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Game Times: 7:00PM (2/11 & 2/13)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
It’s Anti-Italian Discrimination: The Cannon

Picking up from last week’s episode of The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 2021 Cavalcade of Numbskullery, Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Tortorella and his charges return to West Madison for the second time in three weekends, and are somehow even more hilarious than when these two teams last met up.

Hockey

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Game Times: 7:00PM (1/29), 6:00PM (1/31)
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago (Both), NHL Network, TVA-S, SportsNet (1/29), WGN-AM 720
Ohio Tpke: The Cannon

For about 48 hours last week, Columbus became the center of the hockey universe with The Saga of Pierre-Luc Dubois coming to a head and promptly ending with him being dealt per his request. And once again tonight they’ll be the focal point of the league as their tilt on West Madison with the Hawks is the only game on the NHL docket on a Friday night. Great scheduling from the league once again.

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RECORDS: Hawks 16-17-6   Jackets 17-14-7

PUCK DROP: 4pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

SNAPPING TURKS?: Jackets Cannon

For once, it won’t be the Hawks making the locals sad and despondent. The Hawks will head into a city-wide black veil in Columbus as the place mourns the death of another Ohio State season, because Columbus is creepy and weird and strangely southern and no one needs it. Some will try and ease their pain by watching the only pro team in town take on whatever it is the Hawks are these days.

It was supposed to be a disaster of a season for the Jackets. The departures of Mssrs. Panarin, Duchene, Dzingel, and Bobrovsky were supposed to leave them bereft of any identity, strip them of any goaltending, flatten out their offense, and leave them facing yet another rebuild for an organization that’s seen just a little too many of those. It hasn’t worked out that way quite yet. That’s because for all his self-celebratory bluster and nonsense this is probably where John Tortorella is at his best–getting the best and more out of an unheralded bunch. Recall his Rangers teams only really had star power in net, and yet they were frequent visitors to the later rounds of the playoffs.

It did come to fruition that the Jackets don’t score much, 26th in goals per game. But like a true Torts team, they defend well and are getting goaltending, mostly through blocking a fuck ton of shots. The Jackets are middling at best when it comes to attempts against per game, but in the top five when it comes to shots against. Hence their overall expected goals share is pretty good, especially for a team where you couldn’t pick their first line out of a crowd if they were all nude and painted blue.

The Jackets have also survived a raft of injuries, with Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, and Josh Anderson missing out today and Zack Werenski and a few others missing time earlier in the season. You know it’s bad when Nathan Gerbe is suiting up for your side.

The goaltending hasn’t crashed down around their ears like expected. The Jackets are getting top-ten SV% at evens, and Joonas Korpisalo is carrying a .913 overall. He’s been decent shorthanded as well, so that isn’t why the Jackets are currently out of the playoff spots, as their six points out of a wildcard and eight from an automatic spot.

It’s the lack of firing talent that’s keeping them back. Especially without Atkinson, who murders the Hawks with his speed and has done for far too long now, there just isn’t any top line scoring here. They may claim it’s supposed to be Pierre-Luc Dubois and his superfluous first name, but without Panarin he just hasn’t looked it. If Jones and Werenski aren’t filling the net on the power play as they did two years ago, they’re short of goals.

That doesn’t mean the Jackets won’t be a continued headache for the Hawks. They’re still filled with speed that works hard because they have to, and are coming off a win in DC which are something of a collector’s item these days. So they’ll be feeling themselves. They keep it pretty simple, which is just fine against the Hawks as their defense is happy to give you things.

For the Hawks, Adam Boqvist will return to the lineup, and they’ll need his mobility if he’s given license to use it. Robin Lehner is likely to get a stretch of starts here, as Crawford has stumbled and this might be something of a last stand for the Hawks before they decide if it’s fire-sale time.

They’ll talk about consistency and doubling up on Thursday’s effort. But that’s their thing, and they’re not good enough to keep putting those kinds of games together. Also, they won’t be facing a team that flew in that morning after a Christmas break. But that’s the assignment.

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Brandon Dubinksy – Perhaps the leading example of a belcher/grunter/scowler that is held up as leadership and grit for a team when his actual usefulness disappeared somewhere during Obama’s second term. Certainly doesn’t hurt that he has a last name that’s a modern iteration of “Grabowksi,” which the Ditka-philes that make up a majority of NHL front offices cover themselves in vaseline for. Dubes has spent the last two seasons getting his team backed into its own zone while he points and yells at clouds. He’s currently pulling his patented move of being hurt.

