BLUE JACKETS END EXHAUSTING COACHING SEARCH: Team chases, hires own tail.

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets have announced that five weeks into their grueling postseason head coaching search, they have finally hired Todd Richards as their permanent coach. Highly regarded as the one of the marquis job openings in the NHL this offseason, the team was forced to reject offers from Bruce Boudreau, Mike Babcock, and John Tortorella.

“Ultimately, we wanted the guy with the least amount of professional experience and success,” said General Manager Scott Howson. “We didn’t have the resources or budget to install a trophy cabinet in the coach’s office, so hiring Todd saved us a lot of money.” Added Howson, “The organization did take into careful consideration the tens of thousands of opinions submitted by the great fans of Columbus, but Todd best exemplifies what the great city of Columbus is known for: very little.”

“After all,” added advisor Craig Patrick, “This is about failing. Every morning Scott and I ask ourselves – what mistakes can we make today? We’re very confident in this one.”

Wherein I make fun of Michael Arace’s Commentary

(My comments in bold. Obviously.)

If the Blue Jackets were not the last-place team in the NHL, Jeff Carter would be a happy, productive member of the team. (I’m sure being in last place has nothing to do with all of the goals he didn’t score while being hurt 375 times.)

That is an interesting premise. Does it hold? (No…)

Failed relationships in sports can be ugly things. (Nikita Filatov says hi.)

I covered Brendan Shanahan when he begged off the Hartford Whalers in 1996 (token Whalers/”I am old reference” to validate his nonsense). It was a punch in the gut for the fans who felt big-timed, but at least Shanahan made his decision public and accepted the wrath he knew was coming. (“At least” he was public in being unclassy.)

I covered Adam Foote (you mean He Who Shall Not Be Named, Michael, get it together) when he bailed on Columbus in the midst of a playoff hunt in 2008. In his last days as Jackets captain, before any trade had been consummated, he waffled publicly while, behind the scenes, his new Colorado Avalanche equipment was ordered and a plane was gassed up and waiting to whisk him away. (Buh bye.)

Now, we have Carter. (Who once, actually, you said “should not be judged on rumors.” http://www.bluejacketsxtra.com/content/stories/2011/07/28/carter-shouldnt-be-judged-on-rumors.html)

Jackets fans celebrated when he was acquired last summer (for Jake Voracek, a first-round draft pick and a third-round pick). I was among those ballyhooing. Carter was to provide something the Jackets had been lacking throughout their history: a top-line center and a first-rate sniper. The fans bought in and filliped season-ticket sales.

Carter, after a month-long absence because of a shoulder injury (a whole month we could have used his goal scoring prowess to, I dunno, win games), re-entered the lineup in Anaheim last night. He had 10 goals and 17 points in 30 games. He was ranked 267th in the league in scoring, one point behind Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin. Although there is a host of Jackets players who have underachieved during this wickedly depressing season, it is fair to say that Carter has played as if he has one skate out the door (really? his points per game ratio is higher than everyone except Rick Nash).

It is convenient to hark back to when Carter was acquired, and to think we should have seen this coming (you told us not to judge him!). The trade shocked him, and the Jackets had to send a weighty contingent of emissaries — general manager Scott Howson, then-coach Scott Arniel and captain Rick Nash — to the New Jersey shore to assuage him (not make a big deal out of a guy needing some time?). It is easy to say, in hindsight, that he never wanted to be in Columbus, but that is a one-sided view (Arace-sided).

As Carter’s agent, Rick Curran, told The Dispatch in September: “The big challenge there is not wondering whether he’ll find comfort there. The question is, can you be in position there to win enough games to have success.” (If he played 20 more games and therefore created chemistry with his linemates and, maybe, scored 10-15 more goals we might have won 10-15 more games = success, but it’s okay, I understand. Jeff Carter is high talent, he deserves to play on a better team, it’s his Constitutional right.)

Put another way: If Carter did not want to be in Columbus, who could blame him? (The guy who paid him $6m to be here? I don’t want to go to work every day but my company expects me to work for that $13/hr, man.)

The same sort of circular logic will apply if the Jackets win the draft lottery and the right to select the consensus No. 1 prospect, Nail Yakupov. (Already paving Yakupov’s road out of town?)

If you are a Jackets fan who has lived through Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov, you might be saying, “Oh, no, not another Russian.” And if you are Yakupov, you are aware of Zherdev and Filatov and you might be saying, “Oh, no, not Columbus.” (I appreciate you justifying his future poor behavior. Wait, no I don’t.)

