Friday, February 15, 2013

Gainer's Goal Crease: CBJ hires a new GM

Only three games have passed since my last entry but too much has happened in CBJ Land for me to wait any longer!  Let's get into the good stuff first.  General Manager Scott Howson was relieved of his duties this past week.  When John Davidson came into the fold, I wondered how long GMSH would even last.  Well my answer was 10 games.  Howson had been here since 2007 and did some good things.  What you ask?  Here are my favorite things:

  • He had to trade then captain Adam Foote to Colorado (his only acceptable trade destination) and ended up getting a first round pick out of it.  That first round pick went to Philly in 2008 for RJ Umberger.  While not a fan of his recently, there's no questioning he brought a certain attitude and leadership quality that CBJ had been lacking. 
  • Howson then traded the nuclear Nikolai Zherdev for Fedor Tyutin in 2008.
  • During the 2009 trade deadline, he traded goalie Pascal Leclaire (remember him??? No? He had one good year and injuries completely derailed his career) for Antoine Vermette.
  • In 2011, he traded Kris Russell (one of the most underwhelming defenseman I've ever watched) for Tyutin's other Russian half, Nikita Nikitin.
  • Finally, while his handling of Rick Nash was not the greatest, his return wasn't that bad.  Anisimov, Dubinsky, Erixon and a first round pick is a quality group.
  • He drafted the following players
    • Cam Atkinson
    • Matt Calvert
    • John Moore
    • Will Weber
    • David Savard
    • Boone Jenner
    • Ryan Johansen
    • Oscar Dansk
    • Ryan Murray
    • TJ Tynan
    • Mike Reilly
  • Vinny Prospal.  VINNNNNNNNNY.  Do I need say more??
  • I didn't love the Jeff Carter trade initially when we lost Voracek but at the time, it was a great feeling knowing perhaps the CBJ had enough top end talent to compete.  We found out later it was a HUGE mistake and Howson salvaged what he could with a first round pick from LA along with Jack Johnson.
Is this real life????
Of course that leads into what he did wrong:
  • His 2007 draft wasn't awful but since they no longer have Voracek, it's a moot issue
  • His 2008 draft and 6th overall pick was Nikita Filatov.  He's no longer in the NHL.
  • After the franchise's only playoff appearance in 2009, he fired head coach Ken Hitchcock in Feb of 2010.  Hitchcock was the coach of the year for St. Louis this past season.
  • His biggest mistake was his first head coaching hire.  After Guy Boucher said no (Tampa's coach), he passed on Paul MacLean (Ottawa's coach) and Kevin Dineen (Florida's coach).  All three coaches have since made the playoffs.  Howson settled on Scott Arniel and to say his time here was a disaster is the most underrated statement in CBJ history.
  • Still don't love the huge Wisniewski contract but you gotta spend money to make money amirite??
Howson did many good things in his tenure here.  Unfortunately his under-the-radar solid moves were completely outshadowed by his awful ones.  His lack of player development and handling of coaches as well as the Rick Nash saga will be his legacy.  Hopefully his draft picks begin to blossom under a new regime...

Jarmo Kekalainen

John Davidson's first hire becomes the first European General Manager in the history of the NHL.  Just 24 hours after firing Howson, the CBJ got their man.  He was the Director of Amateur Scouting for St. Louis from 2002-2010 where he did spend time with Davidson.  Since then he's been back in his home country Finland GMing the top team in the Finnish league.  He had a clause in his contract there that he could opt out if he was offered a GM position in the NHL.  
"I'm humbled but at the same time have faith in myself. I believe I've deserved this opportunity through my own hard work," he said. "Now I'm going to roll up my sleeves and go there and build a team out of the Columbus Blue Jackets that seriously aims to win the Stanley Cup."
His background is player development.  That's the one department the CBJ have struggled mightily in.  This doubles the excitement for the 2013 NHL Draft where the Jackets have THREE first round picks.  They have their own pick, the Rangers pick (Nash trade) and the Kings pick (Carter trade).  Kekalainen will have a chance immediately to put a stamp on this team with those picks in what's considered one of the deepest drafts in recent memory.

The front office will then need to look at a couple issues.  First is goaltending.  Mason's contract is finally up this year and will most likely (99.9% chance he's gone) move on.  They'll need to evaluate their pipeline as well as Sergei Bobrovsky.  If they feel Bob is their guy, they can find another decent veteran back up moving forward to allow solid development for Bob.  If not, should they make a move to get a legit starting net minder?

Next will be coaching.  Todd Richards is a decent coach but he's not either Davidson's or Kek's hire.  I don't see the necessity in firing him at any point this season (barring a complete meltdown) especially in only 48 games.  I would not be surprised to see Richards get let go in May so they can bring in their own guy unless CBJ make the playoffs.

Finally it will be the forwards and their contracts.  The defense is set with Wiz, JJ, and the Russian duo.  On offense, only Umberger, Dubinsky, Foligno and Dorsett are signed for two more seasons after this one.  I see them keeping all of these guys for the time being since none are really trade bait.  Anisimov will be a Restricted Free Agent and will need a new contract.  The big decision will be what they do with Brassard.  An underachieving first round pick (a common theme in all CBJ drafts) will enter next year in the final year of his deal.  I look for him to be aggressively shopped this year and into next year's trading deadline.  Everyone else is basically done after this season and if not they are top AHL prospects.  The team will have to decide how to balance getting veteran free agents to fill their roster versus calling up all the youngbloods.

What's Next?

After the impressive Detroit win on 2/2, the CBJ lost three in a row.  They lost to an underachieving, severe Stanley Cup hungover Kings team.  They lost in OT to a pathetic Flames team.  They also lost but severely outplayed the Edmonton Oilers.  Luckily that effort fed into a 6-2 blowout of a very solid San Jose Sharks squad this past Monday night.  They sit currently at 4-7-2 with 10 points.  

They've been off since that win and will seek revenge in a big six game road trip starting tonight in Los Angeles.  Ironically these are the two worst teams in the NHL with 10 points each.  They'll then play Phoenix, Anaheim, Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago by next Sunday.  In a shortened season, these games are crucial.  By March 7th, they'll be halfway through the season.  Road trips are always tough and the big home stand they just had wasn't the best so they'll need to go at least .500 to stay competitive.  

The effort and balance in the line up has been better the past couple games.  Hopefully the goaltending starts to match that.  If so, they can win some games.  I'd recap the rest of the league but it's all too close to tell at this point still.  I will say the Blackhawks are still without a regulation loss at 10-0-3 and are four points better than anyone.  

Go Penz