Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jackets at Devils: Not Totally Satisfying, But...

It's a loss.

However, it's a loss in a shootout... which means the Columbus Blue Jackets are still at least climbing. Getting that second point is still a concern, especially given Curtis Sanford's woes in the shootout (4 of 9 going in, 4-10 coming out).

But the Jackets are moving up. You just can't tell in the standings because they were so far down to begin with... but it is happening. The Jackets have earned points in their last four games (2-0-2), and three of those games were on the road. That zero in the middle is important... but so is the second point.

That point was hard to come by, though, because Martin Brodeur was doing his best "younger Martin Brodeur" impression -- and doing a damn good job of it, for all the shots the Jackets put on him.

However, despite his aforementioned (and continued) shootout woes, Curtis Sanford matched Brodeur's effort, only letting in one goal from a New Jersey team with a lot of weapons. It's hard to be too disappointed in that, because Sanford is a major reason for that 2-0-2 record in the last four.

Another easy game puck goes to Jared Boll, who not only kept playing after taking a head-on hit that likely knocked his broken nose around a bit... but managed to get in front of the net after a hit in the corner, and deflect in the game-tying goal six minutes into the third period.

The Jackets have confidence, after four good games against good teams. The key will be to keep it going for two homes games against two more good teams. Friday brings a rematch with the Sabres, who led the Northeast Division before falling Wednesday to the Bruins -- who still have not lost in November. Then the Jackets take on their old mentor on Sunday, as Ken Hitchcock brings the Blues to town. Hitch and the Blues are 5-1-2 since his hiring. Like I said before, Hitch will make the Jackets' climb tougher.

But the Jackets are still climbing. And that's what matters.

And as we sit down with loved ones and enjoy our turkey and the inevitable turkey coma to come... that is something to be thankful for.

(Just don't mention it at grace... unless you know for sure you can get away with it....)

Happy Thanksgiving.

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Monday, November 21, 2011

Well, Yes, They Call It A Streak (Boogity Boogity)*

Don't look now... the Columbus Blue Jackets are on a point/win streak.

Yes! Really!

Beginning with the Jackets' shootout loss in Boston, the CBJ have put up five of a possible six points since Thursday. All three wins are also credited to Curtis Sanford, who may be starting for a while... not just for his hot hand, but also for the fact that Steve Mason was apparently hurt by a puck to the mask in practice.

It's good to know there's protection for the Jackets' net in the meantime, as Sanford turned in yet another stellar performance.

Speaking of stellar performances, the CBJ got another one of those from Jeff Carter, who opened the scoring with a beauty of a wrister from the left circle, then popped in a rebound during a two-man advantage in the second to put the Jackets up 3-1. Vinny Prospal continued his solid play by chipping in three assists, and Rick Nash made people feel a whole lot better by notching his first goal in eight games.

And what the hell was that goal by Antoine Vermette to put the Jackets up 2-0? Flipping the puck with the blade of his stick from inside the ankle? I could have sworn I heard Bill Davidge say guys practice this move, and my first thought was, "Sure, they practice it, but the odds of such a situation coming up in a game...?"

The Blue Jackets looked solid overall. Sanford made 27 saves. The Jackets capitalized on a 5-on-3 situation and went 1-for-3 on the power play. Would've been nice to keep Calgary's power play off the board, but the win is what's important.

From here, the Jackets hit the road for a game in New Jersey, before coming home on Friday to try to even the series with Buffalo. Keeping this streak going...? It's doable... especially if the Jackets continue to play like this.

But no more speculation... I've already said too much. One game at a time....

Go Jackets!

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*-Apologies to Ray Stevens

Sunday, November 20, 2011

CBJ at Nashville: A Curse Broken...

Where does one start?

A hockey team off to its worst start in franchise history goes into a building in which it has not won since April of 2006...

...and wins.

