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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Who smoked, who choked - end of year edition

Time for a my season in review. So without further adu here is "who smoked & who choked" during the 2007-2008 season:

Who smoked

Rick Nash. Had a career year in points with 69 and did most of the heavy lifting on offense. His 38 goals were 3 off his season best. He finished 40th overall in league scoring. He, like the rest of the team, struggled down the stretch as he went the final 7 games without a goal. No question our best offensemen.

Pascal Leclaire. Leclaire finished 11th in the league with a save % of .911, 7th overall with a 2.25 GAA and 2nd in shutouts with 9. Like Nash and the rest of hte Jackets his pace really slowed over the last few weeks as he battled injuries including a concussion and pulled groin. My pick for team MVP.

Jacket unis. Serioulsy folks. The Jackets hit a HOME RUN with their new uniformes. The crest and colors just pop. Reading some threads on various hockey boards regarding the best hockey digs the Jackets are now routinely mentioned in fans' top 5 and most always have them top 10. Just a great look that we can be proud of.
Cannon. The games ops has gone completely stale (more on that later) but the cannon was certainly a score. Now if only it could be fired off more.

Penalty kill. Was top 5 most of the season but like everything else, it hits the skids in the last couple of months of the year. Still it finished 9th overall which is the highest this special team had ever finished.

Ken Hitchcock. Did everything he possibly could with this team. He pulled out all the stops....from rallying the troops against Colorado, to walking out on the team in practice, to doing anything he could to motiviate these guys. In the end the bottom line is there was just not enough talent here. To me if Hitch couldn't get this group into the playoffs no one could which should send the biggest signal to fans and management alike that sweeping changes are required to player personnel. Get this guys some players and then get him locked down for years to come.

Face offs. The Jackets finished 4th overall (really tied for 2nd if you look at the stats) in face off percentage winning 52.3 percent of their draws thanks in large part to Manny Malhotra and Michael Peca.

First NHL goals. Andrew Murray, Jared Boll, Kris Russell, Aaron Rome, Clay Wilson, Derick Brassard, & Derick MacKenzie.

NHL debuts. Jared Boll, Clay Wilson, Derick Brassard, Adam Pineault, Steve Mason, Dan LaCosta & Tom Sestito.

Jan Hejda. Finished with a +20 which was good for 12th overall amongst defensemen. That was also a whopping 13 above what the nearest Jacket had which was Klesla who finished a +7. The question now is can (or will) Howson lock this guy down? Best defensemen award goes to this guy hands down.

Goals against. The Jackets played within Hitch's system and it showed by vast improvements in their defensive game. They finished with the 8th best goals against average in the league only allowing 2.56 goals per game.

R Bar. What would we do without this place? Another kick ass season Mike, Natalie and co.!! Thank you for giving us a place we can call home on game nights!!

Nik Zherdev. Resurrected from the land of the lost. Although Z drastrically fell off the pace set earlier the last two monhts he still finished with a career best 61 points. He finished 60th overall in league scoring. Credit to Z, Hitch and Howson for finding a way to make things work. Z is my comeback player of the year.

Career seasons. Rick Nash, Pascal Leclaire, Jan Hejda & Nik Zherdev. Of the regulars and non-rookies those were the only players to improve their point totals from the year before.

Rick Nash named Captain. Was a no-brainer after Foote bolted but I'm glad it happened and I'm thrilled Nash wanted it.

Jared Boll. Could this kid possibly give any more? Led the league in fights with 27 and finished 2nd in total penalty minutes. His grit, aggitation and hitting were sorely missed when he was out of the lineup. My pick for Jackets rookie of the year.

Andrew Murray. Where did this guy come from? He played 39 games and managed to score 6g, 4a and have an even +/-. His role gradually increased as Hitch become more comfortable with him. Murray worked his ass off every single shift. He is the exact type of player we need more of in our bottom 6.

Pre All Star Break. Jackets played some great hockey and were 25-20-6.

Crunchies. Specifially Aaron Rome and Clay Wilson. They did their part and on most nights were our hardest working players.

Wins. Although the season end up a dissapointment there were some highs this years. Shutout wins in Montreal and Buffalo along with big victories over Detroit and Ottawa on the road.

The goal. Rick Nash vs. Phoenix. A thing of beauty.

