directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Time for a Change

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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Time for a Change

At the end of July, 2006, the Blue Jackets and the Syracuse Crunch extended their affiliation agreement for a minimum of four years (starting in 2006-’07). In the joint statement announcing the deal, issued by Crunch owner Howard Dolgon and former CBJ Executive Vice-President Jim Clark, both spoke highly of each other and of a mutually beneficial relationship moving forward.

As we prepare to enter the second month of the young ’09-’10 season, four years since the big announcement between the CBJ and the Crunch, we have come to the point where the agreement must be reexamined. Much has changed in the status of the relationship between the two organizations. In that light, it may be time for a change.

First, let’s look at the status of the relationship before the ’06-’07 agreement. Between 2000, when the Crunch disassociated with the Canucks and joined up with Columbus, and 2006, the Crunch had a .545 winning percentage (220-177-43-33-7 record in 480 games). The six seasons prior to the affiliation with Columbus saw Syracuse putting up a .444 winning percentage (180-234-53-13 record).

Meanwhile, we all know the turmoil that encompassed the Columbus Blue Jackets during this time. The on ice produce was somewhere between terrible and abominable, and the franchise was often run like a fantasy team owner on crazy pills. Frankly, the best thing the franchise had going was a strong relationship with its AHL affiliate and its beautiful arena . . . and a young kid named Nash.

The 2006-’07 season stands as the crossroads of the franchise in Columbus. Gerard Gallant was fired on November 13, 2006 and Ken Hitchcock was hired by the late, great John H. McConnell on November 22 of the same year. At the conclusion of the season, Doug MacLean was canned, Mike Priest was brought on as the Jackets’ President, and Scott Howson was chosen to serve as the team’s General Manager. Jim Clark was phased out and eventually not retained, and Chris MacFarland became the Assistant General Manager in 2008.

It is somewhere during this transition that the apparent relationship between the Crunch and Blue Jackets changed. It has become apparent that the Blue Jackets organization, from Scott Howson through Chris MacFarland, has a much different (better) feel for how to internally develop players. The problem is, this development has often seemed to be at the expense of the Crunch (especially in the eyes of their fans and one particular Syracuse newspaper columnist).

To be frank, I understand the frustration of many of the Crunch fans. Syracuse is an excellent hockey market. The city has a deep history in the sport. War Memorial is a special place to watch the game of hockey, and the city itself has roots in the AHL and around the Calder Cup dating back to the Syracuse Stars in the ‘30s. As a matter of fact, Syracuse was the first Calder Cup champion in 1937. How frustrating must it be, in the eyes of Crunch fans, to have a historically inept franchise dictate how the Crunch players must be coached and used only to then see these very same guys removed from the roster without equal replacement (see Nikita Filatov, Dan Smith, Steve Mason, and most recently, Stefan Legein)?

With that being said, I find little to no fault in the inner workings of the Blue Jackets (with the exception of the Filatov situation), and am gracious to actually have a front office that knows what the heck they are doing when developing talent. There have been more up-and-coming success stories in the Howson and Hitchcock years than we saw during the entire PEI-MacClean-Clark era.

So what is there do? The Blue Jackets will not stop swinging trades like they did this afternoon, shipping off “damaged goods Legein” for a prospect they believe in at the expense of the Crunch. They will not resign the Dan Smith’s of the world if they feel it will take ice time from their younger prospects with “more upside.” And they will not hesitate to recall a blue chip prospect like Filatov if they feel it will keep him in the States and will help him to absorb anything that will help the Big Club in the future. These are the facts, and the facts are incredibly and understandably frustrating for Crunch fans.

Thus, I think it is time to sever the link between the two organizations. Frankly, the Syracuse market wants more autonomy and success and the Blue Jackets franchise is missing a tremendous opportunity to develop its own brand elsewhere.

The Blue Jackets must find a way to affiliate with the Lake Eire Monsters. From a business perspective, it is a no brainer. Cleveland is an untapped hockey hotbed, and the Jackets need to do whatever they can to bring more of the Cleveland marketplace under the Columbus umbrella. A perfect counterpart to the Indians-Clippers relationship, the further joining of the sports communities in Central and Northern Ohio can only stand to benefit the CBJ.

The Monsters do not have the passionate, respectable, and knowledgeable fans like are found in Crunch. This is a shame. The city knows the game, and Cleveland has all the makings of a great hockey city (as it was before Columbus even came on to the hockey map). The only way to further cultivate this relationship and passion is to grow the Jackets market through the eyes of the Monsters fans.

On the flip side, Syracuse is a market that deserves something different than what the CBJ will provide. It is obvious that many fans are disgruntled. They are likely to be better served through an affiliation with an NHL franchise that will allow the Crunch to be more autonomous. Similarly, a larger-market team who could afford to pay established AHL veterans without hindering the future seems like a much better fit than anything that could be provided by the CBJ.

Only time will tell if the great handshake between Syracuse and Columbus will finally end. Let’s hope so, for the sake of both organizations.


Pub said...

Excellent article Pucklaw!!!

Anonymous said...


Cant agree with you more. I started reading the Syracuse blogs about 2 years ago to keep an eye on the young, up and coming CBJ prospects. I noticed over the past year or so the fans think that Columbus treats them like a little brother.