The last goaltender to win in Nashville was Pascal Leclaire (wow... remember him?). Since then, the Blue Jackets have started five different goaltenders:

Fredrik Norrena (0-5-0)
Ty Conklin (0-1-0)
Pascal Leclaire (0-2-1)
Steve Mason (0-3-3)
Mathieu Garon (0-1-1)

Those goaltenders combined for an 0-12-5 record.

And Curtis Sanford freaking did it.

Now, that's not to say he didn't have help. In fact, the Blue Jackets got help from the kind of guys they needed most... their primary and secondary scoring.

Jeff Carter finally got that first goal as a Jacket on a shot from the slot that somehow flew right past Pekka Rinne. Vinny Prospal flipped a gorgeous backhander under Rinne's glove to tie the game at 2-2, barely two minutes after Mike Unde-- sorry, my bad... Mr. Carrie Underwood gave the Preds the lead.

R.J. Umberger finally gave the Jackets the lead early in the third, knocking a rebound into a wide-open net for the second of two power play goals on the night.

Giving up the game-tying goal late in the third tends to be scary when you're a Columbus fan. However, James Wisniewski's OT winner made the slip forgivable. Rick Nash didn't score, but he was still a factor with a pair of assists.

I know there has been a focus on fighting and violence in hockey... but any way you slice it, there is something about fists in Jordin Tootoo's face that just makes a Blue Jackets fan smile... especially he fact that once his sissy-slap antics were over, he almost fell over before Derek Dorsett started beating him. Dors flung the stick a bit far in the process of dropping he gloves, but... oh, well.

Jared Boll giving up 20 pounds to McGrattan... less wise. Don't know where they found that guy, but... yikes.

Still, there is nothing that makes a Jackets feel good like seeing the Jackets get that Nashville road monkey of their backs. Especially the timing of it. A point in Boston on the road, two in Nashville, and coming back home against Calgary? Not a bad situation to be in, if you're the good guys... coming off the road with confidence for quite possibly the first time all season.

Whether the Jackets will capitalize on that is the big question.

But we can enjoy this moment for now -- however briefly. There is still a lot of hockey to be played... the Jackets will be playing night-on, night-off for the next week and a half, until a back-to-back with Calgary and Edmonton on December 1 and 2 to wrap the team's first Western Canada Road Trip.

But... hey, one game at a time.

Go Jackets!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Beaten... But Not Completely Bruined...

Let's start with the bad news: The Columbus Blue Jackets are still ten games below .500.

Now the good news: The Jackets aren't 11 games below .500.

"Oh, surely it gets better than that," a casual, innocent bystander might say.

Nope. Not when a team is trying to dig out of a ten-game hole. Yet, at the same time... we're really happy it didn't get worse.

A start like the Blue Jackets have had will do that to a fan.

True, one can pull quite a few positives from Thursday night's game against the Bruins. One, the Blue Jackets kept up pretty good pressure throughout the game, against what is hailed by many as the hottest team in the NHL right now. The CBJ scored first, which certainly must have come as a shock to the Bruins faithful gathered at TD Garden last night. And, end result notwithstanding, Curtis Sanford did play one hell of a good game in net for the Jackets. Hell, the Jackets finally got their first points on the road.

However, where the Jackets are sitting, we really can't ignore that end result, nor can the team. A loss is still a loss, whether they got a point on the road or not. The Jackets should have had their first point on the road weeks ago. They held on the lead for not even 2 minutes, before the Bruins tied up again.

Where did the Jackets' goal come from? One Derek MacKenzie. Who wasn't on the score sheet? Guys like Rick Nash, Jeff Carter, Antoine Vermette, R.J. Umberger… and the list goes on. The Jackets are getting some great play from the so-called "role players." However, guys that are supposed to be scoring are still not getting there. Primary scoring, secondary scoring... none. Tuukaa Rask is a brilliant goalie, but he's still human. The guys playing in front of him are also really good, but they're still human.

