Hockey

vs.

RECORDS: Hawks 28-28-8   Panthers 33-25-6

PUCK DROP: 5pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

60% OF THE TIME IT WORKS EVERY TIME: Litter Box Cats

The Hawks wrap up this funeral dirge/death rattle of a road trip in South Florida this evening, before returning home to either an indifferent but possibly more cantankerous home crowd next week. They’ll find a Panthers team right in the middle of the East playoff grinder, trying to chase down both a wildcard spot or an automatic spot in the Atlantic if it’s there. The former sees them having to leap three teams, the latter only the Leafs who seem intent on making that a possibility. Oh, and the Hawks former coach is still on the other bench.

The story with the Panthers has changed a little since just about a month ago when they were at the UC. They’re still one of the higher scoring teams in the league. And they still get mediocre-or-worse goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky (OH BOB! YOU CAME AND YOU TOOK OUR MONEY! AND NOW YOU CAN’T SWAT PUCKS AWAY! OH BOB!). This is not a metrically sound team either, as you would have expected out of a Quenneville-led outfit with this much talent on display. They outshoot their problems for their record, which they can do with Huberdeau having a career-year and Barkov his usual brilliant self, along with My Kaufmann a line lower.

So as he is wont to do, Dale Tallon made some changes at the deadline, and some changes that take some figuring out. Vincent Trocheck certainly had issues staying healthy, but he was a genuine #2 center. But Tallon moved him out at the deadline for useful, bottom six pieces in Lucas Wallmark and Erik Haula. Some Panthers observers had said Trocheck’s defensive game wasn’t what it was, and Wallmark and Haula especially should bring more of that. The Cats probably need that if Bob isn’t going to bail them out regularly. And Eetu Luostarinen is considered something of a prospect, so maybe the numbers make it a better deal than it looks at first. Given Tallon’s recent history in Sunrise though…

You sort of wonder if Tallon shouldn’t have been looking for blue line help now instead of down the road. Ekblad and Weegar (I almost forgot my fellow babies…) have been effective on the top pairing, but pretty much everyone else has been going backwards. We know what Keith Yandle can’t do, and Anton Stralman is turning odd colors in the sun at this age. Mike Matheson is certainly rich, but anything beyond that is a mystery.

The race between the Panthers and Leafs for the third spot is certainly entertaining, as both teams attempt to stake their spot without really any goaltender they can count on between them. The wildcard chase is no less dense, though you’d have to figure the Rangers will eventually sink away and the pixie dust for the Jackets has to run out sometime. That leaves the Panthers tussling with the Canes, who also don’t have a goalie at the moment (almost literally). It would be a big disappointment for the Cats to miss the playoffs, given the investments in Bobrovsky and Quenneville and their recent history. Hoffman, Dadanov, and Haula are all free agents after the season, and the first two are in line for sizable raises. So will Weegar as an RFA. This might be as good as it gets for the Cats, which isn’t good enough.

As for the Hawks, not much to report. One would think that Crawford will finish out the road trip to build off his win in Tampa, and that Subban could possibly make his debut against the softer landing of the Ducks or with the back-to-back against EdMo and Detroit next week. Shouldn’t be too many, or any, other lineup changes with Strome back at center and Koekkoek back on the third pairing. Possibly Nick Seeler back in for Carlsson or Boqvist to waster all of our time.

Note: This seems to have fallen at a place on the calendar when all of us have schedule conflicts. So there might not be Twitter or a recap for this one, though we are currently efforting that. Sorry, just one of those things. 

Everything Else

Well that was quite the party. And like any good party, everyone worth a shit now leaves before they stick around past the point that all the creatures of the night do. You know those people, the ones who a Saturday night turns into a Sunday afternoon with the curtains drawn. They where all black and love to tell you about the weird sex they have. That’s where the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves…amongst the New Order records. No one wants to be the last to leave.

What a historic spring for the Jackets. Causing one of the biggest upsets in first-round history, they’ll join such luminaries like the ’91 North Stars, the ’93 Blues, the ’93 Islanders, and ’09 Ducks in the pantheon of…wait, you don’t remember any of these teams? Of course you fucking don’t, because they’re nothing more than quirky trivia. Something that helps you win the three free rounds at a pub quiz while you pretend you’re having fun. But hey, that’s more memorable than the Jackets have ever been.

We’ll spend the next day or two wading through various love letters and bouquets thrown at Jarmo Kekalainen, a man who has been allowed to be GM for six years with one playoff series win, no division titles, and never actually earning home-ice in a playoff series. What a record! Oh how he went for it! Oh what dash he showed! Why don’t more GMs show such gumption, they’ll cry!

