November 07, 2011
Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend's events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
I find the struggles of the Columbus Blue Jackets to be terribly interesting.
Over the summer, they went out and made significant efforts to improve the team. They spent a good amount of money and assets to bring in guys that are pretty much proven contributors at the NHL level. The James Wisniewski(notes) contract was, by any measure, a ridiculous overpayment, but general manager Scott Howson thought they needed a guy to run the power play and addressed that need.
He also thought they needed someone to take at least some of the scoring pressure off Rick Nash(notes), so he traded Jakub Voracek(notes), the No. 8 overall pick (Sean Couturier(notes)) and a third-rounder to Philadelphia for Jeff Carter(notes) as part of that puzzling midsummer fire-sale that also saw Mike Richards(notes) shipped to Los Angeles.
And those were in addition to minor moves that could also have been very helpful, such as signing Radek Martinek(notes) to block a bunch of shots and adding Vinny Prospal(notes) for a bit of secondary punch. Both were had on the cheap.
All were good moves in theory. In actual practice, not so much.
The Blue Jackets have been, in no uncertain terms, a passionless and disinterested calamity that looks fit to give the absolute bottom of the barrel teams of the last few years a run for their money. And they do so without those other teams' very forgivable shortcomings of having about a dozen players under the age of 23 on the roster.
Though you wouldn't know it to watch them, the Blue Jackets are a fairly veteran team, full of guys at just about every position who have loads of NHL experience. They also have a considerable payroll that's currently ranked sixth in the league at a little over $64.2 million. And all that money has bought them two wins in 14 games.
So what's the problem? Well to start, let's allow the blame fall in the most obvious place: the goaltending.
(Coming Up: Sidney Crosby(notes) back Friday?; Saint Teemu takes a few penalties; Tyler Seguin(notes) is ridiculous; Dave Bolland(notes) is annoying; in praise of Mike Smith(notes) and Kari Lehtonen(notes); Colorado and Dallas play an early-season classic; John Tortorella gets snippy with the media; Ovechkin turning it around; the Kings stumble; Zac Rinaldo(notes) dodges the Shanahammer; the Leafs get blown (out); and can the KHL get any nuttier?)
The goaltending has been horrendous. Of the two goalies to make multiple appearances, the best save percentage belongs to Allen York(notes). And it's .878. You can blame that on a lot of things -- porous defense, inability of the offense to hold the puck and so forth -- but in the end an NHL goalie has to be able to stop at least 90 percent of the shots he sees. And even then, that would be pretty bad. And it's not like the Blue Jackets are the Senators, who have been outscoring what should be viewed as very legitimate goaltending problems.
(Of course, that's also Howson's fault for not entering the season with a sturdier goaltending strategy than "See if Steve Mason(notes) figured it out." He apparently didn't. Let's not forget, he's still the starter by virtue of about three absolutely absurd months he played behind an okay team four years ago. Since then, his save percentage has snuck above .901 exactly zero times. This year, he has given up a goal on the first four shots he faced in a start 10 times.)
There's also the fact that the team as it was designed hasn't played a single game together. Jeff Carter has missed the last nine games, Wisniewski was suspended for the first eight, Kristian Huselius(notes) is out for the next few months. Teams have to plan for injuries, sure, but those are some major ones to overcome and would be for anyone.
But perhaps the biggest problem has been coaching. Scott Arniel said after his team's devastating 9-2 loss to Philly that it had hit "a lot of bottoms" this season and a seven-goal smackdown, not surprisingly one of the largest losing margins in team history, was "another big one."
What, then, will qualify as the absolute rock bottomest of rock bottoms? They positively bled odd-man rushes, giving Philly as many as they liked and for the most part leaving both Mason and York to suffer the consequences. That's a systems problem, not an individual players problem.
Further, their special teams have been beyond woeful and it gets to a point where, with a roster like that, it falls on the coaches. They have six power play goals in 14 games (and just two have come since Wisniewski rejoined the lineup) even though they draw more penalties than almost every other. The PK is 28th in the league despite taking an average amount of calls. Some of that is luck, obviously — and they've had almost none of it given their team-wide 7.2 shooting percentage, but the performances have in recent weeks gotten worse, not better.
It's tough to say that losses this bad come down to simple motivation because you can't imagine that the Blue Jackets don't care they've lost their last two games by a combined score of 13-3. But at the same time, there's something plaguing this team that no one seems especially able or at least willing to put their finger on.
How does this team differ in any appreciable way from the Devils of last season? They had a handful of players that were pretty well regarded as being very good at hockey and faltered out of the gate to a 4-10-1 record, which most people pinned on new players with big contracts not living up to them. They canned their coach around Christmas, and didn't start winning until more than a week into the new year, but when they did, they still almost made the playoffs.
I'm not saying the Blue Jackets would magically right the ship if Arniell was fired, and I certainly don't want to see anyone out of a job, but there are precious few options a team that spent its money relatively wisely in the offseason but is right near the cap has for affecting a major change in outlook.
