The Blue Jackets Mid-Season Report Card -- The Blue Line & Blue Ice

With just over half of the 2013-2014 season behind us, it's time to take a critical look at the Blue Jackets' first semester performance. Who made the Honor Roll? Who needs to improve to avoid repeating the class? Read on and find out . . .

42 games down, 40 to go.  Well, hopefully more games after that, but the focus here is on the regular season.  It's time to review the first half, digest the good, bad and ugly, and rate the performance of the players, the coaches and the front office.  We'll start off with the goalies and defensemen here, and follow up with the forwards, coaches and front office. (Important caveat:  the opinions expressed here are mine, and do not necessarily represent the views of Dan, Mike, Matt, Andy, SBNation or anyone else on the planet, for that matter)

Applying the Standards

In grading the performances, there is no universal standard -- i.e. 20 goals doesn't guarantee an "A", nor does zero goals mean that a player flunks.  Every player -- and every component of the organization -- has a role to play, brings a particular skill set to the table and has to confront a unique set of challenges.  However, just because a guy is paid to score 30+ goals per season does not mean he gets a pass in the defensive zone, or is excused from making the periodic hit, where required.  So, the grades consider the expectations for that player, the role that player is expected to perform, and how well they did that.

To be sure, numbers come into play in arriving at these first semester grades, but they are not dispositive.  Hockey -- perhaps more than any other team sport -- defies domination by individual superstars.  A 50-goal scorer helps any club, but even those efforts are for naught if there is no blue line strength or porous goal-tending.  So, numbers factor in, but are tempered by actual observation of the play on the ice.  The net result is that some grades for players with comparable numbers might vary more than you might otherwise think.

In the interests of length, players who have only minimal playing time have been excluded. This includes Tim Erixon, Ryan Craig, Nathan Horton and Sean Collins.

Enough of the preliminaries and disclaimers.  Time to swallow hard and dish out the marks.

The Blue Ice

We'll work our way out from the net, just as the game itself should be played, per Todd Richards.

Sergei Bobrovsky -- Obviously, the bar has to be set pretty high for the defending Vezina Trophy winner, bringing a fat new contract into the season. His numbers --- 2.72 GAA and a .909 save percentage -- are better than awful but short of good. He was victimized -- particularly early -- by some horrendous defensive efforts in front of him, but has also not been the force that you expect of a defending Vezina holder. He's been sidelined while the team has played better in front, so a second semester resurgence is distinctly possible. Still, as the Six Million Dollar Man (well, $5.625 million cap hit actually, but he reaches $6 mill next season), the expectations are high. The grade: C-

Curtis McElhinney -- Curtis is a game guy, and a real competitor. I was frankly surprised that he was given the NHL back-up job without any real competition, but he proved my skepticism wrong early on, turning in some really good efforts. However, at the end of the day, McElhinney is a backup goaltender, and as with virtually all second stringers, the performance tends to regress as lengthier demands are placed on them. The extended duty required by Bob's injury has taken its toll of late. His numbers are very close to Bobrovsky's, so full marks there. However, he does not have an NHL caliber glove, and teams are increasingly discovering -- and exploiting -- that fact. Still, you have to give him credit for two shutouts. The grade: C+

Mike McKenna -- Forced into an untenable position by McElhinney's injury, McKenna was playing several levels over his head. A credible effort while he was here, but not ready for prime time. Grade: Incomplete

The Blue Line

Fedor Tyutin -- Tyutin is the veteran of this defensive corps, and has had several different pairings this year, with Jack Johnson his most frequent partner. This has put some extra pressure on Tyutin, as he has had to try to cover up for his partner's misdeeds. He is one of those players who you really don't notice when he is playing well, and he has had long stretches where that has been the case this year. Just as with any cornerback in football, he gets burned from time to time, but he also saves a lot of scary opportunities. His 17 points puts him on pace to equal his best offensive season. Grade: B

Jack Johnson -- The All-American Boy with the goofy smile and the captaincy of Team USA on his resume has had a brutal season.  His rejection by the US Olympic selection panel was only confirmation of the caliber of his play this season.  His defensive zone play has been characterized by untimely turnovers, providing far too much time and space to oncoming forwards, and (until recently) reluctance to physically challenge the opposition.  On the offensive end, the has managed two goals and 11 assists, but has not shown the ability to consistently get the puck on net from the point.  While I'm not a fan of the plus-minus statistic, it can be some indication of how a player performs in comparison to his teammates, who have faced similar conditions.  So, his minus-12 sticks out like a sore thumb.  His recent play has shown signs of life, which is the only thing keeping him from a failing grade.  Grade: D

James Wisniewski -- Wiz started the season poorly, but soon found his legs. His pairing with Ryan Murray has worked extremely well, allowing Wisniewski some freedom to do things that suit his game, but require the solid defensive backing that former pair mate Johnson could not provide. He is tied with Brandon Dubinsky for the team lead in assists, with 19, and has a couple of goals on his own. While he still makes the imprudent pinch and has moments of brain lock, his defensive play has improved over past years. He missed seven games, but is on pace to play the vast majority of the season, unlike prior years. With his salary, the expectations are high. Grade: B-

Ryan Murray -- Entering the season, the young Mr. Murray was the subject of endless speculation and expectations. Would his shoulder hold up? Could he perform at the NHL level on a daily basis? If he made the big club, were the Blue Jackets "rushing" him? Murray has handled all of the questions through his play. He has a quietly efficient style that belies his youth, while simultaneously managing three goals and eight assists. He seems unflappable under pressure. There have been a few youthful mistakes, but for his years and experience, he has been amazing. Grade: A

Nikita Nikitin -- Nikitin's play has been a turnaround story this season. Had this been a 20-game report card, he would have received an unqualified "F". He was slow, a turnover machine, and seemed disinterested in playing well. He spent a series of games in the Press Box, and trade rumors were rampant. Suddenly, his game turned around, and he now sports a second best +7 among defensemen, and has been much better in his own zone. His offensive numbers are on par with Murray and Johnson, which is a decrease from his 32 point effort in the 11-12 season. His future with the club may depend on his ability to do it for 40 more games. Awful + Good = Average. Grade: C

David Savard -- Savard has surprised many with his play this season, and has had his highs and lows as well. He seemed over-matched early, but has found his way out of the wilderness, in much the same way his partner, Nikita Nikitin, has. He is a team best +8, and has two goals and eight assists to his credit. His awareness sometimes lapses, but overall he has been a positive surprise. Grade: B+

Dalton Prout -- Prout's injury has limited him to just 24 games this season. An "out of nowhere" story last season, bigger things were expected this year. Unfortunately, that has not been the case as yet. Prout has looked slow and uncertain on the ice, and his size and strength have not proven to be the assets that were projected. Not an offensive defenseman, his zero goals and two assists are not surprising, but are still somewhat disappointing. He'll need to find his game again in the second half. Grade: C-

That's the first installment of the report card.   I've got my flak jacket on, so feel free to fire away with your own views on the subject.  On Wednesday, we'll cover the forwards, coaches and front office.  Stay tuned.

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