Monday, October 17, 2005

Where does it stop?

No, not the losing...although it would be nice if that stopped soon, too.

But, the injury bug, when will it move on to a different team? First Ricky, then Rusty, then Brule, and now Fritsche. Awkward fall, carried off the ice...rumor has it it's his ankle. How long do we lose THIS guy who was playing well and figured into the Jackets success? 4 weeks? 6? 8? Good thing we have all these spare forwards at the moment. But, Fritsche's fire will be missed...

Hopefully four days off does the Jackets some good. Staring at a homestand that starts with a Sharks team that just tore them limb for limb, two games against the always tough and division leading Wings, followed by a game with the currently unbeaten Preds isn't much of a run to "get well" against.

While we're asking "where does it stop," next on the list is the parade to the penalty box...where does THAT stop? Killing 12 minutes of penalties in a period has happened too many times for it to just be coincidence. These guys need to start moving the feet and get in position - hooking, holding, and interference are on the box score way too often. Just because the penalty is working pretty well doesn't mean we have to "showcase" it every game.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

0-1 Because of 0-fer 9

Wow, what can be said about the Blue Jackets power play last night in Washington? Nothing, really, because that's what it produced. No goals and barely even any shots on goal. At one point the Jackets had 3 power play shots in 7 power play opportunities. 3 shots in (roughly) 14 minutes of power play time? Ouch.

Conversely, 5 on 5 the Jackets looked great. Possibly as good as they ever have. Great puck possession, good passing, good cycling, just an all around solid 5 on 5 performance. Why, then, couldn't they do that same stuff with an extra player?

Other than the power play, the game wasn't that bad of a debut for the Jackets. Dan Fritsche proved he should be on the roster, and possibly be centering Nash and Vyborny some time late next week. Nash proved his ankle needed a little more rest. (Rest it Friday, too,'s a long season.) Zherdev continued to prove he thinks there's an i in team...must be lost in the translation. He showed flashes of genius, as always, but the total lack of effort is troubling. He needs to go to the Dan Fritsche "This is how you move your feet" school.

Another source of learning for Zherdev was on the other bench in his countryman Alexander Ovechkin. WOW is about all that you can use to describe this guy. While the media is still swooning over everything Crosby (and his one assist in the Devs PASTING of the Pens), Ovechkin has quietly been overlooked. That's not going to last long, he's the best player the Caps have on the ice right now. He'll need some help because it's a long season, but he's the real deal.

One other note: Not a huge fan of the shootout (for the "individual" reasons behind it), but glad to see Dany Heatley officially win the first shootout in NHL history last night. Couldn't have happened to a better guy.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Brule is in...

As of this afternoon, Gilbert Brule is officially a Blue Jacket for the upcoming portion of the season. That he signed and it went to the wire is not shocking, so did Nash and Klesla in their respective signings. (Each for a lot more cash, too...hello new CBA.)

So, now that Brule is in the fold, and you don't sign him to scratch him, who DOES get the scratch?

My guess at this point is Geoff Sanderson. Don't get me wrong, Sandy's still got it...especially in the wheels department...but coming out of preseason, he doesn't have it like those he's competing with. Down the left side he's already behind Nash and Zherdev which puts him on the third line at best. The third line is the likely home for Brule, too, as he'll likely get the same treatment Ricky did his rookie year.

Another option is to scratch Shelley and bump Sandy down to the fourth line, but relegating him to the checking line could be worse than just scratching him. Afterall, it worked so well for him in Buffalo that we landed him in '00.

Two players I don't think are scratchable to make room for young Gilbert are Tyler Wright and Trevor Letowski. These two kill penalties WAY too well to be in the press box in the "New NHL."

So, Brule's on-ice audition starts Wednesday night in Washington. All the best to him, we'll see how it shakes out.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Welcome Back Danny

OK, I'll admit it...I'm a homer. Big time when it comes to the local NHL franchise, and moreso with our Ohio born draftee, Danny Fritsche.

