Hockey

Well, hope it was all worth it.

GM Jarmo Kekkelainen wasn’t going to let his squad go quietly into that goodnight last spring, and went all in at the trade deadline, bringing aboard Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel for the Jackets playoff push. It got them a stunning, historic sweep of the historically good Lightning. And that’s it.

Is that enough? For a fanbase that had seen their team accomplish exactly dick for their entire existence, it may be. Those memories will last a bit. But not that long, and soon they’re going to crave real success, like a division title or conference championship, two things the Jackets haven’t come within a $50 cab ride of. And neither of those look to be coming any time soon, as the squad that brought a playoff victory for the first time to Ohio has been shorn of three big pieces…and Dzingel. It’s not exactly a husk that’s left…but it’s the h-u-s of that.

Let’s run it through.

2018-2019

47-31-4 98 points (5th in Metro)

3.12 GF/G (12th)  2.82 GA/G (11th)

50.0 CF% (12th)  50.3 xGF% (14th)

15.4 PP% (29th)  85.0 PK% (2nd)

Goalies: Jarmo probably should be sued by the season ticket holders for negligence for heading into the season with Joonas Korpisalo as the starter. The story they’ll try and sell is that Korpisalo is 24, and heading into his prime, so there’s always a chance for a big step forward. It’s going to have to be an awfully big step, because Joonas hasn’t shown much in his brief cameos as Sergei Bobrovsky‘s backup. He’s played 90 games, and has a career .907 SV%, which would be just about league-average now. League-average isn’t going to get it done for this Jackets squad.

The wildcard is Elvis Merzlikins, and no he doesn’t have the traditional back-to-school parade here in Chicago. But I will allow for all the Fu-Schnickens jokes you want to make. Merzlikins was great in the Swiss league the past few years, but it’s impossible to know if that means anything. They seem pretty high on him, but he’s going to have to do an awful lot of heavy lifting if this team is going anywhere. That would also mean Korpisalo snuffed it, which is almost certainly doom for the Jackets.

Defense: The one unit that wasn’t scorched by free agent departures. Columbus can still roll out Seth Jones, Zach Werenski (assuming he ever signs), Ryan Murray, and Markus Nutivaara for two-thirds of the game, which is a nice place to be. It’s not Carolina’s blue line, but it’s still one of the better ones around. And they’re just running it back, as there’s been no additions to it in the offseason. So the top four will still be supported by David Savard, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, and Adam Clendening. Or some combo thereof, to be more precise. There’s a chance that Vladislov Gavrikov is part of the equation as well. The Jackets can at least point to this and know what they’ll get, which is more than you can say for the rest of the team.

Forwards: Ouch. At the moment, the Jackets are maybe one line and a lot of questions and hope. Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois are still a formidable tandem, and Atkinson scored before Panarin arrived. They signed Gustav Nyquist possibly to put on that line, but Nyquist is a support-scorer these days, not a main man. Alex Wennberg and and Josh Anderson will probably anchor the second, but that’s where it starts to sound short for the Jackets. Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky are still here to belch and fart and call it leadership, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Boone Jenner are going to have to seriously build on promising seasons from last campaign for the Jackets to score enough, and that’s always a dicey bet. They might need to toss prospect Liam Foudy into the deep end right away to up the amount of skill to even acceptable.

Prediction: The Jackets are in deep. They’re clearly behind the Penguins, Caps, Canes for the automatic spots in the Metro. The Islanders may have fallen farther than they did, which helps, and the Rangers and Devils probably aren’t ready to cycle back up past them just yet. Who ever fucking knows with the Flyers? So that leaves them tangling with the other division for wildcard spots, but there just doesn’t look like there’s enough scoring up front with this lot. And Jarmo already scraped the savings vault to go for it last year.

Hope those Tampa memories keep them warm for a while. It might not be enough to keep Torts from throwing himself off the roof in January.

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

 @  

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.

 

Game #7 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

It remains a mystery what purpose exactly the Columbus Blue Jackets serve in the league, though now their ineptitude proved to be a catalyst in propelling the perennially underachieving Washington Capitals to their first ever Stanley Cup victory after going up two games to none in Washington and proceeding to lose four straight in the first round. It takes a special kind of pants shitting to have made these Caps look like the killers they always should have been, and based on their relative stasis in the off season, that trend appears to primed to continue.

’17-’18: 45W-30L-7OT 97PTS 242GF 230GA 17.2%PP 76.2%PK 51.49%CF 7.44%SH .9283%SV

Goaltending: There is little doubt that Sergei Bobrovsky is the pillar of anything the Jackets hope to accomplish and has been since he came over from the perpetually goaltending challenged Flyers for a 2nd round pick, having won two Vezina Trophies and four all star games while the Flyers still have a handful of themselves in the crease. Bob’s numbers took a slight step back from his 16-17 Vezina campaign, dropping 10 points overall from .931 to ONLY .921, while still being unimpeachable at evens with a .935 from a .938 the year prior. The big drop was in his shorthanded save percentage, dropping 60 points from .892 to a far more pedestrian .831, by far his lowest in Columbus. But all things being equal, there’s no reason to expect much deviation from Bob this year provided he stays healthy, which he has the past two years, playing 128 of 164 total games. In an ideal world, a true #1 goalie should play somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 games a year to avoid overworking, as Bobrovsky’s numbers in April have a precipitous dropoff. In the series against the Caps he sported only a .900 even over those 6 games, which is actually well ABOVE his post season average of .891, and that simply will not cut it, particularly behind a team that isn’t particularly dynamic offensively or behind the bench. Joonas Korpisalo is slated to back up Bobrovsky once again, and his .897 in 17 starts last year is certainly less than inspiring. If he can’t provide even replacement-backup-level netminding, Bobrovsky’s workload will stay at what it’s been and the Jackets will once again meet a similar fate unless some outside help is brought in.

