Thursday, October 14, 2010

CBJ Round Table - Part IV

Welcome back, my firends, to the show that never ends. We're so glad you could attend. Come inside, come inside.

For those who are stumbling upon this blog for the first time, welcome to Jackets Required! For our loyal readers returning, please remember to take your dirty shoes off. Part 4 of the CBJ bloggers Round Table is here! Today's questions address the view of the mainstream media towards our Jackets, and Arniel's decision to take #61 off the Penalty Kill. Enjoy!

QUESTION #7: The larger “hockey media” has largely written off Columbus for dead due to the low roster turnover and coaching changes. Give a few reasons why they might be wrong…and a few reasons why they might be right?
Tom Felrath, Dark Blue Jacket: Boilerplate answers all around: Negatively, poor performance with no major personnel shakeup equals history repeating itself. Hence, the 14th-15th rankings in the West. On the bright side, the core of the roster is relatively young and maturing. Every year of experience is...another year of experience to build upon. Plus, the new coaching staff and playing philosophy should be helpful in shaking the team out of the doldrums. And these guys know that they have a lot to prove after falling down last season.
Dan Parker, Waiting for Next Year: They might be wrong because there is finally a system in place that encourages the younger, generally more skilled guys to open it up and let their talent take over. Couple in the general development of those young players and adding in the potential of a guy like Filatov, and this team should score some more goals. Steve Mason probably can't play any worse than he did a year ago (one would hope), so even if one takes the defense exactly as bad as it was last season the offense should be improved enough to mitigate some of it right there.However, they might be right because frankly, the Jackets blue line was atrocious last year, and it's all the same guys coming back and being asked to play in a system that encourages more pushing up and less staying at home on defense. They could get burned A LOT. If an injury here or there on offense slows down the output and the defense is as bad as it potentially could be, another 14th place finish is certainly a strong possibility.
Mike MacLean, The Cannon: Why they might be wrong? Laziness. You look at the team's standing last season (14th in the West) and you look at their roster changes (Moreau, Wilson...low-key to say the least) and without doing their homework it's easy to write the Jackets off again. If Mason, Brassard and FIlatov don't take the next step, or if anybody else on the roster regresses, they may be correct.
Lee Auer, The Jackets Blog: Scott Arniel's system could work perfectly, the Jackets end up with Rick Nash, Jake Voracek, Antoine Vermette, and Nikita Filatov scoring 30+ goals, Derick Brassard becomes the player we caught a glimpse of in 2008, RJ Umberger contributes 60+ points on the 3rd line, Kritian Huselius keeps up his usual 70-ish points a season, and there are no major injuries, this team can score with anyone. Not to mention the addition of grit with "teeth" (aka Ethan Moreau) and an angry Mike Commodore, this team could be a big thorn in the side that catches many teams off-guard again.
On the contrary, if you take one second to look at our roster, there isn't much reason to expect the Jackets to be contending for Lord Stanley's cup in early June. The biggest reason for this being the blueline. Jan Hejda and Fedor Tyutin *might* serve as a second pairing on the upper echelon of teams, and most of our defensemen might not even play every game. Not to mention, but there is a very real possibility that Scott Arniel's system could prove impotent once opponents figure out how to beat it.
Red Dog, Red Dog Rambling: -breakout year from Voracek-Filatov with a memorable first full season in the league-Mason will prove his mettle-Commodore will surprise with his effectiveness in Arniel's system-Arniel's system-Moreau is not washed up, is hungry, and will be a mentor to many of the youngsters-Brassard will grow more and more solid and become a notable playmaker-there is suddenly more depth in the AHL than this CBJ fan can remember seeing (Savard, Moore, Guenin, Kubalik, Calvert all seem ready - or near ready - to fill in when needed, and none of them were available a year ago.
TopShelf, Jackets Required: Reason they might be wrong: There are 2 main reasons for optimism in CBJland. The first is that Steve Mason will be better, the question is how much better. He single handedly took the team to the playoffs two years ago. If he can return to 80% of what he was his rookie year, that will go a long way to the Jackets being in the hunt. The second reason is that the Jackets offensive production will be much improved. Voracek, Nash and Filatov, in that order, will lead the team in goals. More goals scored + fewer goals allowed = playoffs.Reasons they might be right: In 9 previous seasons, we've only overcome their no-playoffs predictions once, and it was a surprise to everyone. If Mason is an average NHL goalie and the new system does not translate into more goals (or leads to more penalties than new goals), the jackets will be in line for another awesome draft prospect to build the future around.

