Tuesday, September 27, 2011

More Wiz Thoughts After "Cooling Off"

Alrighty! Now that we've all had a little bit of a "cooling off period" after Brendan Shanahan's announcement of the Wisniewski suspension, let's take a look at the fallout.

Having taken part in a few Twitter discussions and grabbed a little sleep and contemplate the matter some more… I can safely say I pretty much agree with everybody that this whole thing sucks... because let's face it, it does.

I might even agree that the suspension is excessive… considering that Clutterbuck certainly displayed a flair for the dramatic at a rather convenient juncture. Hey, he got up, and he was out there on the power play, right? Apparently Shanahan was not Wisniewski's "he embellished" bit, nor did he seem to even consider the argument.

It is possible to argue that Wisniewski was not targeting clutter buck said we could argue this. We can argue that Wisniewski was in a defensive position. Unfortunately, it's still contact to the head, and that's a no-no.

Eight games is harsh. There is no question about that. However, my guess (and this is just a theory) is that Wisniewski's repeat offender status – and the fact that his last hit-related suspension was also for eight games – was the main determining factor for the length of the suspension. I'm thinking Shanahan figured the infraction was not necessarily more severe than the hit on Seabrook two seasons ago, but felt he couldn't go lower.

So, my theory is that the message to be gleaned from the Wisniewski ban is: If you are a repeat offender, don't bet on sitting out fewer games then you did on your previous suspension.

Again, this is just a theory. We'll have to see what happens when someone screws up again while Shanahan's in charge of player safety, and find out whether he's consistent. Hopefully, it is not Wisniewski and the Blue Jackets dealing with it again.

There are quite a few fans who feel the punishment is excessive, and that the Blue Jackets are getting screwed over (again) because they're the Blue Jackets.

To those fans, I offer this: The responsibility for this situation, when all is said and done, still lies with James Wisniewski. Amid our celebration at Scott Howson's bold move to secure the Jackets' long-awaited puck-moving defenseman, I'm struggling to recall any mention of Wisniewski's past – whether it be his hit on Seabrook, the two suspensions prior to that, or his suspension for demonstrating to Sean Avery what kind of items he might find at an adult bookstore.

I won't lie… I don't remember seeing any mention of his previous disciplinary... wanderings.

I will also tell you quite frankly, having worked in public relations for a while, that such transgressions are not likely to make it into a press release.

Now, is that the fault of the team? Of course not. Anyone can Google the not-so-pleasant aspects of hockey players.

So right now, it's tough being a Blue Jackets fan, when one of your new guys that came with so much hype is in trouble, and – as much as we rail against thugs like Matt Cooke, Danny Carcillo, and Todd Bertuzzi – now everybody else in the NHL is acting holier-than-thou when they talk about Wisniewski.

My favorite "holier-than-thou" read of the evening comes from the Octopus Thrower blog, which backed off from previous criticism of Red Wings general manager Ken Holland for losing out in the quest to get James Wisniewski in the off-season.

The author goes on to, predictably, bash the Blue Jackets organization for its prior history of futility, and essentially dismisses the club as a second rate franchise with a "slim to none chance of ever touching the Stanley Cup." The author also goes on to dismiss Wisniewski as a selfish guy who is "not a team player" and displays "volatile behavior."

This, coming from a fan of the team that has signed paychecks to such princes-among-men as Darren McCarty, Derian Hatcher and -- lest we forget -- Todd Bertuzzi.

Yeah, sure… don't forget your tissues, pal. You're going to get a nosebleed up there on that high-horse.

For once, a Columbus Blue Jacket has done something to make the team look bad. James Wisniewski is more than likely not a bad guy. However, he made a very bad decision, and he's paying for it.

Like I said yesterday, it sucks when it's one of your own. It sucks even worse when someone writing about the Detroit Red Wings starts bashing an "overpriced goon" -- and the assertion is clearly not to be interpreted as tongue-in-cheek.

Yet... we can't blame the Octopus Thrower. We can't blame the Red Wings. We can't blame Brendan Shanahan.

Well, technically, we can, but so far, that's not solving anything.

Sure, we'll gladly welcome Wiz back. We'll cheer for him as he takes the ice October 25, when the Wings are in town.

But make no mistake about it... the only person we can and should blame for all this... is James Wisniewski.
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Mario's Big Gamble on Matt Cooke

There's a Pittsburgh Penguins jersey hanging in my closet. One of the last CCM away whites, after Mario Lemieux brought back the old logo. Absolutely loved that logo and design... and it only looked better with the gold.

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm not a fan of Disney Crosby. I mean, I get why he's a big deal and everything... I just soured on him when he started getting that little prima donna, "Little Lord Fauntleroy" thing about him. But I always liked Mario, so I figured I'd get the jersey customized with the whole "Lemieux 66" eventually.

At this point, I might very well just burn the damn thing.

Why? Well, let's face it... I've pretty much lost respect for Mario Lemieux.

Don't get me wrong... Mario was a great player, a tough player... the dude battled cancer and won, and even came back and played some more. I'm sure he's a great and personable guy. And I will always respect him for that. Nothing can ever take those qualities away.

The problem is, it's hard to separate Mario Lemieux the legend... from Mario Lemieux the hockey executive (and hypocrite).

I understood his problems with the league as a player in the 1990s, how he talked about the woes of the game as a star player... the non-calls on the clutching and grabbing that was taking away from the scoring and the speed of the game. I was all aboard with that, you know? Star players were getting harassed, and sometimes it even seemed like the more they talked to the refs about it, the more the refs seemed to blow them off.

Sure, it was a little whiny on Mario's part, but it was true. There's sound defense, and there's draping yourself on a guy like his last name is Kardashian (and happens to be a girl).

His stance on headshots? Totally respect that. Look at Crosby... out since, what... January, now, with post-concussion symptoms? I also totally respect Crosby's stance on headshots, as well. Duh... he would know, right?

Except... look at the Penguins roster.

Yep... Matt Cooke is still there.

I know that, as owner, Mario is technically Crosby's boss, but how can the kid look over at Cooke, think about what he's going through after a couple of headshots -- and not be thinking, "Ummmmmm... boss? Are we thinking clearly about the contradiction in this?"

