Thursday, February 11, 2010

Around the Boards 2/12/10

"Sir, you are hampering my ability to experience joy with that crappy call!"

The Jackets Required staff is going to be sending a daily question to each of the contributors and posting their responses. For now, we will call it 'Around the Boards' and be very thankful we spared you the original name that was going to be associated with this entry.

We encourage you to weigh in with your opinions in the comments sections. Be heard, hockey fans!

Today's Question:
What is the biggest change to the CBJ that you’ve noticed since Hitch was fired and Noel was hired?

Stick on the Ice:
As I've said in previous posts, the Jackets bet really heavily on youth - and in particular on Brassard, Voracek and Mason. All of them underperformed under the tutelage of Hitchcock this year. They won't say anything bad about him, and they shouldn't. They knew that Hitch had their best interests in mind. Unfortunately, Hitch just didn't know how to relate to them and motivate them through some pretty big ups and downs. It's a lot like my wife asking me what she should wear when we're already late getting somewhere. It's an urgent situation and the more I speak, the worse things get. I try to avoid these situations, because I don't want to get fired and replaced by my assistant spouse. Moving on...Noel clearly knows how to motivate and manage young players. When those three players are clicking, it makes us a different team. We have an effective guy in the middle of the ice on the second line, we've got a winger who's a constant scoring threat, and a netminder who can dominate a game. We're also lucky enough to get a side dish of young Russell going from good to great right before our eyes. Granted, we've got a lot of other guys contributing, but the success of those young players is the most impactful for me. And I'm very pleased with the development. Again, to be clear -- I don't put all the responsibility of the last three wins on those players. Nash, Vermette, Hejda, etc. are playing well right now. But those young guns played a big role in each game. Regardless, we're seeing the true potential of this team and it's pretty close to my expectations from the end of last season...except Commodore isn't playing.

Seems to me they are simply playing loose. In watching practice right before Hitch was removed, Noel was spending time after practice with Weighty and Garon helping both of them improve their game. It was clear the three of them had quite a rapport and I think that's spreading throughout the locker room.

Top Shelf:
The biggest change is the "Joy" factor! I found Umberger's quote to be interesting : "He's a lot stricter than Hitch ever was," forward R.J. Umberger said. "There's more rules." Even with that, there has been an obvious change in the atmosphere in the room and on the ice. I don know what kind of rules RJ was speaking of, X's & O's or otherwise, but the fact that there are more rules and they still are playing more relaxed is a huge change and a surprise. I don't harbor and ideas of this team making a playoff run, but I couldn't bear to watch the team trudge along like they were under Hitch. You could feel the pressure the players were feeling through the TV set! Close to .500 hockey the rest of the way and seeing the boys improve while having fun is what to watch for the rest of the season.

Pepper Brooks:
There’s no doubt that the CBJ are more relaxed and, in turn, starting to play the way they were expected to coming into the season. Brass and Jake are starting to emerge from a season that, until recently, was a total misstep and Russell has made huge strides to look like a dynamic defenseman. Most importantly, Mase has been the dominant presence in net that this team has needed all along. Noel’s messages of ‘Free your mind’ (I wonder if he got that from En Vogue) and ‘Joy of the game’ have gotten a lot of the credit for the wins, a notion that Noel, to his credit, is quick to downplay.

I believe that the players have been able to string together some very good hockey for the mere reason that there’s very little pressure left this season. No one expects them to run off the 18-5 (or better) record it would take to leapfrog six teams to claim the 8th spot, so the pressure is essentially gone. The firing of Hitch signaled to the players that management knew this season was a bust, too and so now the focus goes from scrapping for a playoff spot to proving to management that you’re a part of the solution going forward.

I hope I’m wrong and that time will prove to me that Hitch was such an overbearing detail-aholic who couldn’t relate to guys born after 1985 and his shelf life had expired due to natural causes. It would be easier to stomach than having doubts about whether some of the cornerstones of the franchise are as mentally tough as they need to be. We will know at this time next season when the CBJ are either in the thick of a playoff race or once again in teardown and buildup mode.


  1. It's after midnight, so the 2/12/10 date is correct! Guess blogspot only runs on Pacific time!

  2. Did you say Specific time? I coulda sworn you said Specific time.

  3. Pepper - you had the honor of the 150th post. Well played. I think Around the Boards works -- we will have to keep the original name for just the right opportunity.

  4. I was eating a soft serve ice cream cone the other day, but it was melting quickly so I threw it in the dump.