Last week SBN's Avalanche Blog, Mile High Hockey, started posting a 10 question Blogger Roundtable where they got together a ton of the bloggers writing about their team, asked them questions, and posted the results.
I had two thoughts about that. First, "Hey, that's neat", and second, "Why don't we do something like that?"
A flurry of emails ensued, I wrote some questions, and we had a great turnout of answers despite everyone trying to get a handle on the team's trip to Sweden. Please note that all of these answers came in BEFORE the team played the first two regular season games against the Sharks this past weekend.
Here are the first two questions from the roundtable after the jump!
QUESTION #1: Much has been made of the team's ticket woes. Many former season ticket holders are taking a wait and see attitude. If the team can get off to a hot start after their trip to Sweden, how quickly do you think fans in Columbus will respond at the box office?
Tom Felrath, The Dark Blue Jacket: I think that the "wait and see" attitude will be exacerbated by the challenging economy in Ohio. Should the Jackets take off in the standings - and that's by no means a given - I wouldn't expect to see much of any change in attendance until after the first of the year...college football season will be out of the way, the Winter Classic will help refocus attention and the Jackets will have a body of work by then to prove to the community that they are legit.
Dan Parker, Waiting For Next Year: Unless this team is a complete house on fire, I think people will be skeptical until OSU's football season is over. With dollars being somewhat limited combined with the death grip that OSUFB tends to have on central Ohio, I can't see fans really turning their undivided attention back to the Jackets until after it's over, unless of course they come out and win 10 of their first 12 and get some serious pub. I myself will use this time to go to more games and sit in better seats. :-)
Mike MacLean, The Cannon: The fans have shown in the past, most notably during the playoff year, that they will support a winning team. There's no magic formula here - Columbus is a market where they will support a winner. Some teams/markets (look at Tampa Bay in Major League Baseball) don't have support at the gates even when the team is one of the best in their respective league. If the team wins, people will start to fill Nationwide.
Lee Auer, The Jackets Blog: I think fans will return but it could be a harder sell than the first
"drive to the playoffs" in 2008-09. If you think about it, the economy is far worse than 2 years ago, HD television is more prevalent, plus the struggles of other sports teams including NFL teams not selling tickets, and successful-all-season-long teams like the Cincinnati Reds (this year anyways) to not even draw decent crowds consistently, is only proof that the Jackets need to win now more than ever.
TopShelf, Jackets Required: If we see a hot start to the season, the best the ticket dept should hope for is an increase in single game ticket sales. By the time a "hot start" proved to be evidence of a playoff-quality team, nobody is going to be shelling out money for season tickets. That ship sails early based on the results of the previous season. If such a scenario emerges where the Jackets are good enough to get fans interested, look for the ticket and marketing departments to implement new multi-game packages to try and capitalize on that interest.
Red Dog, Red Dog Rambling: I think these things take time. Look at Colorado's attendance figures from last year as a case-in-point. Throw in Columbus's (understandable?) obsession with all-things-scarlet-and-grey in a compelling fall of buckeye football, and I think it will be January or February before the arena district comes into its own.
Jeff Little, The Hockey Writers: It will be gradual, but I think that more fans will be in attendance at games than you think. I suspect a lot of season ticket decline is due to economy and the reticence to spend big money as a lump sum. Assuming that the club performs reasonably well, I would expect to see a response around the beginning of the year. That's when people start really thinking about playoffs and such.
Matt Wagner, The Cannon: I think that if OSU football has a strong run to the national championship, as predicted, the casual fan won't really look at the Blue Jackets until they're off the radar. But, if the team IS doing well, I would expect to see attendance start to increase as the new year opens. I also wouldn't be surprised at all to see additional season ticket holders by the end of the year - the team is doing a good job of trying to get public interest and making a lot of very attractive deals for new subscriptions.
QUESTION #2: Perhaps it's a result of the adjustment to the new system, but the Jackets have been taking a great deal of penalties in the pre-season. Do you see this continuing, and do you think the team's special teams will be up to the challenge?
