Tuesday, January 31, 2012

All Star Celebration

Allowing three goals on 21 shots. That's not great. Sometimes you can get away with that in one game. But when you consider that that was in one period... well, that's pretty bad.

Then again, you can't blame everything on Tim Thomas in this case. The defense in front of him was pretty terrible. Awful, in fact.

Then again, this is what makes hockey fans thankful for things like offense. For instance, an offense that will put up six goals in one. Makes horrible defense and un-Thomas-like goal tending almost forgivable.

Then again, when you consider that it's an All-Star game... eh, what are you going to do. You can get the best defenseman and goaltenders in the world, and this is the one day out of the year they're going to get lit up anyway.

The team I was rooting for won, but in the grand scheme of things... even that doesn't matter, because quite frankly, this All Star Game was eclipsed before it even began.

Not by the fact that the Blue Jackets didn't have any representation except in the skills competition... not by the team's horrid season thus far... but by the fact that Columbus will be the very stage for this very spectacle a year from now.

WE GOT THE ALL STAR GAME!

Although I spent a couple days off the grid this weekend, I was rather stoked walk by newspaper rack and find on the front page of the Dispatch, just above the fold, quite possibly the best news I have seen on the front page has a hockey fan since the NHL announced that Columbus was getting a team in 1997.

That's not to say, of course, that the Blue Jackets don't make good news on the front page. I'm only saying, in this day and age... well, when was the last time you physically picked up a newspaper?

I will tell you the giddiness is quite similar to that day back in 1997, though.

Don't get me wrong. The Draft was pretty exciting, and I enjoyed attending. However, this is the league-wide event I've been looking so forward to see come to Columbus since we got our hockey team.

Obviously, the Stanley Cup Final would be nice... but that's still a couple years away.

Hey I know there are quite a few who see Saturday's announcement as a bright spot in an otherwise dismal year, and there at least a few others who just don't care. And I can understand both viewpoints. Obviously, the Blue Jackets have not done well this year. The team faces anything ranging from a couple tweaks (less likely) to another large-scale rebuild before the 2012-13 season (probably more likely).

And we haven't even talked about collective-bargaining yet, and we know from experience how that can screw everything up.

Okay, however, I have long been of the opinion that at all Star game here in Columbus was overdue. True, I may be more than just a little bit biased.

However, I think the NHL realizes that we have a great building here, we in Columbus know what a great city we have... and I like to think that fans who have visited would agree. Our city has a lot of great culinary, artistic and cultural attractions that visitors from all over the league can enjoy.

And, hey... we've done a Draft here. We're pretty good in the spotlight.

But if you're reading this in Ohio, you already know this. If you're reading somewhere else... well, we'll see you in a year when you come see for yourself.

However, there's a lot of hockey to be played, and for us to watch before then. All in due time.

Go Jackets!

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Friday, January 27, 2012

C'mon, NBC: No ASG On The Mothership?

Figure Skating?!?!?

Freakin' FIGURE SKATING?!?!?

Can NBC really be serious?

Other than the fact that Mike Milbury is still a broadcast analyst for NBC's NHL coverage… I have to say I haven't really had many complaints about the new television contract between the NHL and NBC. I'm especially stoked at being able to watch any Playoff game I want on an NBC Universal station on any given night this year. (They're still going to do that, right?)

However, it looks like I'm about to have a complaint.

The league posted on Facebook on Thursday, asking fans if they were going to be watching the NHL All Star Game. Simple enough question, really. The post had only been up for a few minutes, and of course I put in my "hell yeah" response. Then as I'm reading briefly through the other responses, I come across someone who responded with "I can't… I don't have cable."

And that's when it dawned on me... "You know, that's right. The All Star Game is on NBC Sports Network at 4 PM on Sunday... and strangely not on NBC." NBC would seem to be the more logical choice, since you don't have to have cable and just need that digital antenna thingy.

So, I checked the little channel thing on my phone to find out what was on that was so important. Maybe NBC had the Pro Bowl or something, and the NFL trumps the NHL in most aspects no matter what. Surely there wasn't any other sporting event that would be more important than the NHL All Star Game on a Sunday afternoon.

Well... I stand corrected... and it's freaking figure skating!

Don't get me wrong… I can understand the importance of NBC re-launching Versus as the NBC Sports Network, and wanting to put attention on it. I'm a "branding" type of guy. I'm all for that.

I can also understand the logic that all the other All Star Weekend stuff is on NBCSN, so why not have the All-Star game?

But would figure skating really get better ratings than the NHL All Star Game? My money says the only reason the answer to that question would be yes... is because figure skating is on the main channel that anyone can get, rather than the cable channel that not everybody can get.

More eyes. Plain and simple.

Now, NBC is also huge on the Olympics, and the figure skating thing is apparently the U.S. Championships. I suppose that has something to do with it, too.

It just doesn't strike me as particularly fan-friendly, or a good way to sell the game in the U.S.

But that's just me. I'm the delusional soul who wants everyone in America to love this sport as much as we all do. I just think the more people who can watch, the better.

I will say I am glad to see Zdeno Chara took Tyler Seguin and Tim Thomas, and then grabbed Gabriel Landeskog from the Avs* and Ryan Johansen from Columbus for the rookie team, though. So, even if I'm not crazy about the "Fantasy Draft" format of the All Star Game, at least all the players on my "good guys" teams are on the same side.

I'll take it.

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*Hey, Foote retired, so I feel like I can watch them again... sue me.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Dear Protesters: Beware Of The Idiots...

Maybe it's the fact that one of the first tweets I saw about it included the words "Enough is enough of the suckage of #CBJ hockey," followed by the hashtag of "#FIREHOWSON" in all caps. I don't want to get this guy hurt, so he's blotted out, but here's the tweet:
Charming, eh?

(To be clear, this guy is not who I'm calling an idiot. Just putting that out there.)

I'm all for sarcasm and cynicism, but that's a bit much. Yes, I know this hockey team is not playing well. I know this hockey team has not played well for 10 of 11 years of its existence. And I know that those first two facts are enough to make a lot of people really upset.

But is this "CBJ Fan Protest" going to solve anything?

Don't get me wrong. The fact that this whole thing went from a couple tweets to a Saturday afternoon event -- apparently with permits and all, now -- is pretty damned impressive.

But if fans took to the streets every time a hockey team wasn't doing well... traffic would have been stopped on Long Island for the past five years. Even better example... Florida hasn't seen a Playoff game since 2000, before the Jackets had a team on the ice. Can you imagine?