It is the worst-kept secret in the NHL that Carter will be traded before the Feb. 27 deadline. (Is it in the same secret pool as Hitch taking over on October 30th?) He has made no public demand (he has said all the right things publicly, FOR SHAME!) and the Jackets have made no proclamation, but their divorce is imminent. (“These people don’t SAY they hate each other, but 50% of marriages end in divorce, so we have a 50/50 chance of being right. Let’s go for it, guys!” – The Dispatch) The only questions now are to whom, and for what?

Failed relationships can be ugly things, but they can be managed. For Shanahan, the Whalers got Keith Primeau from the Detroit Red Wings. Primeau was a soulful player and a born leader. For Foote, the Jackets got a first-round pick they flipped to Philadelphia for R.J. Umberger. Howson won that deal in a rout. (Except now we’re overpaying RJ to underachieve. Dammit, recurring theme.)

The Jackets will extract value from Carter — they will not get back what they paid, but they can get something that fits well into their pending rebuilding project, whatever that might look like. (Why don’t you tell us, oh Knower of All Things?)

Here is a suggestion: Show an eye for young talent, grow the franchise from within and build something for which the players and their city can be proud. You know, like Nashville. (…………but were doing that and it wasn’t enough so he had to buy talent. LET’S TRADE THAT TALENT!!!!!! Also you said that growing of talent was allowed to hate Columbus. Freakin’ self fulfilling prophecies.)

If the Jackets were not the last-place team in the league, would Carter be a happy, productive member of the team? (OSU is only right up the street. And we have beer!)

Maybe he gets going now as he auditions for prospective employers.

Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch. (…and how.)

Tell me your story!

We’re not dead yet! Sure, it’s been a good… few weeks since anything of substance has made it’s way onto our page here (blame school & real life & bad hockey), but the gears are turning and the ideas are starting to flow again!

With the announcement this morning that our beloved team will be the host of the 2013 NHL All Star game, I’ve got some great ideas in mind and this is where I need YOUR help! Please give me your story! Either how you became a fan, that first magical moment where you fell in love with the team, or your absolute favorite memory in team history. Short or long, I want to hear them all! Please don’t hold back! Don’t leave them in the comments here – please email them to dannie[at]strait-jackets.net. And don’t forget to let me know how you want to be attributed – real name, Twitter handle, etc. Thanks, guys!

Go Jackets!

Recap Soundtrack: Game 26

So, I’ve been wanting to do this little feature for a while and have had a hard time starting it, so I’m going to need a little bit of help with it (paging Dr. Gethin, DJ Extraordinaire). I’d like to follow up each game with a semi-appropriate song (or maybe a sixty-minute long laugh track, when they have those games). Feel free to fire your suggestions my way at any time! (dannie [at] strait-jackets.net)

Game 26: Sister Hazel – Your Winter

 

The Russell/Nikitin trade: 9 games in

Although nobody but Fedor Tyutin knows what Nikita Nikitin thinks or says, mostly due to his lack of English, it was no secret that his counterpart Kris Russell did not want out of Columbus. From the mouth of General Manager Scott Howson at the Season Ticket Holder Q&A and from the snips of articles in the Dispatch as he came back on Sunday as a visiting player, the consensus is the same: Russell wanted to stay in Columbus. When the going gets rough, the trade rumors fly, and it isn’t uncommon for a guy to say he’s had enough and to want to leave for greener pastures (or, perhaps, Blue-r). Russell was given the good fortune, despite his misgivings, of being traded from a cellar dweller to nearly the top of the conference on a streaking hot Blues team.

Since he left and rejoined his first professionalhead coach Ken Hitchcock, the defenseman has seemingly been reborn. The year Hitchcock was fired from Columbus, Russell scored his career-high seven goals. Since then, his defense has improved but his offense has stalled. Perhaps it was a misfire between him and Arniel, although they were touted to be a match made in hockey system heaven, but he never quite took off under Arniel’s guidance. Hitchock, who we all know pitches a certain brand of hockey, apparently has some kind of gift – or maybe, finally, Russell has found his game. Whether it is a newfound confidence from his new position, a clean start, being unfamiliar in his surroundings, or a stroke of good luck, Russell is on fire. Over just nine games in St. Louis, he is 3-1-4 and +6. Plus six. Russell finished with a plus in just one of four seasons in Columbus (-12, -10,+3, -9), possibly due to his status on the bottom pairing, often stuck with guys whose NHL careers have since floundered (Tollefsen, Backman, Stralman, Commodore…). Just last night alone, Russell was credited with three shots and six more attempts blocked. Nine offensive chances, even though none made it through: he is taking chances he previously failed to.

