How I learned to stop worrying and love the Johansen trade

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Seth. Jones. (From Bleacher Report)

Very Smart hockey people will tell you: you don’t trade a No. 1 center. Now, every team by definition has a first-line center, but a bona fide No. 1, All-Star-caliber center? In any given season – or era – maybe half the teams in the league can make that claim in earnest.

The Columbus Blue Jackets spent more than a decade searching for a No. 1 center. Ex-general manager Scott Howson thought he had finally found one* when he selected Ryan Johansen with the No. 4 overall pick in 2010, but he never had the chance to see him fulfill that potential in Columbus. The heinous rules for Canadian major junior players that dictate when and what level they can go pro – a CHL graft sold as a player development best practice – combined with oh-so tactful nurturing of Scott Arniel stymied and even threatened to derail Johansen’s development.

But then, during the lockout-shortened 2013 season, the Columbus brass started to see glimpses of what Ryan Johansen could be, shining in individual matchups against the likes of Joe Thornton. He broke out the following season, netting 33 goals along with 30 assists and by the 2014-15 campaign, he was often the most dominant player on the ice skating for either team. He rightly earned an All-Star nod and racked up a career-high 71 points – the fourth highest single-season total in franchise history and most for a centerman. At 23 years old, with great size, an elite skill set and signed to a reasonable bridge contract, the Blue Jackets looked to have a bona fide No. 1 center locked in for the next decade.

On Wednesday, they dealt him away to hated (former?) rival Nashville in a player-for-player swap for a 21-year-old defenseman who, though he has performed steadily throughout his young NHL career, has failed to meet the expectations thrust upon him.

Many Blue Jackets fans are aghast. Coming into the 2015-16 campaign, this team was touted universally as a playoff lock, and slated by many as a dark horse to win the Metropolitan Division and make a sustained postseason run. Loaded with talent up front that was trending the right way — players like Johansen, Boone Jenner, Brandon Saad and Alex Wennberg poised to take another stride in their development, mixed with guys like Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno in their prime — along with a stud between the pipes and, most importantly, a clean bill of health, this would not be a year of the “same old” Jackets.

Then the season started. Unfortunately, no one informed the players. Blue Jackets fans don’t need a recap of the club’s abysmal start to the campaign, but perhaps they need some perspective. Today, at the exact halfway point of the season, Columbus is dead-last in the NHL with a 15-23-3 record (33 points). If you cut out the month of October (where they finished 2-10-0) they’re a .500 team. They could be treading water in the standings as a .500 team halfway through the season, and if they caught fire and went on a 10-2-0 run (‘cause those happen a lot) they’d be in good playoff position. But the real-life Blue Jackets would need to go on a 10-2-0 run just to get back to .500, and then rattle off another big run to play themselves into postseason contention.

To put it another way, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished in the eighth spot in the East last year with a 43-27-12 record (98 points). Do the math. The Union Blue would have to go 30-5-6 to close out the season just to be in contention. Possible? Sure, whatever helps you sleep at night.

This is all roundabout way of saying that the 2015-16 season is effectively over for Columbus. Yes, it’s still important in a player development sense, but from a competitive perspective — and this is an organization and fanbase that expected a playoff contender — the final 41 games are moot.

So what went wrong with President of Hockey Operations John Davidson and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s best laid bricks plans? A coach who was in over his head and lost the room? A fatal roster flaw? Horrible luck? Adam Foote?

Let me say that I’m impressed with the way the Kekalainen constructed this roster and built up the system. I’ve supported most of the personnel decisions he’s made — loved the Saad acquisition — and for the most part, I’m of the same mind philosophically when it comes to building a winner. I honestly think if the team had not completely imploded over the final three minutes of the season opener, there’s no way they drop 10-of-12 in October.

You can have all the pieces assembled, but so much of the game really is decided between the ears and once the sh*t ball gets rolling down hill, it can, and usually does, engulf everyone before reaching the bottom. That’s not to say that Jarmo and co. should get a mulligan as they did for last season. He gambled on this team’s defensive corps and that’s a no-no. The stakes are too high once you get inside your blue line. You need a sure thing.

