Jackets lose again

The draft lottery has never been lucky for this team, and that streak is not broken — CBJ will pick in the #4 spot in June.

This has arguably been one of this franchise’s biggest shortfalls — that they’ve been bad pretty consistently, but not bad enough to get some extra balls in the lottery and come up with a top pick. Aside from picking Nash in 2002 (and trading up from #3 to do it), they’ve consistently had picks in the #4-8 range, thus not being able to pick players like Ovechkin, Doughty, Toews, etc. One can argue that the players they did pick weren’t necessarily the best choices, or that the team’s development system has consistently failed to turn raw but talented prospects into quality NHLers. And I wouldn’t disagree with that. But looking at some of the teams that did get those #1 or #2 picks over the past few years, and the players they got, and the way those franchises turned around…yeah, it burns.

Although if Cam Fowler falls into the CBJ’s laps, I may be willing to forgive and forget…

Jackets 2, Caps 3

The Jackets actually played pretty well tonight against the top team in the league. If they’d been able to finish some of the good chances they had, this one could well have been a ‘W’ for the home team. Granted, Washington seemed to be mostly going through the motions, but who can blame them? They’re cruising into the playoffs and Columbus will be on the golf course in a week.

Lots of Caps fans in the building tonight, but they weren’t really irritating like some opposing fan bases we’ve seen.

So, one more week and this nightmare of a season will be over. I realize I haven’t posted on the blog in about a month, but my level of interest in the 2009-10 Blue Jackets has been just about nil. I’ve been preoccupied with work stuff, both good and bad, since the start of the new year. And it’s been hard to carve out the mental space to think about this team and analyze their performances. And in a way, the Olympics were the last straw for me — two weeks of exciting, well-played, meaningful hockey in which both of my favorite teams (USA and Slovakia) contended for medals. To switch from that back to, oh, six more weeks of a CBJ season where the playoff hopes were essentially put paid to in November — ugh. I still watch the games, sort of. And go to them when I have tickets (although I did miss three in a row in March for a variety of reasons, the most humorous of which was my car getting completely coated in mud after the Crew home opener last weekend).

I know I’ve made it through lots of bad CBJ seasons before (and a whole string of frustrating Ottawa Senators seasons before that) without getting this turned off. But with the team having made the playoffs last year and looking to be on the upswing, to not even be in a playoff battle is just too much.

But hey, Miami’s in the Frozen Four next week, so there may be some hockey glory for Ohio yet this spring.

And I renewed my CBJ twenty-game pack for next season already. Because hope springs eternal. And that’s why I’m not calling time on the blog, although I strongly considered it at times the past few months. See y’all next season (and probably at some key points before that, like the draft and July 1)!

A not exactly inspiring trade deadline day

As widely expected, the Jackets were sellers at the deadline, letting go a bunch of pending UFAs and getting not a whole lot to get excited about in return.

  • Raffi Torres went to Buffalo for Nathan Paetsch and a second round pick. I liked Raffi a lot, because (when healthy) he was a gamer who seemed to come up big when it counts. A valuable asset to have on a playoff team, but we all know this team isn’t going to the playoffs this year. Paetsch is a depth defenseman.
  • Freddy Modin went to Los Angeles for a seventh round pick. As with Torres, Modin had some value when healthy, but he was almost never healthy these past few seasons. And again, with playoffs not happening, there was no need to hang onto him.
  • Milan Jurcina went back to Washington for a sixth rounder. Jurcina seemed okay, if not great, when he did get playing time in Columbus. Wouldn’t have minded hanging onto him, but as a pending UFA, I suppose a sixth round pick is better than “nothing.”
  • The long Alex Picard experiment is finally over. I always liked Picard’s heart, but he never managed to establish himself as an NHLer. He’s off to Phoenix for Chad Kolarik (brother of one-time CBJ prospect Tyler Kolarik). Another Doug first rounder is gone. Klesla, Nash, and Brassard are the only ones remaining.
  • Mathieu Roy was shipped to Florida for Matt Rust, currently playing for That Team Up North. Roy was pretty good as far as depth/injury fill-in on the blueline this year, but was likely gone as a UFA anyway.

And there you have it. If that doesn’t indicate that no one has any faith remaining that this team can make the playoffs, I don’t know what does.

Jackets 4, Sabres 0

This may have been the most gratifying CBJ game I’ve attended this season. As could be expected, the arena was overrun with drunken, chanting hordes of Sabres fans (As an aside, whenever the Sabres make one of their rare appearances at Nationwide, I rethink a little more my desire to have the Jackets move to the Eastern Conference). And the Jackets just took them out of it and quieted them down.

It was not really a dominating performance by Columbus in terms of the run of play. The lopsided score was mostly down to a poor goaltending performance by Patrick Lalime, starting with the weird goal scored off a half-ice dump-in by Milan Jurcina, which bounced off the boards, hit Lalime on the back of the skate and went in the net. It can happy to any goaltender (as a former goalie, yeah, it’s happened to me), but it did pretty much set the tone for the night.

