Columbus Blue Jackets: First Quarter-Season Player Performance Analysis

Ed CmarCorrespondent INovember 28, 2009

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Raffi Torres #14 of the Columbus Blue Jackets skates during the game against the Calgary Flames on October 13, 2009 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

As mentioned, I’d like to offer my analysis of the performances of the Blue Jacket players, for the first quarter of the season.  While not scientific, it’s a pretty fair approximation on how their players have performed thus far.

Combining their best ever start to a season with their recent 0-3-1 road slump allows for quite a distribution of analysis, pro and con.

So, here’s how I see it:

Stellar – Rick Nash, Raffi Torres and Jan Hejda.

Nash – Rating Rick Nash in the stellar category depends on whether you are in the school of scoring or in the school of responsible, two-way play.  If it’s the former, no doubt as to Nash’s first quarter-season start—by far, his best, ever, with 27 points in 24 games.

However, if the later, there is some cause for concern, particularly if you look at Nash’s +/- rating, the league’s fourth worst at -11.  I believe this later indicator will improve, particularly if the team returns to their more defensive-oriented style versus their current obsession with getting into track meets. 

Nonetheless, Nash’s +/- numbers are puzzling, given his reputation in developing into one of the league’s premier two-way stars.

Raffi Torres – Torres could certainly be put in the category of pleasant surprise, coming off an injury-plagued 2008-2009 campaign.  This season, however, Torres has returned to his former self, being both a physical force, and quite possibly, one of the NHL’s premier “garbage goal” collectors. 

This distinction is mostly a credit to his determination, getting into the dirty areas, having a nose for the puck, and being around the net, something that’s quite rare for the majority of the Blue Jacket forwards.  Torres is definitely a plus fourth line star.

Jan Hejda – The Big Plus’ season assessment is a bit qualified, given his absence for three weeks, due to a knee injury.  Also puzzling are the numerous amount of games in which the Blue Jackets have surrendered 5 or more goals, many of which Hejda was a part of. 

So much for the theory that the tennis match scores—losses in which the CBJ allowed six goals—were a result of Hejda’s absence, as Hejda was healthy during games in which the Jackets gave up six, seven, and nine goals in a game.  However, these breakdowns are more a result of the overall defensive corps play than the performance of their most dependable player.

Dow Jones-ers – These are players who have been up and down, much like the stock market.  They are, as follows: RJ Umberger, Derick Brassard, Jake Voracek, Mathieu Garon, Kristian Huselius, and Rusty Klesla.

Umberger – Granted, Umberger is a traditionally slow starter, something that was only enhanced due to him getting used to a new team and new linemates, but, it’s also evident that RJ is prone to getting into some swoons.  There are periods in which Umberger disappears and is prone to turning over the puck, something that was less frequent. 

However, when his game is on, and when engaged, there is still no doubt that Umberger is the heart and conscious of this team.

Brassard – Brassard, so far, has been prone to more lows than highs. Struggling with faceoffs, with digging out pucks in the corners, with the two-way game, and being tentative, with and without the puck, have all contributed to his struggles. 

As a result, Brassard has been moved down to the second and, in some cases, the fourth line.  Just when this would appear to classify him in the ‘cause for concern’ category, Brassard then shows those glimpses of the player who originally was the CBJ’s Calder Trophy candidate. 

If Brassard can improve his faceoff results, and tighten up his defensive game, he definitely can move back up to the first line, and ease any sophomore jinx worries.

Jakub Voracek – of the CBJ’s super-sophs, Voracek appears to be the one destined to take the next step in his development, something not yet seen with Brassard or Steve Mason.  Unfortunately, this is not to say there haven’t been lapses particularly recently. Like Brassard, there are signs of tentative play. 

However, there are also signs that Voracek’s two-way game is developing, and with it, the increased trust of coach Ken Hitchcock, as evidenced by his consistent placement on the team’s second line.