Two years ago, Danny was a big surprise coming out of camp and made the big club. He stuck around until it was time to join the US Junior team, which he helped win a gold medal in Finland. After returning, he went back to juniors, no point in hanging around Columbus since the Jackets had just made the coaching change, and the season was in "Salvage Some Pride" mode by mid-January.

Last season, he had another shoulder issue, but apparently unrelated to those before. He stared out in Sarnia, but was traded to the London Knights not long after he returned from his second stint with the US Junior team. While with London, he got valuable seasoning without worrying why he wasn't in the NHL. He won a Memorial Cup, and in the process was key in shutting down this Crosby guy (you may have heard of him) in the final, where he had a goal and two assists.

So, fast forward to this season, and it looks like Danny will be ready for Prime Time. He did a fine job in the rookie tournament in Traverse City, but came out of the tournament with a couple nagging injuries. Those kept him out of the first week of training camp, but he was finally cleared to skate last week. Just in time for a trip to Pittsburgh to make his case to stay in the NHL again.

WHAM...7-2 Pens.

OK, he's got another shot, this time in Detroit.

POW...9-0 Wings.

The flu ripped through the team, so the squads sent to both games were pretty thin. Nothing against Fritsche, but those were two tough games to make your preseason debut.

Finally, no more flu, a few more vets, and a home game in Columbus. David Vyborny gets out of the box about 6 minutes into the game, gets the puck, flips it over the defense and Fritsche is light is on a few moments later, and it's 1-0 good guys. The impressive thing about it, he pulled away from the defenseman as he got deeper in the zone. The kid has always played a no bull s**t type game, taking it at guys rather than around him, so the speed never really came into play or got noticed. It got noticed last night.

Later in the game he was out on a power play, and was the only guy on the weak side. He worked to the open space (hopefully Zherdev was paying attention at the time) and got a nice pass and a good shot off. Didn't score on that one (did later, didn't get to see it, though), but showed his just all around hockey sense. His play with the puck is great, but his play away from the puck was noteworthy. No floating at the blue line, no watching the point man, his feet never stopped moving and he got himself into open ice to receive a pass.

So, we finally get to see Danny on the ice in Columbus, and it appears he's grown up nicely while he was gone. I can't see how he won't make the team, and I can see him moving up the depth chart pretty quickly if he keeps playing like he did on Friday.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Zherdev has me wondering

After watching the Jackets play the Wings Thursday night I came away wondering if this is the real Nikolai Zherdev or the preseason "meh" Nikolai Zherdev.

Far too many times away from the puck he just stood there with his stick at his waist watching the play. At one point, all he had to do was crash the net and he would have had a rebound with Jimmy Howard pulled way out of position. But, instead he decided to hang five feet inside the blue line.

Movement away from the puck is too big in the NHL for Zherdev to be watching at the blue line, even if it is preseason. Gilbert Brule isn't standing around, this kid's motor never stops. Granted, he's trying to impress, so he should be going all out. Maybe a better example at this stage is David Vyborny not mailing in his preseason games and watching the other four guys on the ice play.

I get how a player could decide not to take preseason serious, nothing counts, and they're throwing shootouts in just for fun. But, habits can be formed, and bad habits at that. Nicky's defense leaves a lot to be desired, and in the "New NHL" there are a ton of penalties being called, so his ice time will be limited by each kill we have. Does he want to spend the ice time he's actually getting loafing at the blue line?

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Some nuggets from the Sunday Disptach

As always, the Jacket info in the Sunday Dispatch is the highlight of the weekly hockey coverage. This week was no different, and the two articles they had shed some light on a couple of issues: ticket renewals and how the roster is shaping up.