Evgeni Malkin said earlier this summer he's glad Matt Cooke is on the team. Translation: "Hell, yeah, I don't want him hitting me next. I LOVE him."

I certainly don't blame him for that sentiment.

I believe Mario Lemieux really is thinking clearly about this situation. And while I'm sure he's feeling a little anxiety over Cooke, he thinks the guy can turn it around this year. Oh yeah... Mario also has a good chunk of money invested in Cooke for another couple years.

You see, Matt Cooke -- when he keeps his elbows closer to his own body -- is actually not a bad hockey player. That's why his repeat offenses last season -- two supplemental disciplinary hearings in six weeks -- even upset his teammates a bit. They were already without their captain and another huge scorer for the foreseeable future, but they lost a contributor for the remainder of the season, and likely failed to win their division because of it.

Greg Wyshynski from Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog had a really terrific piece on Cooke a few weeks ago. He discussed the good things Cooke does off the ice, and how his wife's health scare during last season is making him "a changed man." He's not defending Cooke, just telling a story, discussing Cooke's life off-ice and the whole HBO 24/7 thing.

I kind of called him on it, saying I'd believe Cooke is a changed man when I see it.

He replied that he didn't think there was any shame in "taking a wait-and-see attitude with Cooke."

And... he is 100% right.

However, I also believe there no shame in healthy skepticism. Matt Cooke could be the next Mother Theresa off the ice, but it wouldn't change the bastard he is on it. The only thing keeping Cooke off my "Should've-Had-A-Lifetime-Ban-from-the-NHL" list with Todd Bertuzzi is the fact that he wasn't the last guy to hit Marc Savard... because doctors (perhaps very foolishly) cleared Savard to play, and he took two more hits to the head.

Yet, it doesn't really make him any less responsible for the fact that Savard may never play again. It's a razor-thin line, friends.

Honestly, I hope Greg Wyshynski's right.

Can Matt Cooke change?

The burden of proof is on Matt Cooke, and only Matt Cooke. Lest we forget, he just boarded a guy over the weekend.

"Changed man." Yeah, right. Prove it.

The sad thing is... if/when he screws up... he could very well take Mario's good name (what's left of it) with him.

And then I'm down one nice-looking hockey sweater....

I'll do it, Mario....

I WILL freakin' do it.

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Wrandom Wrister - Dear Rangers & Flyers: Grow The F*** Up

In an emergency move, NBC has restructured the canceled sitcom Outsourced as a reality show, to give Brendan Shanahan some extra hands to keep up with the stupid behavior of players wearing New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers uniforms...

... wait... Dan Carcillo's not even in Philly anymore?!?!?

Tom Sestito... the guy who could have capitalized on an opportunity to put Jody Shelley out of a job after his stupid hit last week... dished out his own suspension-worthy hit Monday night.

Oh, and there is no way in hell he'll be able to justify this, either. Andre Deveaux didn't have a chance to see what was coming as Sestito came at him full speed. Even Johnnie Cochran wouldn't have been able to get Sestito out of this one.

Way to work for an NHL job, you putz.

Quick aside... Jody Shelley and Tom Sestito were both in the CBJ system, and gritty as they were, they never played like this in Columbus. Inherent Flyers culture corrupting otherwise just "gritty" hockey players? Just figured I'd put it out there... decide for yourself.

But I digress....

Sean Avery crying about Wayne Simmonds (supposedly) using a homophobic slur toward him? Ummmmmm, first of all... you'd think Mr. "Sloppy Seconds" would have thicker skin.

Second... well, supposedly, Avery used... ummmm, "objectionable" language toward Simmonds as well. Obviously, there's no proof, and perhaps there never will be... though obviously, it wouldn't be the first time provocative language was spewed by Lady Byng's evil step-child.

Does that make a homophobic slur acceptable? Absolutely not. Of all people, you'd think a guy who was on the receiving end of racist behavior just a few nights ago would think twice before rattling off such a thing to an opponent.

Sure, it's Sean Avery, and he's more of a caricature of a hockey player than anything else, but this isn't Slap Shot, you idiots... in fact, most of the film is much tamer. This isn't high school, boys.

Hockey fans get it. There was a big media event earlier... the Winter Classic in Philadelphia in January, and you guys just happen to be meeting in a preseason game the same day. Yadda, yadda, etc.

Fine. You're in the same division. You don't like each other, and you absolutely don't have to. But you also don't have to go conducting yourself like morons. There's building anticipation and hype for a big hockey event... and there's acting just plain stupid.

Keep this crap up, and VH1 will get better ratings with a Rock Of Love marathon than the NHL will with the Winter Classic. And they haven't made Rock Of Love in years... yet the reruns will have more substance.

The Rock Of Love marathon might even have more hockey in it.

Shut up and play hockey.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

The Hammer Falls... Wiz Out Eight Games

It is what it is.

James Wisniewski will sit for the first eight games of the regular season, after delivering an illegal check to the head of Cal Clutterbuck last Friday after time expired in regulation. The fact that time expired was a big factor in Brendan Shanahan's decision, along with his prior suspension history. His video explanation is on NHL.com now.

Obviously, fans and the league alike want a better game... a game were no one has to worry about someone getting an extended leave of absence (or worse) because another guy delivers an illegal check, or puts him face first into the boards, or the ice.

And obviously, there is a big part of us that wants the offenders to suffer the consequences when they do what they do.

It sucks when the offender is one of your own.

But, it is what it is.

The ice-level video (kudos to Matt Wagner and the guys at The Cannon for tracking that elusive footage down) didn't give us a whole lot to go on. Clutterbuck's hit on Tyutin wasn't exactly a blindside attack... a little high, maybe.

However, I think it's safe to say we can also call bull$#!+ on the Minnesota reporter who claimed Wisniewski chased Clutterbuck around for several seconds before the hit.

However, the hit happened. There's no denying it... and Shanahan had better video to work with, too. However one might feel about Clutterbuck, Wisniewski make a mistake, and he'll pay for it. His intentions may not have necessarily been malicious (obviously Shanny disagrees) but his actions were foolish, and they were reckless.

