It's been more than a month since I wrote anything about the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unfortunately, during that time there really hasn't been anything to write about, if you know what I mean. The NHL trade deadline was last week and we moved a grand total of...four players? THIS is what CBJ management meant by "re-organizing" the team?
Last week Nationwide hosted an Open House for season ticket holders. My wife and I have a 20-game pack, so we were invited. I wasn't sure I wanted to go because of all the stupid things that have been happening lately, but my wife reminded me that this might be the last time we see some of these players (like Jeff Carter, who was strongly rumored to be on his way out). I looked at my CBJ pennant that I had bought at the beginning of the season and it only had four autographs on it. I figured this would be a good chance to get some more names, so I agreed to go.
Well, I'm glad we did. We met several players (but not Rick Nash; his line was crazy long) and we both remembered just how fun hockey can be. No matter how badly the team may be doing, if they are doing the best they can, then we fans are satisfied. And everyone there (with a few exceptions, haha) seemed to want to be there. Besides the several autograph tables set up there were slap shots on the ice with visually enthusiastic Derick Brassard and Derek Dorsett and also pee-wee "street hockey" in the lobby with Ryan Johansen and John Moore. There was some talk about the impending trade deadline but mostly it was a carnival atmosphere.
The last time Jeff Carter had to
wear a CBJ sweater? Signing my
daughter's flag 2-23-12
I will be brutally honest with you: the CBJ are in last place because they have not been playing good hockey. Is it General Manager Scott Howson's fault? Well, he isn't the one skating on the ice every game. Nor is the interim coach, Todd Richards, who replaced Scott Arniel back in January. So for sure a lot of the blame has to be placed on the shoulders of the players themselves. However, that being said, the job of motivating the players and helping them improve their game is squarely on the shoulders of the coach and management. And the job of keeping up the level of fan support? Also the coach and management. How many times are we the fans going to be given a player like Jeff Carter, who looked so great on paper but never ever performed until he was trying to increase his trade value? Or conversely, why are we losing players like Grant Clitsome, who seemed to be playing his heart out on most nights and whom the fans have come to love? Now we have another new face we have to get to know and love and/or hate? I think the thing that management is doing most badly (and there are several things!) is not appreciating how emotionally invested we fans are in the team. It MATTERS when we lose players like Clitsome. It MATTERS when passionate, dedicated, FUN players like Matt Calvert and David Savard are shipped back down to the minors. They are consistent point-getters; Calvert has a hat-trick from last season and yet still no permanent spot on the bench? It's crazy stupid.
Ryan Russell, still my favorite player. ;-)
Okay, so we lost Clitsome, Antoine Vermette, Samuel Pahlsson, and Jeff Carter last week. Of those, the only one who was really playing with any passion was Clitsome. And I'm not saying this just because I had the honor to meet him in Nashville and talk to him last week at the Open House event; Pahlsson and Carter were there last week, too. And I have met Vermette at these Meet-and-Greet things before and he is a very nice guy. Carter was traded to Columbus from Philadelphia last summer and was supposed to be the Magic Pill to help our offense. However, he and Captain Rick Nash never gelled on the ice; in fact he never seemed to want to be here. So good luck to him in Los Angeles. The others? Same story, different details: I'm sorry it didn't work out, good luck to you, etc.
RJ Umberger, who I predict will be
the new captan next year
Except for Clitsome! I know that management has to get rid of players who they can trade (free agents, players with contracts expiring, etc) but really, shouldn't they be trying to get rid of players WHO DON'T PLAY WELL?!? Meanwhile we have half-hearted players like Steve Mason still here. We have RJ Umberger always going up the side and choking instead of taking shots. We have Rick Nash and Derick Brassard passing the puck over and over again trying to set up "the perfect shot" and then never taking one.
Columbus Blue Jackets need players who are willing and able to play. AND we need players that the fans can support. Jack Johnson was traded to Columbus from LA for Jeff Carter, and one of the first things he ever said was, "I want to be here." In his first game, he played well! On the other hand, we can't have a team of all-new people or it won't "be" the Columbus Blue Jackets. A quick look to compare the current roster with last year's will show you that only 10 players out of 26 are carry-overs from last year. I watched the game last night against Phoenix and didn't know half the players' full names because I'm not used to them yet!
Curtis Sanford, one of the bright
spots of this season
And still we don't have established rookies like Matt Calvert or David Savard in the line-up. (sigh) Goalie extraordinaire Curtis Sanford still hasn't been given a long-term contract!?
We fans want to support the team. We really do. But when the coaches and management make asinine decisions like getting rid of good players along with the also-rans, it creates a culture where the Captain doesn't want to be here, and neither do the fans!
So my suggestion? Get rid of players like Steve Mason, Fyedor Tutin, and, if he really doesn't want to be here, Rick Nash. It will be hard to lose Nasher, but if it is what he wants then we should honor his request. Keep the newer "faces" of the CBJ: Jared Boll, Vinny Prospal, James Wisniewski, Derek Dorsett, Curtis Sanford, Derick Brassard, and Jack Johnson. Continue to develop (ie don't keep sending them down to AHL) players like Matt Calvert, John Moore, Ryan Johansen, Colton Gillies, David Savard, and Ryan Russell. Let this team practice practice practice until they can anticipate what the other guy is going to do and then set them off and let the sparks fly.
And then maybe next year we won't just be The Spoilers when it comes to January. Here's hoping.