Behind the 8 Ball

The non-hockey market of Columbus, Ohio will have to continue waiting for a contender. No biggie, right? It has only been 12 years.

I doubt that very many people really care but the Columbus Blue Jackets are once again left to rebuild. An expansion franchise that has never really found its way in the National Hockey League, the Blue Jackets will likely be clawing its way up from the bottom of the barrel for another couple of years at least.

Unfortunately, this rebuild happened 1 year too late.

The trade for Jeff Carter in the off-season predictably did not have the desired results for GM Scott Howson. They gave up a 1st and 3rd round pick along with Jakub Voracek for a guy who ended up playing 39 unmotivated games. I have cottage cheese in my fridge that has lasted longer than that. Luckily for the Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi threw Scott Howson a bone. Howson got a 1st round pick back as well as underachieving defenseman Jack Johnson.

Nevertheless, Scott Howson messed up worse than Vince Young on the wonderlic test.

He wasted a year for the Blue Jackets that they can never get back. A year that he could have spent in full rebuild mode. Instead, Howson has had to scramble before the trade deadline to get something of value for his expendable pieces.

He traded Jakub Voracek, Samuel Pahlsson and, of course, Jeff Carter for a bunch of drafts picks. A 1st (2013 conditional), 2nd (2012), 4th (2012), 4th (2012), and a 5th (2013 conditional) to be exact.

The silver lining to this less than perfect scenario is that the Blue Jackets sit dead last in the NHL by a gigantic margin despite their best attempts to contend for a Stanley Cup this year. As sad as that is in itself, the fact that they are guaranteed a top 3 pick in the 2012 draft can be of some comfort to Scott Howson on those very lonely nights.

However, with that being said, the Blue Jackets have yet to trade their most coveted piece in all-star winger Rick Nash. His $7.8 million cap hit through the 2014-15 season, no-movement clause and all. According to Howson today, Rick Nash approached the team about a possible trade but nothing got done. Rick Nash is still stuck in the purgatory that is Columbus for the time being.

Rick Nash will be dealt eventually, probably around the time of 2012 draft. It will mark the end of a very miserable era in Columbus.

After Nash is gone, the best thing Scott Howson can do for his franchise is be patient. He thought last offseason, like the kid who spoils his appetite with the cookie before dinner, that being patient wouldn’t be worth it. He knew that getting Jeff Carter back then sounded good and didn’t think it would affect his whole team negatively. Like the kid eating his cookie before dinner, Scott Howson upset the natural order of things. He had his dessert before dinner was ready. When it is dinnertime, Howson is the one at the table who won’t be able to enjoy it.

That cookie doesn’t taste so good now does it Scotty?

They say that patience is a virtue. Not enough General Manger’s have it apparently.

The last week has shown that Scott Howson is willing to change his tune but for how long? Those Brian Burke, Jay Feester get Stanley Cup quick schemes simply don’t work like they’re supposed to. The Leafs and Flames sit at 10th and 11th in their respective conferences. Scott Howson is just going to have to suck it up for the long haul this time. It’s the only way.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have already put themselves behind the 8 ball. They can’t afford to waste anymore years.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. Also, follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

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NHL Trade Deadline Culture Change

Brad Richards headlined the not traded list following this year's NHL Trade Deadline

Even though the 2011 version of Canada’s second Christmas ended up being more like my great aunt’s birthday party, it may have signalled the beginning of a new culture in the NHL.

The NHL and NBA essentially switched positions this year as it was the NBA drawing headlines from a flurry of deadline deals. Generally, the NHL trade deadline is filled with intense madness as the clock strikes 3, with every Canadian sports channel and website giving you up to the minute updates and analysis on the most recent happenings around the league.

The lack of flare from this year’s trade deadline could be explained by the short supply of marquee and impact players on the trading block. That’s the easy explanation.

It seems to me though that the increasing acquisition of rental players by teams in recent years not translating to playoff success has led General Managers to realize the downfall of selling the farm for 2 months of a star player that you will most likely be unable to retain in the off-season. It has become apparent that, in the new millennium, past Stanley Cup Winning teams have not been forced to make major acquisitions in order to take home a title.

Whether it’s the inability for the acquired player to mesh well with the current roster, the team’s roster simply not being good enough, or luck being the cause of the failure of rental players, NHL front offices have taken notice.

This year’s most prominent moveable asset was soon to be free agent forward Brad Richards of the Dallas Stars who currently sits 8th in league scoring. The Dallas Stars are very much in the playoff race, sitting at 8th in the Western conference coincidentally, and the dilemma of trading or keeping Richards had caused the price for the Star forward to be quite steep.

The New York Rangers, who were rumoured to be the front-runners in the Brad Richards sweepstakes, would have had to pay a pretty penny to attain him. It didn’t happen. The Rangers decided to continue with their strategy of building around their young core of players.

Well, it’s about time.

In 2008, deadline day acquisition Marian Hossa was a key component in the Pittsburgh Penguin’s run to the Stanley Cup Final. It sure worked out for the Pens in 2008, but more often than not we see the teams that take on rental player’s finish their season more like Peter Forsberg and the Nashville Predators did in 2007. The Predators gave up Ryan Parent, Scottie Upshall, as well as their 1st and 3rd round picks for Forsberg and were eventually ousted by the San Jose Sharks in the first round. Through the beauty of hindsight we see that in actuality the trade was not all that bad. Nevertheless, it’s the process that counts not the result.

