Tuesday, December 15, 2009

State of the Union - 12/15/09

Perhaps a Holiday trade will shake the Jackets into a better New Year?

Folks, I don't even know where to start. I don't even have the energy to get into a preview for a non-televised road game in Minnesota. And I should, right? Until last night, I would have and been very happy to do so.  I'm taking time out of my day to further my investment into this franchise, and you're all doing the same. It's all about energy. With every horrific defensive zone turnover, every botched outlet pass into a teammates skates, every missed check and every missed rebound, your energy as a fan gets worn down.

I'm sure that I'm a lot like all of you. I've invested a lot of time and a lot of money into this team. I'm not giving up on them. I'm not going to stop watching games. I'm not going to stop attending games. I will still wear my Jackets gear with pride. After today, I'll get through my rant and write Four Lines Deep as often as I possibly can. As fans - many of us being the "hardcore" variety - we have seen plenty of ugly, losing hockey. The distinct difference being that this team has true talent on the roster. Seriously. And that is why this is so maddening to the fans -- and likely to the players and management as well. We know what players like Mason, Nash, Voracek, Brassard and Hejda are capable of. And they are all playing without any kind of consistent energy and passion. Hitch termed last night's losing effort against Nashville as a "microcosm of the entire season." Agreed. And if one scoring chance for Nashville was a microcosm of that game, I'd have to say it was when Nashville was given THREE unchallenged shots off a rebound. To his credit Mason stopped them all, but had to do so without any defensive support whatsoever. In the darkest and most barren times of this franchise, I have never seen such a lack of effort.

As I see it, there are several possibilities for this lack of passion and energy.

1) We don't have the requisite talent -- This seems unlikely, as the team has gone through prolonged stretches of winning hockey games against very good teams and they played well enough to make the playoffs last year with essentially the same roster.

2) The coach has lost the room -- This, unfortunately, is starting to look more likely. Perhaps his philosophy isn't meshing well with such young players. Until very recently, I found this excuse to be over simplistic and cliche. However, the team no longer has Malhotra and Peca. We don't miss them too much on the stat sheet, but they could have added more intangible value.They may have been good intermediaries between Hitch and the younger players last year. The departure of Filatov - a bright young prospect -  felt ominous as well.

3) There aren't any effective (player) leaders in the room -- This also looks more likely right now. Certainly, players such as Umberger, Commodore and Nash have the capacity to fill this role - and I think it's fine if they do so at different points in the season - but the on-ice product doesn't prove it's happening right now. Umberger is definitely playing the most inspired hockey of any of them though, and I wouldn't be surprised if he takes this team by the reins tonight.

In conclusion, I think it comes down to an issue of leadership. And that doesn't leave Howson out of scrutiny by any means. He has to take responsibility for providing Hitchcock with the right personnel -- and guess what -- we still don't have a No. 1 defenseman. And we still don't have a No. 1 center. What we do have is a lot of young talent with no confidence and a dearth of leadership from which to learn. Brassard, who I believe will be a tremendous NHL player some day, has regressed this year in a big way. And the closest thing we have to a consistent defenseman right now is 5' 11' and weighs 175 pounds (Russell). It has become glaringly clear that those shortcomings are impacting the team in a big way.

The leaders of every successful organization -- regardless of the industry -- have to know how to motivate the employees. Perhaps even more important, they have to know how to motivate the middle management, i.e. NHL team captains, because they ultimately win the trust and admiration of the employees through daily interaction. So how do the Jackets do that? You make a trade. The chemistry in that locker room has to change, and you have to wake up the "middle management" of the team. Jobs are on the line right now. In my opinion, the player that makes the most sense is Huselius. I like him a lot, and would hate to see him go, but he is definitely trade worthy. He hasn't delivered on the top line with the consistency expected of him, he will never play defense to the degree necessary on a Hitchcock-coached team, and he has the great hands and finishing ability that make him valuable to quite a few teams in need of more goal scoring. He is an asset we can live without, and it's clear that the management wants to focus more so upon the wealth of young talent currently in the dressing room. You won't lose any leadership with this departure either, and that is exactly what this team needs right now. It's likely that the departure of a high-skill player who has spent much of his time on the first line will make the call for accountability and leadership much more relevant to the dressing room.

You don't measure the efficacy of a leader during the easy and good times -- you measure them when the chips are down. For those of you keeping score at home, the chips are down.

Sorry for the long rant. We welcome your thoughts and will return to regularly scheduled programming tomorrow. We'll carry the flag tonight and hope that this team gets back on track - somehow - in the very near future.


  1. I was just thinking the other day that all the recent talk of how a trade may be what this team needs was a bit premature. Howson is nothing if not patient and calculating, and I figured that in keeping with his M.O. there would be no trades of any signifigance anytime soon. I may be changing my mind. As you wrote, but for Klesla's injury Methot would be hiding under a table in the pressbox for the forseeable future. But with the best call-up for a D spot being Mathieu Roy, there just isn't any in-house help available to fix the problem. We can't wait for Klesla to return as we will be way too far out of the race by that point. Its just so damn frustrating because this same group formed one of the more solid defensive groups in the league last season, so you know the ability is there. Alas, I think a trade may be needed, and you are right about Huselius being the most likely candidate from our perspective. That doesn't mean that the trading partner needs or wants him though. Would fans tolerate losing someone else to get an established top 4 defenseman?

  2. The Jackets are poor on talent. Stahlman (strollman) and Paulson (Apauling) are clearly poor acquisitions and play without heart. This team needs a shake up. Hues needs to go for some D help, I agree. Clitsome needs a promo and Methot needs to take a seat with Strahlman...

    And I need to not renew my season tickets.

    Love, Section 113

  3. Jackstick-

    You make some good points. Last December right after Brassard was injured, the Jackets folded. They played uninspired and there were a bunch of injuries. Mgt had to call up a bunch of kids from Syracuse and they worked like crazy. I think bringing up a guy like Clitsome, who can really move the puck, would do so good things in the locker room. Pahlsson got worked over in the faceoff circle last night and he needs to pick up his game pretty quickly. I got a Six Pack of tickets that starts in a few weeks -- I'm really hoping I'll see a better product.