Could Curtis Sanford have done anymore for the Jackets last night? Eh, probably not. Not much you can do about that weird deflection on that Bruins goal. For some reason, the goal was credited to Adam McQuaid, but it certainly seemed like it when it off Rich Peverley. Anyway, evidently Sanford will get a chance to continue to show what he can do in Nashville on Saturday. Good for him.

Considering where the Jackets are right now, it's hard to be overly positive. What can I say, I'm only human. However, that is not to say that Thursday night's loss isn't a potential starting point. The Jackets went to a very tough arena and played a damn good game against a damn good opponent (not to mention the defending Stanley Cup champions). Maybe, just maybe, that counts for something.

Although we obviously have yet to see the Blue Jackets do anything resembling building on momentum, that doesn't mean they can't. Just because we haven't seen that competitive fire consistently doesn't mean it isn't there.

Is this a "keep the faith" moment? Well, maybe it is. Like I said before the game, this game against the Bruins would be a good time to take a page from the Bruins book, fix what is wrong, and see if you can't get a monster streak started. No one ever sad that streak had to begin with a win. Maybe that measly point just enough to get these guys started.

That's not me being overly optimistic... that's just speculation based on a technicality.

Go Jackets!

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Brief Open Letter To Ryan Miller...

Mr. Miller:

Really?

Given... Milan Lucic went on the radio and said some stupid crap about the hit, threw out a theory about a hit in the second period that might have caused your "concussion," and so forth.

I hope you get well soon. I'm glad you're not so woozy that you can't continue to talk about the hit and how bitter you are about there not being a suspension against Lucic. But at some point, you need to concentrate on getting better and getting back on the ice.

Read: Shut the hell up already.

You're probably the best American-born goaltender of the last 10-15 years. I know... the depth chart's not great on that, but take it for what it's worth. You're an Olympic Silver Medalist (and were only one Disney Crosby goal away from Gold), you've brought the Buffalo Sabres back to respectability and consistent contention.

But, Mr. Miller, you made a bad decision. You decided to get into a race that could very well have gotten a puck knocked into your net. You raced Milan Lucic to the puck. Hell, you even won.

However... you won by a half-second. You can say all you want, like you did to ESPN, that "[Lucic] can skate. He can stop. He can turn. He can pick his head up."

In a half-second? Really? From full speed, a guy is able to put on the brakes, veer off, dust off the snow and say, "Whoa, ol' boy... almost had a spot of a collision there, I dare say...."

So, after the theories of what caused your injury... you "didn't know [the Bruins] were all doctors."

I don't think I ever realized what a whiny jackass a hockey player could be.

I sympathize with the pain and everything, but that's it, dude. At some point, you need to let it go. Yes, it brings up the important topic of goaltender safety, and making sure teams aren't "running the goaltenders" and so forth. I know I would be livid if someone took a shot at Steve Mason or Tim Thomas... or really anyone.

However... your situation just wasn't an example of the topic at hand.

And you and Lindy Ruff look like idiots in the process.

Have some pride, man.

Last season, Max Pacioretty went headfirst into a stanchion and sustained a freaking neck fracture, after a hit that should have meant a suspension for Zdeno Chara. Chara did not get that suspension.

Yet, Max Pacioretty, while upset at the outcome, did not complain about it nearly as much as you have about Lucic.

And this is in hockey-mad Montreal. Whatever he felt about the situation privately, he didn't fall for what I'm sure was consistent baiting from the Montreal media. Pacioretty put it behind him, focused on his recovery and suited up this year.

Try to learn something from that... because what you're doing now is just undignified.

Man the hell up. Get well soon.

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A Tale Of Two Cellar-Dwelling* Teams...

Two teams... both with high hopes great personnel and great expectations. One struggled en route to another sub-par season... the other bounced back from an embarassing Playoff exit to break a 39-year Stanley Cup drought.

Yet a few weeks into the season, both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Boston Bruins were mired in dead last in their respective conferences.