On the ticket side, 92% of season ticket holders have renewed their tickets already, and the team anticipates that rising to 96%. Not too bad. While readers of the Dispatch are writing into the editor to tell him that he should print every morsel of Buckeye football coverge he can find, and other fans explaining that 80% of the city only wants to read about the Browns, the Blue Jackets fans quietly went about making their point with their wallets rather than writing the paper to complain. Things are looking good for another loud season in Nationwide, especially if Doug's quote at the end of the article comes true: "The best thing we can give our fans," MacLean said, "is a better team."

The probable training camp roster wasn't that surprising, but it was nice to see it in print, especially since it seems the Dispatch gets the best info out of the front office. After going through the guranteed contracts, there are 18 roster spots filled. That leaves five spots if the Jackets are to carry the full 23 man roster, which is unlikely because of the salary cap. For all intents and purposes, we've got 11 guys slugging it out for probably three spots on the full time roster.

It appears the defense is set with 6 guys having guranteed deals already, but Aaron Johnson and Francois Beauchemin to slug it out for the 7th spot. Given our injury problems on the blue line last season, healthy competetion between these two will be a good thing. Based on what I've heard out of Syracuse, it seems it should be a pretty tight race. We've seen Johnson in Columbus, but apparently he didn't really build on that last year. While Beauchemin, snagged off the waiver wire from Montreal last September, came in and played a solid season for the Crunch. Enough to earn him a two year deal with the Jackets.

On the offensive side, things get a little more interesting. The year off gave the Jackets draftees more of a chance to mature. Dan Fritsche used the time to help London win a Memorial Cup and put up 35 points in 28 games with the Knights. Alexandre Picard upped his game some more scoring 40 goals and 85 points in 60 games with Lewiston in the Q. Recently signed Jaroslav Balastik led the NHL star laden Czech Elite League in goals. Joakim Lindstrom hopped the pond to play 13 games with the Crunch, and mananged 4 goals and 4 assists in his short time there. And this doesn't even take into account this year's pick in Gilbert Brule, who some say was the steal of the draft at the 6th overall selection.

All of that leads to what should be an entertaining training camp. We have finally compiled enough draft picks of NHL quality to make the fight for spots interesting. Plus, even the guys with a guranteed contract don't have a guranteed spot on the team. Outside of Nash, whose spot on the top line was cemented in two months into the '03-'04 season, every other spot is open to be won. Preseason games might not be boring for a change.

Friday Night Football

Hilliard Darby - 28
Central Crossing - 0

North Union - 6
Cardington - 34

Waynesfield-Goshen - 50
Lima Perry - 12

Darby continues to look good, their defense giving up 7 points in its frist two games. North Union starts another Jekyll and Hyde season winning week one in fine fashion then getting whacked in week two. Uncle Kev's team in Waynesfield won another squeaker, but according to Uncle Kev once again started off slow.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

"New NHL"...until the TV schedule comes out

OLN has released the games they are going to air in the "New" NHL. Seems they picked the same old teams that the Old NHL liked to promote.

I get how TV ratings work, and how you want the most eyeballs possible watching those games, so it makes sense to put the bigger markets on nationally. So, seeing Detroit, the Rangers, Boston, the Avs, and St. Louis on the schedule 8 times each isn't so shocking, from a market standpoint. From an "exciting hockey" standpoint, the Rangers haven't been to the playoffs in 7 years, the Blues are shadows of what they were the last time the NHL iced a game, and the Avs have lost some luster as well.

On the flip side, the NHL is out to market some of its new stars, and it should. Sidney Crosby's Penguins get 7 appearances and Alexander Ovechkin's Capitals get 6, so the last two first overall picks will be seen plenty. 2003's first overall pick is a Pen, so if Fleury sticks in Pittsburgh he'll be on TV with Crosby. First overall pick from 2002, Rick Nash, is on OLN once. (NBC, never.) This is the same Rick Nash that was all the talk in this year's World Championships...which is another event in which nobody in the US saw Rick perform. 2001's top pick, Illya Kovalchuk, is on OLN twice, so the top pick theory goes out the window pretty quickly.