My biggest concerns about this event boil down to two things. First, while it is impressive that this all came together very quickly, there is a timing issue here. There's really nothing going on at the arena on Saturday, and I'm not sure anybody with the team is really planning to show up to work during the All-Star Break.

Second, there is the issue of the message. Obviously, the tweet I mentioned above is an example of a message you don't necessarily want to set during a protest, and this is a guy you probably don't want giving quotes to the media on Saturday. As Light The Lamp so eloquently put it, the overall message of the protest is supposed to be, "We love this hockey team, but we cannot take anymore of the losing, and there needs to be a change at the top." That is at least reasonable.

And it's valid. Mike Priest is not a hockey guy. Scott Howson's ballooning the Blue Jackets payroll past $60 million has essentially amounted to a grand experiment, which unfortunately has gone the way of New Coke and Crystal Pepsi.

Or the Atari Jaguar.

However, gathering a bunch of people to publicly call for their heads seems a bit... overzealous.
Screencap from the Columbus Dispatch
This interesting fellow above, I'm sure, is not representative of what the organizers have in mind for this Saturday, but this illustrates my point. Boycott? Really? The on-ice product isn't bad enough for the team's image around the league?

This guy is also someone you probably don't want giving quotes to the media on Saturday. (To be clear, he is also not the guy I'm calling an idiot.)

The sad vision I getting is of the townspeople of South Park (pick any episode in which people are trying to agree on something) in which the dialogue consists of "Rabble!Rabble!Rabble!Rabble!Rabble!Rabble!"

Now, I will be phenomenally impressed if someone from the team does show up to address the masses, similar to what Howson has done with season ticket holders. I think it would be a terrific gesture of good will... especially considering the crowd likely wants to burn him at the stake.

My second concern about the message is that probably not everyone there is going to be on the same page. Among the majority of the people there who are part of the "We Love The Blue Jackets, But..." Crowd, will more than likely be a handful of idiots who are somewhere between casual deservers who don't know their mask from their five hole, to those who -- no matter how myth-busting you throw at them -- are still pissed off about the arena deal (or in their words, "bailout") and would just as soon tear the damn building down and eliminate all the jobs in the Arena District with it.

Guys like this idiot, who apparently plans to show up:
Screencap from the Columbus Dispatch
Columbus does not need this, for the sake of its waning credibility as a hockey market, with the league and sports media watching.

(This guy's the one I'm calling an idiot... you probably figured that out already, though.)

I'm not saying don't protest. I'm only saying be prepared to have a few morons among you who could care less about our hockey team.

I agree with a few of my colleagues... guys like Matt Wagner at The Cannon and others, when they say if you want to send a message, send it by closing your wallet. The Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team is the business like any other. Money still talks.

It pains me to say it, but not showing up or -- more importantly -- not buying tickets is what sends a message to the front office.

I am not part of the "We Love The Blue Jackets, But..." Crowd. I love this team. No "buts" about it. That is why I'm not attending.

I love the fact that we have a hockey franchise -- an NHL franchise -- in Columbus. I'm a Central Ohio native who takes pride in his city, and this team is part of it. Like you, I am horrifyingly disappointed in how this team has done this year.

The fact that this protest is happening has already been on TV. As LTL put it, the word is out, people know it's coming and fans around the NHL are probably looking at this and talking about it, too. All I ask is... if you're going, do it for the right reason and send the right message.

Oh. And don't get maced, okay?

Have a great All Star Break.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Hitting The Break... Still Broken

Disappointment would be an understatement. A detailed, forensic recap would be overkill. It would be downright cruel, actually.

These last few games going into the All-Star break have been maddening. I know the team is depleted at home, but it is still bad. The Columbus Blue Jackets pulled it together enough to at least get a point against Detroit, but still could not manage more than a goal against Nashville on Monday, nor more than two against Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

Sure, the offense that was generated was pretty impressive... or at least the goals by Brett Lebda and Ryan Johansen looked good, anyway. However… well, suffice to say that defense is a bit of a glaring issue.

And so the Blue Jackets faceplant into the All-Star break going 0-2-1 in the first three games of a six game stint away from home. About a week from now, they will be in California, to begin the second West Coast Road Trip.

Jackets will go into that road trip essentially on the brink of mathematical elimination (you can "duh" me all you want… I'll take any miracle I can get) from Playoff contention (based on a 95-point line). After that, speculation over the CBJ's activity at the trade deadline can pretty much commence full swing.

Ah, who are we kidding... it has been in full swing for a few weeks now.

So, CBJ players will look for ways to occupy themselves for the next few days, while RyJo heads to Ottawa for the Skills Competition during All Star Weekend.

Will the rest do them good? Maybe help them focus? Figure out how to get back on track? Or at least get some bodies back on the ice?

Guess we'll find out in a week.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Let's Just Shut Up And Play (or Watch) Hockey

Tim Thomas. Stanley Cup Champion. Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Top goaltender. All Star Game starter.

Rude ass.

Heaven knows we're subjected enough to celebrities and people of perceived power wearing their politics on their sleeves, telling us how to vote, hanging out with dictators in foreign nations and so forth. We certainly don't need athletes jumping into the fray.

But, it is what it is. Thomas, despite being one of the very few Americans on the Boston Bruins roster, declined to go to the White House... citing, essentially, his disagreement with how the nation is run. No need to go into details of the statement here, except that it's grandiose, a little preachy and contained a significant amount of unneeded capitalization.

No word as to whether the original version was in Comic Sans.

Do I agree with his stance? No. I think if you get an invitation to the White House, you should probably swing by, have a drink, take a couple photos and shake a couple hands. I think a person would have to feel pretty strongly about something going on in the White House, in order to decline an invitation.

And apparently, that's the case. As Thomas points out in his statement (redundant caps and all) he's a "Free Citizen" making a decision "as an INDIVIDUAL."

Pardon the cliche... but while there are a few I's in "INDIVIDUAL," there is still no I in "team."

What Thomas did was very self-centered, and he made it worse by putting out a statement and taking the focus away from an otherwise great day for his team. It was incredibly pompous, it was selfish and it makes him look like an ass. It puts a bad spotlight on himself, his team and the sport.

You know what, though? It could be so much worse. Tim Thomas disagrees how the President of the United States and Washington run this country. He didn't punch a cab driver. He didn't drive drunk. He didn't get in a fight with his wife and go to jail. He didn't say anything disparaging about an ex.

Tim Thomas spoke his mind.

Athletes have done it before. Whether we like it or not, someone will probably do it again.

It's not that big a deal. Life is too short to spend time chastising athletes over their politics... or athletes talking about them to begin with. It's a presidential election year... believe me, there will be enough B.S. to go around, without wasting any more time on this.