Yes, selling out your future for six playoff wins so that your two most important players tell you to do one a couple weeks later than they were going to truly is foresight. It’s a wonder Jarmo isn’t a goddamn Vulcan. And when Duchene and Dzingel see Panarin and Bobrovsky fuck off, we’re sure they’ll be heavily tempted to commit their futures to a rest stop between known cultural centers of Cleveland and Cincinnati. Wonder how much longer Zach Werenski is going to want to commit to North Louisville after all that as well.

This is what you don’t get, Columbus. Once a college town, always a college town. Just because you’re strangely podunk and the home of an insurance company that keeps foisting Peyton Manning on the nation like a proud mother doesn’t mean you’re a destination. You go to Columbus, you stay for a few years, you get measurably dumber and then you move on to fix that. Those who stay around their college towns after graduation are always desperate and weird. If you’ve seen Buckeyes fans gather in Evanston or whatever Wrigleyville/Lincoln Park Date-Rape Palooza  bar they call home, you know of where we speak. It applies to the Jackets, too.

You needn’t sweat it. Your contemporaries the Minnesota Wild haven’t accomplished anymore than you. You two are what everyone thinks millennials are. Bad clothes, bad decisions, loud noises and few accomplishments. At least the Wild actually got a free agent or two to show up. And no, Nick Foligno wanting to stay doesn’t count. That’s more of a metaphor than you’re prepared to face right now.

Everything will be fine, you say. Cam Atkinson and his recent damn fine impression of Patrick Roy era Gabriel Landeskog  is still here. So’s Pierre-Luc Dubois. Josh Anderson and whatever brains didn’t leap out his ear thanks to McAvoy last night are too. Jones and Werenski. We’ve got a base. You sure do. Those 89 points that base will collect as they stare at whatever punter is in net wondering how that went in will be glorious. We’re sure you’re looking forward to it.

While the press lavish praise on Jarmo, because he gave them so much to write about, one has to ask if the truly brave call wouldn’t have been to cash in on Panarin and Bobrovsky for actual assets that will be around Ohio longer than until the keg goes dry. Perhaps something lasting instead of a cheap thrill and a parlor trick. These same writers will be doing “Was It All Worth It?” articles in March when the Jackets are five points out of a playoff spot. This will of course follow the “No One Believed In Us!” articles that come in November when the Jackets have the same five-game winning streak every team does.

No, the coach will still be a bullhorn, and his boring-ass style and hard-ass ways are going to get a lot more scrutiny when there are more losses than wins. And then one might wonder just how many more coaches Jarmo “Balls To The Walls” Kekalainen gets. And then won’t those make for some fun Athletic posts?

Face it Columbus, no one wants to be there. No matter what any player or team does it’ll be Page 2 behind which OSU running back showed up to spring practice in a Tesla. Oh wait, I think Urban Meyer is bending over again to show just how much this means to him. It doesn’t even matter that he’s not coaching anymore, he cares so damn much he’s killing himself out there!

You’re just a misplaced SEC town with the hillbillies to match, except you didn’t bother to include Nashville’s nightlife or music scene. You’re a jumping off point, and will always be leverage to get somewhere better. Which is just about everywhere. Rick Nash was only the first. He’ll hardly be the last. But hey, you’ve got a cannon, right?

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston – Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Columbus – Tuesday, 6pm

Game 4  in Columbus – Thursday, 6:30

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. And the Jackets aren’t even in this division! We’re not supposed to be here today! Hockey is weird and stupid but that’s kind of why we’re here. For the first time in their history, the Jackets will play games in May. Maybe just one, but it’ll happen. Can they keep the miracle run going? Let’s find out.

Goalies: Are four games enough to declare a former playoff-barfer suddenly a dynamo? That’s the question you’ll have to ask about Sergei Bobrovsky. He was very good against Tampa, after a so-so regular season, though thanks to the Jackets forecheck he didn’t have to do that much. Which probably should have been the plan all along. He never faced 35 shots in a game, and really in only Games 1 and 4 did he face what you would call anything close to an abundance of good chances. Those were the games he gave up three goals, so really this might depend more on what the Jackets make Bob do than what he does. The Bruins shouldn’t be that hard to hold to a reasonable amount of shots and chances, except for that one line. But that one line is an expert at moving the puck around quickly, which is where Bob’s athleticism kicks in. But he’ll have to toe that line of athleticism and losing his positioning. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Amongst the Toronto wailing is that Tuukka Rask was marvelous against the Leafs, with a .928 over seven games. Rask’s playoff performance have become basically metronomic at this point, almost always in the mid-.920s if not better. He’s got a career .928 in the postseason. He may not steal a series, but he’s as sure a bet as there is left to not lose it, and the Jackets are going to have to work a hell of a lot harder here than they did against the very jumpy Vasilevskiy.