Maybe OLN meant to showcase young American hockey stars: Zach Parise 2 appearances with the Devils, Ryan Suter 1 with the Predators, Ryan Kessler 1 with the Canucks. Nope, guess that wasn't it, either.

No, it seems OLN looked at the standings from the last season, tossed in the Rangers and the hockey hot bed of Minnesota and put them on TV. But, that can't totally be true, either, because the defending Western Conference champion Calgary Flames are on OLN one time. Playoff teams Toronto, Ottawa, and Nashville are on a combined one time.

So, the criteria for who is on and how many times aren't real clear. I was hopeful that when the contract went away from ESPN, that ESPN's favorite teams would cease hogging all the ice time. Guess that didn't happen. With 58 games on the air, that's 116 possible teams to make the schedule. Getting all 30 teams to air two times should be fairly easy, and a good way to expose the entire league, which is in DIRE need of exposure.

Thank God for Center Ice.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Why the Wings?

Since the FA season has opened, it seems plenty of prognosticators are still picking the Wings to win the Central. Why?

Osgood back in net? Datsyuk is in Russia, and may not come out of Russia. Zetterberg is as yet unsigned, too. That leaves the Wings with a veteran core. A core that has won the Stanley Cup, which isn't to be denied, but won it four years ago and before the "off year."

Chelly is 43, Yzerman 40, Shanny and Schneider 36, and $7 million man Lidstrom is 35. Kirk Maltby is a relative youngster at 32. Buying out McCarty seemed to be buying out a bit of the heart of the Wings, not that they'll be short on leadership.

But, here's the question: Can the aging Wings hang in the "New NHL" where the game is to opened up and speed to be a bigger factor? Can the perfectors of the left wing lock win in a non-left wing lockable NHL? The last time we saw the Wings they were getting bounced from the playoffs by a quick forechecking Calgary team. In round 1, the speedy Predators gave them fits for 6 games. Now, this type of game will be coming at them more often than not.

If obstruction truely goes away this year, can the Wings still stay on top of the Central? The Predators improved their playoff roster, the Jackets youngsters are all a year older and have been complemented by some solid free agent pick-ups, and Chicago seems to be putting together a solid team.

I don't think the Central is the toughest division in hockey this season, but it's not getting any easier for the team whose big acquisition was Andy Delmore.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

It's about time...

This blog thing sounded like a good idea at the time, but keeping up with it has been a bit tougher. And, getting caught up in the fun that has been the return of the NHL has kept me occupied for a while. So, we'll try this again...

Quite a few things have happened in the hockey world since my last entry.

In March. :)

Previously I wrote about things covering the NHL as a whole, as it seemed appropriate at the time. Now that the NHL has decided to grace us with their presence again, time to go back to being All Blue Jackets, All the Time. (OK, most of the time.)

As a Jackets fan, I am absolutely THRILLED with the way we're shaping up for this season. The roster it looks like we're going to camp with is hands down the best collection of players we've seen in Columbus in our short history. Top of that list is none other than Rick Nash. I can't wait to see what our little Ricky has grown into in his year away. His exploits on the other side of the pond last season are well noted, and he apparently lit it up at Team Canada's Olympic training camp. What do we have in this kid? And, big thanks to Doug, we have it for another five years.

Beyond Nash, it looks like our season is going to hinge on how well our kids come together and play. Can Klesla toughen up, use his size, and play like his 130-ish PIMs in the Czech league last year indicate? Will Zherdev continue the mind-boggling moves? Does Fritsche use his extra year in juniors and Memorial Cup winning experience (and giving Crosby all he wanted) to come into the NHL and make an impact? Does Picard stick on the big team? (This is a big question for me personally, I'm not sure I've ever seen the kid skate.) And, what about Brule? Can he drop jaws in camp to earn a few games once the season starts? And will those games earn him more? I've heard it's possible.

All these questions and more will start to be answered in just a shade over two weeks. This is going to be the best training camp we've ever seen. The competition for positions is going to be awesome to watch. Who earns the spot with Vyborny and Nash? Who gets to set up Zherdev? Which rookie is going to put a veteran down a line? Damnit, more questions!