Like I said... it sucks when it's one of your guys.

But... it is what it is. The Jackets will hopefully have the full lineup of skaters on the ice by October 25, when he can rejoin the team to meet the Red Wings at Nationwide. That is sure as hell a good time to have him back, but losing him for most of October is very, very bad news nonetheless.

They have to move forward without Wiz until then.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Good Solid Effort On The Ice

The Columbus Blue Jackets' game against the Buffalo Sabres (I know I've said it before, but yay, Jackets TV!) left some good things to be excited about.

For one, man, that was a beauty goal by Grant Clitsome in the first period.

Second, Dane Byers factoring into three goals (including one for himself) gives fans a lot to be excited about. Always good to see a guy who might be able to move up to Columbus during the season and contribute.

Overall, the Jackets looked solid in every area of the ice. Most importantly, the team (or rather, Steve Mason) looked solid in net. However the teams on either side look, roster-wise, Mason has needed to look good this preseason.

Hopefully that carries over into the regular season, because heaven knows the only people who seem to believe in this team live in Columbus. Outside of Columbus, everyone seems to think it will be more of the same, and all the fingers point to the guy in goal. But, whatever... let the doubters doubt.

We are now less than two weeks away from Opening Night against Nashville. True, the 3-1-1 preseason record means nothing in the big picture. We're seeing good things on the ice.. and it's hard not to like that.

Time to drop the puck already.
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Not Cool, New Guy...

Well, with Mark Dekanich gone, the chances of the Blue Jackets lineup being intact on opening night were shot to hell, anyway, right?

I was going to reserve any statement on this until I saw video of it, but since there still seems to be none available, I'll just have to make do.

I think it's a safe bet that James Wisniewski will be watching Opening Night from the press box, after an illegal check to the head on Cal Clutterbuck after time expired in the third period. Clutterbuck had made a questionable hit on Fedor Tyutin moments before.

It's a bad move any way you slice it. Yes, he's defending himself and his partner... and I applaud that he's sticking up for his teammate, and apparently jelling with the team that well.

But cooler heads have to prevail. We've already seen Brendan Shanahan dish out a couple suspensions, and we're just halfway through the preseason.

The Jackets are paying a lot of money for this guy, and a suspension for an illegal hit is a lot different from a suspension for making an "ungentlemanly" gesture at Sean Avery. In fact, I'd even argue that Avery probably deserved it. This move costs Wisniewski money. It costs the Jackets a body for... well, we don't know how long yet.

Wisniewski will fall in the "repeat offender" category, thanks to a suspension for boarding Brent Seabrook a couple seasons back. That was also a retaliatory situation.

Love team unity. Team unity helps the team. Getting suspended doesn't.

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not A Bad Message, Mr. Shanahan...

When I first discussed the appointment of Brendan Shanahan as the NHL's chief disciplinarian several weeks ago, I was hesitant to commit to the belief that there was a "new sheriff in town," and that it was something to anticipate.

And I don't think anyone can really blame me, because no one knew what Shanahan would do in a given situation where the NHL has failed so many times in the last few years... essentially because he was appointed to the position toward the end of the season, and we weren't going to see what he could do until fall.

While Colin Campbell was referred to as the "the Sheriff" (inconsistent as he was), I guess a couple of nicknames have probably already been tossed around for Shanny. The one that got me laughing was from the "Fake NHL Network" Twitter account, which said something to the effect of "Prepare to meet the ShanaHammer!!!!!"

Pretty catchy, huh? I like it.

So, how did Shanahan deal on his essentially his first day on the job? You know, not bad.

Two guys with hearings for boarding -- Philly's Jody Shelley and Calgary's Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond (wow... say that three times as fast as you can) -- resulted in two suspensions.

Shelley will miss the rest of the preseason, along with the first five games of the regular season.

ShanaHammer, indeed.

The move could be more costly for Shelley, because this happened when it did. You see... Travis Hughes from Broad Street Hockey (and that's a link to his piece... check it out) bought up an interesting point in his reaction to the report: With Shelley missing the rest of this preseason, he has legitimate shot at losing his job in Philadelphia for the next guy to come along. In a strange coincidence, Hughes notes that next guy could be former CBJ Prospect Tom Sestito.

So, for anyone who might be calling for a lifetime ban from the league for Shelley… hey, who knows? You just might get your wish. If the Flyers wind up dropping, are there other teams that would be willing to pick Shelley up? Three suspensions in less than a year. That's a potential PR problem (unless you're Mario Lemieux and don't care, that is). Not many teams will go into that voluntarily.

Considering that such a level of venom and unprovoked malice never seemed to be part of Shelley's game prior to his tenure in Philadelphia, it makes me sad to see him potentially go out like this.

However, I find it sadder that the inconsistent enforcement of rules designed to protect players on the ice allowed the state of the NHL to get to the point where it is now.

It's sad that this decision was necessary at all. But it is necessary.

Time will tell if Shanahan's hardline stance today will continue consistently as the situations arise. However, this is a move in the right direction.

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Say It Isn't So...

Dear Jody:

Good lord, man... what have you become?

Remember when you were the enforcer in Columbus? Fans loved you... the last thing opponents wanted to do was mess with you... and the #45 was one of the most popular sweaters in town.

Man, those were good times.

Now, you're like this completely different guy on the ice. Two suspensions last year, and now... more than likely looking at a third in less than a year. Boarding a guy... again?!?!? In a freakin' preseason game?!?!?

Dude, Greg Wyshynski had the video of that gutless cheap-shot on the 'net before the game was even over... plus a nice refresher of that boarding you pulled on Adam McQuaid last year.

Backing up a teammate? Nope. Just a cheap shot.

Not the Jody Shelley we knew in Columbus, that's for sure. That hit was bull$#!+, and you know it. Of all the people whom I'd suspect would wind up being the first test of Brendan Shanahan's enforcement of headshot and boarding rules... you were not high on the list.

Matt Cooke. Dan Carcillo. Those were my top two.

No-brainers, really. Because that kind of crap is their game... not yours.

Or at least it wasn't.

At least you'll get to sit and think about it.

Sad. Disgusting.

And more than anything... disappointing.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Well, That Was A Little Troubling...

