Tuesday, May 24, 2011

"Will he touch it?"

With Vancouver up 3 games to 1 on San Jose and Boston leading Tampa Bay 3-2 the yearly question arises, will the captain of either team pick up the conference championship trophy? This year that decision will likely fall on Henrik Sedin of the Canucks and Zdeno Chara of the Bruins, but does evidence show that maybe they should embrace the moment and dance with the Clarence Campbell Bowl or Prince of Wales Trophy?

Here's a chart

Teams that refuse to touch the conference championship trophy are 5-6 in the finals. In years when one team picks up the trophy and the other doesn't, the team that celebrated with the trophy is 4-3. I'd embrace the moment and party with the trophy while I had the chance. Carpe diem. Seize the trophy.

Updated: Neither Henrik Sedin or Zdeno Chara picked up their respective conference trophy. Taking a page from the 2006 Hurricanes, the Bruins took a team picture surrounding the Prince of Wales Trophy, but not a single player touched it. Incidentally, both captains are European. Meaning, for just the second time ever a European captain will lift the Stanley Cup. Nik Lidstrom of the Detroit Red Wings was the first.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Columbus Blue Jackets Alternate Uniform Project

About a year ago when I heard the Blue Jackets were going to add an alternate jersey I became obsessed with the idea that the team would finally implement a primary logo using civil war soldier imagery in reference to their namesake. Instead of studying or reading or doing anything vaguely related to college schoolwork I spent an inordinate amount of time drawing an alternate logo for my favorite hockey team. Somehow I still ended up graduating. On time too. Go Bobcats!

This is that logo
          The 'C' stands for "Columbus"

For the record, his name is "Sgt. Atticus McArthur". If I were a Civil War buff, he'd be named after someone real, probably someone who actually had some historical influence and relevance to Columbus or Ohio, at the very least. Instead, he's named after a guy I made up.
Now that I look at it, I'm not going to pretend that I think this could've adorned the Blue Jackets' sweaters. I couldn't even figure out a good way to illustrate his eyes so I just let the cap cover them. One thing I am proud of though is that the left side of his face, minus the nose, is intentionally supposed to vaguely resemble the state of Ohio. It's one of those little subtle nuances that artists put into their work. This one is so subtle that it has to be pointed out to everyone.

I'm realistic about this now, but at the time, however, I had a horrible case of delusion. Delusions of grandeur, as they say. I imagined sharing the design with the internet, someone with the team catching wind of it and then showing it to CBJ brass. They'd say, "We love your design, and we'd like the team to wear it. Here's a 100 grand and the rights to all merchandise royalties. Also, we need a 5'10 left winger, how'd you like to suit up? We're playing Detroit tonight and we'd like you to whack Todd Bertuzzi in the face with your stick." 

Incredibly, the scenario didn't play out that way and like geocities or myspace, my designs were lost to the internet. Instead this is what the team went with: 

They hired a pro who ripped a soccer crest and stripped the uniform of red. But I spent a lot of time on my work and I'd like to share them. So here they are. (click to expand)

This was inspired by the Team USA jerseys and large block letters on the front of jerseys have been in vogue in the NHL recently.

Which would you prefer? What they actually went with, or mine? I guess I'd choose what they actually went with, but I'm self-disparaging that way.

And because I recently met someone who didn't believe that I used to play hockey, here's a picture of me playing hockey.

Whenever I tell people from small backwoods/hilljack towns that I played hockey they act like I told them that I walked on the moon or that I used to live in the white house. They're even more surprised to learn that my high school had an actual varsity ice hockey team. One day, this time of year will be filled with Blue Jackets playoff articles, but for right now, this will have to do. Thanks for reading.

Promising Start Turns Sour: The Story of the 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets

I got a text at 3:30 from some college buddies saying they wanted to go to the game that night. I told them I’d meet them downtown so we could get in together. It wasn’t until 6:45 when I was told they hadn’t left Athens until 5:45. Athens is an hour and a half from Columbus. The puck drop was scheduled for 7:06 pm. They didn’t make it.

I found myself alone, downtown, wearing the new Columbus Blue Jackets third jersey. I must’ve looked lonely because a scalper zoned in on me like I was a prize buck.

“Yeah, where’s the seat?”
“Four rows behind Steve Mason”
“how much?”
“uhh, $40?”
(inner monologue: Sean, you’re not in college anymore. You have a job. YES! Say yes) “uhhhh, yeeeee...sold”

Not bad for $40 scalp, eh?

By the time I walked into Nationwide Arena the game was already five minutes old and the Blue Jackets trailed the Phoenix Coyotes 2-0. I took my lonely ticket and sat with families and friends that I didn’t know. “Great, I’m the biggest loser in the arena and the Jackets are going to get blown out.” Fast forward to the third period and the Blue Jackets hold five unanswered goals, rookie Matt Calvert beams with only the second rookie hat trick in CBJ history, I charmed the guys around me, and the crowd is raucous. Raucous like the crowds of seasons 1, 2, and 3 before Columbus became jaded and tired of watching a lousy team.

The crowd was thirsty. Thirsty for more games like this one, thirsty for action in the Stanley Cup playoffs that seemingly every other fanbase gets to experience. It was a playoff atmosphere and the ‘W’ moved the Blue Jackets to within two points of only their second playoff berth. It was the best game I’d been to all season, and I went alone on a day when I had no intentions of watching NHL hockey. The best experiences are always the ones you don’t plan.

