It’s almost time for it to be almost time!

Tomorrow is the first day of the first month of our favorite time of year. The ice is currently freezing on the floor of Nationwide Arena, and if you’re into keeping tabs of your favorite players on Twitter, it appears the vast majority of them are already starting to come “home.”  Just about a week and a half from now, the first installment of the new pre-season “Fan Fest” will be underway (RIP, Hockey Fest, we had good times together). That morning the kids bus off to Traverse City for the Prospect Tournament, where they will hopefully not embarrass us this time (no pressure). A week later, the big boys report for physicals, the next day they take the ice, the following day is the ever-popular Owner’s Tournament where we install false hope in players who look really good up against junior players. Soon there will be real games (that don’t really count), daily practices, an inevitable injury (I’ll take a refill on my Pepto-Bismol, please), frequent Puck-Rakers posts about which washed up veteran they should trade a talented player for. Then there will be Fox Sports Ohio broadcasts, John Michael’s corny jokes and Jeff Rimer’s incoherent ramblings, the Bill Davidge Drinking Game, and very, very soon it’ll be like we never counted the days, minutes, seconds between putting last season into its shallow grave and breaking the bottle on the bow of this year.

So with that, put on your big boy (or girl) pants, buckle up, and get ready to make fun of a whole brand new year of what hopes to be a lot less dysfunction and a whole lot more fun. And if not, keep the Pepto on standby.

Ten Perfectly Serious Blue Jackets Predictions for 2011-12

Come to Ricky.

1. Rick Nash will stare longingly into the FSO Cameras an astounding and terrifying 1,372 times.

2. Scott Howson will accidentally pull the wrong Russell aside to tell him he’s been demoted to Springfield. And then demote the other just to save face.

3. Jared Boll will go 1-20. In fights, not points.

Oh... Oh... Ohio State!

4. Jeff Carter will consume 465 gallons of Bud Light (ugh…), and the Ohio State freshman class’ female persuasion will be the happiest it’s ever been.

5. Mike Commodore will be just as slow and crappy as ever and continue to think he’s attractive to young women in their 20s, and that buyout will look better every day.

6. Rick Nash and Jeff Carter will combine for 81 goals and 77 highlights for Skraut’s next video.

Ah, f#@K, not again...

7. The Ghost of Christian Backman Past will again possess the body of one CBJ defenseman, despite numerous attempts at exorcism.

8. On one of their two (2!) Versus appearances, Eddie Olczyk will refer to James Wisniewski as Espen Knutsen, and Mark Dekanich as Ron Tugnutt.

9. The team will score a record-high amount of “goal scorer’s goals.”

10. The Blue Jackets will unveil a new way to enshrine themselves in a brand new embarrassing phallic reference.

 

Oops.

Any other predictions for this year? Fire away!

Deal or No Deal: James Wisniewski

The largest source of criticism over the signing of James Wisniewski is the amount of money the team has committed to him in his spanking-new contract, and the ensuing argument has been whether or not he was deserving of that type of money. So, why not find out for ourselves? The table below lists the top ten scoring defensemen in the 2010-11 season (Wisniewski ranked fifth):

G A P +/- PPG GW HITS BkS GvA S% 2011-12 CAP HIT
Lubomir Visnovsky 18 50 68 18 5 4 52 116 45 11.8 5.6 M
Nicklas Lidstrom 16 46 62 -2 7 1 49 92 33 9.1 6.2 M
Keith Yandle 11 48 59 12 3 0 30 103 61 5.5 5.25 M *
Dustin Byfuglien 20 33 53 -2 8 6 140 72 59 5.8 5.2 M
James Wisniewski 10 41 51 -14 7 2 108 119 67 6.3 5.5 M +
Tobias Enstrom 10 41 51 -10 6 0 30 137 29 8.8 3.75 M
Christian Ehrhoff 14 36 50 19 6 3 54 108 47 6.7 4.0 M #
Dan Boyle 9 41 50 2 4 2 55 139 51 4.5 6.7 M
Kris Letang 8 42 50 15 4 2 167 109 52 3.4 3.5 M
Shea Weber 16 32 48 7 6 3 211 113 51 6.3 UNSIGNED ^
AVERAGE 13 41 54 5 6 2 90 111 50 7 5.08

* first year of a new contract, increased from 1.2 M in 2010-11
+ first year of a new contract, increased from 3.25 M in 2010-11
# first year of a new contract, increased from 3.1 M in 2010-11; heavily back-loaded contract, actual salary is $10M + $8M bonus, cap hit is seriously misleading
^ unsigned; previous cap hit was 4.5 in 2010-11

The green highlighted boxes on Wisniewski’s stat line are where he is above the average of the ten. He is above average in assists, power play goals, hits, blocked shots, and giveaways. Sixty seven giveaways is certainly nothing to write home about and has him quite a bit ahead of the average, but he also ranks above his high-scoring comrades in other defensive stats (the good ones – blocked shots & hits). Wisniewski’s -14 is also misleading: he was an uncomfortable -18 on the Islanders before being traded to a stable, playoff-bound Montreal team where he was a +4.