It's just a preseason game.... It's just a preseason game.... It's just a preseason game....

Half the roster is made up of prospects.

Everything will be okay. This isn't indicative of what the team will do.

These were all things that went through my head in the span of about 10 seconds as the Washington Capitals tied Wednesday night's game with the Columbus Blue Jackets, with 1:03 remaining.

The Jackets had led 3-1 at the 2:30 mark. Steve Mason had played the entire game, and the Jackets were suddenly looking at OT.

It's easy to forget that it's a game that essentially doesn't count, when the idea of a third-period collapse sounds so familiar. However, it was apparently a night for prospects to shine on an NHL stage. Like fellow prospects Cam Atkinson, Maksim Mayorov and David Savard before him, Alexandre Giroux took a pass from Fedor Tyutin and slapped it past Philipp Grubauer on the power play to give the Jackets a win in OT.

I'm so glad the Jackets have put the home games up live on the website. Such a treat to be able to see this stuff on a night when I can't get down to the District.

It'll be "radio only" on Friday, I guess, as the Jackets hit the road to Minnesota. 'Tis the preseason.

Good win, guys. Go Jackets!

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"I Would Like To Buy An Um-ber-ger..."

The Columbus Blue Jackets locked up another core player to a long-term deal this morning, inking R.J. Umberger to a five-year, $23 million contract extension.

Really... what can one say about Umberger that hasn't already been said? The guy shows up to every game, he's a leader on the ice. He can skate, he can block, he can flip a guy over with a clean hit....

The dude can score while lying on his freakin' stomach!

As a person, the fact that he's a former Buckeye probably goes a long way toward making locals forget that he's a Steelers fan. Then again, you can't really bash a guy from Pittsburgh for loving the Steelers... it's not like he's one of those inescapable, embarassing bandwagon fans that seem to pile into every bar on an NFL Sunday.

And the dude went back to OSU and finished school this year. That's character, people. He's a hard worker, and he's a finisher.

Five more years (well... six, counting this one).

Five more years of wince-inducing hits. Five more years of hardcore hockey. Five more years of 110 percent.

Five more years of Mrs. Martini yelling out "AAAAHM-BEHRRR-GEHRRR!" (in her best Inspector Clouseau accent) from the stands when he scores a goal.

I'll apologize in advance for anyone sitting near us at games. Not for her... I do it, too.

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A "Pre-Welcome Back"...

It was a long wait for two cities this evening... but considerably longer for one of them.

The good news is, the home team in Columbus won to open the preseason.

The bad news... so did the home team in Winnipeg.

Does it mean anything? Perhaps not a whole in the so-called "grand scheme of things." They're technically just preseason games, after all.

What is important, however, is that those who braved the rain to get to Nationwide Arena Tuesday evening got their first hockey fix in Columbus in five months. They saw a nice win, too, to the tune of 5-1. I caught some of it online, and a chunk of both on the radio. Good to hear George Matthews screaming "SCOOOOORES!" so often after a long break, that's for sure.

And fans in Winnipeg piled into the MTS Centre to get their first NHL hockey fix in 15 years. They also saw a win, a rather nasty 6-1 blowout.

Tuesday night was an oddity, in that it featured a pair of split-squad games. But hey... why not? How many people get to listen to their team play twice in the same night? If you think about it, it's a pretty cool way to open your hockey season. And that's just in Columbus.

Imagine how stoked they are in Winnipeg.

Sure, it would have been nice for Columbus to take both games, but hey... it's preseason. Our guys get another shot at them in the regular season, on November 12 at Nationwide. And that one's for points.

It has been a long wait, Winnipeg. Welcome back.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Columbus "On The Clock" For Realignment?

The buzz over NHL realignment next year – and the possibility of Columbus Blue Jackets moving to the Eastern Conference – has been more like a dull roar since Atlanta-to-Winnipeg became official.

Expect it to get a little louder.

Today the NHL board of governors took the important first step of discussing that possibility of realignment for the 2012-13 season.

The conclusion they drew today was that there has to be a decision by December, so the NHL scheduling process can begin on time.

This is all well and good. It's a good thing to have goals. But will Phoenix's seemingly endlessly fluid situation mess up that deadline, or at least the NHL's ability to meet it?

Obviously, my goal here is not to rain on the parade for Blue Jackets fans. Anybody reading this space knows that I'm among the loudest supporters of moving East. But in all honesty, unless the ownership situation in Phoenix gets straightened out and secured in the next couple months, there's no certainty as to where they'll go.

Coyotes fans have been in limbo for the better part two years now. I've also said before I'd rather have the Coyotes stay in Phoenix.

Meanwhile, there are some cities absolutely stoked up the possibility of getting a team. I know Qu├ębec City has been one of the loudest lately. Kansas City has had an NHL-ready arena for a few years now. Some digging on my part produced a Bleacher Report piece discussing the pros and cons of some other potential markets --  including Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Houston, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and Halifax, Nova Scotia. No need to go into any details beyond that, since we just don't know. If things go well the next few weeks in Columbus, new markets don't even have to be in our vocabulary.

The Coyotes' limbo status doesn't have to mess up the entire realignment process if they wind up moving. The NHL could essentially go to a similar plan as this year's: Should the Coyotes move east after the alignment is determined, maybe they just have to suck up a long commute for a year, then take it from there.

I think we can safely operate under the assumption that the powers that be already have something in mind, in case the Coyotes wind up moving somewhere.

But as far as Columbus is concerned, we now have a definitive idea when we'll get some news on realignment. So, I guess for now, we keep our fingers crossed. Good or bad... we should know something by the holidays.

Maybe our team will get the best present ever? (nudge nudge, wink wink)

Let the roar for realignment commence....

Go Jackets!

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Wonderful, Chilly September Morning...

It was a morning like any other, really. I turned off the alarm clock, looked at the time, and realized I hit the snooz-bar about three or four times.

Yep. That sounded about right.

Oh wait... it was Saturday. Why the hell am I even setting an alarm on Saturday?!?!?

Oh yeah... it's the first day of Training Camp at the Ice Haus.

Out of bed, slap on a shirt, walk the dogs, wake Mrs. Martini, and get our hockey-loving selves down to The District.