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What It Means To Prey

I swear... if I have to see another Nashville sweater this year, it will be waaaaaayyyyyy too soon.

What? The season series is over?

Well, there's a small victory.

1-4-1 against Nashville this year. What the hell is that about.

For the fifth time of the six-game series, the Predators made the Blue Jackets look like an AHL team. They had their way with defensive lapses, turnovers and big rebounds. Again... they just did everything better.

Sadly, Monday night's thorough ass-kicking by the Preds wasn't even the worst loss of the series.

It certainly had all the annoying elements we were used to seeing this year. Two goals by Mike Fisher, a couple assists from Martin Erat, a deflection here, a crazy shot that somehow got past three or four defenders as well as the goaltender...

...just painful.

And so, tonight, the Blue Jackets get one last shot for a win before stumbling into the All-Star Break in which they have absolutely no involvement.

Oh. Except for Ryan Johansen in the Skills Competition. Rick Nash couldn't even get a token spot on the roster this year.

A shame, because he's obviously a good player. The goal he got last night was a thing of beauty... and really the only bright spot of the night.

A bright spot that could use some momentum with a good performance tonight against Tampa Bay... or at least a bad night by Tampa.

Hey, this is no time to be picky....

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Wrandom Wrister: Adding Insult To Injury... Or Vice Versa?

I'd been away from the NHL world for most of the day Thursday, so when I heard on the radio between stops that the Jackets had acquired Brett Lebda Thursday, I figured there was something amiss.

Although it was somewhat of a relief that no one else was hurt, I was saddened to find out Radek Martinek is done.

Seriously, it's like we barely met the guy. The dude played, what... seven games?

Then again, it seems we've hardly gotten to know any of the new guys this year.

James Wisniewski is out with an ankle fracture and missed time with a suspension... and has played in 29 of the CBJ's 46 games.

Jeff Carter is out with a shoulder injury and missed time with another injury... and has played only 30 games.

Mark Dekanich... cripe, we haven't seen him in Union Blue since September in the preseason.

To hell with whether Vinny Prospal should be re-signed. That's a given (at least for me). I'm just wondering if we can insure him!

Obviously, the Jackets did something serious to piss off the hockey gods. Or the long-standing suspicion that they just flat-out hate Columbus may just have some merit to it.

All kidding aside... I know I've said for a long time that I subscribe to the Hitch "Injuries Are No Excuse" school of thought. Still, the injuries to four out of the Jackets' five offseason acquisitions could not come at a worse time, with the CBJ stumbling -- or, given the injury situation, hobbling -- toward mathematical elimination. The fact that at least they won't reach that point in January is not much consolation.

Still, there are bright spots. We're starting to see guys stepping up and playing with some fire again. Is it Todd Richards' influence? Maybe. Is it "playing for your job" mode? Could be.

Stringing a couple wins together for the first time since November sure would come in handy right about now, though.

It's still too early to speculate what happens at the NHL Trade Deadline. Or, maybe that's just me not being willing to let go. Defiant to the end, I guess.

Or... maybe just a little crazy.

Depends... when was the last time an NHL team won 32 out of 36 games?

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Cooke Busted...? Eh, Not So Fast...

"Slew foot"… or just a "hockey play"?

Judging from some reactions on Twitter, you would think that Brendan Shanahan will be calling a press conference, walking up the podium and proclaiming, "Ladies and gentlemen... we got him." (a la Saddam Hussein)

However, looking at the alleged infraction by offensively-skilled-yet-offensively-thuggish bad guy Matt Cooke on the New York Rangers' Brad Richards... I gotta tell you... I'm not so sure.

Don't get me wrong, I don't like him either... my contempt and disgust for him and guys like him is well-documented. However, this is just a hockey play.

I'm still trying to find a video that wasn't shot by a camera off of somebody's TV, with a voice slurring "Yep, that's a kicking motion." But, oh well... since the NHL does not seem to have a reason to have a meeting or a video analysis... this is what we have to work with:



What our apparent Rangers fan is neglecting to narrate (though he may be a little biased, hence the title and content) is that Cooke does appear to be trying to play the puck. Richards gets the pass off, and then there's the contact.

Now, unless Matt Cooke is some diabolical genius who can make a fraction-of-a-second decision to sweep his leg to put Richards on his ass, while still making it look like he's just turning to follow the play...

...yeah, sorry, Rangers fans. You're going to have a hard time proving intent there. Sure, intent is only part of it... "reckless" can also be a factor, but I don't think that exists here, either.

I know fans are gunning for Matt Cooke. And I totally get it. The crap he has pulled the previous two seasons is ridiculous, and his penchant for intent to injure is renowned. I'd love to see him banned... and I'm still sure he will screw up again.

You're just not going to see him get it for this play.

He's certainly not going to win any additional imaginary followers to that little "Cooke for Byng" campaign, though.

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The Big Zero...

Well... as hellacious as this season has been, the Blue Jackets can take solace in the fact that at least they haven't been shut out ye-- DAMMIT!!!

And so it goes. Four-game homestand -- the only home games of the month... split 2-2. The last home game for nearly three weeks... a 3-0 shutout against probably the second-most hated Central Division rival.

I suppose it would be easy to blame Steve Mason. Heaven knows he seems to get the blame for everything else in Columbus, from bad traffic to a bad pour at a corner pub. But the fact is, this team just does not play well in front of him for some reason.

First goal... awful turnover, beautifully-threaded, split-second pass through the slot in traffic. Martin Erat goal.

Second goal... Erat sends a puck into traffic -- hell, Marc Methot looked like he even flinched as he took his eyes off the play -- as Mr. Carrie Underwood was one of TWO Preds camped out by Mason behind the Jackets' defense.

Wait a minute... where the hell was Mason on that THIRD GOA-- oh, right... pulled for the extra attacker.

Slightly related question... can someone explain to me why an official was just STANDING THERE like a drunken fraternity pledge, a foot away from Nick Spaling on top of Antoine Vermette? That goes beyond mugging or wrestling... that's borderline Roethlisberger territory, people. Sure, a 2-0 loss is no better than a 3-0 loss, but for Gretzsakes, blow the freakin' whistle.

Or at least tell Spaling to buy him a drink first.