Provided that Wisniewski continues his gradual yearly progress (he only had 30 points the year before – still nothing to shake a stick at, though), he appears (at least on paper) to have a good balance of offense and defense. That balance is something the Jackets have long been lacking: what offense they’ve seemed to extract has sometimes seemingly come at the cost of a solid defense (guys like Stralman & Russell, for example).

At a cap hit of 5.5 million, that shakes down to $107,843.13 per point. Compare that to Fedor Tyutin, whom the Jackets are paying approximately $105,324.07. Hardly more than they are paying Tyutin on a per-point basis, with a lot more production. And if you compare Wisniewski to a guy like Shea Weber, whose contract has yet to be market-inflated, they’re paying him only a million more than Weber made last year, and less than he will likely make next year. Compare that also to Christian Ehrhoff who has made out like a bandit from the Sabres’ wallet; his one-point-less has garnered him a Swiss bank account to envy.

In the scheme of things, Wisniewski seems like an overpay, but among his top-10 scoring defensemen, he is absolutely middle of the road. Unless he suffers a steady decline, the Jackets should get exactly what they paid up for.

The verdict: DEAL.

Deal or No Deal: Marc Methot

As announced earlier today, Marc Methot has re-upped with the Jackets for four years, and according to the Dispatch, the deal breaks down as follows: “$2.25 million this season, $2.75 million in 2012-13, $3.25 million in 2013-14 and $3.75 million in 2014-15″ (source). Methot, aged 26 and a veteran of 229 NHL games, averaged just under twenty minutes of ice a night, including a regular helping of shorthanded time (second to only the departed Rostislav Klesla). In just his third full season, he has elevated himself to the second pairing and can be depended upon to bring a heavy physical presence to the lineup. But did the Jackets make a good deal signing him to a deal with an average cap hit of $3M? Here is how Methot compares to a handful of his defensive cohorts across the league:


Hits BkS GvA TkA Pts Cap Hit
Marc Methot 176 98 27 21 15 $3M
Braydon Coburn 177 133 51 32 16 $3.2M
Cory Sarich 175 109 51 15 17 $3.6M
Greg Zanon 169 212 28 21 7 $1.9M
Jan Hejda 152 158 30 21 20 $3.25M
Mike Weber 158 99 34 14 17 $950K

Highlighted are both Methot and his most comparable from the above list, Mike Weber of the Buffalo Sabres, who comes in with a surprisingly low $950K cap hit. Methot’s hits – all 176 of them – put him in good company with Braydon Coburn and Cory Sarich, though he is much less likely to cough up a turnover (hey, we like that out of our defensemen, right?), but also much less likely to block a shot. His 98 was only good for third among Jackets defenders, behind departed Hejda (listed for comparison) and Kris Russell (fewer hits, fewer giveaways, $1.3M hit). Methot’s giveways/takeaways are similar to Greg Zanon’s, but Zanon held a considerable edge in blocked shots. These comparisons aren’t worth the imaginary electronic paper they are typed on, but if we pretend that they are, Methot’s deal value can really go either way. It could be argued that Coburn and Sarich’s deals are overpays – thus causing an overpay of Methot – when compared to Zanon & Weber, but we’re going to go on a whim and call this a deal for one reason: the graduated structure of Methot’s contract. His salary for this coming season is only $2.25M, climbing yearly up to $3.75M. If he continues to progress the way he has over the last three seasons, by the conclusion of his contract he should be a mainstay on the top pairing along James Wisniewski and almost a steal at that value, and by the time his salary touches three million, the bottom portion of the defense should be filled out by names like John Moore and David Savard, who will likely still be entry level or on sub-million contracts.

The only question left to be asked is, with the commitment to Methot, what and who can they afford to round out the second defense pairing with?