Love the smell of fresh ice in the morning...
Sure enough, just in time for training camp, the Tim Horton's that took over the Cotter's space is open. As much as I hate to lose a watering hole in the Arena District... nothing hits the spot like a coffee and one of these.

The Stinger Donut from Tim Horton's.. the Breakfast of (Fans of) Champions

Sure enough, Mrs. Martini and I walked into a nice, crowded Haus, got our free Training Camp shirts, checked out some of the new CBJ swag (and made a mental checklist for later), and hit the rink. It was nice and chilly inside... the very environment we as fans have been waiting to experience again since April...

... a wait that was far to long to see our team on the ice.

Familiar guys. Nash. Boll. Clitsome. New guys. Carter. Dekanich. Guys looking to make good impressions. Prout. York.

Guys ready to get out there and play some hockey. And fans who are ready to watch.

It has been a long wait... and it's almost over. Time to bust out the hockey sweaters and wear them regardless of whether people think we're crazy. Time to go watch practices. Time to buy tickets.

It's time for hockey again, people.

Game on. Go Jackets!

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Saturday, September 17, 2011

The NHL Social Media Policy: A Little Stringent, But Not Bad

With just hours to go before training camp, it looks it's time to wrap up the

I got wind of the NHL instituting a Social Media Policy a couple days ago, and meant to discuss it here then, but... well, I didn't get a chance to really look at it in-depth until today. The discussion of the preservation of our arena and hockey team here in Columbus took precedent. You understand.

Still, the Social Media landscape among the Columbus Blue Jackets' fanbase is impressive, and still growing a bit. A lot of us like to "live-tweet" during games, those of us in the CBJ Blogging Community use it a lot during games, discussing hot topics in the sport, promoting our blogs and so forth.

Obviously, it's not unique to Columbus -- although it has made Forbes' "Most Wired Cities" list each year, and has a very vibrant and social-media-savvy community.

It's everywhere in the NHL. Follow the Twitter hashtags for every NHL team, and you're going to find a lot of people in the league's virtual living room. As I noted back in April during the Playoffs, social media really does make us one big, happy, dysfunctional family. We hype good plays, we yell at the refs, trash-talk one another's teams... and, of, course, we love to compliment our guys after their hard-earned efforts on the ice.

And the teams get in on it, too. Teams' official accounts have been publishing and refreshing lists of official Twitter handles of players on their rosters. It's a cool way for fans to see a little more of their favorite players' personalities, and a great way for teams to have some outreach to fans. Heck, CBJ fans on Twitter were having a ball a few weeks back, when new Jackets goaltender Mark Dekanich did an entirely Twitter-based Q&A online. Fan interaction at its best, people.

So it wasn't without a little trepidation that I looked up what was going in the NHL's new Social Media Policy, especially when I caught the headline this morning from one of the daily public relations newsletters I get (though, due to the topic, it was forwarded to me by Mrs. Martini first), which described it as a "PR miss."

Oh, boy, I thought. The NHL's going to go nuts like the NFL and NBA have, and spoil the fun and fan interaction that puckheads have come to expect from their teams.

Let us not forget, the Columbus Blue Jackets -- as a third-year (if I recall correctly) expansion team -- was the #1 Fan Experience among all of the "Big Four" sports, on ESPN The Magazine's first list of Best Sports Franchises. And the NHL is going to take that fan-friendly element away from us?

Well, not exactly.

The policy essentially establishes a blackout period, during which players cannot use social media. That blackout falls from two hours before puck drop, and extends until all players' media obligations after the game are fulfilled.

A similar blackout period also applies to game operations and other NHL personnel, but that blackout begins at 11 AM.

The gist of the rest of the policy mostly deals with content, and making sure that players are not saying anything disparaging about their teams, or the league, etc. It also seems to cover the bases of keeping in mind that players represent their teams and the NHL at all times, and should conduct themselves appropriately.

So, for example, the NHL might have fined Mike Commodore couple weeks ago, after he cussed out a guy that made a snide remark about Wade Belak (the offending person apparently did not realize yet that Belak had died). Essentially, chewing out fans would be a problem. However, Commodore showing off how much money he won at the track on a given day (only saw him do it once, but he's apparently quite the horse guy) would probably not be a violation… so long as it does not fall within that blackout period.

Maybe that's a weird example. Sorry... first thing that came to mind.

Player-wise, it does seem a little silly on the surface. It's not like you see hockey players tweet during games – come on, it's virtually impossible to do with those gloves. I don't think even Alex Ovechkin would be so idiotic as to pull a BlackBerry out of his pads and tweet after a goal, like players in the NFL might have done in the end zone.

On second thought, Ovie's probably the type who would find a way. But, I digress….

So, even though the NHL is somewhat more "gentlemanly" than the NBA or the NFL, there is still in need for the league to have a social media policy. Any company in which social media has any sort of presence should consider having a policy that helps clarify its use. In this sense, the NHL is not much different from any other business. The league, like any other business, has to protect its interests, and avoid liability for information from personnel that may go out over social media (check out some of the stuff to consider on Mashable). In fact, the NHL is actually overdue in establishing such a policy, as the NFL and NBA have had policies in place for a couple years.

My one question on this policy? How broad is that "hockey operations staff" part they mention? Does this mean that even @BlueJacketsNHL (the team's official Twitter account) can't tweet things like goal scorers/assists or interesting stats during games? Sure, the media stay on top of that stuff, too, but a gag order on teams' official accounts seems a bit... much.
I did shoot that question to the team on Twitter, so I'm looking forward to finding out the answer. We'll see.

Still, that's a pretty minor concern in the big scheme of things. I doubt this policy is really going to deprive us of anything we can't live without as fans. I'm not sure there were that many guys -- if any -- who tweeted within two hours of puck-drop, anyway.

This policy is a precaution... nothing else.

It's probably no accident, however, that this policy is coming out as the NHL and NHLPA begin thinking about negotiations for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. It's a good bet that any discussions of CBA during that period could count as an "offense." It's a good way to help the sides control their respective messages during negotiations. We all know how quickly hockey rumors, speculation and leaks can spread out of control.