October was a rough month. Columbus came into the season with high expectations, and a roster finally built for the up-tempo style that Scott Arniel touted -- a style the team desperately needed.

Meanwhile, in Boston, the Bruins -- after losing a couple guys to free agency but largely keeping the lineup intact -- fumbled and stumbled to what can only be described on the "Stanley Cup Hangover Scale" as something equivalent to waking up, falling out of bed, making your way to the living room and finding Snooki from Jersey Shore calling McDonald's to see if they'll deliver breakfast.

Needless to say, between Columbus and Boston… I was shaking my head A LOT in October.

Now it is mid-November. Although Columbus is still trying to find its way out half of a ten-games-below-.500 hole, the Bruins have won six straight and are knocking on the door of the top eight in the East. The Jackets are once again coming off another failed opportunity to get a win streak going -- after being shocked into submission by two quick Minnesota goals that tied the game, en route to a 4-2 loss.

Now, to be clear, no one picked the Jackets to win the Stanley Cup. And honestly, it seems very few even had Columbus even making the Playoffs this year. For the most part, the doubters were focused firmly on Steve Mason. To be fair, the Jackets' woes are not all on him. On quite a few occasions the team in front of Mason has been playing like $#!+. And then, of course, there are the occasions that Mason has been very, very hard to watch. This entire team has been woefully underperforming. Seems this team has no faith in their goaltender, the goaltender has no faith in the team in front of him. Most sadly... I'm not sure this team has faith in itself.

And that is deadly. This team is running out of time to get back on track, and have any reasonable expectation of even sniffing the playoff line in the Western Conference. Even the New Jersey Devils -- as godawful as they were last year -- didn't dig themselves a whole this deep, and in the long run, they fell short anyway. And that's in the weaker Eastern Conference, with the NHL's best (statistically) goaltender of all time.

Now, it is Columbus as good as Boston, personnel-wise? Probably not. Boston essentially has two number-one goaltenders, and are hitting their stride in scoring, and have young guys like Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand following their impressive rookie years with solid performances this season. There is a reason why Boston didn't have to do much in the off-season and still be considered by some as favorites to repeat.

Yet, like Columbus, Boston got off to a craptastic start that got quite a few fans rattled.

However, Boston has proven that it is possible to go on a monster streak and get back in contention... and quickly. Jackets GM Scott Howson has put together some really good players on this hockey team. Why it has not shown on the ice is anyone's guess. All we have our same old canned responses about having confidence in one another, we're just not getting it done, we need to establish consistency, yadda yadda yadda.

The Jackets have the personnel to win. It's time for them to take a page from the Bruins' book, focus on the problems, fix them and shut up and play the hockey they know they can play.

And what better team to begin that potential monster streak against... than the Boston Bruins?

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* - Obviously, one of them isn't anymore...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Bad Gamble By Miller... Good Call By Shanny

Milan Lucic faced a hearing with NHL discipline guru Brendan Shanahan today, over a hit by Lucic on Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller.

Although I was mildly surprised it came to hearing at all, I can totally understand that you have to look at it when a goaltender winds up with a concussion because of it. However, I have watched this play quite a few times, trying to find a reason to suspend Lucic for it, and I just don't see it.



Lucic chips the puck a bit too far ahead of himself, but he is clearly still going for the puck, and was within a reasonable distance. Miller was trying to play the puck at the same time. Now, I have all the respect for Ryan Miller in the world, but why he would come out of his net by a good 15-20 feet to play a puck when a skater is clearly coming after the puck, is beyond me.

True... you see goaltenders come that far out of the crease all the time to play a puck, to keep a power play going or whatever, but it's usually when the other team is making a line change. A goalie worth his salt makes a judgment call as to whether he should play the puck like that. How many times do you see a goaltender come out that far when a guy's coming in on an attempted breakaway?

I think I saw Patrick Roy do it a couple times... and I think we can all agree he's a little bit nuts.