I have been looking at the Monsters and thinking of what a great compliment they would be to our market. I could actually drive a few hours to see a game if I wanted to.

I say do it and let the Crunch fans become tied to some other club that treats them worse than we do!

Bruce said...

The Crunch are the MINOR league affiliate of the Blue Jackets. Nothing more. All AHL teams have the same issues, but they have gotten so damn whiny that I stopped reading their blog. Nothing but sour grapes and complaints about how poorly they are being treated.

I am in favor of changing the affiliation just so they will stop posting on the CBJ blogs.


Brandon said...

why not cincinnati? i say this as a cincinnati resident mind you, but i believe the city has a stronger history of supporting minor league teams including both the AHL mighty ducks and the ECHL Cyclones together for seven seasons(1995-2005). currently the clones play at the downtown US Bank Arena(12000) but there is also the historic Cincinnati Gardens(10000) without a major tenant. while Cleveland embraces hockey more overall(youth involvement, high schools), Cincinnati has supported minor league hockey well for the last 19+ years.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone actually in a position of power in Syracuse actually said anything negative about the Columbus relationship?

Because I assure you, if anything anything remotely critical was said, even off the record, Lindsay Kramer would certainly have written about it.

A stable AHL relationship is very beneficial for Columbus. Take a look at Dallas. They had a couple of years without a true affiliate. They've also declined over the past year and a half, because they have been unable to replace some of their key loses. The Stars organization has failed to develop any prospects, and the lack of a true affiliate, where they can induce players into the organizational culture and have their prospects develop under their own guys, certainly played a role in that.

There's no doubt that the crew sucks. I could write a better article in 5 minutes on my blackberry then Kramer could in 5 hours. I also think it's safe to assume that Dan Smith has some compromising pictures of Allomivo. But quite honestly, who gives a fuck what those idiots think? I know that Portzline and the people who comment on are idiots, but do we base opinions of the Blue Jackets on what they squawk?

The point of this rant is, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. We've seen some decent talent come out of Syracuse, and they have given Columbus total control over the Crunch Roster, which is not common. The Columbus-Syracuse relationship is great, and you shouldn't let Kramer and a couple of idiots, with no connection to the team, convince you otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Completely agree. Like others, I check the Syr. blogs to keep tabs on OUR (they are ours...) prospects. The whining and cheap shots at the CBJ are way over the top.

I get the Syracuse history. Have been to the building for a game years ago, and love a passionate fanbase. But "passion" does not always equal "in touch with reality." Look no further than a few blocks north of NWA for a glaring example.

I have friend in Cleveland who are sports fans, and who at least at some level have been hockey fans--they were hockey fans at BGSU durign the glory days of the 80's there. They have no idea about the Blue Jackets and seem to wonder what all the fuss is about. Linking the two franchises (CBJ and LEM) could help bring some interest to both teams and hopefully allow our friends from upstate New York to find a partner who they find more suitable.

Honkeytonk said...

I think this hits the nail on the head.

All the people that are freaking out on Syracuse fans: it is what it is. This, along with Syracuse U. sports, are huge for the home town folks. They get attached to the team, its players, and its storylines as much as people do with college sports in other cities. The Crunch are very important to the community, and they don't like to see a crap product on the ice.

So why fault their passion? Isn't it good for the game. Instead, let them move on and hope that the CBJ establishes a mutually beneficial arrangement with someone else.

As far as the Lindsay Kramer bashing... come on now. At least the newspaper actually covers the AHL team. That's more than can be said in Cleveland or many other spots. He keeps the fans up to date, and keeps their passions going much as AP and TR do for the CBJ. Anyone remember the EMO post by AP last year, predicting the end of the franchise if things didn't turn around?

Patrick said...

Excellent article is right.

I guess I never considered this possibility, but now that you broach the topic, it is obvious. This would benefit all three teams.

Make it happen, Howson!

Also, dak0ta, I must stand up for APortzline. I think he's not an idiot. That blog is a fantastic resource.

Anonymous said...

You're correct Patrick, Portzline isn't that bad. He's certainly gotten better. It's been awhile since he's written a gushing entry about Konopka.

And Honkeytalk is right, Kramer does a superb job keeping the fans informed on the team. It's when he injects his opinions that the problems start

sologake said...

This is a shame. The city knows the game, and Cleveland has all the makings of a great hockey city

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riderwear said...

All people who are going crazy fans of Syracuse, is what it is. This, together with the U. sports Syracuse is huge for the city people. They focus on the team, its players and its intrigues as much as people do with college sports in other cities. The crunch is very important to the community, and they see a crappy product on the ice.

So because of your passion? Is not it good for the game otherwise, let them go and hope that the CBJ established a mutually beneficial agreement with another person.

As for Lindsay Kramer attacks ... Come on now. At least the document covers the AHL team. It is more than can be said in Cleveland or more elsewhere. It keeps fans up to date and keep their passions are much like AP and TR do for the CBJ. Anyone remember the AP EMO publication last year, predicting the end of the franchise if things turn around?

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I guess I never considered this possibility, but now that you broach the topic, it is obvious. This would benefit all three teams.

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