Coming into this 2010-2011 NHL season, The Columbus Blue Jackets organization was a team of many questions on pretty much all fronts. The very first question… WHO would be our head coach? After a failed attempt to land Guy Boucher, who was easily the hottest free agent head coach, The Blue Jackets settled on Scott Arniel.
Arniel was said to bring what the Blue Jackets needed this year, a more up tempo offense, that allowed the defense to get in on the action as well. Also, making sure the team had the puck on their sticks more often than the opponents. Well so far this season, we have seen flashes of this team working hard to accomplish that goal, coming up short, and then other times, not putting in enough effort to retain puck control.
Lazy shifts, bad turnovers, and missed opportunities continue to haunt this team, it reflects on the scoreboard, and in the standings. We haven’t had the perfect set of players to use Arniel’s style to it’s full ability, next season will be the real test for him as a coach, with a full arsenal of weapons, new and old.
On the Offensive side, The Blue Jackets are 22nd in the NHL in goals for with 195, on the path to the same amount they had last year at 214. The powerplay ranks 28th at 14.3%, that is not where this team should be, last year, we were 14th in the NHL at season’s end with 18.2%. The PK ranks in at 20th with 81.4%, a small downgrade from last year where we sat 17th at 81.7%. The positive in all of this is shots on goal. We ranked 17th in shots on goal with 2221, whereas last year we sat 26th with 2338.
Breaking down some of the forwards, and again as it sits, Rick Nash is still the man when it comes to Blue Jackets hockey. For the 8th straight season, Nash leads this team in goals. He also leads in game winning goals (with 7), also points and assists (as of March 23rd,2011). For the captain it’s been another year of mostly what was expected, except for one long scoring drought during an important run of games in march that, along with other factors, cost this team a shot at the playoffs.
The young guns in Jakub Voracek and Derek Brassard were a topic of interest coming into the season. Jakub Voracek has had a very good season, but maybe a lot less in goal production than many would have expected from him. Derek Brassard is also having a very good season, but if you want to talk snake bitten, he had a small stretch where open nets were his worst enemy, he always seemed to ring it off the post, or just wide. Despite some struggles, it is still looking great for these 2 heading into next season.
Another couple Jackets forwards worth mentions this year are RJ Umberger and newly acquire Scottie Upshall. When the rest of the team gave up, RJ came in to provide energy, and some timely goals. Now he did have a moment in March where he disappeared, but it wasn’t for long, still the heart of the CBJ. Upshall, who was acquired at the deadline, has shown his offensive abilities already, and it is looking good, but if he decides to stick with the Blue Jackets remains to be seen.
And there was one big surprise among the forwards, and it was a 5’11″ rookie by the name of Matt Calvert. This kid came in and made a instant impact, 16 points in 33 games, 11 of them goals, if this is any indication, this kid will be huge for the team next year, a definite boost of energy that was needed.
As for the one of two forwards who has had the worst season, one is Kristian Huselius, injuries have plagued him, as well as some bad play. Sure he does have 21 points in 35 games, but when you watch him on the ice, it is almost cringe worthy. It is safe to say next year will be his last in a cbj uniform.
As for the other forward having a bad year, it is highly touted prospect Nikita Filatov. Last year Hitchcock was the problem, this year? His play started to flat line at the NHL level, after zero goals in 23 games he was assigned to the AHL and has since scored a few, but been injured a majority of the time. The more this drags on, the more this looks like a wasted draft pick. He needs to show up ready to go next year.
On the defensive end, Fedor Tyutin leads in points. His play on ice, it depends from night to night, but it seems he’s had more bad games than good. He has a habit of getting beat by the offensive attacker, and forgetting to clear the crease. Kris Russell barely trails Tyutin in points, he is 2nd for the team in blocked shots, he has had some bad moments, but his speed and offensive mindset make him a valuable asset to this team.
Two other Dmen of mention are Jan Hejda and the newly acquired Sami Lepisto. Hejda leads the team in blocked shots, and he is offensively steady, with the right partner he could be dangerous. Lepisto might not be back next year but he reminds me a little of Russell, but a older version. He has some nice speed, good passing ability, but needs to really find his place before the year’s end to have a shot at coming back.
The surprise of the Defense has to be Grant Clitsome. This guy came in, and in 9 games, offensively embarrassed the Dmen who have been here all season. He is one of the few who make a smart shot selection, and are sure to get the shot on net. His D ability is good, despite a few errors, a definite keeper for the Blue Jackets, would be nice to see him work a FULL season.
The worst defensive player, pretty much by default is Mike Commodore. His career with the Blue Jackets is done. After failing to fit in to Arniel’s system, demanding a trade, clearing re-entry waivers twice, and sitting in the minors, he will be a prime candidate to be bought out this summer. And honestly, if he wasn’t in shape for Hitchcock’s system, who in their right mind thought he would be for Arniel?
One other note, this year we said goodbye to the original Blue Jacket, Rostislav Klesla. He was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto. While it was incredibly hard to see him go, it almost seemed like the right move with Rusty’s injury frequency. I want to wish Rusty all the best of health and all the best of luck on the ice with his new team the Phoenix Coyotes.
In the nets, it has been rough for the Blue Jackets net minders. We all wanted to see the Calder winning Steve Mason, and most games, we have got it, but some games, he has not been so good. The defense is pretty brutal, and he can’t be blamed for it all, but there are some simple goals he has let in, that he can, and has, saved before. Give him another year with a improved D and lets see what happens.
Mathieu Garon was rock solid to start the season, but his play has fallen off a bit, I don’t expect Garon to be back with this team next year UNLESS a suitable replacement can be found (and I don’t see Wesslau nor Lenevue taking that spot)
Scott Howson has to be sweating just a tiny bit, we have regressed under his watch, and his “wait and see” isn’t exactly going according to what he had hoped. This offseason he should be busy he has almost all of his Defensive players contracts expiring, as well as Jake Voracek’s. He needs to look for some defensive help in the free agent market, and he might have to spend some cash or trade some assets to make a valuable move for the team.
Next year could be a do or die for Howson. And it might not even be make the playoffs as the main goal, if we come CLOSE, it could be called a successful season. If we improve on the powerplay and Penalty kill, that would be nice. If we could play our game successfully and avoid mental breakdowns and win on a consistent basis, that would be improvement.
But what will it take? Who will step up? Who do we sign or re-sign? Who do we trade? Do we have any rookies that will crack the lineup? For the players, and the fans these questions are still there, but the answers are still to be determined for this franchise.