Jody Shelley tribute. Nice gesture by the Jackets paying respect to #45. However the game ops people down right butchered it with their song selections -- c'mon, "eye of the tiger"? ..and what in the hell was that other song they chose?

New Years hat trick. That was the first hat trick scored in quite some time at the Nat and the crowd loved it.

Steps taken. Yes the end of the season was a great dissapointment. Still there were steps taken. This was, hands down, the most competitive team the Jackets ever iced. They cracked 80 points for the first time ever. They were a tough team to play against and the foundation and identity of the team has been layed. Some big steps to take in this offseason remain but a year like this was almost neccessary -- it just should have happened 3 years ago.

Who choked

David Vyborny. Was there a bigger dissapointment than this guy this season? Vybes went from a 64 point +6 year to only producing 26 points -8 season. Whether it be the injury he suffered early on, or that he lost a step or that Hitch's system exposed his game he was basically a non-factor for an offense in dire need of help. Vbyes represented his self well as a Jacket though and put in a some tough years here -- its a shame he never got a taste of post season hockey. I wish him all the best in his future endeavors.

Freddy Modin. Another big dissapointment this year. Modin was injury riddled all season long (really for the first time in his career) and his absence was devastating to a team desperate for goal scoring. Modin was only able to play 26 games and finished with 6g, 6a. One has to ask "what if" he could have played 70+ games where this team could have finished. We need a healthy Modin back next year.

Offense. The Jackets finished 29th out of 30 teams in goals per game scoring only 2.32 per game. The offense was a complete wreck most of the year with really only Rick Nash being the consistant threat on most nights. Lots of work to be done in this area.

Leclaire All Star snub. That one still sits in my craw.

Powerplay. One word - horrendous. Finished 26th overall and could not come up with the key goals when needed. This team desperately needs defense who can transition and run the point on a PP as well as forwards not named Nash who can score more than a goal every 10 games or so.
OT losses. Jackets had the second worst record in the league in OT/Shootouts - they lost 12 of em. Again "what if" they could have won at least half of those. They need some serious help in the shootout department (i.e. more skill).

Post All Star Break. They went 9-15-6. Including just 1 win over the last 9 games. If that isn't a choke then I don't know what is.

Game operations. I went to 3 other NHL arenas this season and ALL had a better game experience than the Jackets. Its stale and down right embarrasing some nights. Yes the canon works but everything else needs to be revamped -- from the god awful music, to the corny game break contests (chipotle chutes, whammies, humming, pies in the face, horrible video montages, etc), lets not forget the geniousus who decide to play a dumb movie clip when the Jackets fans actually have something to cheer about. Or the terrible job notifying the crowd of Tkachuk's 500....or how about I don't know SOME REPLAYS!!! I agree with the Dispatch as well -- time to move on from Machinehead -- all it reminds me of is losing.

Foote-gate. Howson got what he could so I applaud him for that but this was an ugly situation all the way around -- especially the way our so called "captain" handled it. I just hope it doesn't hurt our pursuit of free agents.

Trade deadline. I don't blame Scott Howson for moving Foote or Feds but he needed to pick up a player or two in return just for the sake of morale. No it didn't have to big a big name but somebody just to show the team and fans that he wasn't giving up on the season. Can't afford to make that mistake again next year.

Mike Priest. I'm just not impressed with this guy so far. From his bland statements in the paper about no budgets set, yadayada. To the Jackets trying to extort their season ticket holders b/c they had an outside shot at the playoffs and then their subsequent apology. To his handling of the attendance issues. I can only imagine some of the things he's doing behind the scenes. My message to Priest -- just give Hitch/Howson a 50 mil budget, sign the checks and get the hell out of their way. Wins will take care of the rest.

Transition. The Jackets started off hot b/c other teams did not know how to play them. Once they figured out all they had to do was pressure their non-skilled transtion lacking defensemen they became very vulnerable. The offense has its share of problems but when you can't make a quick transition and get those high quality scoring chances it makes things that much harder. Think about it for a sec -- with some of those games we outshot our opponent, how many of those chances were of high quality. I bet we only scored 20 goals off the rush this season. Why? Because the time we could move the puck to our forwards the other team was already in position.