I'm not denying there was a collision. There obviously was. But I don't know how anyone can argue intent when the puck was playable by both players, and hardly a half-second passed from the time Miller played the puck and Lucic hitting him.

It's not like he hit him head-on… and honestly, Miller expects a guy to be able to stop within half second of him playing the puck?

Miller coming that far out of his net with an opposing player bearing down on the puck was -- I'm sorry -- a dumbass move. And unfortunately, he paid for it. Getting a concussion is far worse than getting scored on in this case, because it hurts the team.

The fact is, however, that Miller made a bad call coming out. It's like if a bicyclist in downtown Columbus doesn't stop at a stop light and decides he wants to try and beat crossing traffic. Does he deserve to get hit by a car? Absolutely not. Is he asking for it? Yes.

Despite what Buffalo fans have been proclaiming since the incident, this call by Shanahan is not about goalies being "fair game" if they come out of the net. Lucic does not have any right to intentionally hit Ryan Miller for coming out of the crease. The charging call? Sure. That's legit. It's a "control yourself on the ice" kind of thing... I won't argue that.

The problem in this case… there was no intent. If Miller plays the puck, and Lucic hits him maybe two the three seconds after he plays the puck? Sure, maybe you can argue intent, and Miller can go crying to Brendan Shanahan all he wants. You can argue intent there easily. But this was not the case.

I feel badly for Ryan Miller. I really do. And I'm not saying that he should apologize to Lucic for calling him "gutless" and a "piece of $#!+." Hockey players have pretty thick skin... Lucic is probably over that.

However, this play resulted from a bad gamble on Miller's part, not malice on Lucic's part.

You chalk it up to "$#!+ happens" and move on.

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Friday, November 11, 2011

Shake Up... (Or Shake Out, I Guess)

Somewhere in Southwest Ohio, my esteemed colleague Dannielle is destroying glassware. This is just a wild guess on my part.

However, the artist we in the hockey world know as @FrickinDannie (also by her blog, StraitJackets) has had a rough day. After writing an open letter to the team today preceding Thursday night's sick loss to Chicago, Dannie lost one of her favorite twins.

No, the Sedin girls are stil in Vancouver.

Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson pulled the trigger on a trade that... well... actually, I'm not sure what the hell it does.

Kris Russell for Nikita Nikitin. Ummmmm... okay. Let's look at the "tale of the tape" (per their "Player Cards" on NHL.com:

Russell                                  Nikitin   5’10”             Height              6’3”
    172              Weight              217
   2-1-3    G-A-P (2011-12)     0-0-0
     12       Games (2011-12)        7
     -1                  +/-                    -5
18-61-79   G-A-P (Career)      1-8-9
    288        Games (Career)      48

So, yes, the Jackets give up a little salary. They're getting some size, but this doesn't help scoring. They're giving up some experience.

Does it actually help? Hell if I know. From the looks of it, he'll have a chance to prove himself here. We'll find out.

Rumors also circulated about the Jackets trading for Evgeni Nabokov... so far, that is thankfully not true. Hell, people thought he was uncooperative at the prospect of playing for the Isles? Think his attitude would be any better in Columbus? Does Columbus need that?

I don't think so, either.

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Nope... Apparently That Wasn't Rock Bottom Before...

Maybe this is rock bottom...?

Or... maybe we're just in Hell.

It seemed like there was some hope... some fight... when Grant Clitsome scored a power play goal to tie it up, not even three minutes after Chicago opened up the scoring.

Okay, just a small hiccup... our guys might be getting back on track.

Yeah... about that....

...about those five straight goals the Blackhawks scored after that... against a number one goaltender who's playing like a number four -- and whom is backed up by the number four, because numbers two and three have been out with injuries. Thus, Steve Mason is left in to get his ass handed to him again. And embarassingly so.

I think the dude's broken. You can't have a guy shoulder the goaltending load like that, watch him get clobbered every damn night and expect him to be able to recover. The guy has no confidence in the team in front of him, and seems to have none in himself, as well (rightfully so, in both cases).

