Rich Nash and the rest of the Columbus Blue Jackets are in town to play out the season and see whom they’ll select with the number one pick in the 2012 draft. Before they can start the offseason workouts and daily golf rounds, they have to lace up the skates for 60 minutes of hockey against the hottest team in the NHL and the player of the month Mike Smith. Thank God it is dollar beer. Blue Jacket fans need something cheap to catch their shattered dreams and falling tears. Columbus (19-38-7 at 45 points) will need it after the Coyotes (33-22-9 for 75 points) has their way with them to stay atop the Pacific.
In the visitor’s locker room, you have Rick Nash and the rest of the team. Rick Nash, Captain of Columbus, the only team he has played for in his career. The team that gave him a huge contract (7 year at 7.8 million per) and decided to build around him. They brought in James Wisniewski at 5.5 million per year on a six year deal to strengthen the defensive corp. And then they decided to pry Jeff Carter out of Philadelphia. And from day one, it was clear Carter was not happy in Columbus. It could have been the change in locker room (dry island no more), it could have been playing the rough travel schedule Columbus has compared to what he was used to in the Eastern Conference. It could have been that he made a mistake and he could not handle the losing when checking on his former Flyer teammates and seeing their name in lights. It could have been his injury earlier this year that kept him from practicing and gelling with the team. Whatever it was, Jeff Carter was not working in Columbus. I give their GM Scott Howson credit for realizing this was a bad fit and moving him. I wish it wasn’t to a Pacific division opponent, but you cannot have everything. What I do not give Scott Howson credit for is coming out after the trade deadline and reporting that Rick Nash asked for a trade in January. Your locker room leader is no more. His legs have been cut underneath him. The 21 other players in the locker room know that he is not with them and hasn’t been for over a month. Your leader wanted out. You have lost the locker room and given the players nothing to play for other than pride and new teams next year. Rich Nash will have to be moved in the off season. The assets he will bring back is going to change the locker room. However, his value is less that what teams will pay at the trade deadline. In summation, Scott Howson failed to maximize the value of Nash at the deadline, then reduces his worth by talking about his trade request in January. He cannot come back as well.
Coaching the Blue Jackets is Todd Richards. Former bench boss at Minnesota for two years, he came over as an assistant coach and was promoted when the head coach was fired. Todd was at San Jose prior to Minnesota where he increased the power play efficiency to one of the top in the league (3rd overall) and helped the Sharks win the President’s Trophy for most points in 2008-2009 season. Being in the Western Conference for many years he knows Dave Tippett and his system starting at Dallas and continuing to Phoenix. He knows the Coyotes. He is a good coach. So what went wrong?
You would have to point the finger at two areas. Goal differnetial and home losing record. They were -40 in goals last year and are a -64 this year. If you look at the top teams in each Conference, all are in positive territory or if negative, single digits. You cannot expect to win if you give up more goals than you score. It is too much to ask of your defensemen and goalie if you cannot deposit the frozen biscuit in the basket. Goalies like Steve Mason are technically sound and can deliver. When your team is chasing every game, the opposition can force their game plan on you and impose their will. And you have to win at home. They were 17-19-5 at home. Not much better on the road at 17-16-8, they had all the pieces in place. And finished 13th in the West.
It certainly wan’t due to the lack of knowledge or hard work from Strength and Conditioning Coach Kevin Collins. Kevin played his college hockey at division 3 powerhouse SUNY Brockport (State University of New York) where he earned a degree in Exercise Physiology and Business Management. To rise to this level of success is a sign of his hard work, dedication, and probably living in Briggs dormitory and spending weekends at Canal Side Pub, staying out of trouble due to the size and strength of the bouncers and take no prisoners mentality when someone acts out. No doubt the Tuttle Sports Complex honed his thirst for education as well as giving him an outlet for developing his fitness and exercise training. The question is, did he get invited to the varsity locker room, and was he given permission to wear a tank top while training?
Who on the Blue Jackets do we have to look out for that are not named Nash (22 goals, 22 assists, 44 points)? Vinny Prospal has 11 goals and 30 assists. Derick Brassard chipped in 11 with 17 helpers. RJ Umberger is sitting on 25 points thanks to 10 goals and 15 assists. James Wisniewski has poured in 4 goals and 18 assists, which is what you want your d-men to do. Get your shot through. All not bad numbers. They are all in negative for their plus minus. Nash -24, Prospal -17, Brassard -22, Umberger -11. Wisniewsk is -23. It’s impossible to win when your top line is negative and your power play team is also negative. Almost every player is a negative rating (Derek Mackenzie is a +1).
Between the pipes, Steve Mason is 9-22-3 with 1 shutout. His Goals Against Average is 3.88 with a save percentage of 0.889. Backup Curtis Sandford is 10-15-4 with 1 shutout as well. His GAA is 2.66, save percentage of 0.911. It’s hard to pin the problem on goaltending when the team is not scoring. It is hard to blame the team for not scoring enough when you play behind almost every game. 1 shutout each. The penalty kill has let in 50 goals for a 75.96% success rate, last in the league. The power play is a respectable 17.01%, putting them in the middle for efficiency.
Why the lengthy story? The Coyotes get them tonight and next week in Columbus after a tough game against Pittsburg. The Coyotes will be ready tonight. Preventing a trap game next week is what Coach Tippett does.January 13, 2011; Columbus, OH, USA; Phoenix Coyotes defenseman Rostislav Klesla (16) skates with the puck behind the net as Columbus Blue Jackets right wing Tomas Kubalik (33) trails the play during the third period at Nationwide Arena. Columbus defeated Phoenix 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Russell LaBounty-US PRESSWIRE