Going into the season, the thinking was that strength up front and in net would be able to make up for defensive shortcomings — at least for the most part. But, that was based on tall assumptions. This defense would be good enough to get them to the playoffs, or at least within contention by the trade deadline, just so long as David Savard’s breakout season (at age 24) was a new norm and Dallas castoff Kevin Connauton could extrapolate his new-found offensive potency over an 82-game season. They’d be alright if Fedor Tyutin could continue to effectively stave off father time and play top-4 minutes and, of course, if Ryan Murray, who had missed 86 games over his first two seasons [along with what should have been his rookie season in 2013] due to a variety of shoulder, knee and ankle injuries, — all of which are of serious concern for a young player — could step right back in the lineup and be a top-pair blue liner at 22 years old… Suffice it to say, these Goldilocks conditions were not met.

OK, so they needed to improve the defense, but you don’t trade away your No. 1 center to do that. Yes you do. You do to land Seth Jones.

Jones possesses the same tools that Blue Jackets fans and brass salivate over Murray for. The difference is that he’s 6-foot-4, right-handed, more of a physical presence and has a better body of work at the NHL level. He’s a year younger, has been learning the nuances of the NHL game from All-World defender Shea Weber and All-Star Roman Josi. He doesn’t have the injury history (AND HE’S A GODDAMN AMERICAN HERO!!!). He was the most impressive prospect — outside of Youngstown Phantoms players, of course — that I ever saw during my time working in the USHL. And, that was when he was captaining the U.S. National Team Program under-18 team, paired with future No. 9 overall pick Jacob Trouba, before he was even draft eligible.

He’s averaged more than 19 minutes a game since he came in the league, playing on a defensive corps with that included Shea freakin’ Weber. He posted 6-19-25 and 8-19-27 respectively over his first two seasons, which are respectable offensive numbers for blue liner to put up before he’s legally allowed to drink. The numbers are down a bit this year, but that’s more to do with an uncharacteristically low shooting percentage (1.5 percent compared to a 6-percent career average) that will correct itself. Oh, he’s also taking more shots and on pace to well eclipse his career-high from last year, so when the pucks do start going in….

Remember the season is over for the Blue Jackets. Every personnel decision from this point out is made with 2016-17 campaign in mind. Even with Johansen gone, this organization’s still very deep up front — both at the NHL level and in the system. No one player is going to replace Ryan Johansen’s production, but collectively, this group can more than make due. Remember, Jenner was supposed to be this franchise’s No. 2 center of the future not so long ago, but was bumped to wing because there was too much depth down the middle.

Barring an absolute fire sale, the Blue Jackets will still have the depth up front to compete with any team next season. (And if they continue to lose and get lucky at the draft lottery, the franchise suddenly has a No. 1 center again in Auston Matthews, but I digress.) With the addition of Jones, they have a defense that’s capable  as well.

Can you name the last team to hoist the Cup that didn’t have at least one perennial All-Star patrolling the blue line? Seth Jones isn’t there yet, but he’s closer than most fans, and Very Smart hockey people realize.

‘Waiting’ Jackets drop third straight

It was bound to happen.

Call it a good team going cold. Call it a bad team overachieving. Call it the law of averages.

At the begining of the season, who would have predicted the Columbus Blue Jackets would be the final team in the NHL to lose two games in a row? Is it unfathomable that they could lose three?

Of course not, nor should the white flag be raised on the season because of Wednesday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Nashville Predators. A season cannot be lost because of one, two or three defeats. It’s about how a team responds to a losses.

Heading into the midweek match-up with their Music City rivals, the Blue Jackets and their fanbase had to come to grips with a staunch reality: they’re no Detroit. The Red Wings are the class of the entire league. They have been for the past 15 years. And the Union Blue skated with the best at times last Friday and Sunday, only to see the Red Wings shift up a gear when they needed to take both games.

There was no shame in either of those losses, although head coach Scott Arniel and his staff have taken it upon themselves to eliminate the mentality of moral victories in the CBJ locker room. It was how they responded against the Predators — in the third straight game against a divisional foe — that was concerning.