It's a good policy to have. How the NHL deals with and enforces it... only time will tell. However, I don't anticipate that this will become some sort of Draconian system to censor anybody. I wouldn't be surprised if we never see a player or staff member face discipline.

We'll probably wind up wondering why the league bothered creating a policy at all. However, having a Social Media Policy before there is a problem is preferable to having to create one later after someone has said something that makes his team or the league look bad. Just because you don't seem to need it, doesn't make it less of a good idea.

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hockey Lives In Columbus, Part II: Home...? Future...?

The Columbus Blue Jackets just might be having the closest thing to a perfect summer.

Oop... wait. Yep, there it is... that looming cloud of negativity coming to spoil the party. Damn, that thing never moves, does it...?

I have to say, I was even a little giddy to see the news this arena proposal. I mean, come on… it's good for the team (obviously), it's good for the fans (obviously), and no matter what the naysayers may tell you, it is good for the city of Columbus.

However, within that previous sentence lies the problem: the naysayers.

You can't miss them, they have voiced their objections ad nauseam on the Dispatch article's page.

And, yes, as much as I hate to say it, they do have a point.

For pretty much as far back as I can remember, Columbus taxpayers have opposed publicly funding the construction of a downtown arena.

Before I was even a hockey fan, as a grade school lad I remember riding to school and listening to news reports about the supporters and opponents of building that downtown arena. No matter what, the idea was only always shot down. I don't recall whether any of those discussions revolved around sports teams.

I was eight. You'll have to forgive me.

But in a nutshell, the recurring theme has always been "Screw you guys, my taxpayer dollars are not paying for your arena."

Now, this deal being discussed sounds like it would bypass the process of a public vote. This is probably the biggest reason why people are pissed. They don't get a say, and so... after so many votes to not put in arena downtown with public money… well, the purchase and operation of Nationwide Arena would essentially come from public money.

Now, add to that the fact that even the small percentage of people in Columbus who actually voted for the casinos a couple years back (residents in Central Ohio overwhelmingly voted against the proposal) now realize in hindsight that they voted for a total trainwreck that hosed the State of Ohio out of hundreds of millions of dollars. The rest who opposed realize that just about everyone else in Ohio bought in on the B.S. that Penn National and Dan Gilbert selling. So, naturally, they are determined to not let it happen again. They are probably looking at this agreement and think that this is another grand swindle.

Just read the comments on the article in the Dispatch (and try to ignore the irony of people who can't spell or use passable grammar that are spouting off about funding education): "No public money for a failed private sector deal." Corrupt mayor is at it again." "...Third-rate sports franchise...."

And voters won't get a choice.

I sympathize. I really do. And while I would fully support the public's right to have a referendum to be able to vote on something like this... I'm going to pass this time.

Why? Because I'm a hockey fan.

However, beyond that... this is about more than just hockey team. There is a bigger picture. Not one opponent who so readily bashes the Columbus Blue Jackets in this case seems to give any regard to the surrounding businesses, and what they bring to the table. The Arena District is a vibrant area. It's jumping on a hockey night, and a great destination even on non-hockey nights. It's not as busy, but still good. Those businesses... those payrolls... those income taxes... are all there because of this "third-rate hockey team." Take away that team, there go the businesses, payrolls and income taxes.

Remember the 2004-05 Lockout? The news stories on Arena District businesses cutting people and barely hanging on? Think of what that would look like permanently. No more "barely hanging on"... just gone.

To the opponents, I offer this:

Technically, yeah… it is public money. But, again... unlike previous "public-money-for-arena" issues, you are not paying anything more. Gamblers are. See? Even sin and vice have silver linings once in awhile.

Yes, the hockey team has been mismanaged. Yes, the hockey team has underperformed. Yes, the hockey team is losing money. The Blue Jackets organization has taken a look at itself from top to bottom. I know only time will tell... but there is a lot of reason to believe this team will turn it around.

Most of the opponents won't care anyway. I accept that. Buckeye Football is king in Columbus -- cars, tattoos, "culture of noncompliance" and all.

Fine. You don't have to come to the Stanley Cup parade that is coming sometime in the next six years. It's great if you can make it, and we'll certainly welcome you with open arms when you get around to jumping on the bandwagon -- and point and laugh at you when you jump off. But... hey, your prerogative.

I'm sorry you don't get a choice.

I'm also glad... because if you did, you'd stick on that whole "public funding" issue -- even though you're not paying any additional taxes -- and ignore the big picture of the surrounding businesses and people that benefit from this hockey team. I just don't trust a public vote. Sorry. That's just realism.

This deal is not ideal for everybody. But it works.

Long live the Blue Jackets. Long live the Arena District.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Poll: A Little Drew Doughty Math...

Drew Doughty scored 16 goals and 43 assists (59 points, for those playing at home), and was a plus-20 in 2009-10, en route to becoming a Norris Trophy finalist.

He followed up that performance with 11 goals and 29 assists (40 total), and a plus-13 last season. That's a 30-percent drop (or more) in each category.

Doughty reportedly turned down a nine-year deal worth $6.8 million per year today. At age 21. Dean Lombardi committed almost seven million in cap space to a 21-year-old kid who couldn't even come close to following up a stellar season.

Now, supposedly this isn't about money, because the prevailing theory is that Doughty is supposedly looking for a shorter-term deal, e.g., five years, so he can be a UFA at 26, and really cash in then. The Kings likely don't want that, because they already have Anze Kopitar under a contract that would end at the same time. That, of course, is a potential problem.

Plus, let's face it... what if Doughty peaked in 2009-10? Do you even want to commit to this overrated little holdout for five years?

Or... the Kings can think about trading away his rights.

Soooooo... I'm going to play a little "Armchair Arbitrator" here. Here's my proposal:

Option #1: You want a short-term deal? Here you go: One-year... at half what the Kings offered in the long-term... so, $3.4 million. You don't even have to hit your Norris Trophy finalist benchmark. Hit 53 points, and we'll negotiate something further.

Option #2: We'll send your overrated butt whatever hot-mess team we damn well please, for anything ranging from a third-round draft pick all the way down to a Rick DiPietro-autographed mini-stick.

