Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moving Day -- Coming Soon!

Within the next day or two, I will be moving my blog writing over to Fire The Cannon, joining some other fine hockey writers on that site, and hopefully providing the fans & readers with a more streamlined experience, with fewer individual sites to visit to get a variety of perspectives on the Jackets.  There are some great people associated with FTC, and I think you will enjoy the experience.

I am continuing my feature writing and game coverage for Inside Hockey, and will likely be periodically contributing pieces to The Hockey Writers, among others.

I think this will be a good move for all concerned, and I will continue to provide my own unique perspective on the Jackets, Hockey and the unique fan experience in Columbus! 


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sharks Nab Heatley In Three Team Deal??? Reports abound, but denials rage

According to a report on NHL Fanhouse (here), and later by ESPN, Ottawa has finally consummated a deal for troubled winger Dany Heatley, shipping him to the San Jose Sharks in a three team deal that has the Sharks sending former captain Patrick Marleau to the Los Angeles Kings, and the Kings packaging forward Alexander Frolov and Jarrett Stoll, another winger, to the Senators.  However, since word broke approximately two hours ago, denials have been issued by all three camps, with the Kings calling it "utter bull."  So, we may not be anwhere different than we were at the beginning of the day.

Assuming, however, for the sake of argument, that this is what the deal ends up like, Ottawa and San Jose each seem to be getting what they want in this deal.  Ottawa finally ends the ongoing headache that Heatley represents, and avoids an awkward camp with him present. They also get some young scoring help. Similarly, San Jose gets a talented forward, and avoids the discomfort of having Marleau, the defrocked captain, in their camp. 

Los Angeles may  be the loser in this one.  They are giving up a lot of scoring in favor of adding some age and leadership.  Not sure that is an even deal, considering that Frolov and Stoll combined for 100 points last season. Sure, Marleau ended up with 71 points, but he is notoriously streaky, and LA has removed 2 of the key offensive tools that would help Marleau's numbers. 

Interesting stuff.  Now let's see if some other deals start happening.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Join The Jackets Podcast On Fire The Cannon -- Umberger and Agnew Appearing

Eric Smith of Fire The Cannon and Hockey Buzz will be hosting a CBJ Preview Podcast tomorrow night, Wednesday 9/8 @ 7:00 PM.  I will be participating, along with other folks dedicated to covering the CBJ.  R.J. Umberger and Gary Agnew will be appearing and responding to questions from the panel.

To join the call, simly follow this link.  Hope to see you there -- should be fun!

Anton Babchuk In The Mix???? -- Jiri Novotny to KHL??

Interesting tidbit appeared in The Sporting News, and is quickly making its way around the hockey online community:

During a conversation with Carolina GM Jim Rutherford about the Canes, the conversation shifted to the future of defenseman Anton Babchuk. Babchuk is coming off a 16-goal season but the restricted free agent rejected Carolina's one-year offer. He changed agents, from Jay Grossman to Don Meehan and wants to play in the NHL next season. It won't be with Carolina, but Rutherford said he sees a solution to Babchuk's situation before training camp.

"Teams are feeling their way as to where the cap was and how much they had to give him. And now we're getting right down to the end," Rutherford told "There's more teams poking around."

Right now there are three teams showing serious interest in the Russian defenseman, although one team has the inside track. With Carolina's roster basically set for this season, look for Carolina to ask for a prospect, most likely a defenseman, in return for Babchuk.

"I would expect that something is going to happen with him prior to camp this week," Rutherford said.

No specific indication that the CBJ are one of the clubs in the mix, but I would be shocked if it were not at least on Howson's radar.  Big (6'5") kid with a strong right handed shot.  Carolina was obviously not the right situation for him, but most think he has the whole KHL thing out of his system.  Online speculation seems to put CBJ, Rangers and San Jose in the running. 

I have been a vocal advocate for giving this a shot, and hope we are one of the teams in play here.  25 years old, big shot, power play experience, and could be signed long term for under $1.5 million, in all likelihood.  We have prospects that could fit the bill for Carolina, so this is worth following.

In other news, former Jacket Jiri Novotny has apparently signed with HK Atlant of the KHL, according to a post on the HF Boards, citing a Czech web posting.  My Czech is a little weak, so I can neither confirm nor deny. 

Monday, September 7, 2009

Jacket Youngsters Edge Blues

The CBJ prospects rebounded from a 2 - 1 loss to Minnesota yesterday, posting a 5-4 victory over the St. Louis Blues in Traverse City.

Matt Calvert netted a hat trick for the young Jackets, with two of the goals unassisted. A 5th Round pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, Calvert now has 4 points in two games in the Prospects Tournament. John Moore garnered an assist, with Thomas Kubalik and Cass Mappin providing the other goals.

This was obviously a chippy affair, as 24 penalties were handed out, including 9 roughing, 6 fighting majors, an unsportsmanlike conduct call and assorted slashing infractions. The Jackets had two shorthanded goals, but converted only 1 of 10 power play opportunities. Hopefully this will not be an omen for the big club . . .

The prospects have tomorrow off, and return to action Wednesday against Dallas.

Moore Blogging From Michigan is carrying a blog authored by Jacket's first round pick, John Moore. His first installment can be found here.

