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How to Right the Ship in Columbus

When I started this blog back in 2007, the primary reason was to give myself an outlet to put my thoughts out in the open and generate discussion. As most of you know, I’m not a Columbus resident. I live in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, the same Halifax suburb that produced that guy that plays in Pittsburgh. As you can imagine, the folks willing to chat about the Blue Jackets were few and far between, so a blog was really my best option to get my fix.

These days, however, I have a ton of people willing to sit down and talk about the Jackets with me, whether it’s at my favorite sports bar, while hosting friends at my place, or via text messages and/or phone calls.

The problem is, the discussions are always the same:

“So, when is Columbus moving to Quebec?”

“Poor Rick Nash, he’d look great playing for the _____”

“Have you guys fired your coach yet?”

“I thought you guys got Jeff Carter?”

The list goes on. These aren’t the discussions I like to have. Up here in Canada, Columbus is finally stirring up conversation, but for all the wrong reasons.

As I mentioned recently, the lack of success this season cuts deeper than every before, because there was such an overwhelming amount of optimism coming out of the summer. The biggest question was in net, but I think most of thought the team would be ok, albeit with a handful of 6-5 or 5-4 victories along the way.

Steve Mason is a very good goaltender. You don’t win a Calder trophy and get nominated for the Vezina trophy by accident. That said, there’s something above and beyond technical ability and raw talent that has plagued Mason since his rookie year. It has led to some truly terrible performances by the young goalie, but 100% of the blame for this season’s terrible start can’t be placed at his feet. The entire plan between the pipes was tossed out the window in training camp when Mark Dekanich, the free agent signee who was penciled-in as Mason’s backup, suffered an injury. Shortly into the season, the organization’s number three goalie-Curtis Sanford-joined him on the injury report. This leaves the Jackets with Allen York as the only other option in net. York was supposed to be the backup for the Springfield Falcons of the AHL this year, as he only just turned pro at the end of last season after a collegiate career at RPI.

Simply put, York isn’t ready to be taking over an NHL job if Mason falters.

The Jackets have shown this season that they are absoilutely defeated when scored upon. They show very little push-back after giving up a goal, a sign of lack of confidence in their netminder. While we don’t know what goes on behind the scenes on a day-to-day basis with General Manager Scott Howson, you have to think he’s been shopping around for fresh blood in net. The Jackets are in a difficult spot however, due to their cap situation. If a trade were to take place, Columbus will almost certainly have to send dollars back to a team they potentially acquire a goaltender from, and so few teams are willing to do that, let alone give up a goaltender so early in the season.

You hear the usual names tossed around- Corey Schneider in Vancouver, Evgeni Nabokov in Long Island. At this point though, given the performances of the other goaltenders on those two rosters, I can’t see either the Canucks or Islanders trading a goaltender at this point. A scan of the Goalie Guild’s Depth Charts shows that very few teams are three goalies-deep, but one team that intrigues me are the Buffalo Sabres. Columbus brass and the fanbase saw first-hand how good of a goaltender Jhonas Enroth is. Given that Ryan Miller is the undisputed number one in Buffalo, would they be willing to deal Enroth?

It would cost the Jackets, that’s for sure. According to Cap Geek, the Jackets and Sabres are in essentially the same position cap-wise, so this would have to be a dollars-for-dollars deal, with picks or prospects thrown in by Columbus. Enroth is making $675,000 this season and next, before becoming a restricted free agent. From a Columbus perspective, this could mean that a young player with a similar contract situation, but with value to the Sabres, could be involved. Matt Calvert? The Jackets wouldn’t give up their first round pick, not when it’s currently the first overall pick of the draft. More likely, their second rounder and perhaps later picks, or a prospect like Cody Goloubef or Maksim Mayorov would be moved as well.

While this is all purely speculative, a roster move between the pipes could be all it takes to spark the team. The talent is in place up front, the effort level just needs to improve. The defense, which is taking a huge beating by the media and fans, is actually serviceable, but like the forwards, the biggest issue is simply to play better, with more determination and greater effort. The overall problem to me is mental, the team seemingly goes into each game feeling defeated, and an early goal against (which has occured more often that not this season) sucks the life right out of the roster. A new goaltender between the pipes could be the boost to the rest of the team’s confidence, which would lead to improved effort and execution.

In this scenario, Mason moves to the 1B position. He would have more time to work with goaltending coach Ian Clark, and the pressure would be taken off his shoulders.

Short of cleaining-house, which some Columbus fans out there are lobbying for, bringing in fresh blood in net whether it’s a player like Enroth or another goaltender, could be all this team needs to right the ship. That, and for the injury bug to disappear. When Jeff Carter, Kristian Huselius and Radek Martinek rejoin the team, the Jackets will finally have the chance to appear as envisioned by the management team for the first time this season.

A new goaltender. Greater effort on-ice. Health.

Those are my solutions to the current problems. What are yours?

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