39 games with the Blue Jackets - 15 goals, 25 points

Or, ‘The Phantom Menace’ is the Columbus Blue Jackets of movies

You know how some people say that Nationwide Arena was built on a Native American burial ground, which is what has led to the franchise being cursed? I prefer to say that the city of Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise on the day that principal photography began on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

That’s not entirely true, though. Photography on The Phantom Menace began on June 26, 1997 while Columbus was awarded a franchise a day earlier. The dates are close enough for me to take a few creative liberties with the situation, and with The Phantom Menace having been released in 3D last week as part of a theatrical re-release of all six Star Wars films, I think I can say that both the Blue Jackets and the Star Wars prequel series have been franchises that we were better off without.

Both have just been a disaster. The Phantom Menace destroyed our notion as children of the possibility of magic and wonder in the universe by introducing “midichlorians” to its story. Midichlorians are biological organisms present within human blood cells which give a Jedi it’s power. With one horrible line, George Lucas turned our childhood fantasies into scientific realities. The Phantom Menace, in effect, destroyed Star Wars.

Just like the Columbus Blue Jackets entry into the NHL canon effectively destroyed hockey. I have to think there are thousands of kids out there who refused to pick up a hockey stick because there was the slightest chance that they might be drafted by the Blue Jackets. We’ve seen what happened to Rick Nash - if Columbus are the Phantom Menace of the NHL, then Nash is Natalie Portman. He’s had success it seems everywhere but in Columbus, where he looks frustrated and out of place.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, inaugural season team photo

Somewhere in some hotel room somewhere, 19-year old centreman Ryan Johansen, held out of this lineup on 13 occasions this season, is softly weeping at not only the fact he’s stuck in Columbus, but also that his Portland Winterhawks are dominating the WHL. “Why won’t you let me back? Why, Scott, why?”

The scriptwriters in this case, Doug MacLean and Scott Howson, have written lines as trades along the equivalent of “you’re so beautiful because I’m so in love with you”. They spent years refusing to address issues surrounding key areas such as “scoring” and “goaltending” instead just thinking they could work it out in editing with some flashy special effects.

Wednesday and Thursday showcased the lousy script-writing, character development and direction of the franchise. On Wednesday, Scott Howson, imagining himself as the incarnate of Branch Ricket, devilishly shipped two-way centreman Antoine Vermette, a player who has a history of winning possession battles against tough opposition, for a replacement-level goaltender and the 2nd round pick of a likely playoff team.

Oftentimes, throw-ins for deals are players that a General Manager or scouting department have inquired about in the past but circumstances at the time made that player not available. This was not the case for Curtis McElhinney. He was available on re-entry waivers in December, and Columbus had first dibs if they wanted to get him at half-price earlier in the year. Apparently, they wanted to hold out so they could pay him the rest of his menial $625K salary at full price so they could trade away an excellent two-way guy (having ONE down season offensively) who is locked to a good deal through 2015.

There is a reason why Phoenix is a better team than Columbus. It is because Phoenix makes trades like Curtis McElhinney and a pair of magic beans for Antoine Vermette, and it is because Columbus makes trades like Antoine Vermette for Curtis McElhinney and a pair of magic beans.

Then there was Thursday’s trade. If the rumours that franchise winger Rick Nash might be traded were devastating for the few loyal fans who have managed to stick around with the team through a decade-plus of mis-management weren’t bad enough, the deal that shipped away Jeff Carter ought to have chased them away for good.

[Credit where credit is due to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch who broke the trade]

For Jeff Carter, who may be disgruntled in Columbus, and may be on a long contract, the Jackets got a conditional first round pick and, uh, Jack Johnson. If Carter is on a deal that might be bad in the long run, what does that make Johnson? Thanks to Eric at Broad Street Hockey for pointing this out, that Johnson has been the worst defenceman on Los Angeles for the last four seasons. The only time that he was better in Corsi in those seasons than any defenceman on the Kings was 2010 when he beat out Randy Jones.