Great that the CBJ and Moore are getting some national exposure. Now, John, next blog can we hear a bit more about the game? ;-)

Go Jackets!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Brassard, Finances, Bettman and Other Musings

I have been quiet over the past week, for a variety of reasons. First, the normal pressures of work and such have been intruding on my writing time, and secondly, I wanted to be a more passive observer of some of the developments and let the thoughts percolate a bit. For better or worse, here are my takes on the recent activity, both across the league and for the CBJ:

Brassard Extension -- News broke about an hour or so ago that the CBJ have signed Brassard to a four year extension, locking him up through the 2013 - 2014 season. Portzline reports that Brass will make $2.8 million in 2010-2011, $3.0 million in 2011-2012, $3.3 million in 2012-2013, and $3.7 million in the final year. Nice raise over the $765,000 he will make this year, but well earned if he plays at the pace he showed last year before the injury. Really nice move by Howson to lock him up now, as this not only takes some heat off down the line, but provides a little near term predictability. Oh, by the way, when he comes off this contract, he will still be an RFA, not a UFA!

This leads to my next topic . . .

Finances -- Over the past couple of days, the boards have been filled with wailing and moaning over the fact that the CBJ are near the bottom of the league in salary expenditure. Similarly, the trading/player movement speculators over at HF Boards are pretty consistently bashing the CBJ as a "budget" team. As usual, I have a slightly different perspective to offer.

First, obviously nobody is going to confuse CBJ ownership with George Steinbrenner in terms of unfettered spending. All the same, I have not seen a reticence to spend money to improve the team in a manner consistent with the long term plan. Note the italics for emphasis. Howson & Co. have charted a course of long term growth and improvement through careful nurturing of young talent and selective addition of veterans with specific profiles. In investment parlance, Howson is a "buy and hold" guy, a la Warren Buffett (who has not done too bad for himself, by the way).

In a salary cap environment, you need to actively manage the "gap" -- the space between your payroll and the anticipated salary cap for a given year. On teams with a high percentage of veteran players, the gap is managed through retirements and salary dumps. When you have a young team, like the CBJ, however, your opportunity for salary dumps is minimal, as there are few assets you want to dispose of. Similarly, because you are young, retirements are not that frequent. This is particularly true when you have a relatively high percentage of your talented players on entry level deals. The jumps from entry level to the first "real" contract are big -- Brassard will jump just over $2 million from the last year of his entry level deal to the first year of his new contract. In the next four years, he will have similar negotiations with Mason, Voracek, Filatov, Moore and others. A lot of coin is involved in those moves, but by budgeting for it in advance, you are able to keep more talented players together, provide predictability, and hopefully attain better long term performance consistency for the team.

If you want to see an example of how not to manage a payroll with a lot of young talent, look at Chicago. Aside from the whole qualifying offer fiasco, the Chicago payroll is a train wreck. They have offered these huge, lengthy, front weighted contracts to Campbell, Hossa and Huet, and now are in the position where they know they can't keep all of their young studs when contract time comes next year. These hugely long, front weighted contracts make the player effectively untradeable in the early years of the deal, and the cap hit paralyzes your ability to keep young talent. The net result is that you rot away from beneath. It is absurd that Chicago, who has just turned its fortunes around, is in a position where they feel they must win this year, as the team will not look the same next year.

Howson has thus far avoided the temptation to use these manipulated contracts (which will be addressed in the next CBA), in favor of long term stability. Now that the unknown of Brassard is solved, he now has a better idea of what he has to play with. Vermette will be a priority, likely before Thanksgiving, but now Howson will likely start fiddling. I still expect a deal or two before the end of September. However, even if a deal does not emerge, the positives of having a lot of cap room right now (particularly if the cap goes down next year) far outweigh the negatives.

What Commissioner?? I am not sure how anybody can look at the events of the past couple of weeks and not conclude that the league needs new leadership. Let's review. First, the NHLPA fires its leader in the middle of the night, for no apparent reason. This is giving rise to fears that a hard liner will follow, and that another work stoppage is threatened. Sure, the Commish has no say over the NHLPA, but if he set a tone of cooperation and a goal of improving the game, we would not have this Loony Tunes atmosphere. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail, but a bad economy and a potentially shrinking salary cap have many free agents still looking for homes, which will only increase the lure of the KHL (assuming they can stay afloat), and make stances harden unless early and conciliatory talks are initiated.

Second, Versus has now disappeared from DirecTV. I frankly don't care whether it is Comcast or DirecTV who is at fault, and undoubtedly there is blame on both sides. However, can you see this happening at all, ever with the NBA, NFL or MLB??? Of course not. The commissioner would have been on the horn, and the dispute would have been resolved. Bettman has been asleep at the switch on this one.

Finally, the Phoenix fiasco. With all of the other issues, the Commissioner has elected to make his stand on preserving hockey in Phoenix. Hello??? Are you nuts?? Even Jerry Reinsdorf had to pull out when Glendale refused to play ball. This is just another example of stubbornness clouding judgment. So you don't like Balsillie?? Big deal -- as if all of the other owners are saints. . . Instead of leading the lemmings to the cliff, sit down, negotiate the best deal and let the game grow where it can flourish! By taking this hard line stance, Bettman is taking a risk that Judge Baum will make some rulings that the NHL does not like, which could be problematic down the line when other owners get itchy. There is a saying in the legal world that "bad facts make bad law", and nothing could be more relevant here. Don't take that risk, Gary. What would be so bad about the two bidders getting together, putting together a nice bid, and get everyone to agree on Winnipeg instead of Hamilton? Maybe the offer goes down from the $212 million, but lots of people walk away happy.

Bottom line is this - you can't have a sport run by somebody who places ego over reason, and has a misplaced sense of priorities. Wake up, owners!!

Camp -- Kudos to Hitchcock and the whole gang for coming up with the "Fantasy Draft" approach for the first days of camp. Brilliant! There is more buzz about camp opening than ever before, and we will do our best to provide some nuggets as camp goes forward.

Coming Attractions --

Saturday -- Part III of the series on the Arena lease situation
Sunday -- Training Camp Preview

Got my season tickets yeasterday, my new jersey ordered andthe flag is getting ready to be hoisted. Hockey time is near!!