Are you ready for some football?

My other love this time of year is high school football, just for fun I'll toss out scores for at least three games: Hilliard Darby (where we live), North Union (where I played (many, many years ago)), and Waynesfield-Goshen (where my brother is assisstant coach).

So for last night's update...

Hillard Darby - 39
Westland - 7

North Union - 32
Fairbanks - 15

Waynsfield-Goshen - 41
Lockland - 27


Sycamore Mohawk - 28
Elgin - 7
(Any guesses on where my wife went to high school?? :) )

Friday, March 18, 2005

Now what?

As the title suggests, I'm a glutton for punishment, so in the hockey world, now what?

Well, the stewards of the highest level met last week and this week to say the same things they've said for months...NHL has a cap offer, NHLPA doesn't want it. This is an issue for me because the PA decided to accept a cap at the last minute, and now Bobby is SHOCKED that the NHL would offer the cap again, and it would be lower. Amazing...somebody sign Bob up for an entry level econ class at any university. (This guy graduated from Harvard???)

So, since their doing their hard headed thing, still...on to the NCAAs!

Basketball - this is hands down the best time of the year with the NCAA tournament going on. Hours of college hoops to be enjoyed this weekend, and probably the best one and done tournament going.

But, the hockey NCAAs get drawn Sunday morning, which means the Road To Columbus starts next weekend. With my Frozen Four ticket purchased, I'm really looking forward to this one. I've never been to the Frozen Four, and am still kicking myself for not going to it in Cincinnati a couple years ago.

With OSU season tickets, I've been rather tuned into how the NCAAs are picked...and WOW is this a screwed up system. ( explains it very well, look for anything about the Pairwise Rankings.) It's a pretty good system, but has some flaws that allow teams to move up by losing to the right team. (It might be a worse system than the BCS in that respect.) But, OSU has been on the bubble for the last couple weeks. I can't fathom second place in the CCHA not getting into the tournament, but it's a strong possibility.

All in all, while Bob and Gary continue their "negotiations" I'm settled in watching the CCHA Super 6, bits and pieces of the WCHA Final 5, and a pile of college basketball. Life without the NHL isn't so bad...anybody at the NHL or NHLPA noticing that?

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

I believe in Miracles

No, not the miracle that would have to happen to see NHL hockey any time before 2025, the miracle that happened 25 years ago today in Lake Placid. Dubbing it a miracle is probably a stretch, but Al Michaels etched that title in stone.

We've all heard the underdog college kids from the US upsetting what amounted to a pro team from the USSR story a number of times. We've heard the comparisons of it being the equivalent of Mt. Union beating the New England Patriots in football.

How I remember is a bit different than all that, I was 8. Didn't really understand hockey, as it wasn't top of the "To Play" list in central Ohio in 1980. Also, I only watched bits and pieces of the game. Part of the reason was we already knew the result when it was aired, and my brother and I were busy re-playing the game in the kitchen with two yard sticks and a mayonaise lid. And, even though I didn't watch the game from beginning to end, I bought books and posters of the team, and watched whatever I could on it. It was an amazing story, and still is.

Now, I have the game on DVD (thanks to a buddy with a DVD burner and TiVo), and have seen it more than a few times. Yet, every time I watch that or Miracle and hear Al ask, "Do you believe in miracles? YES!" it still sends chills down my spine.

Friday, February 18, 2005

So, Skip hates hockey

Skip Bayless has decided to inform us in his column on ESPN's Page 2 that he hates hockey. Goes into great detail why he hates hockey.

The article brought a question to mind: If you hate it so much, Skip, why spend a substantial portion of your day (or week), and three pages of space on the 'Net telling us about it? I mean, c'mon, Skipper, take your own advice and don't pay attention to it. (On that note, the NHL is making that pretty easy for you at the moment.)