Let that sink in: the only defenceman who has spent more time with the puck in his own end on Los Angeles in four seasons is Randy Jones. If Corsi isn’t your thing, if you sort the column by “goals against per 60 minutes” in each of the above links, you will find that Johnson has the highest goals against average on the Kings.

I posted a picture of Rick Nash in his Team Canada gear, because it depresses me to see him as a Blue Jacket.

So, maybe at age 24 he has room to improve. But Los Angeles rid themselves of a bad contract to a General Manager who I presumes only cares about the fact that Johnson was once a number-three overall pick. In return, they re-unite Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but that shouldn’t be what we worry about. Carter is still a good two-way centreman that Columbus gave up on after 39 games, one that they took on knowing that he was under contract for the next 11 years. That is a total of 4% of the games that they were prepared to pay him for in the summer when they traded away Jakub Voracek and a high first round pick for him.

I mean, if Scott Howson is qualified to be an NHL general manager, how come I’m not?

I should be qualified to be Columbus’ general manager because I would not parlay Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek into Jack Johnson and a conditional draft pick.

The only thing missing from this deal, given its roots in the state of Ohio, is a letter typed out in Comic Sans that promises fans that the Blue Jackets will win a title before the Florida Panthers ever do.

This is poor planning by the Jackets. They had no plan to succeed. After spending to the cap in the summer, they’ve slashed $9M in salary cap dollars over a two-day period, may shave $8M more with an impending Nash trade, and clearly just put the pieces together in the hopes that if they got James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter and Fedor Tyutin and Marc Methot this summer that it would all eventually work out in the end.

To quote Indiana Jones, “I’m just making this up as I go”.

But to compare the Jackets in any way to a good movie devised by George Lucas, it would be totally unfair to that flick (for the record, Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favourite film of all time). Really, the best comparable is The Phantom Menace. It was an awful bout of expansion for the NHL, rife with errors and inconsistencies. The only reason why Star Wars Episode II and III were created was because Lucas had to pretty much stick it out after the disaster of Episode I.

Will Episode II be set in Québec City, or Seattle, is the one question that remains with the Blue Jackets.

Comments (10)

  1. I really don’t see why having a bad GM is a sign that expansion in Columbus is a failed experiment. I mean, if the Blackhawks went through a rough stretch, had an awful GM, etc, people wouldn’t be talking about the team as if it failed. They wouldn’t be talking about moving the team (which incidentally won’t be happening with the new arena lease deal that just passed). Give them a chance to figure things out.

  2. Moving the Jackets would be the dumbest thing anyone’s done in hockey for the past several decades. Doug MacLean killed this team with his horrible franchise-building and now gets a bully pulpit to berate the people who are trying to clean up the mess that he started. The city’s a good market (in spite of the idiots in the Canadian media who think that when people say Columbus, they’re talking about the one in Georgia or something), and should be a very successful one.

    (To say nothing of the NHLPA’s whining about the new divisional setup screwing them out of the much-needed move East.)

    It still can be. But if they insist on stupid things like taking a first back from the Kings instead of, I don’t know, JOHNATHAN BERNIER WHEN THEY HAVE NOTHING APPROACHING COMPETENT GOALTENDING IN THEIR SYSTEM, then the team’s always going to struggle.

    Damning Columbus as a hockey market just because of the morons in the GM’s office is really unfair.

  3. And one other thing: the Kings have plenty of defensive depth. They’ll just slot Voynov into JJ’s role.

    The only thing Kings fans lose is the awesome JM/FJ t-shirts.

  4. That was…….. harsh

  5. I want to agree with a point made by Mark above: a poor records of GM’s does make a poor franchise. Maybe it means the guys in Columbus are hiring the wrong people but really, I didn’t think Columbus was doing too badly. Their owners are willing to spend but they need the right guy leading the way.