Defense: This comes down to how tinker-y and match-y up-y John Tortorella wants to get. The first round acted as a coming out party for Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, racking up nine points combined in four games. However, possession-wise, that pairing got kicked around a bit and not by the Lightning’s top line either. The natural inclination is to think that they’ll take on Bergeron’s line. Judging by what happened last round, that’s probably not the case. Strangely, it was David Savard and Scott Harrington who did the heavy lifting, and at least held their own. But if you trust those two against arguably the best line in hockey that is also playoff-proven, you go right ahead. I’ll be over here. Maybe it’s whether or not Jones and Werenski can do enough on the power play and against lesser and whether that cancels out Bergeron and Marchard against Savard and Harrington. I don’t know what a Dean Kukan is and I don’t care.

For Boston, they already know the plan here. The Jackets are going to do the same thing they did against Tampa, which is push their trap up the ice, try to get their forwards on the Bs defensemen as quickly as possible and bring da ruckus. The Lightning’s defense is pretty slow beyond Hedman, especially when Sergachev was having a nightmare. You’d think this would be a problem for Zdeno Chara and the tennis balls on the bottom of his skates, and maybe it will be. It just rarely seems to be. In theory this is why you have Moonface McAvoy and Torey Krug, as they can skate themselves out of trouble. But they also blow chunks in their own zone. Then again, they just survived a more skilled and better forward crop in the last round. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Forwards: The Jackets forwards certainly were buzzing against Tampa, with that forecheck getting them the puck back below the circles and only requiring a pass or two for chances and goals. That’s clearly the plan here, and in transition and with things scramble-y that’s when Atkinson and Panarin and Anderson are lethal. You can’t catch back up to them and how quickly they can start moving the puck around. If the Bruins can keep things stable, the Jackets lack a little shot-creation, especially if Panarin isn’t in the mood to do it. There are grunts here who can scrum in a goal or two, but you can’t beat the Bruins if your top isn’t your top (not a sex joke).

The Bruins are one line and David Krejci. And yet that’s enough for 100+ point seasons and at least a round win. The Bs got contributions from Charlie Coyle and Joakim Nordstrom and the like, but those aren’t the things you can count on. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it’s (Gorilla Monsoon voice) highly unlikely that Marchand and Bergeron and Pastrnak aren’t going to produce. And it’s hard to see a way that the Jackets stop them from doing that, even if they try and cut it off at the source by harassing the Boston D before they can get the puck up to them.

Prediction: This isn’t going to be easy for the Bruins, and the argument that the Jackets just dispatched a better team before we had time to fart into the couch is always lingering there. And as we’ve stressed a ton, it’s not like the Lightning didn’t have playoff pedigree. Their recent pedigree is actually better than the Bs. But I don’t trust Bob yet, and Rask is pretty much a rock. And that feels like it’ll be the biggest difference here. It’s just going to take a while.

Bruins in 6.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE: Game 1 Wednesday 6pm, Game 2 Friday 6pm, Game 3 Sunday 6pm, Game 4 April 16th 6pm

This is what happens when you’re the best—you get the first-round match-up that should be a breeze. There are of course reasons why it may not be a total incineration, but not only are the Lightning far and away the best team in the league, they’ve also been particularly adept at fucking with the Blue Jackets. I think we all know how this ends, but for the sake of argument, let’s take a closer look:

Goalies: It’s strange to start off saying Sergei Bobrovsky isn’t the better goalie in a match-up, but here we are. And in fact that’s not totally fair—Bob is still plenty good and is the most important player on the team (Panarin devotees, calm down). Aside from the loss to Boston a few days ago, he hasn’t had a game with a save percentage below .920 since mid-March, and he went 7-1 the last two weeks including throwing three shutouts. But those weren’t against the Ning. In fact, two came against non-playoff teams.

The issue isn’t just if Bobrovsky is talented enough to handle the Lightning’s obscene scoring ability—he could definitely make a run at that in a vacuum—but it’s whether he can do so despite getting rattled by this team this year and also if he can do so in the playoffs, where he’s typically struggled. Maybe if it were a more suspect goalie on the other side of the ice one would say yes, but Andrei Vasilevskiy is not suspect. Not only is his playoff record stronger (.919 SV%, 2.68 GAA vs. Bob’s .891 and 3.49), but he’s been outstanding his last couple games to boot (2-0, .944 SV% in April) without any of the drama that Bob & Co. have been dealing with to make it into the playoffs. Throw in the fact that getting pulled against Tampa back in January led to a tantrum from Bob and some resulting scratches, and it doesn’t bode well for Columbus. Yes, Bobrovsky can always steal a game and certainly gives you a chance on any given night, but with Vasilevskiy in goal there’s not much room for error.

Defense: The big news for the Lightning is that Victor Hedman is practicing, but if he’ll play or what level of brown brain he may have are still open questions. None of their other defensemen’s possession numbers are going to blow you away, and it’s been known all season that their defense isn’t otherworldly, but it doesn’t have to be thanks to the fact that their offense is. Remember, this team is actually playing Jan Rutta right now so that should tell you something.