Nick Foligno – See above, but with the captain’s “C.” Foligno also has the added bonus of being a former player’s kid, which in the NHL boots your overall rating at least 25%. He’s only ever scored more than 20 goals twice in his far too long career, and for that he’ll take him $5.5M this year and next before the Jackets extend him so he can be the Ohio version of Mikko Koivu.

John Tortorella – This guy won a Cup, folks. While we’ll always stan for a guy who loves and rescues dogs as much as Torts does, you can bet one of the reasons both Bobrovsky and Panarin wanted to beat it out of town as quickly as possible was to get away from this guy. But this is the NHL, where a coach like this can pants an actual forward-thinking coach like Jon Cooper (not that Cooper ever needs much of an excuse to toss his pants aside). Clock must be ticking on this guy as the Jackets head into another rebuild after the monumental accomplishment of winning one playoff series.

Everything Else

I doubt John Tortorella was as angry about the state of things after his team torched the St. Louis Blues last night, but here he was at the morning skate yesterday:

Now, if you’ve been here for any length of time, you know I’m a tree-hugging socialist that does only what St. Vincent and Shirley Manson tell me to do and have pissed myself at the outset of every confrontation I’ve ever had (this isn’t entirely untrue, but due to inebriation rather than fear). So you probably expect me to once again lambast one of our favorite targets, no matter how much he loves dogs (or was right about Ryan Johansen and Brandon Saad).

Hockey being hockey, this is a complaint we’re hearing now about five years or more after we’ve heard it in other sports. I remember complaints like this in all the other major sports, and it usually starts out criticizing those not from these shores. Hell, you remember Bruce Boudreau getting salty about Alex Ovechkin laughing it up with fellow Russian players on the other team that had just steamrolled the Capitals that night. In baseball, it was the Latin players who were too chummy. Then basketball and and football followed suit with players being nice to each other on and off the court (fuck, Isiah and Magic were kissing each other in the 80s!).

And the reasons for this in hockey are pretty much the same as they were in the other sports. With the continued growth of player movement, a lot of these guys have already played together before. If they haven’t, they might have the same agent and work out together in the summer instead of retreating to whatever farm or factory older players used to work at to grunt, sweat, and stew for months while staring at a picture of some drunken punter who was the third center on Montreal before getting on the ice again. Specialization at younger ages plays a role, as a lot of these guys were probably at the same hockey camps as kids and developmental systems. They’ve played on youth national and older national teams together. There’s just more familiarity.

At the top level, the shit-disturbers have been moved out for players that can actually play. Your third line is less and less diligent checkers and pests. They’re moved to the fourth or off the roster completely, in favor of guys who can still skate and score. Look at the third lines of teams that are contenders this year. Just a brief snippet: When Nylander signs, Toronto will have Kapanen-Kadri-Lindholm (maybe Kadri is a bad example). Winnipeg has Copp-Lowry-Tanev, and has/could feature Roslovic and Perreault. Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc are on the third line in San Jose. Basically, a lot of the guys whose main job it was to raise the temperature are being phased out. We’ve heard this all before in the NBA, NFL, and MLB. Bill Laimbeer wouldn’t get anywhere near an NBA court today. The “Baseball Police” are heavily mocked.

And yet, on some level, I see what Torts is getting at. And on that level, I’m with him in that I miss it, too. One of the appeals of hockey, as I’ve written here and other places before, when I got into it was the feeling of danger you got when walking into an arena. It’s what you tried to channel when you watched it on TV. You didn’t know what you might see, both on the ice and in the stands. It was fast and furious and what made it special was that utter art could be created out of utter mayhem.

Missing it doesn’t mean longing for it to be back, though. The feeling of danger in the stands washed away long ago, as every arena has a more homogenized and stale feel with game presentations almost exactly the same and everything catered to the glitterati and aristocracy. It’s not as fun, but that doesn’t mean I long to be thrown up on again by Tony from Oswego or have bags of piss tossed around (this was more a soccer thing but you wouldn’t have put it past the creatures of the Old Stadium either). And as we all agree, I certainly don’t miss standing in two inches of what I could only hope was water in the bathroom.

As far as the product on the ice, it’s different but that doesn’t mean it’s worse. It’s way better, actually. Take this from Torts’s own team last night:

Ok, maybe I take more joy in this than most because it was the P.A.T. on the Blues, but look at that pass! And that’s to Seth Jones, a 6-4 d-man who skates like the goddamn wind and effortlessly puts this away. 10 years ago everyone would complain that Jones didn’t “play to his size,” or something equally ridiculous and his game would have mutated. Isn’t this way better?