    Where it gets tricky: who would be a good GM that is available. Darryl Sutter just hahalmao oh I couldn’t get through that name being associated with good GM’s. Sorry.

    But really, who is out there? Columbus already went off the board a bit by giving the job to Howson. I just don’t see many competent GM’s being available right now. Which means two things: 1) Pierre MacGuire. 2) Cam, you COULD be the GM of this team you know if you weren’t a blogger…MSM guys are cackling, smoking a cigar, and flicking ashes into their Gino Reda mugs.

    • One option could be Craig Patrick, the new “Senior Adviser to Hockey Operations”. If there is anything this team needs, it’s a seasoned GM. While he did have some ill-advised move in the later years of his tenure with the Pens. He’s been in hockey a long time, unlike Howson. While Howson has made some good moves, this isn’t something where you learn on the job.

      • There’s also always the option of going outside this “insiders gang” of GMs and coaches.

        Anyway, I feel that, in hindsight, a GM that did nothing would have been better than Howson over the past season.

  6. Cam, generally I like your stuff, as its well reasoned and well informed. This was not that. First, the Blue Jackets are not moving. They are locked into Columbus until 2039. Second, if you are going to make the indian burial ground joke, take it a step further and go with the truth: Nationwide Arena was built on the site of the old Ohio State Penitentiary (you know, where they used to execute people). Its a better joke and is actually based in truth. Third, Curtis McElhinney is out for the year and was only a part of that deal to keep Phoenix under the 50 contract limit. He is out for the year with injury and will likely never play for either the Blue Jackets or their AHL affiliate. He basically wasn’t a part of the trade. Fourth, Carter pushed his way out and never really settled in Columbus. He HAD to be traded. There is no way Howson could have foreseen a professional athlete taking a trade so unprofessionally. Fifth, Rick Nash is a major part of the problem in Columbus and there is no reason to feel pity for him. He is a player who picks his spots and is excellent for a couple of shifts or games in a row, then invisible for a few weeks. Since he generally picks the Olympics/World Championships to turn it on, most Canadian fans have a very inflated sense of how good he is. You use the underlying numbers to point out how inflated the worth of Jack Johnson is, go check out the same things for Nash (generally has high off. zone starts, mediocre corsi rel qoc, and a mediocre corsi rel). With all that he still manages to put up very mediocre numbers. Seventh, the Blue Jackets have more than a “few” loyal fans. This season has been abysmal and they still managed to have a sell out last weekend. They have generally had pretty solid attendance, pulling in close to 15,000 per game (of an 18,000 capacity rink).

    We do agree on one thing though: Jack Johnson is a terrible hockey player. Oh and the Vermette trade was bad. Oh and that Howson’s plan was flawed. Oh and that Phantom Menace is terrible. You did get a few things right.

  7. Columbus reminds me of something Roger Ebert said in a review (the movie title escapes me), roughly paraphrased “I’m supposed to suggest how the Blue Jackets could be better…and I can’t except to say start over.”

    I feel sorry for Ryan Johansen, who’s stuck with spending the start of his NHL career in the basement.

    I feel sorry for Steve Mason who continually gets bile and scorn poured on him…yet is hung out to dry every night.

    I feel sorry for Nash, who has the tools and the talent to excel in the NHL and yet may be stuck in Columbus thanks to an albatross of a contract.

    Taking two other recent sadsack teams, the Oilers and the Islanders as an example.

    The Oilers have a wealth of prospects and are probably only a couple of D-Men and a goalie away from a play-off spot.

    The Islanders have drafted (reasonably) well and made some nice pick ups in Montoya and Moulson. They likely won;t make the playoffs this year but the momentum builds as the players buy into the Garth Snow era.

    What do the Blue Jackets have to look forward to in the next few years? Lottery picks.

    Worst of all, if the Coyotes do stay in Phoenix then you have to imagine that all eyes will turn to Columbus if Seattle and Quebec City are clamouring for an NHL team.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *