Archive for the ‘Bottoms Up’ Category

Even Eric Staal doesn't think he should be on the All-Star ballot.

Amidst all the pondering of how Scott Arniel still has a job, the NHL released the 2012 All-Star Game ballot. The ballot is the usual mix of fan-favorites, early-season surprises, and players who have no business being on the ballot based on their play so far this season (I’m looking at you Eric Staal).

The NHL always tries to make the All-Star ballot fair and magnanimous for every team and this year is no exception. There are at least three players from every NHL team on the ballot, even teams that are mired in the basement of the NHL standings. There are currently five teams with 13 points or fewer at this point in their season. Let’s take a look at their prospective all-stars.

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The shortest seasons seem to be the longest ones.

From the outside, we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets as a team that’s gone 2-11-1 to start the season, putting them on pace for just 29 on the season, well-below the 54-point threshold set by the expansion Atlanta Thrashers in 2002, which is the lowest mark set by a team in the 30-squad NHL.

Furthermore, Columbus look to be in freefall mode. After an offseason signing a number of key defensemen—James Wisniewski, Marc Methot, Fedor Tytin—to long-term, big-money deals. They brought in 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter from Philadelphia and began the year with the fifth-highest payroll in hockey. There was a lot of reason for optimism in Columbus.

But the luck the Jackets have suffered is atrocious. They went 5-3-1 in the preseason, and from all accounts, Carter and longtime superstar Rick Nash looked terrific together, putting up points in the games they played. They each had a goal in a 4-2 win over Minnesota in the last exhibition game the two played in together. But then came the big dance, and the Jackets started out with a loss to Nashville and then lost to Minny. Then to Vancouver. Colorado, Dallas twice, Detroit and Ottawa all beat the Jackets. One of those losses was in a shootout, and four more came by a single goal.

It was until Saturday night against Philadelphia that the team, now without Jeff Carter on the injured reserve, took a 9-2 pumping that the team really got busted open. It was Quentin Tarantino directing a scene from The Walking Dead sort of bloody.

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Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win; sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. But, as a loser, you do get to hang out with Zoe Saldana. So that’s nice.

It should come as no surprise that the Columbus Blue Jackets are still in last place. What’s astonishing is how far in last place they are: this past week they managed to get just their second win of the season in their 12th game, giving them only 5 points thus far. They’re already 9 points out of a playoff spot and they’re not showing any signs of turning things around.

In a previous Bottoms Up, I opined that the Blue Jackets couldn’t possibly be as bad as their record indicated. I was right: they hadn’t won any games yet and they won 2 of their next 6. So they’re not abysmally awful, they’re just terrible.

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Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win; sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. On the plus side, being a loser worked out pretty well for Beck.

A rare image from Thursday's game between the Jets and Flyers when the puck was not in one of the nets.

I could have sworn the biggest news from the cellar this week was going to be the Columbus Blue Jackets finally winning a game. Instead, the Winnipeg Jets and the Philadelphia Flyers got into the spirit of the World Series and put up a baseball score in their game on Thursday, with 17 goals being scored between the two teams.

There are two things that are shocking about this game: first of all, they came one goal short of doubling the score from the Seattle Seahawks’ loss to the Cleveland Browns. Yeah, that’s a football game that ended 6-3. The second shocking thing is that the Jets actually won the game and propelled themselves out of last place in the Eastern Conference. Yes, in a game with 17 goals, the Jets actually scored more than their opponents.

Yesterday, Bourne gave some insight into what it’s like not to score in such a high-scoring game, but what’s crazy is that only three players on the Jets didn’t get a single point. Yeah, there were 9 goals scored, but there are 18 skaters: it seems odd that the points were so evenly distributed, with 15 players recording at least one point. Only three players recorded 3 points, one of them being perennial fourth-liner (and all-around awesome guy) Tanner Glass. It was the first 3-point game of his career, tying him with Kyle Wellwood (who only recorded one point, a goal) for third in team scoring and putting him just 5 points away from his career high 11 points in 2009-10. In the ninth game of the season. Yeah, he’s probably going to set a new career high.

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Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win; sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. But take heart losers: Switchfoot says that “only the losers win.” So you’ve got that going for you.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have started the 2011-12 season in the worst way possible. They are currently the only team left in the NHL without a win, starting the season 0-6-1. Their longest streak without a win last season was also 7 games, but in that stretch in March they managed to at least pick up 3 points by losing in overtime or the shootout.

Speaking of last season, the Blue Jackets are actually on a much longer winless streak. They finished out the 2010-11 season with an 0-4-2 record in their final 6 games, which stretches their current streak of futility to 13 games without a win.

While the general rule of thumb is to wait until 10 games to start making judgements and pronouncements, the Blue Jackets could win their next three games and still be three games below .500. The thing is, this team can’t possibly be as terrible as their record would indicate, right? Will the Blue Jackets go 82 games without a win? Are they bad beyond all infinite dimensions of possible badness?

Of course not. They couldn’t possibly be. That doesn’t mean they’re good; they’re just not this bad.

The Blue Jackets have been outscored 25 to 14 to start the year, but have actually outshot their opponents.* A few bounces going their way and their four games that they lost by one goal could have had a different result. Their powerplay was 0-for-20 through their first 4 games, but have scored powerplay goals in three straight. With James Wisniewski returning in 2 games from his preseason suspension, their powerplay should turn around.

But the main two points of concern have to be the penalty kill and the play of Steve Mason. The Blue Jackets currently boast the second-worst penalty kill in the league, just barely better than that of the Senators. One of the reasons for their shorthanded struggles is Mason’s terrible .795 shorthanded save percentage, a number that is unlikely to remain that low. Until the penalty kill gets sorted out, however, they’ll need to stay out of the box. In their latest game against the Red Wings, the Blue Jackets gave up 3 powerplay goals in a game they lost by 3 goals.

As for Steve Mason, it’s been made eminently clear that he is extremely unlikely to repeat his numbers from his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season. After putting up a .916 save percentage in 2008-09, he recorded two straight seasons with a .901 save percentage: unsurprisingly, the Blue Jackets missed the playoffs both those years. So it’s not too surprising to see him struggling, but his save percentage is currently sitting at .881. It’s not just that his statistics have to improve or he’ll lose his job; his statistics will improve once we have a large enough sample size to draw from.

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Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win; sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. These are their stories. Dun dun.

The first week of the NHL season is an odd one. Hockey fans, desperate for meaningful games after a long off-season, invest every shot, pass, and hit with universal import. Each slapshot from the point that gets blocked is a sign that your star defenceman isn’t going to score any goals this season because he can’t get his shot through traffic. Each man advantage that fails to result in a goal is a sign that your team is destined to have the league’s worst powerplay. Each puck shot from behind the net that banks in off your goaltender is a sign that he’s washed up and should be traded immediately.

Relax. While the points that are gained in October are just as valuable as those gained in March, the season is 82 games long and the events that we have seen in the NHL in this first week of action can’t even properly be considered trends yet.

Sure, the Penguins and Capitals will likely be at the top of the Eastern Conference all season long, but they’re going to lose a few games in regulation. And so will the Maple Leafs, who have won both of their games so far. Yes, the Red Wings will battle for top spot in the Central division, but does anyone expect the Avalanche and Stars to be at the top of the Northwest and Pacific divisions at the end of the season? Of course not. The quick start definitely doesn’t hurt, but their results so far just don’t seem sustainable.

But enough of the teams at the top of the league. That’s not what this feature is about. Let’s take a look at the teams in the cellar. Each conference has one team clearly in last place, a team that isn’t the least bit surprising. Each conference also has a handful of teams tied for second last, including a few that are the least bit surprising. Only the least bit, not the most bit. That would be Patrice Bergeron.

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Bottoms Up is a weekly feature on Backhand Shelf that admits that sometimes the underdog doesn’t win: sometimes they just lose and lose and lose some more. Those losers also deserve to have their stories told.

I will never get tired of this GIF.

The 2010-11 NHL season saw many tremendous tales of success. Corey Perry scoring 19 goals in his final 16 games to win the Rocket Richard trophy and carry the Anaheim Ducks into the playoffs. The Penguins battling the loss of their two biggest stars to injury to finish with the second most points in the Eastern Conference. Daniel Sedin responding to his brother Henrik’s Art Ross victory in 2010 with 104 points to win an Art Ross of his own. Tim Thomas capping off one of the most impressive regular seasons in NHL history with an astounding performance to win the Stanley Cup and the oldest player to ever win the Conn Smythe.

These are all marvelous stories and the players and teams involved all deserve praise and attention. But what about the other teams and players? What about the teams that faced adversity and tripped over it? The teams that hyped up their chances at making the playoffs at the start of the season, then found themselves hyping up a top five draft pick at the end of it. The teams that told their fans they were entering rebuilding mode…five years ago. What about those teams?

Not everyone can be a winner, but losers are people too. That’s why Bottoms Up will be telling their stories. It’s called Bottoms Up because it will be all about the teams at the bottom of the standings. Also, being a fan of a terrible team can really lead a person to the bottle.

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