WRANDOM WRISTERS
  • Apparently, Fisher's goal was his fourth against the Jackets this year. I swear, between his trade to Nashville, and his wife's crime-against-music cover of "Home Sweet Home," Carrie Underwood has viciously offended me twice, in two institutions I hold very sacred.
  • Dear Jeff and Bill: I know the deal, guys... Barry Trotz is a good coach. He's the only coach in the Preds' 13 seasons. He has done great things with this team. It's a very good team. Yes, our team isn't playing very well. Could you please praise the opponents' players/coach/ conditioning/dental work less often? We can see how good they are! Okay? Thanks.
  • Sick of Dispatch writers always tweeting negative statistics associated with the CBJ? I have just the antidote! The Columbus Blue Jackets had scored in 47 straight games!
A tad snarkier than usual, I suppose, but a great Canadian band called The Pursuit Of Happiness once said: "You got to laugh to prevent yourself from cryin'..."

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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Striking Oil

Was it quite a 60-minute game? No.

We'll take that 4-2 win, though.

The Columbus Blue Jackets gave up two early goals. Quick ones, too. Never a good thing.

Throughout this season, the Jackets have had the nagging issue of not playing 60 solid minutes of hockey... and make no mistake, this was one of those games.

However, if the Jackets were going to settle for playing 40 minutes of hockey, they sure as hell picked the right 40 minutes.

That second period was amazing to watch. Ryan Johansen's shift in the neutral zone to keep Ryan Smyth away from the puck, right before a short pass to Vermette to set up that wrister from the circle when he got the puck back? Pure art. Dude looked calm, collected... I could watch that replay many, many times. Already have, actually.

Derick Brassard turned in another beauty with :00.8 to go, zooming toward the net as the puck entered the zone, knocking the puck in off his backhand. Sure, it trickled in off Devan Dubnyk. The fact that Brass raced in to be in the right place at the right time. That's hustle. That's hard work.

And lately... that's been Derick Brassard. He's playing like he's got his groove back.

Colton Gillies hit the box score in his first game as a Jacket with an assist on Derek MacKenzie's game-winner. Talk about a quick centering pass. I couldn't see the thing until the replay. Nice helper, New Guy.

And getting an empty-netter like Derek Dorsett's in the last minute is always nice. It's made nicer when it helps improve the power play stats on paper a little. Come on, an ill-timed, late-third-period penalty, and it's not on the Jackets? I'll take that any day.

If you got confused by all those mentions of Dereks/Dericks... well, don't look at the three stars in the box score, because there they all were.

With a pair of opponent goals not even 20 minutes apart, this game could have gone completely to hell. But it didn't.

It may be tempting to look at a performance like this like "Why haven't they been playing with this much drive all season?"

And while that's somewhat justifiable, I look at it like, "I just watched a damn good hockey game."

And I'll take that 4-2 win.

While we're here... send some good vibes Taylor Hall's way. I know he was apparently on a bike and wanting to play after it happened and everything... but still, taking a skate to the face like he did in warmups is pretty damn scary.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Building Confidence... And Hope

The Blue Jackets are having a hard time winning.

I don't mean "winning," literally... although, that is also a problem. I mean more along the lines of winning the confidence of fans.

Opposing team scores first... it's "Ah, crap, here we go again."

Jackets score first... it's "Hey, cool! This is great... until the wheels fall off in the third."

Can you blame those with pessimistic attitudes? Meh, not really. This team has underperformed... there's really no way around that.

But whether the people taking seats at Nationwide feel the same pessimism or not... they're there. 14,000-plus, according to the score sheet. People are still going. Sure, many of them have season tickets, and they feel like they need to use them, or have somebody else use them. But there are plenty there who have the option of going or not.

I think part of that is loyalty. Sure, some are there because they like to watch hockey.. maybe some of them are even cheering for the other team. But let's stick with the Jackets fans for the time being.

Loyalty was rewarded Friday night. The 14,000-plus strong who packed into Nationwide to see the Jackets open up a four-game homestand -- after a road trip that was... well, rather unkind -- got to see a hell of a game. Marquee players out with injuries? Minor-league callups filling out the lines? No problem.

The Coyotes scored first. Big deal. Less than four minutes later. Tomas Kubalik answered with his first career NHL goal to tie it up. Sweet goal, too on a nice feed from Aaron Johnson. Than Rick Nash put the Jackets up with a wrister from the slot, through traffic, barely a minute and a half later. The scoring continued as call-up Ryan Russell picked up an early goal in the second period... also his first career NHL goal.

It's times like these that some of the CBJ faithful anticipate trouble, and although the Coyotes got a goal midway through the period to close the gap to one, the Jackets kept their game together with solid defense, and in the closing minutes of the period, Derick Brassard made his way to the slot, found a spot and shot the puck past Jason LaBarbera for the eventual game winner. He also blocked a shot late in the game.

Brass has had two goals and two assists in the last four games, now. Dude was one of the front-page photos on NHL.com after Friday's games, too. It's nice to see what more ice time will do for a kid's confidence.

Some damn fine goaltending from Curtis Sanford didn't hurt, either.

While this may be only one game, you can't dispute that this was an opportunity to get some momentum going on home ice. They'll need all the momentum they can get going into tonight's game against Pacific leader San Jose. However, if they play with the same fire we saw Friday... hey, they might just impress a few people.

Maybe another few thousand...?

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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Changing The Coach And... Well, That's Apparently It

So the word on Twitter is that practice is canceled on Wednesday.

I'm sure a few dozen people have already beaten me to the question of, "Ummmm... why?"

Why is a team coming off a 1-3-0 road trip not taking the ice to practice on Wednesday?

Sure, I can understand there's a time difference, and the flight gets them home pretty late.

Fine. Sleep in. Bump practice back a couple hours... but get out of bed, put your damn skates on and get to the Ice Haus.

With a four-game homestand coming, I'd think I would want my guys on the ice... you know, practicing. Working on getting better.

It just doesn't seem like the right message. I don't know... maybe I just thought the whole "let's not practice tomorrow" shtick was an Arniel thing.

Yes, I know... Scott Arniel's gone, and the blame rests on Arniel, sure... but it also rests on every guy in that locker room. And while I'm sure that weighs on their minds a little bit... this isn't a time for a mental break. The Columbus Blue Jackets have had enough mental breaks this season.

Hockey players get paid to play a game. Playing a game well still takes practice, right? Or did I miss a meeting?

Sooooo... let's make a change. Let's go to practice. Work on some things like... oh, I don't know, the power play that went 1-for-14 on the trip... including 0-for-5 in Chicago Tuesday.

No one expected things to change overnight. It would be ridiculous to expect that... but for Gretzsakes, give us something.

There are still 40 games left in the season. Tell the players to do... something that helps the team.

Hint: This game in Chicago wasn't it. The again-lethargic power play that even gave up a shorthanded goal. A pair of goals against in 27 seconds. Giving up a hat trick in a second straight game. Turnovers and defensive lapses that made Chicago goals look easy.