The Blue Jackets were unable to capitalize on a plethora of scoring chances early in the first, while the Predators needed only one good opportunity to take the lead. The Blue Jackets fought back to tie the game not once but twice, and even took the lead midway through the third, only relinquish it less than two minutes later.

The Blue Jackets pushed for the win in overtime. The Predators hunkered down for a shootout. Once the five minutes of 4-on-4 were over, it seemed a foregone conclusion that the two points were lost.

“I’m never really satisfied with not winning a hockey game. I don’t care about how it went — if it went 65 minutes, or a shootout, whatever,” Arniel said. “I’m more upset about giving up that third goal. We’ve been pretty good this year when we’ve gotten leads late in games of clamping it down. That one shouldn’t have happened.”

That goal shouldn’t have mattered. The Blue Jackets had chance after chance to claim the win in 60 minutes, but seemed to be in a reactive mode after being unable to capitalize in the opening stanza.

“I think we were waiting,” defenseman Kris Russell said. “We had a team with fresh legs — they played last night. I thought we had more opportunities to put them away but they kept coming back.”

Columbus got a pair of goals from Antoine Vermette, who is quietly starting to produce on the scoresheet at the pace the organization expected. He has four goals and seven points in his last four games after being held without a point 10 of 12 prior games. RJ Umberger added a pair of helpers to take sole possession of the of the franchise record of consecutive games with a point. He has now registered a point in 10 straight game, eclipsing the nine-game mark held by Rick Nash (twice) and Andrew Cassels.

Russell also scored his long-awaited first goal of the season, a slap shot from the high slot seconds after a power play had expired. The game itself was the Caroline, Alberta native’s tour de force on the young season, as he finally appeared unshackled from an early season knee injury. He skated the puck regularly, pinched liberally and even threw the body around.

“(Russell) has been frustrated with himself and he’s wanted the offensive side to come,” Arniel said. “I hope he gains tons of confidence from (the game) because he was outstanding.”

But it came down to burying chances, and that’s precisely what Nashville did when they needed. Arniel said his team only gave up five scoring chances through two periods. The Predators put two of them in the net. The Blue Jackets had a half dozen prime scoring chances in the first 15 minutes.

“I think overall our first period was pretty good. I don’t think the score was representative,” Vermette said. “Tonight we could’ve had a better fate.”

The third period mirrored the first, with the Jackets getting the majority of quality chances, but this time around they got a pair of goals to show for it and take the lead. They held it for 97 seconds and the Predators were able to sap any momentum with Kevin Klein’s goal. Klein kept the puck in the zone after a half-hearted clearing attempt from recently-returned Ethan Moreau and stepped into a heavy slap shot, which goaltender Steve Mason likely never saw.

“Mason made some big stops for us,” Russell said. “I think this is one we have to bury down.”

Mason played well enough in net to win — he could hardly be faulted for any of the Predators’ goals. In all three cases, the defense appeared to lapse, whether they were puck-chasing on Colin Wilson’s or Sergei Kostitsyn’s; or failing to clear the puck out of the zone on Klein’s.

As for the shootout… well that’s never exactly been his strong suite (as his 7-13 record supports). Steve Sullivan abused him and the Jackets’ attempts left much to be desired.

Most coaches and players will tell you a shootout is a crapshoot, that they still earned a point. But it’s not about the one point won in Wednesday’s loss, it’s two points against Buffalo on Friday.

The Blue Jackets have yet to truly face adversity under Arniel. They’re starting to get a taste of it now.

(Originally published at InsideHockey.com)

CBJ Draft Preview

On Friday, the Columbus Blue Jackets will participate in the franchise’s 11thNHL Entry Draft. Of those 11 first round picks, 10 have been in the top eight selections, with 2009 first rounder John Moore (21st overall) being the exception. Yet, for the most part the Blue Jackets have received a relatively disappointing return on a plethora of “blue chip” prospects. The CBJ’s first round futility has been well documented.