After the game the Jackets embarked on a road trip that we all knew would go a long way to determine their playoff fortunes. They went 0-3-2, and the negative momentum dropped them out of the hunt. They missed the playoffs for the ninth time in ten years.

The team jumped out to their best start ever. A 14-6 mark that sportscubstats.com gave a 96% chance of making the playoffs. Through all past NHL situations, and 1000 simulations, 96% of the teams who started 14-6 made the playoffs. We were the 4%. On the last day of November the Jackets played a home game against the Detroit Red Wings for first place in the Western Conference. We lost. A promising start turns sour can basically sum up the story of the 10 year history of the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

- November 17-20, 2010 California Sweep. Early in the season the Blue Jackets went out west and swept California for the first time. They took 3 games from the Kings, Ducks, and Sharks in a 4 day span. Rick Nash potted a hat-trick in the final game in San Jose. All three California teams qualified for the post-season, which incidentally is more playoffs teams than Canada had. 

- November 10, 2010 “Soccer-gate”. A lot of NHL teams warm up before the games by kicking a soccer ball in the tunnel under the stands. Blue Jackets alternate captain, RJ Umberger, started an altercation with the St. Louis Blues who he felt were too close to the Jackets’ locker-room. It almost came to blows before security broke it up. Umberger showed pride for the franchise that so many fans yearn for and the team backed him up by thumping the Blues 8-1.

- February 25, 2011 Aforementioned game against Phoenix. Matt Calvert scored a natural hat trick and the Blue Jackets came up big against a playoff team in a game they needed to win. It marked the 8th win in the last ten games and those two points put the CBJ back into the playoff mix.

- February 8, 2011 4-1 win in Pittsburgh. Small revenge for the December game in Columbus.

- December 4, 2010. "The Penguins Game". An estimated 10,000 Penguins showed up to watch their team play at Nationwide Arena. Unfortunately for Blue Jackets fans, Nationwide Arena is in Columbus. It was bad enough that the Penguins fans took over the arena, but the Blue Jackets didn't show up either, losing 7-2. It was made even worse by the Penguins fans behavior who were the most obnoxious, boorish, drunk idiot visiting fans I've ever had to deal with. It's easily the worst game I can remember in ten years of going to Blue Jackets games.

- February 27 - March 7, 2011 "The Road Trip". The Jackets left for the last big road trip of the season with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten and two points out of a playoff spot. They returned with an 0-3-2 record on the trip recording two out of a possible ten points. It started with a third period collapse against Nashville (where they've lost 17 straight games), a shootout loss in Vancouver, a 4-2 loss in Edmonton (the worst team in the NHL), a 4-3 loss in Calgary, and a shootout loss in St. Louis. The 5 game roadie killed any momentum they had and delivered the blow that pretty much ended any chance of a playoff visit. 

Rick Nash 
This basically by default, but Nash is one of the best players in the world. He scored 32 goals, 34 assists for 66 points on the season and was a +2, a rarity in Columbus. All of that done with little to no help. This sounds like a broken record, but if the organization can find Nash a number one center, he'll reach his potential. Let's hope that happens before Nash runs out of prime years. He's 26 right now, but if he hangs on a little while longer, first round pick Ryan Johannsen should be in the NHL next few seasons and he has the skill to deliver the puck to Rick. 

Honorable Mention
RJ Umberger

Bright Spots
Matt Calvert 
Calvert showed signs of promise in his half season with the big club. He scored 11 goals with 9 assists. Calvert has the potential to develop into a top 6 forward. At the very least, he'll be a capable third liner in the NHL. 

Grant Clitsome
That's his real name. Clitsome came up mid season from Springfield of the AHL and instantly provided help on the blue line and showed signs of being that puck moving defenseman that every team is looking for. Clitsome had 19 points in 31 games, and was +2. All solid numbers for a defenseman, plus his name is Clitsome. His work on the power play is encouraging for a power play unit that ranked 29th in the league. Try to guess his nickname in the locker-room.

Scott Arniel
Arniel inherited a team with a lot of problems in his first season as a head coach in the NHL. The players seem to like him enough and his system is the kind that wins games in today's NHL. The problem is the Blue Jackets don't yet have the personnel to play the system, but Arniel has shown that he's willing to play to the style of what he has rather than trying to cram players into a system they aren't built for, which was the problem with old coach, Ken Hitchcock. 

Steve Mason

Nikita Filatov

Jake Voracek

The Blue Jackets aren't as far away from being a contender as some are choosing to believe, but it won't be easy. Conventional hockey wisdom says that you build from the net out. I disagree. I say you build from the blue line back and then work on your forwards. If you have a solid defensive corps then you can win a lot of games with an average goaltender. It's how the Red Wings were able to win all those years with Chris Osgood as their goalie. 

Steve Mason hasn't played well since winning rookie of the year, but part of the problem is a weak  Blue Jackets defense in front of him. Shoring up the D might take awhile because big time free agents seem allergic to Columbus, but there's pieces in the system that aren't too far from being competent NHL players, and Marc Methot and Grant Clitsome made big strides last year.