And this kind of thing is happening every night, especially this season. We can bemoan that hockey isn’t nearly as vitriol-filled as it was, but it doesn’t have time to be. Go on, try and be physical with Nathan MacKinnon or Connor McDavid or a dozen or more other players. You can’t catch them to do so. You can send your knuckle-draggers out there if you want, and you’ll get slaughtered every night.

It’s a different product, but it’s a better one. We’ve heard all these complaints in the NFL too, and some of the roughing the passer rules now are laughable. But no one’s complaining when their QB is racking up 400 yards again (please do this soon, Mitch). And finally there are more than like, four decent quarterbacks. It’s just a more watchable product.

Yes, Torts, sometimes I sit back and reminisce about the actual fear I felt when walking into 1800 W. Madison for a Wings-Hawks game, because I didn’t know if the chaos would happen on the ice or in the row in front of me. Or even Hawks-Canucks games between 2009-2012. I miss actual emotion, too. Which is a reason I watch the Premier League, and if that doesn’t square up for you I can’t help you. But that’s also hard to generate in October. I’m fairly sure there’s a decent amount in April, still.

But that doesn’t mean I want to back there. Maybe some things are best left in the past.

Everything Else

Alison covers the Jackets for The Athletic. You can follow her on Twitter @AlisonL.

Let’s get the big one out of the way. There’s just no way the Jackets can win with this Panarin and Bobrovsky situation, right? Is the hope that a long playoff run might convince them to stay? Or is it something of a foregone conclusion they’re both headed for the exit and the Jackets are just going to take a run with them while they can?

These are the questions that will haunt the team all season until there is a resolution. Both players are potentially big losses but for different reasons so let me address each player in kind. First, Panarin has expressed a desire to be elsewhere. He hasn’t articulated anything he doesn’t like about Columbus or the organization but he prefers to be somewhere else. Some reports have that “somewhere else” to be a big city, possibly near water. So, if that’s the case, you have to balance seeing if the player changes his mind about wanting to be in Columbus long term with the need to move him to get any possible kind of return. This is tricky because the Jackets are just starting their window of “going for it” so getting just draft picks or futures in return wouldn’t be ideal – but it’s hard to get a “play now” guy in trade when Panarin is potentially just a rental. It’s also hard when teams know they may only need to wait to get him in July for nothing other than what the sign him to contractually.
As for Bobrovsky, it’s a slightly different scenario. The player and the organization have had contentious negotiations in the past, and this is a two-time Vezina winner who surely wants big-time money (and term of course). The organization doesn’t yet know for sure that Bobrovsky is as strong in post-season play (although that certainly isn’t only a Bobrovsky question), and the goaltender turned 30 this year, so how much of your overall salary do you invest for possibly eight years? Bobrovsky also has a no-trade clause in his current contract.
So to summarize, I think it’s more likely that Bobrovsky finishes out the season as a Blue Jacket. There’s a “chance’ one or both stay past this season, but from an asset management perspective, without a change of heart, I don’t know that you can lose both for nothing, so Panarin would likely be moved.
How big of a miss is Seth Jones?
There’s a reason Jones was an All-Star and in the Norris conversation last year (and should be this year, in my opinion). Jones is smart, athletic, and responsible in all areas of the ice. That means he is very missed and his absence has highlighted the growth that Zach Werenski has in front of him defensively. His absence also shows up as a strain on the remaining defensemen both in terms of big minutes and two-way play. The good news is that Jones is now three weeks into an estimated 4-6 week recovery period.
Markus Nutivaara is a name you don’t hear much outside of Ohio (and no one can spell without looking), but the Jackets seem pretty high on him. Why’s that?
“Nuti” as he’s called, is a hidden gem, in my opinion. This is a seventh-round pick who couldn’t even make the top teams in the leagues back in Finland but one who has proven to be a perfect fit for Tortorella’s offensive defenseman (or “rover”) style. He is confident and not afraid to jump into play in the offensive zone. Adding to that, Nuti has improved year over year and has found a highly complimentary partner in Ryan Murray. When Jones is healthy, with Nuti and Murray, you have two defensive pairings that are solid defensively and quite lethal offensively also.
Pierre-Luc Dubois and his extraneous first name put up 49 points in his rookie year last year. Should we expect a major leap this term?
I don’t expect a massive leap, but only because his rookie year was so strong. Also, PLD plays with Panarin so any change in the status of that player obviously impacts Dubois’ ability to produce. What I do expect to see is improvement in play in the corners and winning battles – these are things the centerman worked on this off-season.  He remains the Jackets’ 1C right now.
The Metro Division isn’t as tough as it might seem on the surface, with the Caps and Pens aging, the Flyers unable to get out their own way, and the Rangers and Islanders rebuilding. Can the Jackets actually get out of it in the spring? Would that be enough?
This is a team that needs to start making an impact in the post-season. They will likely get there, but now, as the cliche goes, it’s really what happens there that matters.