2011 Free Agency, commentary included free

The Newbs:
  1. James Wisniewski: Pretty much an essential, maybe not deserving of the 5.5 per, but worth it. As in, he just gets the PP, and if the Jackets didn’t pony it up, he was going to get it elsewhere and their problems would still be unsolved. Plus he seems pretty stoked about coming to Columbus which is, like, Chicken Soup for the Blue Jackets Fan’s Soul (ya hear, JCarter?). And he is proof that not all things from the State of Michigan have to be nasty. Okay?!
  2. Curtis Sanford: This is one of those times when Scott Howson reads my Twitter feed and listened to me, except that he signed him as a #3. (That’s okay – I can dig it.) Sandman is a little old (relatively speaking, so stop making that face and taking it personally), and has been a pro since 1999 (Steve Mason was, like, 11). He’s played backup in Vancouver to Roberto Luongo, and split duties for a few years in St. Louis. The last two, however, he was a mainstay in the Hamilton Bulldogs crease until an injury ended his year. He won 23 and 22 games the last two years with Hamilton, respectively and led the team to consecutive regular-season division Championships and onto Conference Finals, while mentoring a young Cedrick Desjardins and Robert Mayer.
  3. Mark Dekanich: 25, signed on to be Stevie Mason’s backup goalie. 1 game of NHL experience – OH MY GAWD THE WORLD IS ENDING –  but he has over 100 pretty solid ones in the AHL and from personal experience having seen one of his games in the ECHL – he has quick reflexes. Comes from the Nashville Predators Center For Kids Who Can’t Read Good And Wanna Learn To Play Goal Good Too and was a back up back up to Pekka Rinne. Obviously this guy’s not going to carry the load, but he should be in prime form to step up to the challenge. Oh, and he’s on Twitter. @dexshow
  4. Some minor league guys: Mostly the rest is depth, nothing even worth making fun of except Aaron Johnson, who had his Best Year Ever in the AHL last year, but had some mediocre years in the NHL. But he’s BFFs with Rick Nash, so he’ll probably be starting on D every night. Just kidding. I hope.
The Departed:
  1. Jan Hejda: $3.25M x 4 years, Colorado Avalanche. Really? asdksjfdsjgdfg… HAHA, WHAT? Rumored he was wanting the big bucks to stay in Columbus, but those big bucks needed to be used for an upgrade. His $2M payday last year seemed fair. If he wanted long-term in Columbus, sticking at $2M would have been cool. But a raise AND lengthy deal? For a guy who is getting progressively worse? Maybe the altitude will be good for him…?
  2. Scottie Upshall: $3.5M x 4 years, Florida Panthers. Hated to see him go, but… he was a little redundant in the Top 6 and too expensive for the Bottom 6. Would have loved to keep him for his old salary of $2.25M, but… yeah. Have fun on the beach.
  3. Mathieu Garon: $1.3M x 2 years, Tampa Bay Lightning. :(
  4. Mike Commodore: $1M x 1 years, Detroit Red Wings. We’re paying him more than they are! Hello, indigestion. Positive this will be a bite-in-the-ass someday when he’s motivated to try playing aggressively and smartly… oh, wait, HAHA. Carry on.

Three for Thursday

1. The Predators are (maybe) in trouble, or are perhaps pulling an imitation of the Blackhawks, and have screwed up their QOs. (Qualifying offers, for those of you who don’t do acronyms.) Apparently, the Predators have some difficulty discerning the difference between how a fax machine and FedEx work. Suppose we’ll let them slide, it is only 1981 in Tennessee, afterall. Please, nobody tell them about email for a while.

2. Wisniewski. Yeah, he totally played for one of those Canadian teams a certain person around here (ahem) seems particularly fond of. Spelling his name is today’s daunting task. Spelling test will be administered shortly after the conclusion of his contract signing, so read up on Porty and Reed retweeting each other today. Seriously though, he seems familiar with this “power play” thing that has become exinct in Columbus, so ultimately Scott Howson should do whatever it takes to make good with this guy, even if it means a year’s supply of Buckeyes co-eds. Wait, wrong acquisition. Whatever, sign him, bro.

3. Ciao, Commodore: He’s been placed on waivers (again), this time the buy-out kind (cue scary Halloween ominous music). So long, Commie. It’s been real, and it’s been fun, but it hasn’t been real fun. We should’ve known this would end badly when we saw those dollar bills haphazardly strewn across his jungle of wiry burnt orange hairs.

Thoughts on Jeff Carter

By now, everybody is well aware that Jeff Carter is now a Columbus Blue Jacket and Jakub Voracek is not. (That was weird to type.) According to the Dispatch and the all-things-negative department, Carter has yet to speak, either publicly or to Scott Howson. For reasons unknown, this has caused Jackets fans to go insane with fret. Does it mean he won’t be a Jacket and won’t show up? Absolutely not. It is June 27th. The Stanley Cup was just awarded two weeks ago. The draft just happened. It’s not even Free Agent season yet. In simpler terms: it is the offseason, and Jeff Carter owes nothing to Columbus yet. He was traded after making a personal commitment to a team – wouldn’t you need time to simmer if you told your boss you were in for the long haul, only to be cut loose shortly after? Why are we pressuring him to talk while upset, when he may something he doesn’t mean and will some day regret? This is a never ending self-fulfilling prophecy of negativity.