Attendance. It was clear to me from the get-go judging by the attendance numbers reported that with Priest in charge there were alot fewer comped tickets and only actual tickets paid for would be counted. I've been here every year and have seen the attendance in that building --- the same attendances that were we counted as 16k one year ago were only 14k this year. I really don't feel actual attendance has fallen anywhere near what has been reported. That's b/c of this change in philosophy. Word has it the Jackets lost out on some major revenue sharing last year which is why they changed their attendance accounting practices. That all said, the Jackets need more butts in the seats -- that can get a big jump on that with a couple of big offseason moves and a playoff caliber team next year.

Duvie Wescott. Just not an NHL caliber defensemen anymore. Glad he is having success in Syracuse but expect him to be bought out this offseason.

Farewell. Lots of turnover this season. David Vyborny, Jody Shelley, Aaron Johnson, Duvie Wescott, Sergei Fedorov, Adam Foote and Curtis Glencross. Don't be surprised of Ron Hainsey, Michael Peca and Dick Tarnstrom do not return either.

Kris Russell / Derick Brassard. I really thought they would have more of an impact this season. I'm glad Brassard spent more of the year on the farm though. In retrospect it would have done Russell well to spend some time down there as well. Here's to hoping with a year of pro hockey under their belts they'll come back strong next season.

No playoffs. What else can you say, a very dissapointing end to a such a promising start.

Nashville. One win in the past 16 games. This year they took a possible 15 of 16 points from us. They can thank the Jackets for their playoff birth.

Failure to win series against Detroit and St. Louis. The Jackets blew some golden opportunities to win their season series against these two Central division opponents -- especially Detroit.

Only two 60 point scorers. Only 5 hit double digits in goals scored.

Failure to break home and road winning records. The Jackets had both in their sights. The win record at home was 23...they finished with a dissapointing 20. On the road it was 15 they finished with 14. Both could have easily been broken if the wheels didn't fall of after the ASB.

So there you have it. A final look at who smoked and who choked this season. I'm sure I missed some so please feel free to add your list in the comments.

This team is now in Scott Howson's hands. Its up to him to make sweeping changes to this roster so that the fans and city can finally get behind a playoff caliber roster.

The future has to be now.

-LTL

4 comments:

Douglas said...

It's too bad that Jackets fans are talking about the end of the year now, as opposed to even a couple weeks from now, but it is good recap the highs and lows.

**I didn't realize how high Hejda's plus/minus was compared to other D-men. WHY ISN'T THIS GUY SIGNED?? Seriously, what do you think Howson is doing here?
**Props to the R Bar. Good place.
**Rome and Wilson. Would LOVE to see more of them in Nationwide.
**Thanks, Vyborny. And sorry.
**Good luck, Glencross. I cheered you from your first game in a Jackets uni. Congrats on your successes in the NHL.
**Shelley, go get yourself a Cup. Feds, have fun playing next to Alex the Great. And Foote... well... break a leg... no, I mean it.

GO GET 'EM, HOWSON!

Shaggy said...

I'm really hoping the folks at Nationwide will do a total revamp of the game ops crew. Put up a web poll for new intro music, AND a new goal song.

If not, then I'm just going to produce some stuff myself and e-mail it to them. :)

Anonymous said...

It took a lot of guts to put Little Russ on your disappointments list! I know how much he meant to you preseason.

Priest's stock has risen for me since he's come out publicly saying "now." Too bad we could get them all to see/do LAST summer.
-JF

Anonymous said...

Good list. I think most basis are covered.

To me, the trade deadline failure was the biggest CHOKE of the year. Subtraction NHL players on an already struggling lineup and not adding a soul was outrageous.

Not only at the deadline, but Howson had all year to try to make a deal. Sure, it isn't easy to make deals, but when our November was so rocky, something had to be done. He needs to step up his game and convince me that he is capable of sealing the deal.

How a team goes from all in (trying to trade for Richards) to all out (because they didn't get him) is evidence to me of a GM who didn't have a clear backup plan.

Ridiculous.

Vyborny It's all good that you were a good player on a bad team, but when the team needed you, you opted out. Injured? I am not buying it. You didn't get your contract and you pouted, plain and simple. Enjoy the Czech Republic. It is precisely this lack of heart and character that we need to ship out.