This year, the Blue Jackets are sitting relatively comfortablly at no. 4 overall. I say “relatively” because although they will have their pick of three to four second tier prospects behind the perceived top two, Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, the pressure is building on general manager Scott Howson.

Over the past week, Howson saw two of his club’s Central Division rivals, St. Louis and Nashville, make moves that have radically reshaped their rosters. St. Louis traded a pair prospects, Lars Eller and Ian Schultz, to acquire the rights to Montreal’s playoff savant, Jaroslav Halak, and sure up their goaltending situation.

Nashville on the other hand, cleared house sending the rights of pending UFA Dan Hamhius to Philadelphia to reacquire young defender Ryan Parent. Just a few hours later, the Preds reunited their captain, Jason Arnott, with his old club, when they shipped him to New Jersey for right wing prospect Matt Halischuck and a second round pick.

While St. Louis’ move automatically makes them tougher competition in the Central Division – many, including myself, picked them to make the playoffs last season – it would be unwise to assume Nashville is waving the white flag on the 2010-2011 season. Nashville GM David Poile rarely makes poor personnel decisions and head coach Barry Trotz gets more out of his players than anyone in the league. I wouldn’t be surprised to if Nashville makes a couple of moves, if not draft day than July 1.

That’s all fine and dandy, but what does that have to do with the Blue Jackets?

Well, the consensus seems to be that the Blue Jackets, for better or for worse, have adopted a win-now mentality. With a win-now mentality and a division that boasts the last three Western Conference representatives in the Stanley Cup Finals – two of the last three winners at that – along with an improved St. Louis team, a GM might get a bit flustered. Maybe he starts to feel the pressure to make a reactionary move? A little bit of an itchy trigger-finger?

Fortunately for Columbus, Howson’s veins check in at around absolute zero. The only reactionary moves he will be making are in reactions to two of the franchise’s perennial needs: a no. 1 center and defenseman.

That no. 1 center is not likely to come through the draft. Seguin is sure to go in the top two and the drop off at the pivot is substantial enough that the CBJ would be unlikely to use the fourth overall selection on one, unless it’s part of a deal to acquire a proven one.

But a no. 1 defenseman you say? Well there are three potential blue line cornerstones available in this year’s draft, and at fourth overall, the Blue Jackets will have a choice of at least two of them. Those defenseman are Cam Fowler, Erik Gudbranson and Brandon Gormley.

Cam Fowler

Cam Fowler

Fowler spent the past season playing for the Windsor Spitfires of the Ontario Hockey League. The Farmington Hills, MI native put up some incredible offensive numbers to the tune of 8-47-55 over 55 games. He played a pivotal role on both the USA team that won the 2010 World Junior Championship, and the Spitfires, who took home their second consecutive Memorial Cup this past season. Director of NHL Central Scouting E.J McGuire described Fowler as the “prototypical offensive defenseman,” drawing comparisons to the likes of Brian Leech, Phil Housley and Tomas Kaberle.

“He’s your power play quarterback for years to come. He sees the ice – has the ability to control the tempo of the game from the blue line,” McGuire said. “His outstanding puck-handling and puck possession game sets him apart from almost every other defenseman eligible in this years draft.”

While Fowler has plenty of offensive upside, the knock on him is that he needs to bulk up to handle NHL forwards. No surprises there, as the 6-2 190 pound blue liner plays with little physical edge. And while I don’t want to take anything away from Fowler’s accomplishments, he certainly benefited from playing with veritable OHL All-Star team. Along with Hall, Fowler also benefited from playing with likes of Ryan Ellis, Zack Kassian and Greg Nemisz. And those are just the ones who were already selected in the first round over the past two seasons. It was Windsor’s Cup to lose, with or without Fowler.

Erik Gudbranson

Erik Gudbranson

If Fowler brings the flash, than Gubranson certainly brings the thunder. No player in this draft has seen his stock rise as much in the past few months as the hulking 6-4 195 pound defender from the Kingston Frontenacs. Gudbranson admittedly loves “playing with an edge” and “throwing big hits.” Despite playing an abbreviated season thanks to a knee injury and a bout with mono, Gudbranson managed 2-21-23 in 41 games. He’s surprisingly mobile for a defenseman, especially one of his stature. He also owns a right-handed cannon from the blue line that the CBJ would covet.