 

Game #7 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Since the NHL was measured in A.L. years (After Lockout ’04-’05), there are only three teams that have never won a playoff series. One is the Toronto Maple Leafs, you may have heard about them. One is the Florida Panthers. You probably haven’t heard about them, but I assure you they exist. And the other is the Columbus Blue Jackets. That will continue for another year, as the Jackets actually found a way to make the Washington Capitals look mentally strong. Perhaps they will be given an award for this, or certainly a commemoration of some kind, because they are the first to do so.

And looking over the entire history of the Jackets, this very well might be the only accomplishment you ever remember. Their other claim to fame is that they were the throw-in for the league to placate the Red Wings and move them to the Eastern Conference, which they’d only been bitching about for a decade and a half (and perhaps knew it was the only way they could maintain their then-pointless playoff streak). Essentially, the Jackets are the first team to be the “Player To Be Named Later.”

And really, that’s it.

The Jackets have strung together two good regular seasons, though both have been of the “hockey weird” variety. Last year it was a power play and Bobrovsky combining to see them eclipse 100 points. This year it was Bobrovsky and eventually the power play, though more sustainable success at evens as well. And it got them 100 points. And what it got us was a feeling that 100 points for a team doesn’t really mean anything at all.

What must be so infuriating for the Jackets is that they actually did a lot of stuff right this year, and it still doesn’t matter. They figured out Brandon Dubinsky sucks and has for a very long time. He barely played 10 minutes per game towards the end. They concluded that maybe Nick Foligno wasn’t all that good either, despite his heart and grit captaincy, and was on the third line. They discovered that Jack Johnson has always sucked and punted him into the pressbox when he started bitching about a new contract (or debt-servicing). For John Tortorella to come to these conclusions, one would have to start believing in a higher power.

And it didn’t matter.

Certainly Artemi Panarin turned some heads in the first three games, with two goals (including a gorgeous OT winner) and seven points to go with seven shots. He then didn’t scratch again when things got tricky in the next three games, was a -6, and there went any offense Columbus might have thought about having. Hmm, strange that. Doesn’t sound familiar at all.

And this is probably as good as it gets for the Jackets. They’ll have to give Ryan Murray and Boone Jenner raises this summer, even though no one can identify what it is they do exactly. That will eat up whatever cap space they have, as well as keeping their powder dry for when Panarin gets $10 million a year after what is assuredly going to be a nuclear free agent season next year. Good thing they have $11 million combined tied up in Dubinsky and Foligno. The going rate for guys who growl a lot is astronomical, isn’t it?

You can feel Torts burnout coming next year as well, because that’s how this works. Lucky for the Jackets, and Tavares-less Islanders team, a stunting development from the Devils, the Hurricanes collapsing under the weight of their bellicose owner, and a clueless-how-to-rebuild Rangers team are probably going to Homer-sperm themselves out of taking the Jackets playoff spot.

Which will give Sergei Bobrovsky another chance to spit up all over himself when everyone’s paying attention. Once again, this two-time Vezina winner spent a lot of time looking like the morning after on Bourbon St when the Jackets needed him most. A .900 SV% to slightly better his .882 from last year. We should also remember this is the asshole that made Timothy Leif a household name, so why did we ever give him any shine in the first place? At least there will be some hilarious trade rumors after next time. He just has to go to Toronto, right?

So thanks, Jackets, for whatever it is  you do. Also Columbus is a strangely redneck stinkhole and deserves nothing good. Thanks for providing exactly none of it for them.

Everything Else

We have a lot of fun here at the expense of John Tortorella. And with good cause. His stewardship of the Vancouver Canucks was just the height of comedy. His guiding of Team USA was even “better.” He loves to hear himself talk. He went from “Safe Is Death” guy in Tampa to having his teams be painful to watch in New York, Vancouver, and now Columbus. He’s crushed the development of a lot of young players.

Here’s the thing we’ve come to realize: he might have been right about a couple of them.

1st case: Torts chased Ryan Johansen out of town. He didn’t think he worked hard enough, didn’t get strong enough so he could be knocked off the puck, and as soon as he got his second contract in Columbus he basically became a jelly donut. So he was traded to Nashville, and while he chased another, big-time contract it looked like a terrible decision. The Jackets have never really had a #1 center, and Johansen was certainly looking like he might be one.

Then Johansen cashed in on an $8 million deal this past summer. He’s got eight goals, 39 points so far this year and has for the most part has looked like he’s gone back to his waffle-iron-runoff form. Was Torts right all along?