Jeff Little, Ten Minute Misconduct: Focusing on roster turnover is too simplistic. Due to the burden of the Foote and Fedorov contracts, Howson has really had two years to turn the whole ship around. We had guys underperform last year, in a system ill-designed for their talents and with a coach who was not equipped to deal with younger players. You can't blow up the roster every year, looking for the quick fix, when things go south. People need to get used to the fact that this is the pros, not college. This is a long term enterprise -- and we have a big stockpile of young talent. That being said, some players should be looking over their shoulder --- Methot, Boll, Dorsett, Clark. If Mason does not rebound, Howson may make a move. The greater hockey media is fascinated with the status quo, and respond to major personnel moves, of which there were . . . zero. The only two deals worth talking about ended up with the player staying put.
Matt Wagner, The Cannon: On the plus side, this is a team finally playing the type of hockey that they’re best suited for. Guys like Nash, Filatov, Voracek, and Brassard didn’t become top NHL draft picks by playing the trap or heavy defensive systems. They were in high offense, run and gun, aggressive teams. Taking the dogs off the leash should have exciting results. We’ve also seen players like Steve Mason and Mike Commodore start to rebound from bad seasons last year, and they seemed to improve even more in this pre-season. If they can continue to return to form, suddenly this team seems much more like a playoff club than a lottery team. On the down side, it’s still a young club, and changing offensive and defensive philosophies is tough. If they cannot adapt to the demands of playing for Scott Arniel quickly, it can be easy to dig themselves into a deep hole that they cannot recover from – look at Toronto last year, with a 0-8-1 start that pretty much torpedoed their season.
QUESTION #8: Will reducing the time Rick Nash is on the PK give him a better shot to lead the team offensively?
DBJ: Gosh, I hope so. He won’t have the excuse that he’s tired.
Dan Parker: I think it's a non-starter, actually. I think that if the top six can be consistent and can pick up some slack--as they did down the stretch--Rick can relax, play his game, and do what he does without having to try to be the everything on offense as it looked like he tried to do at times last season. And, as an aside, I'd just love the chance to see the Nash from the Olympics last year who used his size and skated like a banshee to become a super-force on offense. It always pains me to see what he's capable of with a lot of talent around him and when he's, how you say, more motivated.
Mike MacLean: I think so. If he can focus on putting up points, the team will be better off. There are a handful of great PKers on the team, so that will allow Nash to focus on offense.Lee: Another question that I have been trying to figure out for myself. At no point did I feel that he wasn't contributing offensively as much because of his time on the kill. I think Rick would agree with this statement, but he would not be the player he is today without Hitchcock's time in Columbus and making him play on the kill from the get-go.
I hope this move doesn't bite Arniel in the butt, but instead makes him look like a genius and Nash puts up 50 goals. I think a lot of Rick Nash's "lack of" scoring has more to do with the lack of consistent effort on his part.
TopShelf: I understand the line of thought here... keep Nash off the PK to keep him fresh for offensive needs. The problem is he is arguably our best penalty killer. If someone steps up and can be strong on the PK in Nash's place, then this is an okay idea. My gut feeling is that we will have more players stepping up in the goal scoring dept than in the penalty killing dept, and we will want to keep Rick on the PK. I would like to be proven wrong on this.

Andy Newman, The Cannon: Rick Nash should absolutely be a better player now if he's playing less minutes overall, with more time on the power play and in scoring situations. Ken Hitchcock helped make Nash one of the best two-way players in the league. But it's evident in international competitions and All-Star games, Nash is one of the premiere scoring talents in the world right now. He could hit 50 goals in the right situation. It's important to not overlook his value to the penalty kill, but with R.J. Umberger, Antoine Vermette, Sammy Pahlsson, Chris Clark, and even Jake Voracek, the team should definitely be able to spread the minutes around.
Red Dog: I like him on the kill, but rest is good, eh?
Jeff Little: Over the long haul of the season, it should enable him to stay fresher, but I don't think it is a big factor in his productivity. With Hitchcock's system, our offense was basically playing 3-on-5, and the defense could key on Nash. With the possession game and the defense involved, a la Chicago and Detroit, more time and space will be created for all of the forwards, including Nash. What Nash, and the other forwards, need to do is put the puck on net more consistently -- not "Chimera" the puck over the bar or wide.
Matt Wagner: Nash played an average of five minutes a game more than his linemates. He was the guy most often double or triple shifted, and it took a toll on him. Some of that is conditioning, which he seems to have improved, but certainly asking him to play more time at even strength or with the man advantage should be good for his offensive skills and to help him develop a little more on-ice swagger.