The overwhelming amount of failed deadline day shake-ups appears to have had a significant effect on the NHL. Teams are starting to place more importance on keeping prized prospects and quality draft picks while acquiring the steady, bottom 6 players that could be that slight difference between Lord Stanley and a 12:30 tee time.

Even the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brian Burke have shifted gears. Prior to the common insanity that accompanies the trade deadline, Burke traded away proven current NHLers Tomas Kaberle and Kris Versteeg in exchange for prospects and draft picks. Much to everyone’s surprise, Burke stood pat on deadline day.

There was only one striking trade this year with Dustin Penner’s tenure in oil town coming to a close. The Los Angeles Kings gave up first round draft pick Colten Teubert (13th overall) in addition to their 1st and 3rd draft picks to attain the 28-year-old power forward.

The number 1 seed Vancouver Canucks acquired Christopher Higgins and Maxim Lapierre, a couple of veteran depth forwards, in return for some minor prospects and mid-round draft picks.

This feeling of the need for a top defenseman or renowned forward seems to be slowly deteriorating and the 2011 trade deadline could very well be the start of this changing philosophy around the NHL.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. You can also follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will gladly return the favor.

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Toronto Maple Laughs

It has been 42 long years since the Toronto Maple Leafs have even made an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals and it doesn’t look like they are close to breaking the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL. In past years the Toronto Maple Leafs have had teams that have been close to Stanley cup teams but came up just short. Recently though the Maple Leafs, one of the most storied NHL franchises, have been perennial bottom-feeders. For bottom place teams the NHL draft, which takes place tonight, is usually the best place to start building a foundation for the future. However, unlike other teams of their kind, the Maple Leafs under GM Brian Burke have chosen not to take the rebuilding route. Despite his best efforts to make the Maple Leafs an immediate winner, it was and still is apparent that Brian Burke did indeed make the wrong decision and now there is no turning back.

Brian Burke has stated numerous times that he is not going to rebuild and that he strongly believes the Maple Leafs are a team that has the right pieces in place to build a winning franchise immediately. With this school of thought, at the beginning of last season Brian Burke decided to deal his 2010 and 2011 first round picks and his 2010 second round pick for Phil Kessel. Toronto ended up finishing second last in the league and subsequently the draft lottery provided the Boston Bruins with the #2 pick overall in the 2010 draft. The #2 pick this year is either going to be Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin who both qualify as very good #1 overall picks. Instead of being able to draft a young, cheap franchise player to build around, the Maple Leafs have a quality, expensive (5 years $27 milllion) 1st line forward. Also, as mentioned they do not have their first round pick next year, which will probably end up being another top 5 pick.

For me the key to building a good franchise comes from investing your resources in scouting and developing young players. In the new salary cap NHL, having quality inexpensive youth is the key to developing a good team. Obviously Brian Burke doesn’t feel the same way.

Phil Kessel is arguably worth 2 first round picks but he is definitely not worth 2 most likely high first round picks. The problem with giving up high first round draft picks for a proven scorer is that there is nobody for a guy of his calibre to play with. I would like to know what the logic is behind bringing in a young, proven, expensive and a supposed franchise player when there are no quality pieces to surround him with. If you have no pieces in place then the most logical way of finding quality pieces would probably be through the draft. However, when you’re constantly giving up your future there is almost no way you can build around a supposed franchise forward.

The Toronto Maple Leafs do have some good young pieces. For example, Mikhail Grabovski, Viktor Stalberg, and Luke Schenn but these guys are not the players that are going to carry a team . Bringing in Dion Phaneuf for a number of middle-of-the-road players is probably the right decision at this point. The initial problem was overpaying for players such as Jeff Finger and Francois Beauchemin who, because of their age, had hit their ceiling before ever coming to Toronto. Building a team around Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf and no name Joe is not going to get the job done.

The inability for Brian Burke to be patient has made it so his team doesn’t stand a chance of being a real contender in the years to come. Following in the footsteps of the Chicago Blackhawks’ front office would have been more sensible decision. The Blackhawks’ four core pieces, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Kane, and Jonathan Toews were all acquired through the draft. In addition to those 4, the Blackhawks also drafted Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer, Adam Burish, and Dustin Byfuglien who were all intergral players from their Stanley Cup winning team. It is also evident that their extra money poured into scouting allowed them to steal away Patrick Sharp and Kris Versteeg in trades for virtually nothing.
After the Blackhawks finally had the right young pieces in place, they were then able to sign a couple of major free agents in Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa. I guess patience eventually only led the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup victory, but what is that worth anyways?

With the NHL draft going on today and the Toronto Maple Leafs without their top first round pick it looks like it’s going to be another disappointing season for the team and their fans. The Toronto Maple Leafs do not have the correct pieces in place right now and I don’t think that they will be able to find them through free agency or trades. It is possible that Maple Leaf teams of the future could slip into the 7 or 8 seeds because of the weakness of the Eastern Conference but Brian Burke has set his team up for a future of mediocrity.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. I’m now on twitter! Follow me at http://www.twitter.com/paintstheblack.

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