Mathieu Garon – The intent in signing Garon was to not only play over a quarter of the team’s regular season games, thus spelling Steve Mason, and avoiding fatigue, but also to serve as someone to challenge Mason and, at times, serve as a stopper, when Mason and the team went into a funk. 

Overall, Garon has met that goal.  In fact, were it not for Garon, the CBJ could be in far worse shape.

Kristian Huselius – “Juice” is quite easily the team’s premier Dow Jones-er.  In his particular case, his season can be broken down in two parts:  Pre-IR and Post-IR.  Prior to his brief stint on the injured reserve (IR), Juice had a penchant for not only disappearing in games, but being the CBJ’s preeminent “turnover machine”.

I contend that the “injury” was more a long-term healthy scratch than an injury, per se.  While I don’t have specific evidence to my assertion, it is quite interesting that Juice’s problems, and his return to his world-class playmaking ways, magically disappeared.  Either way, welcome back, Juice!

Rusty Klesla – The blueline’s version of the Dow Jones index.  It was one of the biggest questions to start the season:  which Rusty will we see?  The playoff Rusty, who quite easily was the CBJ’s most dominant defenseman, or the Rusty of his prior eight seasons, in which he both pleased and disappointed, mostly the later. 

To date, Klesla has offered both versions—I vote for the playoff Rusty, the other version can leave, pronto.

Steady – Methot, Pahlsson, Dorsett

Mark Methot – Some analysts have been harsher than I, regarding this second-year defenseman; however, I see, Jan Hejda, aside, their most consistent defender.  Evidence of this consistency and development is the praise and trust of both GM Scott Howson and Coach Ken Hitchcock.

Samuel Pahlsson – Pahlsson was lauded as the CBJ’s first true “shutdown” center, one who can be pitted against the opponent’s top scoring lines.  As Ken Hitchcock has said, “Sammi’s a 50-goal guy—he scores about 10 goals and prevents 40 goals (that would have been scored, otherwise).” 

Well, so far, Pahlsson hasn’t disappointed, as he’s one of the few steady forwards on the team.

Derek Dorsett – A real fan favorite, and one who has stepped up in crunch time. Case in point, his solid Stanley Cup Playoff performance, one in which he forged the trust of Hitchcock. 

Dorsett is also one who, like Jared Boll, knows his role on the team, that being an agitator—the man is quickly building quite a list of enemies—as well as player who also isn’t afraid to do the dirty work, as well as showing potential goal-scoring ability, something that should increase as he gains experience. 

The downside to Dorsett is his petal-to-the-metal style of play often results in injuries, sometimes serious ones.

Welcome Back – Jared Boll – Boll was quite the surprise during his rookie season, first, by making the squad during training camp, and quickly becoming one of the league’s biggest agitators and pugilists, as evidenced by his rankings in both penalty minutes and in fighting majors. 

Then came season two:  Well, it’s safe to say that was one season to forget.  Boll injured himself playing shinny—basically, ice or street hockey, sans rules—before the season began, then got the worse end of a season-opening fight against Krys Barch (I believe the term, “Out on your feet” applied, here).

Boll basically never recovered from that horrendous start, mostly due to over-thinking, and not play the game that got him to the NHL-level.  Well, I’m happy to report that rookie-year Boll is back, and has recently also improved his offensive game, something that could benefit the team as a plus fourth line player.

As Expected – Jason Chimera – Like last season, Chimera came out of the gate, like gangbusters, as he was paired with rookies Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek.  Then came the changing of the lines, a dynamic CBJ fans have gotten used to during the Ken Hitchcock regime. 

As a result of the changing lines, along with a nagging groin injury, Chimera was basically not heard from again, the remainder of the season.  Then came this season: same hot start, same cooling off period.  It’s just the downside of a player who’s generally one-dimensional: speed, and not much else.

