Let's talk some hockey

Article

posted 9/29/2005 by Charles Husemann
other articles by Charles Husemann
Platforms:
While it’s hard to really think that anyone really won anything out of the lockout except for the owners, the Columbus Blue Jackets are one of the teams that made out after the lockout.

The most obvious way is that with the new economic structure the Blue Jackets were able to land some big name free agents to bolster their rosters.  Without the new CBA there’s no way that Adam Foote is wearing a Blue Jackets crest on the front of his chest this season and Bryan Berard would still be skating to empty seats in Chicago.

A slightly less obvious benefit is that a lot of the Blue Jackets young talent had a year away to grow up and get more experience under their belt.  As a young franchise (you take your expansion tag and shove it where the sun doesn’t shine, the same with the phrase “non traditional hockey market”), the Blue Jackets are brimming with a lot of young, inexperienced talent. The Jackets were able to develop their players who will be playing on NHL ice this year with all of those players having played at some level last year.

The most obvious of those is Rick Nash.  Rick followed up an excellent 2003-2004 campaign in which he tied for the Rocket Richard trophy with one of the best years off a player could have.  Between winning a European championship with Joe Thornton and helping Canada win a silver medal in last years World’s, Rick not only got to fine tune his hockey skills but also develop some leadership skills and get a taste of what it’s like to win a championship.

After a long struggle to get out of the Russian hockey program, Nikolai Zherdev actually went back to his home land to play during the off-season and came back a much better player.  Nikolai’s stick and puck work was already amazing before the lockout and after catching a few scrimmages, practices, and pre-season games it’s certainly gotten better.  The only concern with Zherdev now is if he is going to become a full two-way player or if he’s going to continue to float around and only play when he feels like it.

Another beneficiary of the season away from the NHL was defenseman Rostislav “Rusty” Klesla. The Blue Jackets’ first round pick from 2000.  Over the last few years, Rusty has shown flashes of why he was a number 1 pick but was never able to play at that level consistently. This year Rusty came to camp not only a lot bigger (and not in the Keith Tkachuk pizza and doughnuts way) but with an edge and confidence that he lacked in prior seasons.  Playing with Adam Foote was certainly part of the equation but Rusty was doing a lot of it on his own.  The only thing Rusty wasn’t able to keep at bay was the injury bug as he is now out for the next four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right leg.

During the off season, the Blue Jackets picked up goaltender Martin Prusek as a backup to starting goaltender Marc Denis, sending a clear message to 2001 draft pick Pascal Leclaire that he’s going to have some competition in camp.  Pascal responded this year and has been head and shoulders the best goalie in camp, creating the first ever goalie crisis in Jackets history.

And these are just the first round picks.  The Jackets are also expecting contributions from Aaron Johnson, Jaroslav Balastik, and Dan Fritsche. Between the youngsters and the new additions and the other talent on the team (David Vyborny is one of the most underrated players in this league), the team finally plays some meaningful games late in the season rather than just using them as a way to break in new talent.

 Like every other NHL franchise, the big question for the Blue Jackets is “Will the fans return?” Will all of the ugliness of the lockout cause fans to stay away from the game?  The Blue Jackets got their answer on Tuesday, Sept. 13 when the Jackets opened up Nationwide Arena for the first scrimmage and over 3000 fans showed up.  That’s 3000 fans that showed up after work, paid for parking and overpriced concession food.  Couple that with the 95% season ticket renewal date and I don’t think the Jackets are going to have much of an attendance drop off this season.

For those fans who can't make the games the Jackets have also re-worked their television crew by bringing in former ESPN NHL analyst Brian Engblom and former Panthers announcer Jeff Rimer.  Both are outstanding upgrades and match the excellent radio team of Bill Davidage and George Matthews.  During the lockout Jeff Rimer was on the local sports station helping to promote the game and provide much needed information to the hockey starved masses.

Personally I'm just elated that I'm going to be able to get back in and watch professional hockey on a weekly basis.  Playing the game at the beer league level two to three nights a week or watching college hockey just isn't a proper substitute for watching the game played at the professional level.





Page 1 of 1