But are the Jackets really any better? They give up fewer shots per game, and their PK is tied with the Lightning for best in the league (85%). So there’s certainly a case to be made, but it’s the quality of the offense they’re facing that’s going to make the difference. Can Zach Werenski and Seth Jones really handle either of the top two Tampa lines? You’d be forgiven for being skeptical. In their three games this season, no one could. The Jackets gave up 17 goals to the Lightning and it’s not like Tampa’s gotten worse over that time.

Forwards: Here’s where the Lightning are at their most ridiculous. You already know—the speed, the scoring ability, Kucherov with 128 points, Stamkos and Point with 98 and 92, respectively, yada yada yada. They’re fucking good. But what about so many Hawks fans’ wet dream, Artemi Panarin, with his 87 points? Sure, fine, whatever, but the Jackets just don’t have the scoring depth the Lightning have. No one does. The top line of Panarin, Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are no bums or anything, and their numbers bear that out just fine (55 CF%, 57 GF%, 55.8 HDCF%), but there’s just not enough beyond them.

Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel have done basically jack shit since coming to Columbus, and sure, Oliver Bjorkstrand is on a streak right now with goals in nine of his last 10 games and a total of 23, but if that top line on the Jackets is shut down, they don’t have anyone to answer with. And once the record gets really lopsided and Panarin and Bob start thinking about that Florida sunshine and lack of income tax, their give-a-shit meters might just float away with their thoughts.

Prediction: I’m going to be very generous here and say that Bob steals one for the Jackets. Maybe Hedman can’t go, maybe the Lightning defense shits the bed a little too much, and maybe Panarin’s line has a big night. But they won’t get much more than one, so they better enjoy it. Lightning in 5.

Everything Else

Due to the Hawks’ schedule and personal, I haven’t gotten around to summing up what went on during the trade deadline. So we’ll get to it now. The trade deadline is always a weird portion of the schedule, especially when your team (rightly) sits it out altogether. There are only a few teams that should participate, but yet too many can’t help themselves. So we’ll just go through this team-by-team of those who are trying to make noise in the spring. As for the sellers, we honestly won’t know how they did until the picks are made and the prospects come up.

East

Boston – Boston’s problem is obvious to everyone. It’s that they suck when Patrice Bergeron is not on the ice. They haven’t had anyone top play with David Krejci in like three years. And yet, Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson aren’t it. These are third-line players, not second-line ones. Charlie Coyle spent what seemed like a decade tantalizing Wild fans with what he could be, but he remained a player where the idea of him is far greater than the reality. The only thing I remember him doing there is getting his face in the way of Duncan Keith‘s stick. Maybe he’s a winger, maybe he’s a center, but no one seems to know, including Coyle. Johansson is a great checking line player, which is probably a good thing to have when the first thing you’re going to see in the playoffs is the arsenal in blue, but you’ll also need to score a bit. And here’s a secret no one wants to mention…the Bruins’ blue line isn’t any good. Charlie McAvoy is always pointed the wrong way and Torrey Krug has always been a glorified Erik Gustafsson. Sure, it’s maybe enough to get past the Leafs again simply of the voodoo sign they hold over them. But it’s not enough to not get flattened by Tampa. So really, what was the point of all this?

Toronto – They made their move early, which was Jake Muzzin. And he’s fine. He’s mostly a product of playing with Drew Doughty, but he’s better than what they had. The Leafs will go as far as they score…until Freddy Andersen turns into cold urine again when it counts. Their ceiling is also being turned into goo by Tampa.

Pittsburgh – How do you top signing Jack Johnson to an actual free agent contract? You trade for Erik Gudbranson, who is Canadian Jack Johnson. They’re gonna miss the playoffs on the back of these two, and the comparisons to the Hawks will only get stronger.

Carolina – Again, they moved early, which was to get Nino Neiderreiter, who has only been a perfect Hurricane his entire career. Underrated, fast, skilled forward who is just short of top-line material. The league office should have engineered his move there like years ago just to have everything in its right place. His 15 points in 17 games prove this. I don’t know how much longer they’ll get goaltending from Curtis McElhinney, but this team can absolutely come out of the division if their metrics carry over and the goalie doesn’t keel over. In some ways the worst team they could play in the first round is the Islanders, who shrink everything down to a bounce or two. They’re going to take Columbus’s run that they so desperately need.

Columbus – The one worth talking about. I don’t really know what the Jackets’ place in Columbus is really like. They’ve never been whispered to be in trouble, they seem to sell enough tickets, and they’re the only professional game in town. So when they say they need to have a run for the fanbase, I wonder. Then again, they’ve never had one, so at some point you have to before you become the Cubs without any of the story or ballpark. And yet I kind of can’t wait for it to blow up.