Jury’s Still Out – Blunden, Tyutin

Mike Blunden – Blunden was one player who was often on the lips of CBJ brass as a player to watch for, this season.  Blunden presents a combination of size and scoring ability.  While the size and physicality has presented itself, the scoring hasn’t yet surfaced.

Fedor Tyutin – Tyutin’s miserable start is similar to last season’s struggles – Tyutin did, however, rectify himself and developed into one of the CBJ’s premier all-around defenders.  This season’s struggles are generally due to the ever-changing defensive pairings, primarily due to the injuries of their two top defenders, from last season, Jan Hejda and Mike Commodore. 

The hope is that once the defensive corps gets healthy, Tyutin will bring his game back to the level of the later part of last season.

Pleasant Surprise – Derek MacKenzie – MacKenzie was, prior to this season, someone who I’ve described as the “Crash Davis” of the NHL, a guy who can put up solid statistics in the minors, but had only showed moderate success at the NHL level. 

Well, once again, as a result of a rash of injuries, MacKenzie was called up to the CBJ; only, this time, he has been quite a steadying player, one, like Torres, who does the dirty work and brings a physical game, night in, night out.  I hope his performance, to date, brings an end to the frequent trips to/from their AHL affiliate (Syracuse).

N/A, Sick Bay – Murray, Modin

Andy Murray – One of Hitch’s favorite players, Murray plays a type of game that’s to be admired in the Hitchcock lexicon, “heavy” and “weighty”.  This is one player who, while not flashy, brings a physical presence that’s ideal for the fourth line, and a penchant for logging game-winning goals, for those few he tallies, during the regular season.  Word is Murray’s due back, shortly—it can’t come soon enough.

Fredrik Modin – There’s no timetable for his return.  Modin’s last three seasons have been an abject disaster – he has played in only half of the regular season games, the past two seasons, but was really healthy for only half of those games in which he played. 

It’s quite tragic, on many levels, as Modin was once one of the games true warriors and great goal-scoring finishers.  Modin was also one of the steadying influences in the clubhouse, something that having a healthy version would certainly fill a veteran leadership void, for the league’s youngest team.

Cause For Concern – Mason, Commodore

Steve Mason – I’ve written more than a few articles on this topic.  Some constituents don’t see the reason for concern.  Well, if that’s really true, then explain how Mason goes from being the Calder Trophy award winner, and the Vezina Trophy runner-up, to having one of the league’s worst Goals Against Averages (GAA), as well as one of the worst Save Percentage figures. 

What’s more disturbing, as I’ve often written, is that what was once his strength – his calm demeanor, his mental toughness, one far beyond his year, and his stellar technique – have all seemed to have eluded him, on a consistent basis. 

For every solid performance that teases you into believing he’s returned to rookie season form, is often followed by horrendous performances, often resulting in getting pulled after giving up a slew of goals – many in areas in which he was never beaten, last season.  Mason’s return to form can’t occur soon enough, and may be necessary, if the Blue Jackets have any aspirations to return to the post season.

Mike Commodore – This one has frustrated the fan base, the organization, and, above all, Commodore himself.  Commodore dedicated himself to getting into the best condition of his career, but, unfortunately, what occurred was a series of injuries and illnesses:  a groin injury, followed by the flu, followed by another groin injury, followed by a charley horse, followed by play in which Commodore tired quickly, during games. 

This lethargy led to Commodore being examined for the cause of this puzzling condition.  Fortunately, the test results were fine, so it’s now a case of Commodore getting himself into game condition, the ultimate hope being a return to one of the steadiest stay-at-home defensemen.  Like Mason, it can’t happen soon enough, and, also like Mason, his return to form may be just as critical to their potential playoff possibilities.

Well, there’s my view of the individual player performances.  Here’s to improved play, and improved fortunes, as any continued inconsistent play and non-adherence to Ken Hitchcock’s defense-first system will not result in being in the playoff mix/hunt, come Mid-January, when it’s time for the march to the playoffs.