Thursday, April 19, 2012

Piling On... And Let's Forget The Stats On That: The CBJ Season In Review

This is one of those posts that is pretty unpleasant to write. That is probably the top reason why it's coming nearly two weeks after the final horn.

However, in order for fans of the Columbus Blue Jackets to move on accordingly this summer, this post is somewhat of an necessity.

Or, maybe it's just therapeutic for me. But let us move forward.

In a nutshell... this season began with a draft, and ended with a draft.

And when it was all over a lot of us were in the mood for a couple extra drafts.

On the other hand, one could also turn a phrase that the season began with balls... and when it was all over it felt like a big kick in-- never mind.

General manager Scott Howson made arguably the first big, bold move of his career in Columbus, by getting the "right now" help that Columbus needed... by acquiring Jeff Carter for the CBJ's top draft pick and Jakub Voracek. He got arguably bolder by trading for the rights to James Wisniewski from Montreal on the eve of Free Agency, and even signed him before lunch on July 1.

In Wisniewski, Howson locked up a puck-moving defenseman who could take on responsibilities in a top defensive pairing, and on the power play.

In Carter, Howson got the top line center that he, Rick Nash, and just about any player or fan who ever put on a Blue Jacket sweater had been coveting for the team's entire tenure: A top line center for Rick Nash.

Or, at least that's what he was trying to get.

What he actually got was a bleach blond, frosted-tip, whiny-ass prima donna who went into hiding because *sniffle* Phiwwy twaded him! Then, once key Blue Jackets personnel made a trip to try and get him out of the fetal position, Carter finally showed up in Columbus, Howson was able to schedule a press conference with his new acquisitions, and we were ready to move on with our lives.

Howson also went out and got some goaltending help, by signing Mark Dekanich to a deal to back up and perhaps even push Steve Mason in goal. He also added Radek Martinek to get some veteran presence on the blueline.

So, all was hunky-dory. We were ready. We were stoked. A couple hundred of our closest CBJ family and friends gathered for Cannonfest to show just how ready we were. Columbus was ready to be on the map. Columbus was ready to return to the Playoffs. We were ready for our guys to take the ice, kick some ass and play some hockey already. And it certainly seemed like the rest of the team was ready to go as well.

Then... came September.

Dekanich got hurt in the preseason. New "Director of Player Safety" Brendan Shanahan made an early example of James Wisniewski, after an award-winning "you slapped me!" flop by Cal Clutterbuck, and Wiz missed the first eight games of the season.

While wiz was hurt, Carter got hurt and wound up sitting a month. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets fumbled, fumbled and stumbled to the franchises were start in history. However, the general consensus among the powers that be seemed to indicate that they were willing to wait until the team was somewhat intact, before determining the future of head coach Scott Arniel.

Also during this process, the St. Louis Blues got off  to a 6-7-0 start, and promptly fired their coach. The Blues then received permission from Columbus to talk to Ken Hitchcock, whom the Blue Jackets had been keeping busy doing something or other, after firing him a couple years prior. Next thing we knew, a man whom some black Blue Jackets fans had hoped would take over after Scott Arniel's seemingly (or perhaps should have been) imminent departure... was now going to a Central Division rival.

Then, Steve Mason went down, after taking a puck off the mask, and Curtis Sanford was pressed into action for Columbus. And certainly turned in some admirable performances in the process, even helping the Jackets reverse course (a little bit) after falling 10 games below .500 early. However, the wheels pretty much fell off in mid-December, and the Jackets pretty much plummeted from there.

A lot of people blamed Mason, as they pretty much have since his performance fell off after his stellar rookie season. Others blamed the team in front of Mason. Still others blamed the coach. Still others blamed the front office.

For the record... some of these probably overlapped, too.

However, after 41 torturous games, the Scott Arniel era mercifully ended in Columbus. It was long overdue, really. I thought it would happen before Christmas, or at least after Arniel infamously attacked the media for "piling on," after yet another embarrassing loss.

(video courtesy Dark Blue Jacket)

But, it ended. That's what matters... even if it didn't really matter.

What mattered was that Blue Jackets fans were already beyond livid. And as the Jackets faceplanted into a four-game losing streak going into the All-Star Break, some fans took action, and they took it to the streets with a protest in the Arena District, to publicly call for the removal of CBJ President Mike Priest and GM Scott Howson. I didn't go, so that's really all I can tell you about it however, for some perspective from organizers, I certainly encourage you to go here.

Since that point, the presence of F.A.N.S. has been felt through the organization's blog, and through their representatives gathering at the Arena District for games, greeting fans and passing out collateral.

As the Jackets continued to struggle in February -- though at a steady .500 pace -- speculation surrounding the trade deadline had already reached a fever pitch. The Jackets ultimately dealt Jeff Carter -- who likely passed under his own mural as he rushed like a giddy, bleach-blond schoolgirl to his plane to fly to Los Angeles.

Then the Jackets moved Antoine Vermette, who joined a slew of other former Blue Jackets players in Phoenix.

For Carter, the Blue Jackets got Jack Johnson, who did a hell of a fine job blending in for the balance of the season, and seems to hold a lot of promise and energy in the next few years to come in Columbus. For Vermette, the Jackets got a couple of draft picks, and what amounted to a medical cadaver. Hell, they didn't even get that... more like the toe tag (no offense, Curtis).

This left the Jackets with a couple candidates that I figured would definitely move, and strangely, neither of them did. R.J. Umberger has since picked up his game and looks like he could still be a keeper. Then there's Rick Nash.

That's a whole other mess.

Who knows what to make of this impending divorce between Scott Howson and Rick Nash. All we know for sure is that Nash asked for a trade and gave Howson a list of teams to work with. Whether the price was too high, interest was too low, or if Howson made the price artificially high in order to stall for time in an attempt to mend fences... Rick Nash is still a Blue Jacket. Maybe that's a good thing, maybe it's not. I think it's safe to say that a lot of people are going forward with the assumption that he will not be here come October. Hell... maybe not even June. We'll see.

However, the stats don't lie: the dude seemed disengaged after the trade deadline. Sure, but he got a goal in the 5-2 drubbing the Jackets took from Detroit the day after the deadline, then two goals and an assist two games later... then no scoring and minus-2 in seven games. He would finish with six goals and 12 points in his last 10 games once he seemed to engage again.

Do with that what you will. Supposedly there's a meeting coming soon between Nash and Howson. This could be a shake-hands-and-make-up time... or we're heading for an ugly split. If Gloria Allred gets involved, I'm getting the hell out of town.

Game-wise... after they clinched 30th place, the Jackets' season ended with five wins in the final six games... something that provided some (albeit somewhat empty) comfort and solace to the Jackets fans who suffered through so much this year.

However, then the season ended with the collective "OHHHHHHH!" heard/tweeted/blogged about around the world. I need say no more. This team and its fan base have been piled on enough.

Oh, and somewhere in the middle of all this, the NHL released its plan for realignment, which -- although it didn't get the Jackets an easier, non-Central Division schedule -- set up the Jackets to at least travel in a less jet-lagged fashion by only having a home-and-home with teams outside its new "conference."

Then the NHLPA shot it down. Hello for another year, Central.

That being said... regardless of the results on the ice, I do truly enjoy celebrating and ranting alongside those to swing by here to read it.

So, although I have no plans to stop celebrating and ranting over this offseason... this does seem like a very appropriate time to thank those of you who read this blog. I do truly enjoy writing it, and I hope you get as much fun out of it as I do.

Happier days are ahead. Go Jackets!

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