Panarin and Bobrovsky have already checked out, though the former at least seems interested enough to keep his dollars up from the Panthers. Bob has been a shithead all season, and he just got lit up by the Penguins in a game the Jackets really needed. Doesn’t exactly bode well for the spring. Matt Duchene has benefitted his entire career from being on teams where someone has to do the scoring. You can have him. Ryan Dzingel is Ryan Hartman 2.0. They’re fine if you’re counting on them for depth, and if Panarin, Atkinson, Dubois, Anderson do most of the lifting, that’s what they’ll be. But does it matter if your goalie put up an .896 in the first round?

West

Nashville – I hate the Mikael Granlund move, because it’s a good one and I have a strong distaste for the Preds. Granlund wasn’t quite up to being the guy in St. Paul, especially when Koivu and Parise started putting tennis balls on the bottom of their skates. He doesn’t really have to be in Nashville where Filip Forsberg lives, though someone is going to have to pick up the ball when Ryan Johansen is stuck at the pregame spread during Game 5. Wayne Simmonds remains one of the dumber players in the league and now he’s slow and old, and he’ll take a wonderfully selfish penalty against the Jets at some point that will cost them a game. It doesn’t fix what their problems are enough.

Winnipeg – Something is in the water (or ice) in Manitoba, where the Jets can’t get right. It’s nothing that Connor Hellebuyck returning to form won’t fix, but without a fully functional Dustin Byfuglien they do lack a puck-mover (and even he’s iffy). It’s not Trouba’s or Morrissey’s game, and Tyler Myers is only one in his own head. This was something of their problem against Vegas last year, they couldn’t escape that forecheck at times. That still seems to be a problem, but it probably won’t keep them from winning the division and I don’t see either Nashville or St. Louis going in there and winning twice to move on.

Vegas – You’re going to pay Mark Stone $9.5M, huh? Mark Stone, who is about to cross 30 goals for the first time in his career when everyone is doing so? It’s amazing that George McPhee only needed two years to chew up a completely blank salary cap structure, but here we are. The Knights are still fast and annoying, but it matters less when MAF isn’t putting up a .930 to cover for a defense that just isn’t that good. Even with their goalie problems, the Sharks are putting this down in no more than six games and next year the Knights are going to start to slink to the land of wind and ghosts.

San Jose – Gustav Nyquist doesn’t play goalie. So that’s weird. Maybe Doug Wilson was worried about poisoning Martin Jones‘s stay beyond this year if he were to demote him by trading for a goalie. But the Sharks are all in on this year and this year only. Joe Thornton is going to retire. We don’t know if Erik Karlsson is staying, and he if he goes they’re just a fine team instead of a really good one. All this team needs is someone who doesn’t light his face on fire in net and they would basically waylay everyone in the West. And I’m on record as saying Jones comes alive in the playoffs, but I have nothing to lose if he doesn’t. The Sharks have everything to lose. And if the Sharks pull this off, we’ll get a flood of idiots saying you don’t need a goalie to win the Cup, a myth which the 2010 Hawks drilled into everyone’s head for far too many years (even when they won two more on the back of Crawford).

Everything Else

 vs 

Game Time: 7:30PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Urban Meyer Is A Sociopath: The Cannon

With the NBA All-Star festivities taking place, the Hawks will get a rare premium Saturday night home game in the mid-winter. They’ll welcome the Columbus Blue Jackets to West Madison, who are threatening to be wildly entertaining over the next few days, though not for on ice-reasons.

Everything Else

It would be easy to deride Columbus’s situation, and really their overall existence. God knows I would love to. This is probably the best team the Jackets have ever had, certainly the best era, and they’re going to watch their two most important players traipse to the exit either next week at the deadline, or in the summer. It only further proves that Columbus will have a hard time competing when most players are only ever going to view it as a launch-point. First Rick Nash, now Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have concluded that Ohio is not a place where they can accomplish what they want, and nor is it an interesting enough place to be to keep one’s mind from wandering to places with something other than buildings that house an insurance company and drunk OSU students/football coaches.

And yet, what if it just isn’t going to be that bad for the Jackets?

Let’s play it out and say that the Jackets decide that yeah, we’ll lose them for nothing, but with Panarin and maybe a resurgent Bob in the playoffs. There’s no reason they can’t come out of a much of a Metro Division. There’s no juggernaut there. They had the eventual champion Caps on the ropes last year, until Bobrovsky turned into Eeyore in net and Panarin basically disappeared. Also the switch of Grubauer to Holtby made a huge difference to the Caps. But the Penguins can’t seem to get right and Evgeni Malkin is having the most stupefying season of his career. The Caps can beat the Sharks in San Jose one night and give up a touchdown the next. The Islanders have two goalies playing out of their minds. They’re also the Islanders.

Even a conference final appearance and a swift kick to the head by the Lightning would be way farther than the Jackets have ever been, and a run and the interest it would spark in the city would lock fans in even for the “Great Russian Spies Departure.” So let’s look at what’s left.