DBJ: Until the Blue Jackets figure out this new defensive mode (and that may mean square pegs fitting themselves into round holes, as I'm not convinced that the CBJ currently have the personnel to pull it off), you'll see penalties. As for special teams, I think they'll wear down as games go on...and don't forget the fact that more penalty killing time not only tires the PK'ers but also limits Arniel's ability to roll the lines and keep players rested late into the games.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether Scott Arniel will stick with his puck-possession system even if it doesn't work in the regular season. John Tortorella abandoned the same type of system mid-season in New York and almost salvaged a playoff spot. In the CBJ's case, I think we'll see blue line roster shakeups first, perhaps from Springfield call-ups or trades.
DP: I do, sadly. I think their limitations in terms of skating on defense will be exposed by the focus on offense. Obviously, if the offense scores more goals, you have to live with it; but other than a guy like Russell--whose defensive chops are still not entirely known--there aren't many guys that can make up ground if they're caught out of position while pinching in on offense. I think the Jackets PK *could* be up to the challenge, but they've always been a streaky unit and there will most likely be stretches where they look bad.
MM: The preseason isn't a fair indicator of most things. Tomas Kubalik was arguably the team's most consistent forward, but he was sent ot the AHL for more seasoning. A goaltender could play out of his mind in the preseason, and tank once the real games start. Ditto for penalties- the preseason is rough hockey, there are so many players trying to get the tiniest edge out there on the ice, and penalties are a result of aggressiveness. There's also a higher incidence of fighting, which skews the PIM category. If the Jackets continue to take a high number of penalties, they have the personnel in place to excel on the penalty kill. Guys like Antoine Vermette, Sammy Pahlsson and Ethan Moreau are adept PKers. The powerplay is a concern if Kris Russell isn't in the lineup. He and Anton Stralman combine to form the QB portion of two units. The team has plenty of offensive weapons to have a successful powerplay. Something that has seemingly been missing in recent seasons, but I have noticed in the preseason, is that Scott Arnel is tasking a forward with parking himself in front of the net. R.J. Umberger has played this role and should benefit from many-a-tip-in.
Lee: I think that much like 2 seasons ago when there were many new faces in the line-up, the CBJ could see a period of time where the team struggles to fully adjust to the new system. I believe penalties will return to a normal rate relatively quickly. My hope is the Jackets' new system will throw the opposition off, and the power play must be solid to capitalize on those chances.
TS: I think the seemingly high number of penalties is due to the combination of it being training camp, and the new system. Certainly with defensemen playing a bigger role in creating offense there are going to be more penalties as defensemen find themselves out of position if/when there is a turnover. This leads to hooking, tripping and interference calls. I think we will see more of these penalties taken this year, especially early on, but not at the rate we've seen them in the preseason.
I think the we have a good PK unit. I am surprised by Arniel's decision to take Nash off of that unit. I get the idea of keeping him fresh for 5on5 and PP situations, but 61 has been our best penalty killer for a couple of seasons now.
RD: In short? Yes...and no. But I think it's simply a matter of time before things balance back out. In the mean time, let's George Matthews has to come up with an abundance of rhymes for Filatov, Voracek, and Umberger. I wish him (and the forwards) plenty of luck.
JL: To a certain extent, penalties are a function of people not playing together regularly during camp, and learning the new system. The key is to see if it's the same players over and over. It should go away. I am more concerned about the PK -- the Methot/Klesla pair keeps getting victimized on the PK, and we aren't creating the type of pressure we need to. Special teams are always the last to come around.
MW: I certainly hope it is an adjustment issue, and not a larger problem. If it's simply adjustments and not playing consistently in line and defense combos, I would expect to see the penalties slowly dry up. On the other hand, if they stay unusually high (or worse, increase), then it's a larger problem and I suspect the coaching staff will get involved.
Hope everyone enjoyed these first two questions! We'll be spreading the love around the blog-o-sphere this week to help with the urge for CBJ Hockey while the team returns from Sweden and adjusts themselves back to North America, leading up to Friday's home opener.
Check out The Dark Blue Jacket tomorrow for Part 2!