It doesn't take a forensics expert to tell you how painful this debut under Todd Richards was... mostly because it still bears a sick resemblance to the days we wish were much further in the past.

You know... like Sunday.

The culture of the Blue Jackets needs to change. Again, it's foolish to think it can be done overnight.

However, I very much doubt you can do it on a day off.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Meet Me Halfway: Preseason Picks vs. Reality

Hockey is a funny sport. You just never know what's going to happen.

Case in point... many things I expected to happen this year in the NHL have not happened.

I had such amazing luck (maybe a little skill...?) in picking the Playoffs last year, that I figured, "You know what? I'm going to try and pick the conferences this year while I'm at it."

I was cool, I was confident, and I made picks for the East and West, and felt pretty good about them.

Well, there have obviously been some mixed results. A few teams have done inexplicably well this year, while others have gone completely to hell.

But you know what? Attempting to pick the conferences was just an exercise in entertainment.

Just like this midpoint report is... an exercise in entertainment. I can laugh at myself

I assure you, I was not on anything when I made these predictions to begin with... and my disclaimer is that I did title them "Fearless (Maybe Just Crazy)" predictions when I wrote them. Take it for what it's worth.

EASTERN CONFERENCE
1. New York Rangers
My Prediction: 7th
My Explanation/Excuse: Tops in the conference? Did NOT see that coming. Now, we are only halfway through the season, still plenty of room to move. I have to give credit where it's due... this team is doing a hell of a lot better than expected.

2. Boston Bruins
My Prediction: 2nd
My Explanation/Excuse: Obviously, I wasn't far off here. The Bs' start in October was flat-out scary, though. A couple significant win streaks woke them up, though. Good stuff.

3. Florida Panthers
My Prediction: 14th
My Explanation/Excuse: Ummmmm... oops? However, barring an injury to Jose Theodore that keeps him out of the Playoffs, the Panthers could finish first, and they'd still exit in the first round.

4. Philadelphia Flyers
My Prediction: 2nd
My Explanation/Excuse: Not far off here, really, but I never imagined anyone other than Pittsburgh would stay close. However, with Sid Crosby's abbreviated return to the ice -- and extended return to the IR -- the Flyers have the Rangers keeping things interesting in the Atlantic

5. Ottawa Senators
My Prediction: 12th
My Explanation/Excuse: I can't explain this. Freakish luck?

6. New Jersey Devils
My Prediction: 9th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Devils appear to have mostly righted the ship so far, after last year's disaster. The future is definitely uncertain after Martin Brodeur's retirement. This season is probably the team's last shot at a Cup for the foreseeable future, unless they find a money goaltender in the offseason.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs
My Prediction: 10th
My Explanation/Excuse: Not bad, Leafs... not bad at all. Phil Kessel has broken out, and the rest of the team seems to be keeping up nicely. Have to say, I'm pretty impressed.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins
My Prediction: 4th
My Explanation/Excuse: I did not see Sidney Crosby getting hurt again. They're doing pretty well, considering.

9. Winnipeg Jets
My Prediction: 13th
My Explanation/Excuse: Hockey's back in Winnipeg, and they're packing the house with NHL-starved fans who give a damn. Claude Noel is looking really good right now. Hell, I referred to his first non-interim head coaching job as an unenviable task. But you know what? Good for him, and good for the team.

10. Washington Capitals
My Prediction: 1st
My Explanation/Excuse: No excuses here. Vokoun has been decent, and Neuvirth has not pushed him. Neither one seems to be getting much help from the guys in front of them, but they team is starting to wake up. I think it's only a matter of time before they're back in the top half gunning for home ice in the Playoffs.
 
11. Buffalo Sabres
My Prediction: 6th
My Explanation/Excuse: Rough year in Buffalo. Guys getting hurt, Miller inadvertently hurting himself. I definitely saw them doing better this year.
 
12. Montreal Canadiens
My Prediction: 6th
My Explanation/Excuse: Erik Cole has been a huge asset, and Max Pacioretty has rebounded nicely from that horrifying neck injury from last season. The skaters are putting up quality numbers, but Carey Price has slipped back into mediocrity

13. Tampa Bay Lightning
My Prediction: 5th
My Explanation/Excuse: Wow... what the hell happened to this team? I thought they'd threaten the Bruins in the Eastern Finals again this year, but Dwayne Roloson's game in net has gone to hell this year. Stamkos is still a beast, but that may not be enough.

14. Carolina Hurricanes
My Prediction: 11th
My Explanation/Excuse: Ouch. It hurts not having Jeff Skinner for the past month. They're just not generating the offense they need. and Cam Ward can't carry the kind of load he's carrying this year.
 
15. New York Islanders
My Prediction: 15th
My Explanation/Excuse: Holy crow, I actually nailed one! Oh, wait... it's the Islanders. Who didn't pick them last?

WESTERN CONFERENCE
1. Vancouver Canucks
My Prediction: 1st
My Explanation/Excuse: After a rough start, the Canucks are back atop the Western Conference, where I figured they would be. Because of that rough start, though... they haven't been able to distance themselves from the rest of the Northwest. Yet.

2. Detroit Red Wings
My Prediction: 3rd
My Explanation/Excuse: I figured they'd top the Central easily, but after some so-so play in October, they're back on track. However, right now they're in a three-way tie with Chicago and St. Louis. The standings in the Central could very well be changing every day for the next couple months.

3. San Jose Sharks
My Prediction: 2nd
My Explanation/Excuse: Like the Wings (or any team in the top ten, really) the Sharks just happen to be here. The top ten teams in the West are separated by eight points. The Canucks are the only team with a division lead larger than three points.

4. St. Louis Blues
My Prediction: 8th
My Explanation/Excuse: Ken Hitchcock. 'Nuff said. The Blues were awful out of the gate, and convinced the Jackets to let them talk to Hitch. He could win the Adams trophy if this keeps up. This team's on fire.

5. Chicago Blackhawks
My Prediction: 9th
My Explanation/Excuse: Oops. I saw the Hawks as the odd-team-out in the Central. Obviously, certain things in the Central did not go as predicted. Corey Crawford was not a fluke, and the Hawks' core players are scoring at or near a point-a-game pace.

6. Los Angeles Kings
My Prediction: 5th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Kings have been up and down all season, and are in the mix in the really close Western Conference. Quick has been terrific in goal, and Anze Kopitar continues to produce quality offense. After holding out well into training camp for a higher salary than Kopitar, Drew Doughty is on pace to (again) see his point production decline.

7. Nashville Predators
My Prediction: 4th
My Explanation/Excuse: It's Nashville... I'm not far off here. Barry Trotz can coach and he can get this team to win.