The Jackets would still sport Cam Atkinson, who was a 35-goal scorer before Panarin showed up and everyone in the NHL was a 35-goal scorer, and Pierre-Luc Dubois up front. Boone Jenner, Alex Wennberg, and Josh Anderson probably make for a pretty good third-line in a 3+1 model. At the back, you still have Seth Jones (down-ballot Norris candidate), Zach Werenski, Ryan Murray, and Markus Nutivaara. That’s the envy of a lot of teams, especially in the East. The Penguins and Caps are certainly on the backside of their windows, and who knows if the Islanders can goof this again. You’re ahead of the Rangers, Devils, and Flyers, who can’t unfuck themselves. And maybe one day the Hurricanes figure it all out, but we’ve been saying that for three or four years.

You also suddenly have $35M in cap space, or thereabouts. Sure, Werenski is going to get a big raise in the summer. Murray and Dubois follow the summer after that. But maybe you can finally jettison Brandon Dubinsky and his fake-tough guy act and also perhaps lose David Savard too. That keeps you about even.

You can buy a goalie and a winger and/or center. You still have a top line with Atkinson and Dubois and just about any doofus. You’ve got depth. You’ve got a blue line. It doesn’t have to be that bad.

And maybe you’re adding whatever you salvage for Panarin in the next week. Bob’s trickier, as his so-so season and very spotty playoff record would make a lot of teams nervous about going for this year. Maybe you sacrifice your chances this year while adding to next year’s. And then you get to spend the next few seasons playing that card, ever so annoyingly, about how you’re now a team of players who really want to be here. “Ohio Proud” or some horseshit that they love around those parts. Just a different shade of the “no one believed in us!” card. That only keeps people coming through the gates and that goddamn cannon firing.

It’s funny to think of Columbus as a hockey outpost. And it has been. It feels like this season and summer will make it so again. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

 

Game #59 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Got a twofer for ya. Alison Lukan (@AlisonL) is the Jackets beat writer for The Athletic. We also dragged up this thing called The Pale Dragon (@PaleDragonCBus) from JacketsCannon.com

Everyone is aware of the Sophie’s choice the Jackets FO faces with Panarin and Bobrovksy. What’s the feeling amongst the fanbase? Are they jaded by having what is probably the best Jackets team ever have this cloud over it? Would they just prefer to see the back of them both and have it over with? Will there be any lingering damage?

Alison: It’s two different tales, really. I don’t think ultimately, that fans want either player to leave, but there’s been far more passion towards keeping Panarin than Bobrovsky. THis is ironic considering how much Bobrovsky has done to make the team what it is, but that longer tenure means that some are keenly aware of how he’s not played his best in the playoffs, and that tempers current worry about him leaving. As for Panarin, he doesn’t speak to the media much at all, and has been able to ride an easy-going persona through all this, making it easier for fans to pull for him to stay. I think there is definitely a segment of the fan base that fears what will be once these two leave, and there are likely some who don’t truly realiize what the impact will be, but that takes us to the ultimate question you asked about lingering damage. If Kekalainen and company can navigate this situation to a deep post-season run and/or a solid return in trade, this may not linger as the biggest story in franchise history.

Dragon: It has definitely been a cloud hanging over the season. Just today one of our readers asked “how can I root for these guys when I know they’ll be gone?” This is a good team – tied for fifth most wins since the start of 2016-17 – and yet we’re poised to lose the two best players on the team, and arguably the two most talented players in franchise history. That doesn’t happen very often. 

I suspect that the fanbase will calm down after the trade deadline. Then the uncertainty will have passed. Either the Russians will be gone then, or we’ll have them as rentals and then they’ll leave. Our readers seem to be split 50/50 on whether Panarin should be traded or kept through the playoffs. The sentiment against Bob is more negative because he’s having a below league average season, and he’s had a poor attitude. He walked out on the team after getting pulled from a game last month. Bread, meanwhile, is playing as well as ever and seems to be enjoying playing with his current linemates.

Does all this drama distract from how great of a season Cam Atkinson is having again?

I was just thinking about this the other day. I don’t know that it “distracts” but i do believe Atkinson should be getting more attention for what he’s doing (and his body of work as a whole). The Panarin / Bobrovsky stuff has certainly sucked up a lot of the media spotlight – especially on the national level.

Thank you for asking about Cam. I wasn’t sure anyone else around the league recognized how good he’s been. As a fellow vertically-challenged man, he’s long been a personal favorite. He’s having a career year and could break Rick Nash’s franchise record for goals in a season (41). In contrast to the Russians, he signed a long term extension last season and has often expressed his love for the city. His wife had their first baby last year, they’ve bought a house in the suburbs, and he has started his own business here (a hockey skills training center).  He was named one of the alternate captains this year, which recognizes that he has long been one of the most popular figures in the locker room. If he plays out his contract here, he should break all of Nash’s franchise records.