That doesn't mean the team in front of Mason isn't playing like $#!+, though. Believe me, no one is escaping that fact tonight. When a pseudo-player like Danny Carcillo is getting credited with a "heads up play" on an assist on Patrick Kane's goal... your team is NOT playing well.

Still, although they were easily overshadowed (read: trounced) by the plethora of bad news during the game, there were a couple positives that we can reflect on before ordering another round to numb the pain... the Jackets' power play wasn't horrible. They got two power play goals. Mark Letestu showed that Howson seemed to make a right move bringing him aboard.

Apparently, "moves" might be a theme in the coming days... whether those will be positive in the short or long term (or any term, for that matter) is not yet certain.

Stay strong, D....

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Hitch(ed) To The Blues...

Well, any thoughts (hopes, maybe?) that Blue Jackets fans might have had about replacing Scott Arniel with Ken Hitchcock were quickly squelched late this weekend.

Hitchcock -- the only coach to ever get the Columbus Blue Jackets into the Playoffs -- is about to make the Jackets' long climb back into contention that much harder. Because not only is he no longer an option to take over -- if he ever was one -- he's taking over as a head coach in the Central Division.

That's painful.

St. Louis made the announcement today. After a 6-7-0 start, the Blues canned Davis Payne and hired Hitch. Think about that a moment... 6-7-0, and changing coaches.

I can almost guarantee at this very moment that the rest of the NHL thinks Columbus is downright INSANE right now.

Still... it's a great move for both sides.

For Hitch... let's face it... this guy was not meant to be a "consultant," or whatever the hell he was doing here in Columbus. Ken Hitchcock doesn't belong in an office... he belongs behind the bench. Obviously, it's good for the Blues, too. Hitch will help ignite veterans like Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, and push them to lead the younger guys as well. The Blues are a good, physical and tough team. Having Hitch makes them instantly tougher. And better.

Yes, it sucks to lose him, but... hey, what would you do?

It sucks that it's in the same division, though.

Good luck to you, Hitch...

...not that good, though.

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Okay, This Is Rock Bottom... Right?

There are no words for what happened to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night.

No good ones having more than four letters, anyway.

The Jackets' 11th loss was particularly ugly.

Five goals given up in the first period. Three by Mason, then two by York, before coach Arniel put Mason back in. The second period got no better, and the Flyers opened up and 8-0 lead. And yet, could have been so much worse, if not for the third-period heroics of Derek Dorsett and Grant Clitsome.

It's this long to write a post, because of the severe nature of the ass-kicking the Jackets took. A seven-goal margin is ugly anyway you slice it -- unless, of course you are Boston, who beat six kinds of hell (well, seven, I guess) out of Toronto the same night.

Man, I really need to get my cable changed. I really wish I could have flipped to that game on occasion. Not that the Bruins are off so much better start in Columbus. Well, actually they are...but like Columbus, they have spent the first few weeks of the season in 15th in their conference. But at least the Bruins seems to be making progress. It's hard to be sure the Blue Jackets have even been trying at times. Sure, Philly is good. Stanley Cup good? Probably not this year, but they are damn good.

So, at a very ugly nine games under .500, Columbus goes into a three-game homestand really needing to climb out of the hole they have dug. Time is running out . They need to get some key bodies back, and maybe we'll figure out if this Blue Jackets roster can actually win, or if the front office needs to show Scott Arniel the door.

Even with this godawful start, I am not on board with getting rid of Arniel. Like I said before... I've given up trying to defend him, but that's way different from actually advocating his departure.

However, if you recall, I said my goodbyes the last time I posted. If this team pulls off a miracle on ice and proves me wrong, so be it. I will gladly eat my words if and when this team gets it together.

The only reason Arniel still has job is the fact that this team was built in the offseason to be able to play the quick, up-tempo style that Arniel said he wanted to bring to Columbus. Technically, we still haven't even seen that team play together yet. However, with the Dispatch now I'm recording that Jared Boll and possibly even Jeff Carter could be ready by Thursday, this team's a lot closer to intact.