At first the trade looked great. Nikitin was a solid fit on a pair with Tyutin, very quietly adding up five assists while being unnoticeably good (he had no points in seven games while struggling to make the lineup in St. Louis). But over the last few games, the pairing has started to fall apart. On Sunday against St. Louis, Nikitin and Tyutin struggled greatly. Tyutin’s penalties hurt the team and according to St. Louis media outlets, Nikitin’sfoot deflected a Blues shot right to Kris Russell who had an open net to shoot into to tie the game at one. How’s that for karma? In Vancouver, Nikitin was a brutal minus four (bringing him to minus one overall on the season). Hopefully, perhaps, this is a temporary struggle, or it could be the “real” Nikitin coming to play.

It’s still hard to say who “won” the trade, if anybody at all. Sometimes they do just work that way: a win/win. Nikitin has stepped into a role that the Blues were not willing to give him, logging heavy minutes on a top pairing – is that because the defense in Columbus isn’t as good as that in St. Louis? Maybe. Or maybe the change of scenery really has done the both of them some good. Eventually, more than nine games will tell the story, and for Blue Jackets fans the best hope is that it is a win/win. If Nikitin can do a solid shut down job, perhaps stick around longer, and either way relieves the Jackets of the 2.6M salary hit divided over two years they would have owed Russell (hopefully with the intent of creating a roster spot for a matured David Savard, or better) then they have received a good end in the deal. Russell did not turn into what the local newspapers made his potential out to be; he moved the puck but never put up Mike Green-like offensive numbers, much to the chagrin of Jackets fans (and beat writers), but the kid never gave up on Columbus. After his first game in St. Louis, he was asked if it felt good to play in a full building, as opposed to what he came from in Columbus. With the opportunity presented to him to make a backhanded, ugly remark about the club and the city that “raised” him, he simply said: “The fans in Columbus are great. They’re just searching for a winner.”

A subtle I-told-you-so: Curtis Sanford

July 1, 2011. The Blue Jackets are in need of a backup goaltender on the dawn of Free Agency. If youfollow me on the Twittersphere, you probably saw me say, “The Blue Jackets should sign Curtis Sanford.” Much to my delight they did, although it was a two-way, with Sanford slated to be the third man, behind Mark Dekanich (with no slight to Dex – I gave this an immediate thumbs up, as well).

Sanford spent two seasons with the Hamilton Bulldogs. During his first, 2009-10, he split the time with Cedrick Desjardins (currently with the Lake Erie Monsters who went 2-0 in a brief cup of coffee with Tampa). The two would share the AHL’s Harry “Hap” Holmes Award (fewest goals allowed in the regular season) while leading the Bulldogs to a deep playoff run to the conference finals. Sanford was 23-11-3, 2.13, 0.916, with four shutouts. In 2010-11, he suffered a shoulder injury and was limited to first-half duty only (22-13-3, 1.93, 0.930), but impressively played only one less game than the year before as the Bulldogs relied heavily on him over the talent-stalled backup Robert Mayer prior to his injury.

What Sanford has proven in his AHL career (57-30-8, 1.98, 0.925, 13 shutouts) and his short time as an NHL backup(39-37-13, .903, 2.67), and especially over the last handful of games, is that when he is healthy and on his game, you can roll with him. He should not be expected, especially now at age 32, to carry an NHL team on his back, but he is more than capable of filling the role he has been slated for, whether it is AHL workhorse or NHL spot duty. He is athletic, incredibly mobile, and not easily overwhelmed, much of which has led to his success in his handful of games in a Blue Jackets sweater.

And to put it into perspective, Steve Mason’s NHL numbers are remarkably similar to Sanford’s: Mason: 80-79-24, .904, 2.84. (Also, comparatively, the oft-injured backup Dekanich’s career AHL stats are similar to Sanford’s, and over the last two years, they put up nearly identical results: 65-38-11, 2.16, 0.922, 9 shutouts.)