We seemingly ask about Ryan Murray every time. But here he is already with a career-high in points, and the metrics are kind as well. Finally finding his place?

I am admittedly, a Murray fan, have always been so. The difference this year is that he’s healthy, quite honestly. He’s always had this level of play in him, and I think it shows in that the coaching staff has recognized that also and given him quite a few minutes alongside Seth Jones.

We’re finally seeing why Murray was the #2 overall pick in 2012. I think the biggest factor is that he’s finally healthy. It hasn’t been one nagging injury, but rather a frustrating inability to make it through the season unscathed, outside of playing all 82 in 2015-16. Combined with some defensive struggles from Zach Werenski, Murray has earned his way into the top pairing with Seth Jones. He’s still no major offensive threat like 8 and 3 are, but he makes up for it by his play in the defensive zone. His best skill is his vision, to find the right place to put an outlet pass. That’s where the assists are coming from.

So we know that come July 1, the Jackets will be without their two Russian stars. But with Dubois and Atkinson up front, a blue line that at least goes two pairs deep, and a lot of cash to spend, is there a reason the Jackets can’t quickly recover?

I answered this somewhat in the above question, but I agree. There is a talented core in this team regardless of if the two free agents leave. The team will have to replace that elite talent in at least one or possibly two bodies – as we know that’s essential to make a run – but this doesn’t have to decimate the franchise by any means.

I’m always an optimist, but I genuinely believe this can still be a good team going forward.  It’s one of the youngest roster in the league, with only three regular players aged 30 or older. Most of the core is 25 or younger. My hope is that GM Jarmo Kekalainen adds another long term piece at the deadline (Stone? Duchene? Huberdeau? DeBrusk?), whether or not he’s able to move the Russians. That will help to fill the hole this summer. I don’t expect to make a flashy free agent signing, but I would expect Jarmo to be active in the summer trade market. Teams like Toronto and Tampa are facing a cap crunch, and Columbus could take an RFA or other team-controlled player in exchange for picks and prospects. Much like how we acquired Brandon Saad from you guys when you couldn’t afford to re-sign him.

The biggest question mark on the roster going into next season would be goalie. I see Joonas Korpisalo as the default starter. For his backup, I’d expect a battle between some veteran free agent signing, and Latvian prospect Elvis Merzlikins.

For the team to compete going forward, it will depend what happens in the rest of the division. Washington and Pittsburgh may start to decline, but the Islanders look to be strong now and Carolina is on the rise.

 

 

 

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It’s rare that a two-time Vezina winner hits the open market. And there’s still a chance that Sergei Bobrovsky won’t, given that he could be dealt to a team and then signed immediately (like…oh we don’t know…Florida?). We can’t remember it ever happening. Generally, if you have a Vezina-winning goalie, you build around him. Yet there also hasn’t been a player with that awards-cabinet and this spotty of a record.

What we mean is that no position in sports, other than your star player in the NBA possibly, is judged harder than goalies and their work in the playoffs. You can rack up your Vezinas and regular season wins, but goalies will always be judged most by whether or not they backstopped a winner. Some of that is perception that goalies are still solely responsible for a team’s advancement in the spring, and also in recent years Braden Holtby and Matt Murray have come pretty close to doing that (strangely no one ever mentions Corey Crawford like this, even though his ’15 run was better than Holtby’s last year and the first of Murray’s, and Murray’s glittering ’17 playoff was only 11 games due to injury).

Well, Sergei Bobrovsky sucks in the playoffs. Yeah, we said it, and he does. Bob has had four cracks at the postseason as a starter, totaling 23 games. He’s got five wins. His save-percentage is .891. His goals-against is 3.49. The last two have come behind what are good Blue Jackets blue lines, and one that got him a Vezina. So he can’t have won the Vezina by himself and then throw his teammates under the bus when it doesn’t work when it really counts.

What’s funny is that this is exactly why Roberto Luongo will probably never be judged fairly, and yet his career SV% in the playoffs is a more than respectable .918. He’s even won a series, which Bob can’t claim. And yet Bob is most likely going to replace Luongo in South Florida. Which is just about perfect, because the Panthers never get to the playoffs anyway, and when they do they don’t win. What a perfect match.

The Panthers, or someone, will hand Bob the eight years he seems intent on. At 30, he’s got a few more prime years left. But rare is the goalie who already has an established track record of turning into cold piss in the playoffs who then comes good. Marc-Andre Fleury already had a Cup before he reversed a rough few years with Pittsburgh and then Vegas. Holtby was already a proven playoff performer.

Good luck, Uncle Dale. We think we know where this is headed, but the crash is always fun viewing.