“Gudbranson to me is a guaranteed long-term NHLer. In my opinion, Gudbranson is another Chris Pronger-type,” McGuire said. “He is some kind of tough. Chris Pronger is mean and will hit you; Gudbranson will hit you and fight you.”

Gudbranson’s most underrated quality, and one that also draws Pronger comparisons, is his leadership. The native of Orleans, ON was an alternate captain on Kingston last season and spent time with the “C” as a 16-year-old OHL rookie. In addition he captained the Canadian U-17 and U-18 teams. Gubranson may have the highest ceiling of a defenseman in this year’s draft, but he’s likely the least NHL-ready of the big three, He would benefit from another year in juniors as well as time in AHL.

Brandon Gormley

Brandon Gormley

Gormley may be the most intriguing defensive prospect for the Blue Jackets. He doesn’t fill up the stat sheet with points galore. He doesn’t knock opposing players through the glass. What the 6-2 190 Moncton Wildcats defensman does is play the game with the poise of a 10-year NHL veteran. Gormley does not make bad decisions, with or without the puck. He can play the point on the power play – he teamed up with Columbus prospect David Savard on the Moncton PP blue line – and he can kill penalties. He makes crisp breakout passes and herds the puck while it’s on opponents’ sticks. His positioning is top-notch. Gormley’s game has been compared to the likes of Nicklas Lidstrom, Duncan Keith and Shea Weber.

“Gormley might be the best puck-controlling defenseman in the entire draft this year,” McGuire said.

NHL Central Scouting’s Chris Bordeleau echoes McGuire.

“Gormley has got the whole package. He’s got a good shot from the point, an accurate shot, low and can be deflected.”

Gormley helped lead Wildcats to the Memorial Cup round robin, despite the fact that the team was missing one of its top scorers Kirill Kabanov – this draft’s enigmatic Russian winger. He took home the Mike Bossy award as the QJMHL’s top professional prospect. The Murray River, PEI native has a very impressive pedigree. Prior to becoming the first overall pick in the “Q” entry draft, Gormley played at Notre Dame College in Saskatchewan, a program that has churned out it’s fair share of NHL stars. Gormley looks to be next in line.

Frankly, the Blue Jackets cannot go wrong with any of the three. The consensus among the league seems to be that Florida will select Gudbranson with the third overall pick. While most see the Blue Jackets selecting Fowler in that case, I would argue for Gormley. While Fowler’s game is certainly conducive to the “new” NHL, it’s also similar to Moore’s, although there’s no denying Fowler is the better prospect. Gormley may not have the flash or the thunder, but he may be the best fit for a Blue Jackets team that desperately lacks stability on the back end.

Arniel Accepts Blue Jackets Coaching Job

Guy Boucher needed around about two days to decline the Blue Jackets' offer. Scott Arniel needed about two hours to accept it.

Scott Arniel is set to become the fifth head coach in Columbus Blue Jackets. No false alarms this time. Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson will introduce the new head coach tomorrow at a press conference scheduled for 3 p.m. at Nationwide Arena.

Arniel accepted the CBJ coaching gig shortly after first choice Guy Boucher turned down an offer to take over the reigns. He has spent the last four seasons coaching the Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League, where he compiled a record of 181-106-0-33.

Last season he won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the top coach in the AHL. His Moose made it to the Calder Cup before falling in Hershey Bears in six games.

Working on a full story. Check back later for updates.

Issue Story: The Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena

Nationwide Arena, home of the Blue Jackets, was a catalyst for the revitalization of Downtown Columbus.

It has been over a year since revelations first surfaced that the Columbus Blue Jackets have been hemorrhaging money for the past seven plus seasons. The losses, which do not include any incurred during the 2009-2010 season, add up to approximately $80 million, as a result of the franchise’s lease agreement to play in Nationwide Arena.

