hell went wrong. Hint: Outstanding individuals, but far from a good team.

Back to Prospal... like I said, if he stays healthy, life is good. The guy produced in the time he had, that's for sure. He's solid, and he's a veteran... which addresses some of that leadership stuff, too.

The only scary part of the situation is the fact that his $1.75 million salary has the Jackets' payroll flirting with $60 million, per CapGeek. No bones about it. That's a massive chunk of change for a team that lost a boatload of cash last year. But, you do what you have to when a crazy injury happens. It's a buck-75 they didn't want to spend, but Howson could have done a hell of a lot worse than Prospal.
What sucks about the offseason is that we have to wait two more months to find out.

However, you only have to wait a few weeks for some good old group puck therapy. In case you haven't heard yet -- though I'm sure you have by now -- esteemed CBJ Community member Dark Blue Jacket has announced there will be a 2nd Annual CannonFest on Sunday, August 14th, from 2-4 p.m.!

(Image courtesy of Dark Blue Jacket -- of course)

Food, drink, and of course, we'll be talking HOCKEY... without that silly, pesky 140-character limit we have on Twitter. So, mark your calendar, and bring you and yours to the BW3's in Grandview... and tell your friends.

That's it for now... all is apparently well in Blue Jackets Land.

Thanks for reading.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

Free Agency Odds & Ends: Day 1

Admittedly, Scott Howson's bold gamble in trading for and then signing James Wisniewski pretty much upstaged everything else Columbus did (and probably upstaged what a bunch of other teams did, too). However, the Jackets still had a couple holes to fill, even if they are largely moves made for depth purposes.

Now, of course, the big eyebrow-raiser from Free Agency Day 1 would the signings of Mark Dekanich (get the correct pronunciation here from the man himself, since it has been a topic of debate) and Curtis Sanford. Sanford's is a two-way contract, while Dekanich will back up Steve Mason, per the team's release. Obviously, the fact that Dekanich has not played much in the NHL is a concern for some. Yes, the goalie crop was thin. However, Dekanich's performance in the minors has been decent, at least statistically.

Is it a risk? Certainly. Then again, Ian Clark could build Mason and Dekanich into one hell of a goaltending tandem, too. We'll see. It's the new, risk-taking Scott Howson. Trust him.

Well, with the additions came a few notable subtractions.

Jan Hejda signed a four-year deal with Colorado. The Jackets didn't want to commit to a fourth year. I won't kid you, it's a bummer. Although he wasn't always great, he was a contributor, a solid guy with size who put in good minutes. I would have been nice to keep him, but that's the hockey business.

The Jackets went looking for a backup goaltender in the first place because Mathieu Garon signed with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Garon is a capable backup, who had a horrible year last year. I think he'll do okay, and provide occasional relief as Dwayne Roloson tries to repeat his terrific season at the age of 41 (actually, 42 in October).

Scottie Upshall is headed to Florida. Apparently he missed the memo that the Panthers had just signed Jose Theodore. Uh, yeah. Good luck with that one, pal. Still, maybe $3.5 million a year will make the futility hurt less.

Finally... and let me just put this out there: I honestly don't think the Mike Commodore problems of last year will necessarily come back to bite the Jackets' asses. Really like him, but letting him go was the right thing to do for both sides.

However... if Mike Commodore suddenly "finds his game" with the Detroit Red Wings, I'm going to be really pissed.

Wrandom Wristers

  • I was not surprised to see the Bolts part with Mike Smith. He can (and did) get good money elsewhere (in Phoenix)... and is getting a starting job, too. His regular season was good, putting up a 13-6-1 record in 22 starts, but man, those appearances he made in the Eastern Conference Final against the Bruins were amazing. Zero goals allowed against the Bruins in two relief situations -- the near comeback 6-5 loss in Game 2 and the 5-3 comeback win in Game 4 -- before he lost in his Game 5 start.
  • "Jagr Watch" ended... oddly. I'm sure he's going to be really popular with Pens fans now, since he has signed with the Philadelphia Flyers. So much for any plans for a statue outside the CONSOL Center.
  • Guess Brad Richards is a done deal for the New York Rangers. Good for him. I personally think it will be the same-old, same-old for the Blueshirts, who tend to target the high-priced free agents, but do a crappy job of finding chemistry and building the team into a consistent winner. But who knows... maybe this is the one. I'm just stoked he's not going to Detroit.
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Friday, July 1, 2011

Deal Done... And So It Begins

Well, there it is... the 11th-hour deal.

Ahab gets his whale, and Montreal gets a better draft pick.

The Columbus Dispatch reports Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson has closed the deal with James Wisniewski, giving the CBJ their second big grab before the NHL Free Agency market even opens. So the CBJ finally have a defenseman who can create scoring chances and hopefully do something to help the team's limp power play.

Statistically, Wisniewski impressed this past year. His ten goals, 41 assists and 51 points -- splitting time between the Isles and Habs -- were all career highs.

And while I'm excitied about the prospect of a D-man who can create chances, I have to say the happenings of the last 24 hours impressed me greatly... namely the fact that rather than have CBJ personnel come see him in Michigan, he made the trip to Columbus to see the organization for himself and talk about a deal, after Howson got his rights from Montreal on Wednesday.

The dude seems to have character. What's not to like about that?

Is it worth $5.5 million a year for the next six? We'll find out. Howson has committed a big chunk of money for two guys in the past 10 days, which is enough to give anyone pause. These are bold risks, yes... but think of the potential rewards.

More wins, more butts in seats... more wins, Playoff spot, more revenue... maybe a sip from the Grail?

That last part might take a couple years.

However, unlike previous years, that little bit of hope doesn't sound nearly as ridiculous.

Well... there's the bell. Market's opening. Happy NHL Free Agency!

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Please Allow Me To Reintroduce Myself...

Please pardon the dust... a little remodeling going on. Mind your head.

I had thought about this for a few months now... this blog's about three years old, though I've only contributed to it regularly and really promoted it in the past year).

However, I'd been looking at things lately and thought, "Y'know this looks so...

"'Default.'"

So I'm playing with the design a little... give it a little splash.

If you're tripping over this space for the first time, or just need a refresher... this is a hockey blog. It is from a fan perspective... nothing less, nothing more, but it comes from a guy who is nuts about this sport. I primarily cover the Blue Jackets, but I discuss topical stuff aroudn the NHL as well, and dabble in the Boston Bruins and Colorado Avalanche when there's time to do so.

Am I credentialed to sit in a press box? No. Do I have a respectable basis of knowledge about hockey? Yes. It's a great sport, and I watch a lot of it. So are you going to get expert analysis? Well, as expert as a guy who sits in the seats or on the couch to watch a game. I certainly don't pretend to know everything, but I'm not loath to do some research, either. When the knowledge is not mine, I'll tell you where to find it.

There are some terrific writers in the Columbus hockey market, too, and I encourage you to pay them a visit from the "CBJ Blog Community" sidebar to the right.

As for me... I talk hockey, crack jokes, rant, rave, and make fun of Disney Crosby on occasion. I do it because it's fun. I hope you have as much fun reading it, as I do writing it.

Welcome aboard... or welcome back. Thanks for stopping by.

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