LIVEBLOG: 11/23 @ NJ

First Period:
- Starters: A. Vermette-S. Pahlsson-D. Dorsett; M. Methot- J. Wisniewski; C. Sanford
- Scratches: A. Johnson, D. Brassard, S. Mason
- Breaking glass, already. The game hasn’t even started.
- There are not words for my dislike of the fourth line of Bass-MacKenzie-Boll. Useless, talentless waste of roster space.
- On the other hand, I do really like the Umberger-Letestu-Johansen line, and I really do not want to see Kristian Huselius take a dump on it.
- Jackets to the PP at 5:12. Spent too much time chasing the puck around their own zone to start. FSO says the Devils have the #1 PK, so this isn’t really conducive to anything good happening. Love the effort on the loose puck in the paint. Damn that Brodeur.
- Not even midway through the first, Johansen has 3 SOG.
- Dorse gets dumped onto the bench. Kind of hilarious. Dorse disagrees.
- Jackets to the PK. Little hot potato, but Sanford comes through with the agility.
- NICE one on one hipcheck by Marc Methot to throw the Devil out of the path of the goal.
- What a boring first period. Devils lead 11-9 in shots.

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Come Together

The Columbus Blue Jackets are 3-1-1 in their last five. Yes, you read that correctly. Could this be the team we were led to believe that we’d really be seeing this season? It’s probably easy to get caught up in the furor of the moment and to be dazzled (or glamored, if you will) by a five game uptick after such an agonizingly slow death – I mean start – but there are enough positives to pull from the situation that it’s hard to believe that this isn’t for the relative long haul.

- The Beast has been awakened: Trade drama,slow start, injury, slow start, trade drama, and Welcome to Columbus, Jeff Carter. After a tumultuous start to his born again career in Columbus, the blonde bombshell wasn’t exactly winning fans over on the ice. In the last two games, the snakebite has been healed and Carter has sniped three goals. Pure snipes, wicked wristers that nobody is going to corral. So this is why we traded an underachieving kid and a high draft pick. Next time we’ll make sure to specify that October 7th is when the party starts on the invites. Provided the snake of doom doesn’t bite again, Carter’s spark – along with the chemistry starting to build up front – could and should ignite a snowball effect that will turn into the Nash/Carter/InsertWarmBodyHere combination we were really hoping could score 60-70 goals.

- Out with the old, in with the Wisniewski: Congratulations! You just have just acquired and spent a ridiculous amount of money on a semi-proven offensive defenseman. Now learn to play without him for half of preseason and eight games of regular season. The Jackets definitely missed this guy for the first eight games, and that showed when he roared back onto the ice against Detroit for the team’s first victory of the year. However, his stability faltered after just a few games (something absurd like -11 in just three games), but he seems to have regained form and netted a monster goalforthe Jackets to topple Darth Vader/Goliath/The Devil/World Hunger/the Nashville Predators.

- Not so Vermeaty: What the heck happened with the former first/second line Antoine Vermette? This guy was struggling to epic proportions to start the season, but since being moved to the third line has seemed to calm down. He’s playing more defensive minutes with Pahlsson & Dorsett, and is pressing less to make offensive opportunities.

- Nikita Nikitininininin and the Surprise Defensive Corps: Great, Howson. One Nikita wasn’t enough drama, so you went out and traded the well-loved (hold your snorts, please, media-types) Little Shake (oh, just me?) for a guy WHOSE NAME IS NIKITA-SQUARED. What a surprise this guy has been, eating minutes, putting up a few assists, and otherwise quietly getting the job done. John Moore has also stepped up to the plate and has seemingly matured before our eyes. Perhaps it was the lack of pressure for him this season to be somebody they could depend heavily on, seemingly relegated for heavy AHL duty, that allowed him to slow down mentally. Whatever it was, Moore has done relatively, surprisingly well when called into service, though Arniel has him on a tight leash and is hesitant to use him in the third period of close games.

Let’s be realistic, now. The hole has been dug deeply, and even if the recent surge continues for the next 60 games, there’s little chance that this team can elevate itself to a dominant, sure bet for the playoffs. Can we hope so? Absolutely. The same way the Jackets tripped, stumbled, and rolled out of the gate and into a puddle of quicksand, teams are going to hit these patches. The Jackets need to capitalize on those moments when their competitors stumble, and make the most of every opportunity. If nothing, to salvage their dignity and that of their fans, and to prove that Howson & co. made the right moves last summer. You can buy all of the pieces to the car, but if you don’t assemble them correctly, or some of them misfire, the car isn’t worth its weight in metal. Are the Jackets worth their weight in salary cap? On paper, and in theory, you want to hope so. Over the last five games? Absolutely. Has the ship been righted, or are they going to continue taking on water? Time will tell.