Last fall, the Columbus Chamber of Commerce contracted Ohio State Professor Emeritus of Finance Stephen Buser to conduct a report to determine the financial viability of the ailing National Hockey League franchise.

“The people who talked to me about it sounded as if it was a pleasant surprise every year the Blue Jackets remained here,” Buser said. “I didn’t talk to anybody that felt a high degree of confidence that they could lock in the Blue Jackets by virtue of this lease.”

The Blue Jackets are one of just two teams in professional sports currently playing in venues that are privately financed — the other being Major League Baseball’s San Francisco Giants. The difference is the Giants pay only $1.2 million a year in rent to the San Francisco Port Commission, as part of a 66-year lease at AT&T Park.

San Francisco also collects revenue from naming rights fees to the tune of $50 million over 24 years. The Blue Jackets do not.

The Blue Jackets’ lease arrangement requires them to pay roughly $5 million yearly in rent to play in Nationwide Arena. It is part of a 25-year lease with the Columbus-based insurance company to help recoup approximately $106 million of the cost it took to build the Arena.

In addition, the Blue Jackets lose between $4 and $5 million a year in management fees and receive no revenue from naming rights fees. All together, the Blue Jackets have been losing an estimated $12 million annually.

Blue Jackets President Mike Priest disclosed the team’s losses in a statement last season.

“It is a building financial problem that has become a team financial problem,” Priest said. “If we fix the building problem, we fix the team problem.”

But this is much more than a building or team problem. This is an entire community problem.

Turn back the clock 15 years and the area between Vine Street and Spring Street, just west of High Street, was little more than a wasteland. It was home to the old Ohio Penitentiary, which had stood empty for nearly 20 years.

There were no ballparks, no amphitheaters, no fine dining, no luxury town houses. The gateway to Downtown Columbus was an out-of-service penitentiary. Today, that same site is now home to one of the most vibrant communities in Central Ohio: The Arena District.

Since the Blue Jackets inaugural season in 2000-2001, the area around Nationwide Arena has experienced a complete revival. Restaurants and bars began popping up on all sides of the arena. Soon a movie theater and gym followed. Then came luxury condos and town houses, and it all culminated last year with the opening of sleek new Huntington Park, the home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, minor league affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.

Presently, there are over 170 businesses that call the Arena District home, employing over 5,500 workers and generating a combined $1.6 billion in revenue yearly.

“It’s hard for me to imagine a business-economic development opportunity more successful than this one,” Buser said. “If you had laid it out 15 years ago, no one would have believed you.”

The old Ohio Penitentiary, which laid dormant for 20 years before the construction of Nationwide Arena.

According to Buser’s report, the Arena District generates approximately $30 million in tax revenue annually for the City of Columbus. The report suggests that number will double within the next decade.

“That [report estimate] is extremely conservative, just because we only took a tiny, tiny fraction of the overall sales,” he said.

Despite the overwhelming positive impact the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena have had, there has been little progress in alleviating the franchise’s financial woes.

Last spring the Blue Jackets and Nationwide began negotiating with the General Assembly, which they hoped would result in the public purchase of the arena by means of a sales tax increase. However, the ‘sin tax’ needed approval from the Franklin County Commissioners to be enacted and they denied the increase.

“All of the sudden, it became a public Brew Ha Ha that blew up in an ugly series of accusations and bad feeling,” Columbus Chamber CEO Ty Marsh said. “When all that effort collapsed, the issue still remained that the Blue Jackets were facing financial challenges with that lease, and something still needed to be done to address that issue.”

At that point, the Chamber stepped in and commissioned the study with Buser heading it.

Buser’s report determined that there were essentially three options for the Blue Jackets: increase revenue from the private sector, create an alternate private ownership structure, or explore public-private ownership options.

The Blue Jackets took their first step toward relieving some of their financial difficulties when they agreed to a joint-management deal with OSU and the Jerome Schottenstein Center earlier this spring. Until that point, the two “A” venues were competing for all the acts in a “B” market — not exactly the best financial plan.