Let’s not burn bridges in June. Let’s not Black List him three months before he has to don the union blue.

Don’t take this personally, guys. If he’s still absentee come September, then worry. Put the manic-depressive Kool-Aid down.

Carrying the Flag: Jackets news & notes

  1. From Columbus Business First - Blue Jackets announcers staying put: Jeff Bell of BizJournals reports that the Blue Jackets will be bringing back Bill Davidge and Jeff Rimer in 2011-12. Hold your groans, though. “Sharrock said the Jackets will meet with Fox over the summer to see what can be done to enhance the telecasts.” We all know that starts with not putting a crappy product on the ice to broadcast, but it’s good to see them dedicated to improving the overall presentation. In addition, the article mentions their loss of 22.7% ratings, down to a 1.09 rating (10,000 homes).
  2. The boys over at The Cannon are doing some great work with their 2011 “Exit Interviews” series, going over what was expected of each guy, and where they compared to that. Be sure to check it out and throw in your $0.02.
  3. Unless you’re under a very large soundproof rock, you’ve heard, by now, that NBC/Versus have retained the rights to the NHL for the next 10 years at the cost of a cool $2B over the life of the agreement. ESPN was the longest-running competitor to Versus before finally dropping out. It seems as though fan opinion is split on whether or not this is a good deal for the NHL. In theory, ESPN = exposure, where with Versus (or the network-to-be-named-later, if you will) they essentially get to be the top dog. Aerys Lightning writer Alexis (not Guy) Boucher weighs in her two cents on the deal, and really I have to agree 100%. Give her a read.

Blue Jackets By the Numbers: Part II [Defensemen]

For part two, we’re analyzing 2010-11 output [only] for all of the defensemen who played a measurable amount of time in a Blue Jackets jersey. It is no secret the defensemen were terrible, but let us illustrate, anyway.

Among the things that stand out:

Plus Minus: Only three guys maintained a plus-rating in their tenure. One being Rusty Klesla, whose numbers are diminished by the fact that he was traded at the deadline and was not around for the final damning slide. Two others who maintained a plus are Grant Clitsome and Marc Methot, who easily were the team’s best defensemen. Plus/minus, of course, is an oft-argued, hard to defend (pun intended) stat, but it can often be so telling. Fedor Tyutin being even at home, but -12 on the road? Kris Russell being +1 on the road but -10 at home? Hejda clearly much worse at home than on the road? These guys could use a dose of consistency.

Blocked Shots: Apparently this is something that Jan Hejda and Kris Russell have learned to do, but not many guys are following suit. Surprising for Methot to have only blocked 98, given his strength and size, same for Tyutin. These guys have to get over whatever fear they have of laying down in front of a puck. As defensemen, you know, it’s their job. The more shots they block, the less Mason/Garon/Goaltender-to-be-named-Later have to turn aside. Novel idea, yes? Let’s work on this, boys.

Anton Stralman, you heartbreaker: For the guy acquired to be the offensive touch and PP QB and who argued his case damn near into arbitration and to an overpriced deal, who has been given chances upon chances when he probably didn’t deserve them, Anton Stralman had 1 goal (on the powerplay, hooray!), and 17 assists (I’ll take those). A minus rating both on the road and at home. The team scored only 45 goals while he was on the ice. He only had 39 hits, 46 blocked shots, 15 takeaways - are we sure this guy is suited to be a defenseman?

Grant Clitsome just makes everybody better: Grant Clitsome played 31 games and had 19 points. Two power play goals (more than anybody else), a shooting percentage of 8, was out for FORTY goals-for (remember, in less than half as many games played), only 27 goals against (Tyutin, Hejda 90 and 89, respectively), and while he did spend time on the PK unit, only 4 PPG against. Grant Clitsome, welcome to the NHL. If the Jackets don’t re-sign him…

Next Year: Only Tyutin and Russell are under contract for next season, along with a handful of AHL rookies who will be fighting to make the jump in camp. The Jackets should undoubtedly reward the matured play of Methot and Clitsome with contracts. The verdict is out on Hejda, who supposedly is looking for a multi-year deal. It’s hard to jive with that when his effectiveness has declined with each year. Stralman just needs to go. His good play was so shortlived it’s hard to believe it even happened.