Muggin’ - Getting Things “Right”

Yep. My column is called Muggin’. You’ll get used to it.

And you thought you were rid of me…

When last we left things, I was apparently storming out of the room in a huff. OK, maybe not *exactly* like that, but things were grim, both personally and professionally, and my enthusiasm level was nearly non-existent. The draft hadn’t helped things. Like, at all.

In many ways, the time away was helpful. I essentially unplugged. I tried to read as much of the fine work done here at The Cannon--both articles AND comments--as I could, but I needed to keep things at arm’s length.

But, deep down, you had to know I couldn’t quit you.

First and foremost, a word about the title of this column. When I talked to Mike about writing something once a week, at first I wanted some kind of “Dan” pun in the name. We bounced a couple of ideas back and forth. When I mentioned it to the rest of the staff and solicited name ideas, Pale Dragon came up with the best one. For those of you who remember the saga of The Mug this past season (and it’s magical powers), the title should make sense. For those that don’t, well, sorry. (Seriously. Read any of my second-half game previews.)

It should be noted, in the spirit of the subject of this first installment, that I haven’t had a cup of coffee in The Mug since the morning of the draft. Take that however you will. It will be back as the game day mug this year, nonetheless.

And, with the benefit of some time, I can honestly say I’m not as bearish as I was about the Jackets. Make no mistake: this team still has a long way to go, and I’m going to remain in “show me” mode for the foreseeable future. However, when I wrote my last piece, I was definitely of the mind that things were, how you say, not good.

Then they made a few moves.

Two days after I signed off, the Jackets announced they had signed Seth Jones to a six-year extension. After much speculation and worry, it got done rather quietly and to what most consider is a reasonable number. A $5.4 million AAV will, most likely/hopefully, be an absolute STEAL when this guy is in his prime, which should be before the contract is up when he’s 27. This deal is a total win, not just for the number but for the fact that the Jackets now have a true, stud #1 (potentially) defenseman who also happens to be right handed. And they have him until 2022.

It cannot be overstated how much of a WIN that signing is.

Then, the buyouts happened. This one I have to give credit to ownership. I was firmly in the camp that ownership would never sign off on paying TWO players not to play here. While the Jared Boll buyout doesn’t necessarily make sense (because they could have put him in the AHL and saved just as much cap hit without the extra year), it speaks to the willingness to move on from contract mistakes where applicable while clearing some space on the roster.

Buying out Fedor Tyutin makes perfect sense. Zach Werenski is going to have every chance to earn his spot, and if he can’t Dean Kukan can probably be a serviceable third pairing guy who has shown some speed and saavy in his brief NHL exposure. This is a win in two senses: first, you’re creating space for a player who has much more speed than does Tyutin. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve always liked Tyutin. In his prime, he was our most consistent defenseman and was just so damn steady. But, injuries have robbed him of his mobility, and that is amplified when he plays on the third pairing with the likes of Dalton Prout.

In short, it was time.

So, color me shocked that this front office--and again, maybe more specifically, ownership--pulled it off. Let’s suppose that Werenski and Josh Anderson take the spots of Tyutin and Boll. The club saves $2.822 million against the cap this season. Considering the corner the club had painted itself into, that is about as best-case-scenario as we could have hoped for.

Chalk up another positive for the front office.

Finally, there was the issue of who would be playing center. It remains clear to me that the tie-breaker (seemingly) at the draft was Pierre-Luc Dubois’ projection as a center at the NHL level. However, he’s clearly not ready yet. So, given the merry-go-round we saw at center last season, combined with Gregory Campbell’s complete lack of effectiveness, what’s a team to do?

Enter Sam Gagner. The former sixth overall pick had a rough year in Philadelphia, but if you look at his historical pedigree, he has performed very well for the expected role he will have here, and he’s done it on some bad teams. If you remove his one year stint in Philadelphia, Gagner entered last season with a career .60 points/game average in 562 career NHL games. The splits on that are .21 goals/game and .39 assists/game. That would be a great boost to the Jackets’ third line, potentially. Those numbers won’t translate, most likely, since he’ll be in less of a scoring role here, but it’s good to know that he can bring that to the table. Look for Gagner and William Karlsson to compete for those 3rd/4th center roles

Add in the fact that the team bears almost ZERO risk in this one year, less-than-$700K signing? Another total win. Damn you, Jarmo, just when I think I’m out, you pullllll me back in!

Again, don’t confuse what I’m saying for blind support of this FO. The draft pick still doesn’t sit 100% right with me. It still feels like they took the slightly-less-good prospect to fill a position of need. We can certainly have discussions about whether or not that’s the best plan for building a roster, but as a practice it doesn’t sit well with me for a franchise that has only made the playoffs twice in 15 seasons.

Throw in the notion that one player better “fits the mold” of the CBJ, and that’s my other misgiving. As I noted in my “goodbye” post, I don’t necessarily believe that the “mold” of the NHL roster is constructed in a way that predicts long-term success over time in today’s NHL. Those concerns are still there for me, and if Dubois was selected primarily because he better adheres to that standard… well, that’s not a ringing endorsement for me.

But that’s not why I’m here.

The follow-up moves made after the draft show at least some level of understanding of what needs to start happening in the longer term, even if I disagree with some of the overall philosophy of the franchise’s NHL team-building as it currently stands. I still think in my heart of hearts that this team finishes somewhere in the 20th range league-wide. Their ceiling for this coming season, to me, is 8th seed in the East getting run over by the Caps or Pens or whomever in the first round. I think the summer, overall, only helps them get closer to that overall ceiling.

That said, this team actually hitting their ceiling for a full season would certainly be an improvement.

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