At the other end, Steve Mason was looking much more like last season’s Calder winner. The “You’ve been Mase’d” graphic made an appearance on the scoreboard, and a couple more saves could have merited it. Mason did get some good luck as well, the crossbar saving one goal, and his defense bailing him out when he got caught out behind the net.

Just one of those nights when everything goes right for the Jackets and wrong for their opponents. All the sweeter when it happens in a sold-out Nationwide Arena that’s 40% full of fans of the opposing team. The “Go Home Buffalo” chant rising out of the crowd in the final minutes was the icing on the cake.

For those who keep track of such things (why?), last night was the first time all season I’ve paid to park in the garage. Made it all the way to February parking on the street. And I didn’t even really try to find a place on the street. It was also the first time this season I bought food at the arena, as Chipotle looked packed at 5:15. So the most gratifying game of the season was also the most expensive for me (although on a pure dollar per minute basis, the St. Louis game I went to a couple weeks ago, bought a $9 beer and left halfway through the first period due to being in a state of utter meltdown about some work stuff…well, better not to think too much about THAT). Glad that worked out.

On an off-topic note: seriously, run out to your local record store or your internet downloading machine, or however you kids get music these days, and get RJD2’s new album. Listening to it right now as I write this.

Claude Noel now 2-0 as Jackets coach. The Jackets remain in fourteenth place.

Saturday catching-up post

First game of the Claude Noel interim era on Thursday. I went — first win I’ve seen in person in its entirety since….um….several decades ago? (Actually, November 7 against Carolina. So just in the last decade) It was a pretty boring affair, as I recall (I went out carousing after the game, so most of my memories of it are seen through a thick haze of beer, karaoke, and cupcakes), not many good scoring chances by either team, neither team really dominating. The most exciting moment was probably Umberger’s empty net (!) goal scored from his stomach in the dying minutes to make it 2-0. Dallas rather quickly answered back to make a thrilling game of it for the last minute, but Mason held on. So, not exactly a 180-degree turnaround for the Jackets in the post-Hitchcock era, but a promising enough start, I suppose.

Buffalo tonight. I’m going, so I had some hopes that Snowmageddon might keep some of the drunken WNY hordes at bay. But this is Buffalo we’re talking about, so no. I think I need a drink already…

In other news, former Jacket O-K Tollefsen is now a Red Wing, so we’ll be seeing more of him (assuming he’s not hurt when the Jackets and Wings meet).

There’s also some sad news in the hockey world today. You’ll recall a few months ago I posted a link to John Buccigross’ excellent piece about the relationship between Leafs GM Brian Burke and his son Brendan, a student manager with the Miami hockey team who had come out publicly as gay in the macho world of hockey. Sadly, Brendan Burke and a friend were killed in a car accident in Indiana yesterday. Condolences to the families and the Miami hockey program.

More on Hitchcock

Now that I’m NO LONGER AT WORK I can react a bit more fully to the news of Hitchcock’s firing.

Honestly, I’m not surprised. With the Jackets still not turning the corner, and especially with some of the rather half-assed games of late (including last night’s — 10 minutes of really good play and 50 minutes of crap), the other shoe was bound to drop. With the organization starting a PR press around the arena issue, they couldn’t afford an apathetic and/or pissed off fanbase. And with the playoffs pretty much out of reach at this point, some sort of big change is about the only thing that’s going to get people interested.

I’ve said before on here that I was late to jump on the Fire Hitch bandwagon. I still don’t think what’s happened this season is entirely his fault. Had Steve Mason not been mired in such a sophomore slump…had Commodore been in game shape at the start of the season…had Klesla not been hurt…had Howson landed a better upgrade at D than Stralman — any of these being different could have changed the course of the season and had the Jackets at least in playoff contention right now. In which case I doubt we’d be talking about a coaching change. But it is what it is, and someone has to take the fall, and usually that’s the coach.

Hitchcock certainly did do a lot to move this team forward in the time he was here, and we ought not lose sight of that with how badly it’s gone this season. Rick Nash is a much better player than he was under Gerard Gallant. Hitch got the team into the playoffs for the first time. I respect what he did in his time here and wish him well in the future. But it was time to move on.

Even with a new coach, this team still has a whole host of personnel weak spots. So it’s probably too much to hope for a complete turnaround. It’s still going to be an uphill battle. Most teams do get at least a temporary boost from a coaching change, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see them win their next few games. But then what comes after that?

I’m not in a big hurry to see them make a permanent appointment. I don’t think Noel is a guy for the long term, but let’s face it — this season is down the drain already. Just as well to let him handle the rest of the year and take the time to see who might be available come the summer and make damn sure they hire the right coach for the group of players who will still be here next year. I am intrigued by the Kevin Dineen idea, but I certainly don’t believe he is the only choice. I’m happy to see them wait and make a reasoned choice.

Hitch out, Noel in

News just coming across the series of tubes now.

This is not overly surprising at this point. Felt like something was bound to happen. What comes next, though?

More later.