And it certainly isn't trading for a good goalie.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Teemu Selanne(notes) got thrown out of Saturday's game because he said "too much" to officials when arguing that the Red Wings were getting away with too many penalties. Memo to NHL referees: Teemu is a saint and should be able to say or do anything he wants to you, who are lowly beings lucky to be in his presence.
Buffalo Sabres: One of the Sabres said that the team simply plays harder in front of Jhonas Enroth(notes) than they do Ryan Miller(notes). So there's only one solution: trade Ryan Miller for a proven winger!
Calgary Flames: On Friday night Henrik Karlsson(notes) played out of his mind in a road loss to Buffalo, making 42 saves in a 2-1 loss. This just one night after Miikka Kiprusoff(notes) stopped 28 of 29 against a slip-sliding Detroit side. Obviously the latter goaltender is playing better. He won, right?
Carolina Hurricanes: After Friday's 5-1 loss to Washington, Paul Maurice said would like the Hurricanes to play with a bit more energy. Well on Sunday, they still gave up five, but scored twice. Baby steps.
Chicago Blackhawks: Dave Bolland is really good at his job as a shutdown player against the Sedins and as an agitator, even in print. "I don't know whether they're horrified by my looks or distracted by my beautiful face but we seem to have had some success against them," he said.
Colorado Avalanche: Friday's game between Dallas and Colorado might go down as one of the best of the season (unless you like coherent defensive strategies). Colorado led 2-0 through one, but gave up four in a row to trail by two, then got both of them back before the end of the second. They Colorado the lead again at 1:57 of the third, then surrendered it at 6:01, then regained it at 8:32. Dallas forced overtime with a goal at 15:50 and won it there. It was insane.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Despite all logic dictating otherwise, there are no imminent moves coming for the Jackets just yet.
Edmonton Oilers: The Coyotes opened up a two-goal lead in the second period and the Oil didn't even bother showing up before the third, which will doom you every time. That's a six-game winning streak snapped.
Los Angeles Kings: The Kings have now lost four straight but they're tryin' to keep it positive. Giving up the tying goal with less than three minutes to go in regulation then losing in a shootout seems tough to swallow though. So does only getting production from one line.
Minnesota Wild: Don't everyone look at once but the Wild have won four in a row and are one point back of Edmonton for the division lead. Edmonton and Minnesota being the top two in the Northwest at any point was a thing not one person alive predicted.
Montreal Canadiens: Going down 3-0 in the first 20 minutes on the road is hardly ever advisable, but the Habs at least made it interesting for the rest of the game. And by interesting I mean both teams racked up 40 penalty minutes. The Habs also went just 19 of 50 at the dot.
New Jersey Devils: Just one day after scoring his first NHL goal and adding an assist, Adam Henrique(notes) went out and netted two more, including the game-winner, in a 3-2 overtime win against Winnipeg. So can Henrique help save the Devils while everyone is hurt? Probably not.
New York Islanders: Isles fans got all over poor Rick DiPietro(notes) the second he allowed a goal to Alex Ovechkin(notes) on Saturday but he got the last laugh in earning his first win since March. Meanwhile, a water pipe burst at Nassau Coliseum and two sections had to be cleared out right before the opening faceoff.
Ottawa Senators: The Senators need to get their power play in order in a hurry. No goals against the Bruins on three chances Tuesday. No goals against the Canadiens on four chances Friday. No goals against the Leafs on two chances Saturday. Lost all of 'em. Not a coincidence.
Phoenix Coyotes: Why is no one talking about how well Mike Smith is playing? Sure, it's just a matter of time before his game explodes with the force of 10 million atom bombs but he's off to a very, very good start. He's got a 2.36 GAA and .926 save percentage and just two regulation losses.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Speaking of baseball, people are saying the Tampa Bay Rays should take a page out of the Bolts' book and start marketing star third baseman Evan Longoria like the Lightning did with Vinny Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos(notes). Imagine how desperate a baseball team has to be to boost attendance that they'd consider cribbing from a hockey team's promotional efforts in Florida. Jeepers.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Hey Leafs, you just got blown out by a divisional rival at home on national TV. Scary, right? Oh right you're in first place and just needed a wake-up call. I keep forgetting because it still doesn't seem possible.
Vancouver Canucks: Great day at the office for Vancouver power play in general and the Sedins in particular. Two goals and seven points between them as the Canucks PP scored FIVE times against Chicago. How's that feel, Bolland?
Winnipeg Jets: Hahaha there was an actual New York Times story explaining why the Jets' franchise records are those of the Thrashers and not the old Jets. Hope a bunch of crybaby Winnipeggers send angry emails to the NYT for having the audacity to suggest such a thing.
Gold Star Award
Big ups to Tyler Seguin getting his first hat trick in the NHL.
Minus of the Weekend
The KHL continues to be the lowest-rent professional hockey league on the planet.
Play of the Weekend
Seriously these goals by TyTy are too much to handle. Second one especially.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "bam83" wants to undo a terrible mistake.
I'm sure if I saw that house now it'd make me sick.