Over the last 6 months, I've heard and read from a lot of people on how much they dislike hockey, how they don't miss it, how they don't know it's gone, and don't care if it comes back. Well, GOOD FOR YOU PEOPLE!! Me, and other hockey fans like me, aren't going to miss you and probably never realized you didn't care to begin with. It would be like me going on a 5 page rant about the NBA...I don't like it and don't watch it, but that doesn't mean some NBA fan out there doesn't enjoy his favorite sport.

Now, with rumors of meetings to save the season, that means a whole new round of Skip-esque articles on how hockey screwed up by cancelling then (hypothetically) uncancelling the season. I can hardly wait, because if those articles start it means that Skip can once again be annoyed by hockey, and I'll have my NHL back.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

It's the little things

Since the NHL is still cancelled a whole day after they said it would be, may as well see what I'll be missing out on besides the hockey...

First and foremost, I'm going to miss heading to downtown Columbus for a game. I still get down there, sure, it's all of 7 miles away. But, no pre-gaming at Gibby's for their $2 beers, wings, and outstanding grilled ham and chees sandwich. No post game radio shows. No meeting 50 different people in the concourse during intermissions. And no more $8 beers at the arena...wait, that might not be a bad thing.

At home, I'll miss the away games, and the Center Ice. It seems every night I get to fall asleep to a Kings or Canucks game. And, even though Ohio is still in the US, I'll miss Hockey Night in Canada. That cheesy theme song just seems to prounounce hockey like nothing ESPN has ever put together.

But, here's the big one, I think...I'll miss the road trip to Nashville. The home of the Preds takes a ton of heat for being new, in the South, and not packed to the rafters every night. But, this is hands down one of the best road trips an NHL fan can make, and only 5 1/2 hours from Columbus makes it an annual trip for a few of us from Jacketland. Preds fans before and after the game are great. (During the game...well, they're just like the rest of us. :) ) The GEC is right in the middle of downtown, walking distance to 100 bars, 90 resturants, and plenty of hotels.

At the top of that bar list is Wolfy's. The home of the self-proclaimed best chili-cheeseburger in Nashville (might be World, apologies to Wolfy's for not recalling), and it lives up to the bill. As an added surprise, I found on my last trip to this fine establishment that they are now serving Bohanon's Vanilla Ale. Bohanon's is a brew pub we discovered during our trip to the 2003 entry draft, and their Vanilla Ale was only on tap there. But, they're now shipping it the three blocks to Wolfy's, so I can kill two birds with one stone.

So, Gary and Bob, I want to thank you for many things in acting this stubborn, but you both owe me a chili cheesburger and a pint of Vanilla ale.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Is Hockey Dead?

In a word, no.

Yes, here we are, February 15th, 2005 - the day the NHL died - but that's it, the NHL died. Hockey, the great sport that it is, is still alive and well in spite of the stewards of its highest level treating it like a toilet after a night of draft beer and White Castles. Sign number one that hockey is alive: My son's mini-mite practice tomorrow night at 6:00 was not cancelled today at 1PM, and the CMMPA (Columbus Mini-Mite Players Association) did not offer a rebuttal at 4PM.

Seriously, I'm a hockey zealot, it's true, but the game itself will survive, it has to. The NCAA playoffs aren't too far off - they weren't cancelled. Next Tuesday will mark the 25th anniversary of the US beating the Soviets in Lake Placid - it won't be cancelled. The Calder Cup will be handed out to the AHL champion, the Memorial Cup will go to the Major Junior champion - neither of them cancelled.

Just because the NHL and the NHLPA are too stubborn/greedy/shortsighted to allow hockey to thrive at its highest level doesn't mean the death of the game. True, it won't help, but Andrew Schembri at Ohio State, Dan Fritsche of the London Knights, every kid in the Junior Jackets Mini-Mite program, and those like them lacing 'em up for the thrill and love of the game will make sure the sport of hockey keeps its pulse.