This, of course, is why I'm not a sports agent.

That aside, I don't want to have all the fun here, so I'm going to put up a poll. Should Doughty:

A) Sign a 1-year, $3.4M, and hit 53 points (A "put up or shut up" deal).

B) Get traded to the Winnipeg Jets for a Round 3-7 draft pick.

C) Get traded to the Ottawa Senators for a Round 3-7 draft pick.

D) Get traded to the Florida Panthers for a Round 3-7 draft pick.

E) Get traded to the Islanders for a Rick DiPietro-autographed stick.

F) Sit and rot.

Please cast your vote on the poll to the right. Tell your friends, and let's get a nice turnout going.

And, hey, if you want to write in a vote in the comments, go for it!

Thanks for reading.

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A Hard Dose of Perspective

Tragic events happen all the time. We see them on TV, we express our shock, and probably forget about it within a few days. Perhaps not this time.

Half a world away, a plane crashed shortly after takeoff into the Volga River in Russia, killing 43 people. Many aboard the plane were members of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team of the KHL, some of whom were also veterans of the NHL.

Social media was awash with reaction from fans, media, statements from NHL teams who had employed these players, and so forth. There were fans who recognized players they watched, admired and loved years ago. It was a tragedy that struck the world's hockey family. One could say that this event -- very, very indirectly -- affected millions of people in North America and around the world who watch and enjoy the sport of hockey.

And yet... as much as we mourn these players and the loss that their passing represents, anything that I could even think of saying seems infinitesimal and trite compared to what happened. This is so much bigger than hockey.

I wasn't even going to write about this. However, I wanted to share a couple items that went beyond just making me think. They moved me. Whatever synopsis I could provide would be just words, so I'll just link to them.

The first is from one of our own here in Columbus, Jeff Little from Ten Minute Misconduct.

The second is from a sports blogger in Texas... a post I just happened upon via Twitter, about an hour or so ago.

Let us honor our hockey family, and more importantly, never forget our human family.

Thank you for stopping by.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

When RFAs Become PITAs

It's September... NHL training camps are getting underway really soon. Take heart, hockey fans... we are in the homestretch of the

It is the inevitable scourge of every offseason... I mean, aside from the fact that the offseason is too damn long.

I'm talking about Restricted Free Agency. It just seems like such a pain. Not just for athletes and teams, but fans as well. I mean, really, if you're a fan of the Boston Bruins or Los Angeles Kings, how are you feeling right now?

About two months have passed since Free Agency began, and the Bruins and Kings are still working on deals -- or at least we think they are -- for key RFAs. The Kings with Drew Doughty, and the B's with Brad Marchand. And training camp opens in less than two weeks.

If you're waiting to hear your team is more or less intact going into camp, you're probably a bit disappointed in one side or the other. Or both.

Don't get me wrong... I can understand contract holdouts to a point. When the length of a holdout gets to a point like this, though, it gets to be a little ridiculous. Steven Stamkos holding out for a few weeks before signing for a whopping five-year, $37.5M deal? I think the money's excessive for someone so young. Then again... well, we've seen him play... it's not like he's a one-hit wonder. He more than doubled his points from his rookie year to his second year, and broke 90 in his second and third years. Not a bad start.

I still think it's excessive, but hey... it's not my salary cap. Will he be worth it? Well, Tampa certainly has the pieces in place to potentially win another Cup in the next five years... maybe even this year. My money says the Bolts will ensure the Southeast isn't decided until April this season.

But now it's September, and a couple current holdout cases -- with different prospects of resolution on the horizon -- are especially unnerving... or obnoxious, depending on whom you ask. Sometimes both.

Take the Blue Jackets for a moment. You don't see guys holding out a lot. To date, the Jackets have never gone to an arbitration hearing... though they have come close. For the most part, fans know whether a deal with an RFA is going to get done or not.

Were the decisions to keep guys always great decisions? Nope. Doug MacLean once played hardball with Nikolai Zherdev, and essentially said he could go rot in Russia if he didn't want to play in Columbus (he wasn't eligible for arbitration, if I'm recalling correctly). Dougie went out and got Anson Carter to fill out what could have been a formidable top six... then wound up caving and getting Zherdev anyway before camp opened -- adding $2.5 million in unneeded payroll to do so -- and left Carter under-utilized and overpaid on the third and/or fourth lines. Yadda yadda... no need to dwell on it. Doug can't hurt us anymore, fellow CBJ fans... he can only wax fictional about how he thinks he knows how to run a hockey team.

So, let's look at Brad Marchand's situation. Marchand had what can only be described as a freakish breakout year as a rookie with the Bruins in 2010-11. After having a stellar regular season (21 goals, 20 assists, 41 points), Marchand then proceeded to go crazy in the Playoffs (11-8-19), helping Boston end its 39-year Cup drought.

This was his full season (and the last of his entry level deal) with the team... and one hell of a good one, don't get me wrong on that. And the Bruins have the cap space to give Marchand some good bucks. But to revisit the point... this is only one full season. I understand this may not be just about money, because there is also term to consider. A shorter deal would give Marchand the flexibility to be able to test the UFA waters and make some bank in a couple years, assuming his performance doesn't drop off over that time.

The good news is that at least the two sides seem to be serious about talking now. Obviously, I'd like to see the Bruins lock up a potential core player like him for longer, and for a little less money. Big money now is an awful risk for someone who could just be a proverbial flash in the pan. Do I think Marchand is in that category? Not necessarily, but I wouldn't throw more than $2.5 - $3 million per year at him at this point. It's not like anyone's pounding on his door with an offer sheet, either -- mostly for the fact that we just don't know what he's worth. I say the Bruins should push for another year or two, but I'd be satisfied with a couple years to make Marchand prove himself now to get more later.

So... Brad, shut up, get a deal done, sign it, and get your ass into camp on time.


(What... I'm a Bruins fan. Can't hurt to be polite, right?)

Now, Drew Doughty...? This kid's another story. The Kings appear to be really trying to keep him, sending him a list of options for his preferred length of contract. Neither side seems to be talking dollars to the media, but the L.A. Times is guessing the kid wants a shade under Stamkos kind of money.