8. Minnesota Wild
My Prediction: 10th
My Explanation/Excuse: They've scored the second-fewest goals in the conference (even fewer than the Jackets, in fact). Still, the additions of Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi have still helped. The backup goalies have stepped up to contribute, as Niklas Backstrom has had a so-so year.

9. Dallas Stars
My Prediction: 13th
My Explanation/Excuse: Remember the hype around Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson? Believe it. Benn's leading the team in scoring at just 22 years old. Kari Lehtonen has been really good in net, too.

10. Colorado Avalanche
My Prediction: 11th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Avs are barely on the outside looking in, and have surpassed expectations so far.

11. Phoenix Coyotes
My Prediction: 12th
My Explanation/Excuse: Rough year for Mike Smith as a number-one goaltender. Still, he's doing alright for a former East backup coming west in his first season. Even at age 39, Ray Whitney is still putting up points. The dogs are not far from the Playoff pack.

12. Calgary Flames
My Prediction: 15th
My Explanation/Excuse: The Flames are living and dying by streaky play right now. Win three, lose four, win four, lose five. Painful... but still not last (and, hell, I bet the Jackets would kill for the kind of streaks the Flames have had).

13. Edmonton Oilers
My Prediction: 14th
My Explanation/Excuse: Amazing to think the Oilers got off to such a hot start, then plummeted back to earth and gunning for another high draft pick. Not a number one draft pick, probably, but....

14. Anaheim Ducks
My Prediction: 7th
My Explanation/Excuse: Did not see this coming. Top Ducks like Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne are still scoring, but the goaltending has been suspect all around.

15. Columbus Blue Jackets
My Prediction: 6th
My Explanation/Excuse: Nope. I don't want to talk about it.

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Monday, January 9, 2012

Unlucky Number Seven... Beheaded

Here's how bad the situation has been in Columbus: I started drafting this post in the early-morning hours of December 23, after that mother of all collapses against Nashville.

I really thought that was the proverbial straw, you know?

But it wasn't, and now I have to change everything.

*sigh*

Well anyway, now the hammer has fallen.

123 games. 45 wins. 45-60-18 overall.

41 games this year. Eleven wins. 11-25-5 total.

It was time. It was past time, really.

But just like that, the tumultuous tenure of the Columbus Blue Jackets' seventh coach has come to an end.

Gracelessly.

Some 26 hours after a somewhat impressive -- if offensively un-fantastic -- win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Blue Jackets were well on their way to getting their asses handed to them by a team that was quite possibly a hotter mess than they were.

Sure, they managed to show some fire after spotting the Anaheim Ducks a 4-1 lead. However, the Ducks showed they are considerably better at holding a lead than the Jackets are.

Was Arniel the whole problem? Absolutely not. There is an obvious lack of leadership on the ice, as well.

To make matters worse, the organization has spent itself into a corner with its current top-five payroll.  Even as -- barring the miracle I discussed a few days ago -- the Jackets look to be sellers at the NHL Trade Deadline, there is not a whole lot of flexibility to move players with the biggest contracts to make cap room to rebuild yet again.

That is, if Howson elects to go that route. If he survives the offseason... but that's a discussion for down the road.

When the players don't pan out -- especially when the team is built to fit a coach's system or vision -- the first place you have to look is the coach. There comes a time when someone new has to come in and motivate them.

It sucks not having solid leadership. It sucks for the team. More importantly, it sucks for the fans. We expected so much better this year.

The timing of this move makes it worse. Other coaches who have gone to the guillotine did so after somewhat rocky starts -- a couple of them were even above .500. But Howson stuck by the guy he hired. Perhaps too long.

We not only watched the team melt down. We watched Arniel melt down.

You know what, you as a coach can blame yourself. You can blame the guys in the locker room.

When you get to the point that you're blaming he media... you're never going to win that battle. Anyone who tries to blame the media -- no matter what profession we're speaking of -- comes out looking like an ass.

Arniel joined that club a little over a week ago with the whole "You're piling on, I can show you the stats on that" incident.

I'm not celebrating this day. Sure, I've joked about it before this, and I'll sure as hell joke about it afterwards.

Sure, there is a sense of relief in being able to move on. The problem is, that opportunity to move on in a positive direction is probably too late.

The timing of this firing feels like giving up. It doesn't take a mathematician to see the CBJ are almost out of it.

And with the NHL and NHLPA looking like a pissing contest is about to get underway going into collective bargaining, even "wait 'til next year" doesn't look too certain.

This had to happen. But it had to happen sooner.

41 games to go. Eight regulation losses will put the Playoffs out of reach.

Okay, Coach #8 Todd Richards... that's your cue.

Go Jackets!

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Friday, January 6, 2012

It's Make-Or-Break Month...

The Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in a very tough position as 2012 gets underway. It was preventable, and yes, it's their fault. It is what it is.

The Jackets have begun ten road games in a span of 14 going into the first week of February. Thursday night's loss marked the beginning of a four-game road trip that includes the team's first Southern California tour, plus a stop in Chicago on the way home. Then the Jackets have a four-game homestand, then they hit the road again for the longest trip of the season... a six-game stretch that will include the team's other Southern California tour.

This is a gut check of epic proportions. The Jackets are running out of time. They will end up if one of three places by the first week of February:

1) The CBJ will actually get it together and climb in the standings, possibly making it up to... maybe 12th or something, and still potentially being in playoff contention (it's still mathematically possible… bear with me a moment).

2) The Jackets will fight bravely, but falter... but possibly still gain ground in the standings to the point where the rest of the league at least politely applauds them a little bit.

3) The CBJ will tank completely, and that whole "Fail4Nail" thing that is currently trending on Twitter will have worked its way into the team's marketing slogan.

The odds on that first one -- make no mistake -- are not exactly great. However, I think you have a hard time NOT finding CBJ fans who would love to see it.

The odds on the second -- based on our experience thus far this season -- admittedly seem much more likely. I would like to think that no one really wants to see that...

…or do they?

This brings me to the third option. To be honest, I'm only bringing it up because it's an attitude seems to be rising over last couple days, as CBJ fans watch the World Junior Championships.

I'm going to say it right now: This third option is not an option, nor should it be. Now, I honestly do not believe that management would want this team tank in order to get this Nail Yakupov in the draft. It would not be any more acceptable than the prospect of Sweden tanking in order to get an easier path to the gold-medal in 2006.

However, I'm finding it quite disturbing that this may be becoming the sentiment among some CBJ fans.