And that means it just has to get better, and climb out of this 2-11-1 hole… the team is officially out of explanations for the Blue Jackets' failure on the ice.

The big question is, how long does the front office give this team to turn it all around, before heads roll?

It's all about the climb now... or else.

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Friday, November 4, 2011

A Tale Of Two (Or One, Or Zero) Scotts...

Okay, we're not even talking fashionably late to the party. Some guy named Scott is walking into the party, an instant before you hear the skip... which instantly goes to that ppppppppppppppppppppp sound.

The party's over. This game that featured (some shadow of) the Blue Jackets(' potential) versus a hot-but-just-waiting-to-collapse-by-February Toronto Maple Leafs team was the "Electric Slide" of hockey.

What do I mean?

Take a journey with me, hockey fans. Think back to that last wedding you attended....

[I swear I have a point. Bear with me, okay?]

Remember when "Electric Slide" came on, and by the time those people returned to their seats, at least a quarter of the people were gone?

This is, of course, assuming the song was not followed by "Macarena." If you got that deadly double-play... half the room's gone before the bride and groom even cut the cake.

Mrs. Martini has a name for those songs: "Wedding Killers."

So... mathematically...

"Electric Slide" = "Macarena" = Some guy named Scott.

Which Scott goes first? The coach? Or the GM?

Beats the hell outta me.

Actually, I think the scenario goes something like, "You don't can the GM before the coach... unless the GM is Doug MacLe--

[Oh, no... I've mentioned "MacLemort" in consecutive posts, haven't I? It's over, isn't it...?]

But, I digress...

Some guy named Scott -- we'll call him "Scott A," to protect his anonymity -- is looking at a very finite tenure.

How finite? Well... a week from Saturday, former Jackets interim head coach Claude Noel might just be shaking hands with another interim head coach -- [oops, did I slip and hint at which Scott?] -- when Winnipeg comes to town, and the dialogue will go something like: "Been there, pal. Good luck."

I tried to talk sense into the masses, little more than 24 hours ago. "Wait until this team is intact." "Guys like Brass and Vermette just need to get their $#!+ together." "Firing the coach and/or GM is too rash." "Firing the GM 12 (now 13) games into the season will throw the organization into chaos."

You know what? Screw it. I give up. "Scott A" is gone very soon. "Scott H" -- again, protecting anonymity -- is likely not far behind.

And at this particular point, I'm not sure I can defend either of them much longer.

Example... the game was in second intermission, and I was paying my tab at a networking happy hour, when a guy who was a couple sheets to the wind...

...actually, about half of Macy's bedding department to the wind, asked me...

"So, whaddaya thhhhhink... is it time to trade away Ssssshhhhteve Nash?"

Now, I'm thinking the same thing as you at this point: I don't think anything the Dallas Mavericks do can help the Blue Jackets worth a crap while the NBA's in a lockout.

However, because I have no idea how hammered the dude is, or how hard he can punch... I play along, and explain that trading away Steve Nash doesn't help, and that a lot of guys (like Steve's distant cousin Rick, for instance) are committed to long-term (and monetarily-heavy) deals, which makes them quite unattractive for trade possibilities, and that changes are much more likely at the top, rather than on the ice.

I know. I don't want to believe it, either.

Because after all of the exciting things that happened since mid-June, firing a Scott or two -- well, it feels like giving up.

Giving up on the front office... on the team... on the season.

I don't know when it's actually going to happen, but let's just save some time... so long, coach... it has been more-or-less nice. I really would have loved to see what the fast-paced, aggressive style you were touting would have looked like.

Cheers.

Go Jackets!

[Please?]

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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Okay, Everybody Just Calm The [bleep] Down

2-9-1.