Defense: Seth Jones is an absolute monster, and the time his nigh for his ascension into the Norris conversation annually. Jones will ONLY be 24 at the beginning of next month, and last season put up 16 goals, 41 assists, and a 54.1% possession share all while facing the toughest competition and zone starts available to him. He had 7 goals and 17 assists on the Jackets’ power play, which had greatly declined from the year previous. There is nothing he cannot do from the back end, plain and simple. Likewise, while not as defensively stout, Zach Werenski is a play-driving machine from the Jackets’ blue line, and though his scoring numbers were down from his fantastic rookie season, that was more of a function of power play production, where his assist totals dropped, and that can end up being circumstatial. Werenski put more shots on net and shot a higher percentage than he did from his rookie year, an exceptional 7.7% from the point. The problem is that these two spent 90% of their time together (only 142 of Jones’ 1387 even strength minutes were away from Werenski), and the only times they were split up were seemingly late game defensive zone draws where Werenski couldn’t be trusted to protect a lead. Behind these two is a complete bum squad, with David Savard running out of position, Ryan Murray never making good on his first round pedigree, and some things named Dean Kukan and Markus Nutivaara managing to take up $3.4 mildo of cap space. If Torts were somehow able to split up Werenski and Jones and not a) lose Jones’ offense covering for a dipshit partner, or b) have anyone else capable of playing free safety for Werenski to not give up as much as he produces, they’d have a solid grouping here. But as things currently sit it’s extremely top heavy and can be exploited by any coach with two functioning synapses and last change.

Forwards: Artemi Panarin‘s first season in Columbus went better than this outlet certainly expected, with him going a point per game (27G, 55A) despite not having a top end playmaker to get him the puck. But Panarin plays some of the most sheltered minutes in the league, almost exclusively starting in the offensive zone, and that can handicap a coach without having the center depth to get granular with who takes what faceoffs where. That’s not to say that Alex Wennberg and P-L Dubois are bad players, they aren’t, but they certainly aren’t going to maximize what a bad shot maker like Panarin can do, at least not yet. And Panarin is now in a walk year with his 2 year bridge deal at $6 million per coming to term, and the fact that he doesn’t have an extension yet doesn’t speak highly of his chances of remaining in Columbus. Panarin will likely command around $10 million a year, and with Jarmo wrapping up $11.3 mildo in Nick Foligno and Brandon Dubinsky for the next three years, it doesn’t speak highly to sound asset management. Cam Atkinson is a consistent 25-30 goal scorer in his own right, and he’s locked in at $5.875 per year, but he’ll also be 35 when his paper is up. This is a grouping still not sure of what it wants to be despite having some fairly useful parts.

Outlook:  Because John Tortorella is a goddamn cave man with regard to his coaching philosophy and techniques in 2018, it will always handicap his team slightly, but in his defense he’s working with a roster that doesn’t have a consistent thesis statement defining its construction. This team has top end talent in a few spots, but it’s not necessarily complimentary to the other constituent parts of the roster. As a result, a wild card bid and a first round out is once again about what to expect out of this team, and if they flounder out of the gate or Bobrovsky gets hurt early, the trade market for Panarin could heat up in a hurry and offer them a chance to re-think this grouping, though Jarmo as a GM hasn’t shown much consistency in being able to properly augment his team either. The Jackets are in Hockey Hell and there’s no clear path at the moment to escape it.

 

Previous Team Previews

Detroit Red Wings

Buffalo Sabres

Boston Bruins

Florida Panthers

Montreal Canadiens

Ottawa Senators

Tampa Bay Lightning

Toronto Maple Leafs

Carolina Hurricanes

Everything Else

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Game Time: 6:00PM CST
TV/Radio: NBC Sports Chicago, WGN-AM 720
Maurice Clarett’s Tattoo Shop: The Cannon

As this Wannstedt-esque death march of a season trudges onward, the Hawks turn right around from last night’s win against the Sharks and head to Columbus tonight, where Torts and the Jackets hang on to the last wild card spot in the east by the slimmest of margins.

Everything Else

It would seem that in this age of the NHL, the biggest skills a GM can have is the ability to scout his own players, judge them fairly, and also have a really great math guy. Because as we know, it only takes a couple of mistakes with your salary cap, or evaluating your own guys, before you’ve fornicated over all the good work you’ve done.

This is Jarmo Kekalainen’s fourth full season as GM of the Columbus Blue Jackets (he took over in the middle of the shortened 2013 season). They have made one playoff appearance in that time, in 2014 where they threw a brief scare into the Penguins before fading into the background. They haven’t really come close since. And the patience in Columbus is starting to run a bit thin, especially when Jarmo’s hire as a coach was the personification of a bullhorn.

Let’s try and pull in the whole scope of Jarmo’s work.

Everything Else

Follow him on Twitter @bzarcher. You can read his work at JacketsCannon.com.

So as fans of a team that is coached by John Tortorella, how horrifying was the World Cup?

-Terrifying, but I think it’s worth considering that Torts was given a roster that I’d consider schizophrenic at best. Still, it was a very dramatic demonstration of how NOT to win against international competition, and Torts seems to be applying some of what he learned with the increased emphasis on speed and generating chances in Columbus.