Hey, I'm as cynical as the next guy. I've certainly made my share of snarky remarks about this team. Do I do it to tear the team down? Absolutely not. I'm a bit of a smartass. I have a twisted sense of humor.

Inappropriate? Guilty again.

But of all things this team can do, quitting had better not be one of them.

This "Fail4Nail" thing going around is bull$#!+. Maybe I'm just being oversensitive about it, but it is.

Fans will say what they want to say, and that's their prerogative.

I respectfully disagree with those fans. Screw failure. Failure sucks. Hell, let Calgary have him. I wouldn't ever draft another Russian kid with my first round pick again if it was up to me.

Sorry... you know what they say. "Fool me twice...."

Now that that rant is out of the way… Here are the hard numbers:

The Blue Jackets have 43 games remaining.

Based on the 95-point mark for eighth seed, the Jackets need to win 35 of them.

Math made simple... the Jackets are out if they take nine more regulation losses.

So... will take a miracle for them to make the playoffs? Probably.

But it is not over until then.

So, how about we hold off on the "wait till next year" talk for little while longer? This team could still surprise the holy hell out if all of us. Then again, I may be wrong... and that's fine, too. I'll eventually get over that.

But for everything CBJ fans have gone through this year... remember that it can always be worse.

Mrs. Martini is from Cleveland. I need not say more than that... except that there is no way in hell that you can top the severity of that kind of sports misery. Period.

So, plan for the NHL Entry Draft all you want. I'm staying here.

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Goaltending... Defense... Just Not Enough "O"

Rough night in San Jose.

Just... harsh.

The Columbus Blue Jackets played a hard game in the Shark Tank. Curtis Sanford had his first start since December 22, and played one hell of a game, even when the team in front of him wasn't at its sharpest. He finished with 37 saves.

The defense, however, was also brilliant at times. The flurry at the end to keep the puck alive in the Sharks' zone as time was winding down, was the kind of aggressive, driven hockey that CBJ fans have needed to see all season.

Still... it's really hard to get something going when you have to kill off penalties, while not getting any power plays for yourself. But... that's the kind of game it was. You play hard, and sometimes you don't get the rewards from it.

Sometimes you lose more. Coach Arniel revealed that Mark Letestu broke his hand after a hit by Douglas Murray.

Then there is the issue of the boarding call on Derek Dorsett that could get a look from Headmaster Shanahan. No need to analyze it, really... last time I got all worried about one of those, nothing happened, so... I'm not going to panic now.

Shanny's analyses seem like coin flips lately, anyway.

Still, we could be looking at some young guys getting called up and pressed into action at a very "do or die" juncture of the season. A juncture that could mathematically eliminate the Jackets sooner rather than later, if things don't change. And frankly, that may not even be enough.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Karma to Carcillo: GOTCHA!

This, of course, should come as a surprise to no one.

It was only a matter time before Danny Carcillo's trademark, cheap-shot style would land him in big trouble.

Now, I never imagined this much trouble... seems the seven-game suspension is the least of his worries.

I don't know whether the self-proclaimed "Car Bomb" just can't stop, doesn't care or maybe he would just soil himself at the thought of actually facing a guy in the process of hitting him.

However, whatever the reason was for Carcillo sending Edmonton's Tom Gilbert flying awkwardly into the boards (from behind, no surprise)… it's a good bet (and, honestly, a relief) that it's the last we've seen of him for a considerable amount to time.

And that's just the wait for him his clumsy ass to get off the injured list.

Seems that immediately after the cheap shot, Gilbert fell awkwardly onto Carcillo's foot or something, and he may need season-ending knee surgery. It did look like his leg buckled in a direction it was not supposed to go, and he fell to the ice before Gilbert's linemates could get there and beat six kinds of hell out of him.



It seems odd, really, to see Karma work so quickly... it has certainly spared Todd Bertuzzi all these years.

Oh, well... guess it's best not to over-analyze it. I suppose what matters is that Danny Boy will be off the ice for a while, where he can't cause anyone (including himself) any further harm.

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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Winter Classic To Enjoy...

I hate the Philadelphia Flyers. I never could get past that whole Eric Lindros prima donna B.S. Then again, the fact that his bratty little "I won't play for Quebec" thing ultimately left him Cup-less, and the whole saga with his "mom-ager" dad acting as his agent were good for some laughs.

I hate the New York Rangers... perhaps marginally more than the Flyers. Sorry, that Joe Sakic offer sheet thing in 1997 and ending Gretzky's career without a Playoff spot still grate on my nerves.

For the most part, I didn't expect to give a crap about what was going on in Philadelphia Monday. As I was discussing with Mrs. Martini where we would watch the Gator Bowl and Ohio State, the prospect of local hockey mecca R Bar came to mind. We'd be able to watch the Buckeyes on one of the small screens, and check out the Winter Classic on the big screens with the live audio, and so forth.

With the Buckeyes having faded into the legacy of just the latest of Gene Smith's bad decisions, the Winter Classic was just picking up, and game audio turned over from the Buckeyes to the game right at the stroke of 3 p.m. Even with a scoreless game, fans were treated to a great hockey game with some good, quality chances. Now, R Bar had a handful of unmistakably partisan fans in the house, but the place had some seriously loud moments as the play approached either net.

What I don't recall ever hearing, is Mrs. Martini ever telling me that the Winter Classic is her favorite game of the year. The lady was glued to the screens, especially in the second and third periods.

It doesn't hurt that Cleveland's own (and former Jacket) Mike Rupp was the man of the hour. He cut the lead in half very quickly, after Philly rattled off two goals late in the second period, and then tied up the game early in the third, en route to a 3-2 Rangers win.

How much does Mrs. Martini love the Winter Classic? The second the Rangers went up 3-2, she immediately started cheering for the Flyers to tie it up... for no other reason than to get the game into overtime and/or a shootout.

That first Classic between the Pens and Sabres may have spoiled her.

However, outside of the game, fans got a glimpse of some really cool stuff beyond the ice. The musical performance by The Roots was a lot of fun -- although replacing the title of the song "The Fire" with "The Flyers" took some forgiving (heh heh).

I certainly have been critical of NBC's NHL coverage in the past, but this new TV deal is showing signs that NBC is starting to "get it" now. They're showing the ceremony and making the game into a celebration worthy of the world's greatest sport.

Hell... a handful of ads had a very "Super Bowl Sunday" feel... and this was for a hockey game. How much did FOX and ABC bemoan the lousy ratings they got for hockey before the Lockout?

Anyway, these were the favorites for the two of us...





I don't think I was the only one in the place who was applauding on that Honda ad. But I laughed. Hard.

Still, when you look at these, don't they strike you as something you'll see about four or five weeks from now?