 

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 @  

Game Time: 6:00PM CDT
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, NHLN US, TVA-S, WGN-AM 720
Street Fight Radio: The Cannon

After basically the entire work week off in an unofficial early season bye, the Hawks venture to Ohio for the second and only road game of another thee-in-four-nights stretch that sees them facing down a Columbus team that still isn’t quite sure what the hell it actually is at this point.

At 4-2-0 to this point in the seaoson, the Jackets are at least making a fist of it while unholy terror Seth Jones remains absent from the blue line. To this point, they’ve beaten Detroit, Florida, Philadelphia, and Colorado, with only the latter of which actually playing well to start the season, as their other three victories have been over teams that are presently total messes. Their losses came to a speedy and spiky Hurricanes team, and the Bolts who dropped an 8-burger on them. So for right now, it’s fair to call them the middling team that they are with Jones out.

That’s not to say they’re bereft of any kind of punch. Erstwhile Style Boy Artemi Panarin has put up 9 points in 6 games so far to pace the Jackets, and is in full on “Fuck you, pay me” mode with his bridge deal coming to a close at the end of this year and lacking the mega-paper he’s seeking, which the Jackets seem slightly hesitant to give him. He flanks former first rounder P-L Dubois with Cam Atkinson on the other side, and this line has shown plenty of speed and creativity in the early going. The Jackets’ middle six has been getting plowed over on the possession ledger however, with the de facto second line of Duclair (remember him?), Wennberg, and SANDPAPER Captain Nick Foligno and the third line of Boone Jenner, Riley “Not A Purported Wiener Tucker” Nash, and Josh Anderson contributing intermittent offense, but certainly not enough to balance out the top line and force opposing coaches to pause when trying to get matchups. The fourth line of Sonny Milano (OHHHH!), Lukas Sedlak, and Dane Oliver Bjorkstrand has at least tilted the ice to spell the other three units.

With Jones out on the blue line, Zach Werenski has been partnered with David Savard, and they’ve been getting their skulls kicked it at a 41% clip, and if Werenski isn’t pushing the play on offense, he’s not a world beater in his own end, particularly when he is basically covering for Quebecois Wisniewski as a partner. Markus Nutivaara, a seventh round pick and a 24 year old and not a Finnish candy bar, however, has been the beneficiary of the top line taking a pounding, and flipped the ice at 60% clip with the will-he-ever-get-his-shit-together Ryan Murray. Adam Clendening (remember him too?) has landed here because he’s a right handed defenseman with the vague threat of offense in his game, and he and Scott Harrington have been turned into paste in the 20 even strength minutes they’ve played together on the third pairing.

Long the strength of this team, two time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky has had a slow start to the season, with only an .888 at evens and an .875 overall. Clearly those are not up to his high standards of play, and if that continues, that type of goaltending will torpedo just about any team, let alone one that’s been as reliant as the Jackets have been on Bob. But for as much as he’s slumped, he’s still fully capable of power-windmill breakdancing in the crease all night long on any opponent, as Bobrovsky remains one of the best combinations of size, athleticism, and positional soundness in the sport.

As for the Men Of Four Feathers, while their first regulation loss was probably overdue, they certainly didn’t play terribly against the Yotes on Thursday, or at least the names that are supposed to matter didn’t. The ones everyone expects to be terrible gift wrapped all three goals for Glendale, and Corey Crawford’s return to the cage didn’t have the storybook finish that was hoped for despite looking as solid as can be asked of a goalie after having not played in over 300 days. He’ll get the nod again tonight with a sterner test, particularly from the top line with Panarin’s ability to pick corners as a “bad shot maker”. In front of Crawford will be the same defensive configuration as the past few games, which means it’s duck and cover time with Manning and Rutta on the ice, particularly unsheltered on the road.

Among the forwards, because the Hawks actually lost, Quenneville predictably used it as an excuse to do what he’s presumably been dying to do since the start of camp, and that’s move Anisimov back to the #2 center slot between Schmaltz and Garbage Dick. Schmaltz has been scuffling a little bit, but having Alexandre “2009 Troy Brouwer Redux” Fortin continually biff chances tilts the scoring sheet a little bit, and Wide Dick Artie isn’t the best answer to sparking Schmaltz long term. Fortin was platooning with Martinsen at last report this morning, which results in the splitting up of the speedy Saad-Kruger-Kampf line that could use some more time in a true shutdown role to see if it really could end up being a thing. Instead, Chris Kunitz will play with Saad and Kampf, and Kruger will get some combination from the Fortin/Hayden/Martinsen turd grab bag.

While John Tortorella is assuredly A Moron, he’s not so entrenched that he doesn’t know that at home he’ll have some advantageous matchups that can be found for his top line. The key will be to minimize that damage and hope that Crawford makes some of the saves that Cam Ward wasn’t or couldn’t make, and that at the other end each save that Bobrovsky makes isn’t the one that snaps him out of the funk he’s in. Let’s go Hawks.

 

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