Case Two: Torts and Brandon Saad never quite saw eye-to-eye. Saad found himself on the fourth line at times, and was even a healthy scratch. Torts didn’t think Saad played in straight enough lines, or would go to the net often enough or hard enough. Given Saad’s skillset, you can’t help but think if he did those things he would be a 35-goal scorer.

So the Jackets didn’t mind sending him back here for Artemi Panarin. Saad has bounced all over the Hawks lineup and while he’s certainly been unlucky and the underlying numbers suggest he’s getting to all the right spots, certainly Joel Quenneville hasn’t been pleased at all times with what Saad has provided. Again, was Torts right all along?

That doesn’t mean we’d want Torts coaching our team. The Jackets goofed a playoff spot last year because their power play went nuclear and Bobrovsky cleaned up the rest. Now that the power play has regressed all the way to terrible, the Jackets are seemingly nowhere. Zach Werenski has seemingly stalled a bit in his development. There were whispers that Seth Jones was mentioned in trade rumors, though we can’t fathom that will be the case. Alex Wennberg hasn’t become a #1 center. Brandon Dubinsky still plays far too many minutes. So did Jack Johnson, but that’s stopped and now he’s bitching about that.

Of course, Torts can’t help that Cam Atkinson got hurt. Or Boone Jenner is shooting less than 5%. Still, Torts shot-block heavy, defense-first ways don’t seem like they’re ever going to get the Jackets through the Penguins now or the Lightning or Bruins in the future. At some point you gotta step on the gas.

But amidst all the funny bluster, Torts might not have been so far off base.

 

 

Game #62 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Alison Lukan is the Jackets beat writer for The Athletic Ohio. Follow her on Twitter @AlisonL.

Last year the Jackets ended up with 106 points. This year they’re going to have to scrap to even make the playoffs. The difference can’t simply be the power play isn’t scoring on everything, right?
If you look at the underlying numbers, there are a few things. First, as you point out, the power play was horrible to start the year. It’s rebounded some, but it will never even out over the season due to their start. Now, the penalty kill is suffering and that’s hurting them. The most significant thing impacting this team is their ability to finish. Almost every player is experiencing a career low in shooting percentage and that means this group just isn’t scoring goals. For a group that averaged over 3 goals per game last year, they’re barely managing to stay at an average of 2. Also – with injuries on the blue line, they’ve been letting in a few more shot attempts against compared to previous years. This number has slowly increased over the course of the season too.
 
Sergei Bobrovsky started the year in Vezina form but has had a terrible February. What’s up there?
I think its two fold, he’s facing a higher volume of shot attempts against, and also he’s not getting a lot of run support from his team.
23 points out of Alex Wennberg wasn’t what everyone had in mind, was it?
In a word, no. While not an excuse, two important things to mention a) he missed 12 games due to injury and b ) how many points he had off of special teams last year and how poorly special teams have performed this season. Last season, two goals and 21 assists (literally half of his 56 points) came on the man advantage. He – like almost everyone else on the team – is also suffering from a career low shooting percentage.
Where does this end with Jack Johnson? He’s obviously walking so should the Jackets cash in before the deadline?
Reports just came out Thursday that the Jackets have circled back to Johnson with an extension offer. Before that, I was more than a little bit sure that the team would move him at the deadline and reap what they could in trade value versus lose him for nothing. There are reports the Jackets offered $22MM-plus over seven years this off-season and the player didn’t bite at that, so I’d wager this is one final test to see if Johnson is willing to stay at the price the Jackets think he’s worth – if not, Kekalainen is likely looking to make a trade.
 
Do the Jackets make the playoffs when all is said and done?

If they make some moves at forward at the deadline, yes.

 

Game #62 Preview

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Whenever a player is traded,  no matter how loved, there’s an instinct to try and justify how his loss won’t be as big as your first reaction indicates. Sure, there are trades that are just so bad you simply can’t talk yourself into them (hi there, Trevor Daley). But for the most part, you’ll always run for some shelter of information that makes you feel like your team won a given a trade. Even though a perfect trade is one where both teams benefit, but we don’t live in that world and this is a capitalist society, dammit.

So a little of that went on here when Artemi Panarin was dealt to Columbus for Brandon Saad. Yes, Saad is actually younger and yes Saad has something of a more all-around game. We commented on Panarin’s shoosty-tendencies at the end of last year. How his feet didn’t move quite the way they did his rookie year and instead he was becoming more and more Ray Allen waiting for his corner three. That works when LeBron or Patrick Kane can kick it out there for you. But is that really the case?