Was everything perfect? Well, no... but you take the bad with the good.

Unfortunately, the American national anthem was a sad example this year. Sadly, this isn't just a hockey phenomenon. Everywhere in pro sports, you find the league decides to use someone who can't just stick with the given melody that was written for the piece. More often than not, an anthem singer uses the Star Spangled Banner as a vehicle to show off her vocal range, completely disregarding whether they're dishonoring the song by stretching it into some unnecessary exercise.

Patti LaBelle joined those ranks this year. It wasn't Roseanne Barr terrible, but it was pretty terrible.

If/when Columbus gets a Winter Classic one of these days, and our own guy Leo Welsh is not singing the National Anthem... well, that's going to be screwed up. I defy any musical artist who happens to be from here to top Leo. Maybe that's just me -- but I don't think it is.

The Blue Jackets may not be the best team in the NHL, but our fair city has fans, people. There were more than a couple CBJ sweaters in the house. These are people who care about the game, even if the home team is not playing.

We love our game... even if there are a handful of people like me could care less about the teams who are playing.

We just can't turn away.

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

2011: Good Freaking Riddance...

2011. What can I say.. You were an interesting year.

I don't mean "intriguing" interesting. I need more along the lines of the old, oft-quoted Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

That kind of interesting.

When 2011 began, the Blue Jackets were coming off a New Year's Eve victory over the Ottawa Senators, but were otherwise in the throes of a schneid that was very similar to the collapse they endured in January of 2010. The team pulled off the best start in franchise history, even doing better on the road than they were at home. Hoever, they discovered in December that they were actually quite mortal, and quite wounded. Just not mortally wounded.

Still, the Jackets were having some tough times. They lost five straight, and fell to .500 just past the midpoint of the season. It wasn't until the Jackets earned three of a possible four points in a home and home with Detroit in mid January, that Coach Scott Arniel and the boys started righting the ship again. Though they had flirted with the Playoff line for the previous few weeks, the Jackets were in danger of falling off pace in the Western Conference. Still, the competitive nature of the Western Conference kept a lot of teams from pulling away, which perhaps kept the Jackets in Playoff contention longer than they might have been otherwise.

Still, that home-and-home with the Wings marked the beginning of a renaissance of sorts. Over the 15 games that followed, the Jackets went 10-3-2. during that span, Jackets fans cuaght their first glimpse of what Matt Calvert could do, including his hat trick and four-point night on February 25 against Phoenix.

A tough loss to Nashville in the next game immediately preceded the trade deadline, but with the Jackets in contention and sitting only five points below the line, the Blue Jackets acquired Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto. However, instead of helping the Jackets turn the corner, the Jackets fizzled down the stretch, and in perhaps the final insult of the season... fell below .500 on the night of the season finale.

The best start in franchise history ended with golf in April, and watching a spectacular Stanley Cup Playoffs at home.

Again.

With talk of Arena dealings and a hockey franchise that was hemorrhaging money, the front office vow to do what was essentially a top-to-bottom audit of the organization, to determine what the next steps would be to bring the Columbus franchise back into playoff contention. Howson axed the head of scouting and hired a full-time goaltending coach for Steve Mason. Houston made arguably the ballsiest move in franchise history when he snagged Jeff Carter via trade on the eve of the NHL Entry Draft.

Then he broke out the checkbook. With the free agency deadline looming, Howson made another ballsy move and got James Wisniewski from the Canadiens. Then he closed the deal by getting Wisniewski down to Columbus, and got the deal done before noon on July 1. Houston also added Mark Dekanich in goal, to back up Steve Mason, and Radek Martinek to help bolster the blueline with a veteran presence. After Kristian Huselius tore a pectoral muscle during a workout -- a vision that still makes me wince -- Howson went out and got Vinny Prospal into the fold as well.

As a result, the Blue Jackets' payroll ballooned into the top five, a hell of a lot closer to the salary cap than the floor.

Few things say "Win, or else" quite like a top five payroll in the NHL, on a team that has made the playoffs just once in its 10-year history.

However, the kind of bold moves that Blue Jackets fans had clamored for were finally happening.

In the middle of all this, the second annual CANNONFEST returned to Grandview, and fans and bloggers mixed and mingled with the people we read, watch, listen to and/or cheer alongside every game. We raised glasses, cheered our team, watched a pair of kickass videos... and essentially made a fan gathering into a holiday any diehard puckhead would be honored to attend.

And as the preseason opened, Jackets fans were chomping at the bit to get the season underway already. It was quite possibly the most highly-anticipated season in franchise history.

Then James Wisniewski got his hands up in Cal Clutterbuck's face, and Clutterbuck turned in an Academy Award-winning performance, earning Wiz an eight-game suspension from Brendan Shanahan. Then Mark Dekanich got hurt. Then Carter... then Martinek... then Mason. At least I think that was the order in which they happened.

Over the course, the Jackets sutumbled out of the gate. Actually, that wording is a bit kind. More like faceplanted out of the gate, then the horse turned around with the jockey's foot tangled in the reins, crashed through the gate in reverse and dragged the jockey into opposing horse traffic, before somehow, inexplicably, spontaneously combusting.

After a 2-12-1 start, the Jackets began to jell and managed to put together a 5-3-2 stretch.

Then the damn horse turned around again.

Though the Jackets reversed their fortunes a few nights back by finally holding onto a lead as time expired against the Stars, they reverted back to the third-period ways that have defined their December (at the very least) and gave up four third-period goals in not even seven minutes.

That was 2011 in a nutshell

Through the Jackets' current woes, I have been irked many times with the comparisons of team performance in which records and streaks include numbers from last season -- so-and-so road games without a regulation win dating back to March, etc. There are different personnel... this dwells too much in the past... and so forth.

However, it's pretty hard to ignore the fact that the Jackets played exactly 82 games in the year 2011. Yep, a season's worth.

14-20-10 in 44 games from last season... and 10-23-5 in 38 this season.

The total... 24-43-15.

And so, 2011... I say to you:

Good riddance... go to hell... and get your filthy hands off my hockey team.
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Happy Ne-- Oh, Hell With It

The Jackets scored twice, carried that two-goal lead into the third period, and lost the lead.

And the game.

Anything else I could say would feel like I said it before, and I'm one of those guys who hates to repeat himself.

So... I won't.

The above words, plus "Blue Jackets lose 4-2" and "dammit," pretty much sum up the night.

I'm not even going to link to this post... so if you're coming across this randomly, thank you for stopping by.

However, in order to properly vent and purge the year 2011 from our collective hockey consciousness, may I suggest you just skip to my year-in-review post....