Ummmm... yeah. No. Absolutely not.

I don't have a stake in the Kings' success or failure. I'm just being objective. If I'm Dean Lombardi, I'm not writing those checks.

Now statistics aren't everything. Doughty's a very talented kid, and I have no doubt he's going places. He was a Norris finalist in 2009-10, and put up 16 goals and 59 points, which you don't get to see from a young defenseman that often.

If only that had been his contract year, before his scoring output dropped 30 percent or more in each category -- goals, assists, points and plus-minus. Any way you slice that, that's moving backward... you can't drop from 59 to 40 and tell your boss, "Give me Stamkos-type money."

Again, no one's breaking down the door with an offer sheet in this case, either.

The problem with RFAs who hold out (or choose go to arbitration) is that there is always that potential that they won't be worth the trouble to keep them. You know that old cliche, "the squeaky wheel gets the grease"? Well, in hockey, the squeaky wheel gets traded.

Look at Zherdev. Eventually the CBJ exiled Zherdev to New York. Chris Drury took the Avs to arbitration years ago... and while there may not have been any bad intentions there, Pierre Lacroix dumped him to Calgary. Some are already calling for Nashville to move Shea Weber sometime during the season after that crazy, record $7 million-plus arbitration award he received this summer.

L.A. could very well be a team on the rise, Drew, and RFAs who prove to be a thorn in their teams' sides don't necessarily go to contenders when their teams lose patience for their B.S. You think you're holding out now? What if the Kings trade your rights to Florida? Or, if they're feeling really cruel... the Islanders?

Then again, isn't Florida still trying to reach the Salary Floor? Well, you may not even sniff the Cup there, but you just might get paid.
I think you want to shut up and sign in L.A., though... and soon.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Another Day of Offseason Ups... And Downs

The Blue Jackets' "Version 2.0" summer continued its impressive march toward redemption late Wednesday, as the team announced it has locked up Fedor Tyutin for a six-year extension worth an average $4.5M a year.

This is another solid move by GM Scott Howson to secure a core player for the Blue Jackets. It's a commitment to keeping the core of the team set for the future. It's also a big commitment of cash for the future. However, I am among the faithful who believe this is the time we will finally see the turnaround we've been waiting for with this Blue Jackets team. Time will tell.

I'll tell you one thing... this isn't making the wait for the season to start -- which pretty much began with the post-CannonFest hangover -- any easier.

Puck drops in Columbus five weeks from tomorrow. Bring on the season already!

Meanwhile, Boston fans received the bad -- though not really unexpected -- news that Marc Savard will not suit up for the B's this season, due to continued post-concussion symptoms. Obviously, they didn't take it well, and the venom spewed hard in the general direction of Matt Cooke, who infamously cracked Savard in the head and ended his 2009-10 season...

...and walked away unpunished by the league for the dirty hit.

So, suffice to say, the mood among Boston fans was considerably negative... quite a few F-bombs involved.

Now, is Matt Cooke completely to blame? No. Did he start Savard's seemingly downward spiral of health? There is certainly a good argument for that. However -- and I don't plan to linger on Cooke too much here, because I'll be discussing him later this month -- Cooke wasn't the last guy to hit Savard.

Savard took two hits in January -- from the Penguins' Deryk Engelland and from the Avalanche's Matt Hunwick -- that wound up ending his season last year. I'm guessing the punch Savard took to the back of the head from Danny Carcillo in the 2010 Playoffs probably didn't help, either.

Not that any of that matters. The worries for Savard's health have to come first here. There is wide speculation that Savard may never play again.


Scary bit of perspective, isn't it?

Especially when you consider the NHL lost another player -- and pugilist -- too damn soon. For the third time this year.

Wade Belak died Wednesday, with many reports pointing to suicide. He's the third player to die this offseason, along with Derek Boogaard and Rick Rypien. Belak was drafted in the first round in the 1994 Entry Draft by the Quebec Nordiques, and debuted with the Colorado Avalanche in the 1996-97 season... later moving on to stops in Calgary, Toronto, Florida and Nashville. He had retired in March of this year.

Belak's death -- along with Rypien's and Boogaard's -- will likely reignite the debate over fighting in the NHL. That topic sits right next to headshots as well, when you think about it... look at soem of the high-profile players currently on the shelf (or retired) right now because of impacts to the head. It really made me think about some of the pieces Tom over at Dark Blue Jacket wrote back in March of this year, in the aftermath of the study on Bob Probert's brain.

Obviously, head shots and cheap shots are a problem, and God knows if the NHL will ever get the enforcement of those penalties right.

But does the NHL need to take a look at possibly getting rid of fighting altogether? Check out this piece from Terrance Gavan over at The Hockey Writers. He's been pushing for a ban on fighting for probably far longer than most other people have.

Strangely, I'm on the fence myself... but this offseason is making me take a harder look at it.

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A New (Hockey) Year's Resolution... Sort Of...

A few years ago, when I started writing this blog, I quickly learned that I had a lot going on, and that made it difficult to keep up with everything and update it regularly. To call me "undisciplined" in the ways of blogging would have been an understatement.

Well, I've tackled that. So, this year -- as I work to further improve my talents in multitasking -- I will attempt to get rid of a title I've been trying to shake for a couple years now...

Worst Fantasy Hockey GM Ever.

I signed up this morning for the same league I was in last year (give or take a few people, I think), and I truly believe that this year, I can redeem myself, after a couple years of bad, bad management.

Simply put... Gary Bettman runs the NHL better than I ran my last two fantasy teams... that's how horribly badly I ran those teams.

Last year was completely my fault, too. We gathered at Boston's in the Arena District for a few hours... pizza, beer and good times had by all. I felt really good about my team, too. The problem... I logged on maybe... what, twice? Seriously, five to six minutes each afternoon, I could have had a pretty good showing with the team I drafted.

So, I'm going to give that a shot this year, because I'm sadly in need of redemption. I'm pretty sure my fellow GMs have seen me on the list, and are currently thinking, "Well, at least I won't finish last."

Well, game on. I'm working on my Draft list while I start gathering information for my upcoming NHL season preview. I'll be ready to kick some ass.

Or at least I'll make a game of it this year.

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