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The Days Of Whine and Roses

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Lady Luck has not smiled upon the Blue Jackets thus far in the ramp-up period to the 2014-15 season. Is it time to panic and pull the ripcord? Nah.

Let's see, Ryan Johansen is not signed.  Check.  Nathan Horton has back issues.  Check.  Boone Jenner has a broken hand after taking a puck in practice.  Check.   Solution?  Pay Johansen whatever he wants, trade some defensemen for immediate help and pray.  Check.  Wait . . .What?!!!

As the pre-season has worn on, and fortune has placed yet more hurdles in the Blue Jackets' lane, the virtual world has been abuzz with what can only be characterized as various levels of panic that has begun to approach the whining stage.  Enough.  As those of you who have followed me for any length of time know, I do not do panic.  I've survived the Oakland Seals, the early San Jose Sharks and some very bad San Francisco Giants and 49ers teams in my youth, and have seen all measure of adversity strike those teams.  My experiences outside of sports have had their own share of adversity.  The lesson I've learned?   Whether in sports or in life -- never base long term solutions on short term problems.

Let's start with Johansen.  Sure, at one level, the loss of Jenner and the potential continuing loss of Horton perhaps strengthen Kurt Overhardt's hand a bit, but here is where Kekalainen and Davidson need to avoid any impulse to abandon their reasoned strategy and cave on a bridge deal.  First of all, the recent signings of Tory Krug, Reilly Smith and Jaden Schwartz do nothing to add to Overhardt's arsenal.   Krug and Smith quite literally took one for the team when they agreed to matching $1.4 million deals with the cap-strapped Bruins, who still are $3.6 million north of the cap line.  Schwartz, another 22 year old who had a breakout year last season with 25 goals, 31 assists and 56 points, inked a two-year bridge deal for a 2 year total of $4.7 million.  Sure, Johansen had a few more goals (and fewer assists), and he is a center, but that does not translate to a multiplier of two.

Overhardt is talking with the Blue Jackets again, and a deal could well emerge -- either a bridge deal or a longer term pact (where the two sides are actually closer than on the bridge deal).  However, even if a deal is not in place, the panic button can't be pushed.  There are a slew of players coming off of entry level deals over the next few years, and to cave on a bridge deal now is to paralyze your cap situation down the line.  Sure, Columbus looks great right now with $14.5 million in cap space.  However, that disappears fairly quickly when you factor in a new Johansen deal, new contracts for Foligno, Bobrovsky and Anisimov over the next couple of years, and the emerging youngsters.   The Blue Jackets can ill-afford to raise the floor for bridge deal negotiations based upon a short term issue.  That would be the gift that would keep on giving.

Next, let's look at Nathan Horton, who is suffering from back issues, characterized as "degenerative", but is still characterized as "day-to-day."   Yes, both Horton and the Blue Jackets have been snake-bitten medical issues since he signed.  However, a few things to consider.  First, while the word "degenerative" is scary, in the context of the human back, anyone over the age of 30 has some degenerative changes in their spine, in all likelihood.  It's all a matter of degree, and there's lots that can be done to help most situations.  However, assuming a "worst case" scenario involving disc surgery, Horton would be out for a while.  My question is this:  How is this different from last year?   While Horton played a little, the Blue Jackets made their run last year largely without his services.  So, rather than view his absence as a crippling blow, it's probably more realistic to view the prospect that he might be available as an asset, rather than a liability.  Sure, the cap hit for his deal is looking like a pretty poor investment at the moment, but that's sports, and on the ice the situation really hasn't changed.

Now to Jenner.  A bad break -- literally and figuratively -- to be sure, particularly as his move to center was an accomodation strategy for the Johansen situation.  Again, however, things are not as bleak as they might appear at first glance.  If we assume five weeks for the injury -- a mid-range estimate  -- this week is week 1, with no regular season games missed.   Looking at the schedule,  it appears that Boone would miss 10 regular season games.  Desirable?  No.  A disaster?  Hardly.  Last year. Columbus was 5-5-0 in their first 10 games, 2-5-3 in their second 10, and 5-5-0 in their third 10 games.  That's 12-15-3 after 30 games.  There's not a huge amount of downside from there.   The club withstood prolonged absences from Horton, Foligno, Bobrovsky, Calvert & Murray last season.  Oh, and Jenner missed ten games himself.  Fortunately, a broken bone in the hand involves relatively little rehab, and he should be able to skate in the interim.

If you're going to take inventory of a situation -- any situation -- you have to factor in the good with the bad, as focusing only on one or the other provides a distorted view of reality.  While the confluence of circumstances makes it tempting to believe that a Vortex of Doom is about to consume the club, there's a flip side to the story as well.  We're talking about forwards here, and it just so happens that we have a ton of talented guys at that position.  Foligno & Atkinson have had terrific camps, as has Letestu.  Gibbons brings both speed and skill, and the addition of Hartnell is an important piece as well.  Have you watched Kerby Rychel, Marko Dano, Alexander Wennberg and Simon Hjalmarsson on the ice?  These guys can bring it, and if they have the opportunity to open the season with the club, it will only pay dividends down the line when the inevitable call-ups occur.   In Sonny Milano and Josh Anderson, we've sent two guys back to junior and the AHL, respectively, who would be contenders for a slot on many clubs.   And then there's this guy named Bob . . .

You get my drift.  While I'm often accused of being overly optimistic, I think the current situation merits more patience and pespective, rather than rash judgments.  Johansen will sign -- and soon -- as in his gut he wants to play hockey.  Jarmo is in the negotiations, which by itself signfiesthat the sides are edging into the realm of reason.  Jenner will heal, and Horton will heal, or not, in due course, and the club will adjust, just as it did last year.  The major difference this year is that there is more experience and talent than ever before to back up the headliners.  That's a good thing.

So, forgive me if I don't jump on the High Anxiety Bandwagon.  We're eight days away from real hockey, and that's where the focus needs to be.  In the meantime, want some cheese with that whine? If not, take the time to smell the roses.  The Vortex of Doom is overrated.  Stay tuned.