For those playing at home -- and for those who aren't -- that is a lousy record for a hockey team to have 12 games into the season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are, as you might imagine based on the above record, in last place in the Western Conference. They are also boasting (well, that's really not a good word for it, I guess) the fifth highest payroll in the NHL. Essentially, the Blue Jackets are this year, what the New York Rangers were in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Simply put: Talent unrealized.

Now, to be fair, the team is not exactly at full strength. Actually, the team isn't even close to intact. James Wisniewski sat the first eight games via suspension, Jeff Carter has been out for the last few with a foot injury, Radek Martinek remains out with concussion symptoms, and it looks like at least another week before we get to see Mark Dekanich in action, as he wraps up recovery from an ankle sprain.

I'll be the first one to tell you that I'm a strong believer in Ken Hitchcock's old mantra that injuries are not an excuse for an NHL team's poor performance. I still subscribe to it. The season doesn't take a break just because you have a couple guys out. Do you think the Toronto Maple Leafs give a crap about the Jackets' injury situation going into Thursday's game?

Do the words "honey badger" mean anything to you? Exactly.

Let's face it, the Blue Jackets are not getting scoring from some of the guys that we are used to seeing doing the scoring. Looking at guys like Antoine Vermette. Derick Brassard. We're looking at a roster of so-called "core" players who got some long-term extensions, and helped push the Jackets' payroll to where it is today. These players (and quite a few others) need to get in the damn game already. They need to think about what they're doing out there, do a little introspection and figure out why they are not performing up to their potential. Or their paycheck.

The big reason: The NHL is a knee-jerk world. And when it comes to sports, Columbus is a knee-jerk kind of town. First scapegoat is always the coach.

One need look no further than just up the road at Ohio State. A scrambling, pieced-together Buckeyes team loses to a Miami team that, turns out, is pretty terrible. The game wasn't even over before social media was exploding with talk of firing Fickell, and the biggest nutjobs of Buckeye Nation pining for Urban Meyer.

I'm convinced a lot of them are the same ones calling in to The Fan calling for the ouster of one or both Scotts. Obviously, both of them are both justifiably on the spot here. No more "cleaning up after Doug MacLean's mess" talk about it. This team is Howson's baby now. Oh... and the Jackets are 2-9-1.

Arniel has been putting murderous minutes on the top defensemen lately and shortening the bench, instead of putting faith in having fresh, young players on the ice. Oh... and the Jackets are 2-9-1.

It's possible that the Jackets have had a glaring flaw exposed: Perhaps the Jackets don't have as much NHL-ready depth they have had in previous years. There are quite a few young guys on the team this year who need to find their legs in the NHL, find consistency, and grow up on the ice really damn quick.

Now the rumormongers and people blindly calling for firings are creating a distraction. Calm down, people.

Getting Ken Hitchcock to coach? Uh... no. Remember, the Jackets fired him essentially because he didn't seem to be getting through to the players anymore. Maybe that's the case with Arniel, maybe it's not. Like I said, though... the coach is usually the first to go in this case. Tossing around GM names to replace Howson? Idiotic, and honestly... pretty dickish. However, considering the factors I've discussed, there is an argument for Howson to go.

But cooler heads need to prevail here. Yes, it's a bad situation... but the roster may be close to intact again.

Let's be clear... are the coach and GM seats hot? Yes. Should they be? Sure.

Should they be vacated? Not yet. Who the hell do you put behind the bench as an interim coach? Who the hell runs the team the rest of the season? All that does is make a bad situation chaotic, and no one needs that, at least not 12 games in.

This team can come back, but it's up to the players here. Maybe Coach Arniel needs to do a quick yelling at the team after a loss, then pick a couple guys to meet John Michael outside the locker room to go explain why the team played like $#!+.

At least that beats a a Fox Sports OHIO interview with the game-winning goal scorer from the OTHER TEAM.

You like working with the coach, guys? Good.

You want to keep the system, guys? Great.

You want to win? Awesome!

So... get your $#!+ together and play some damn hockey.

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