“The two [arenas] were competing with each other so they were undercut and they undercharged,” Buser said. “Often times, events come to Nationwide Arena – I assume Schottenstein as well – where the hosting party actually loses money.”

“The booking agents play one against the other to get a better price. By managing that together, and also marketing that together, it’s a win-win,” Marsh said. “This is not the ultimate solution to the Blue Jackets’ issue, but it’s one piece of the puzzle”

The Blue Jackets avoided another potential hurdle when Franklin County voted to move the location of a new casino from the Arena District to the West Side in the May Primary.

“That was a tremendous wildcard and everybody held their breath,” Buser said. “On the one hand it is more business in the area, but it would have so changed the physical as well cultural nature of the area.”

Marsh echoed Buser’s words.

“The fear was that… [people] would go in and out of the casino directly but not frequent any of the restaurants or other businesses,” he said. “The viability of Arena District is really based on the balance of the types of businesses. They had built up and branded the district as a family entertainment area and they felt that that would hurt the brand.”

But there is still quite a ways to go to ensure the Blue Jackets can continue to operate. While Buser’s report favored no specific solutions, he did offer some personal insight — sell revenue bonds to the public.

“Look, we are not taking money from you, the tax payer, and giving it to the Blue Jackets. We’re investing in a business,” Buser pitched. “It’s not about hockey. It’s not about bailing out anybody. It’s a financial investment.”

Meanwhile, Marsh and the Chamber will continue to do their part to keep the organization afloat.

“To lose a professional franchise from a community is not that well-know would send a very negative message nationwide,” Marsh said. “It just says something about your community that you have professional sports.”

Boucher tapped to take over in Columbus

Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Guy Boucher (Getty Images)

The Columbus Blue Jackets have offered their head coaching position to Guy Boucher, as broken by The Columbus Dispatch. Boucher will reportedly take the weekend to mull over the offer before making his decision early next week.

Boucher, 38, spent this past season coaching the Hamilton Bulldogs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens. He led the Bulldogs to a 52-17-3-8 record in 2009-2010, and came within one period of making the Calder Cup Finals in his first season with the team, his only coaching in the pros.

The consensus feeling is that Notre-Dame-du-Lac, Que. native was being “groomed” for the head coach spot at Montreal, which is currently occupied by Jacques Martin. That theory, along with his relative inexperience, has led to speculation that Boucher may not accept a National Hockey League coaching offer this year. Still, there is no debating that he is one of the rising stars in coaching, and he will find his way behind an NHL bench sooner rather than later.

Boucher has been influence by likes of Jacques Lemaire, Mike Babcock and Pat Quinn, but has gained notoriety for his own revolutionary system. Boucher’s teams play an “extremely aggressive” offensive style, focusing on moving the puck up the ice at all times and he is not shy about letting defenseman lead the rush.

“I’m very, very keen on developing offense,” Boucher said in an interview for hamiltonbulldogs.com. “For me, it’s about time and space — not giving it to the other team — and creating it for ourselves as fast as we can and as aggressively as we can.”

On the power play, Boucher applies an unusual 1-3-1 setup as opposed traditional overload or umbrella. One player sets up in front of the net, one in the high slot, and a pair along the sidewalls while a defenseman roves along the point. It creates havoc for penalty killers who can be easily exposed in a diamond or box arrangement.

Boucher also applies an unconventional 1-3-1 forecheck. The first skater in the zone pushes the puck toward the outside. The left defenseman sets up along the left wall, as opposed to center ice as is the case with most 1-3-1 systems. The other two forwards occupy the center ice and the right side, creating a wall in the neutral zone, and the right defenseman covers the back end, where he is free to adjust on the fly. Some have likened his forecheck to a full court press.

Boucher has also garnered plenty of praise for his ability to develop and motivate players, especially youngsters. The McGill University graduate has three degrees, including a master’s in sports psychology. Blue Jackets center Derrick Brassard played under Boucher in 2006-2007, when he was of the Drummondville Voltiguers, and he made no secret of his affinity for his former, and likely future, head coach.

“I’ve never played for a guy like him, a guy who is capable of getting the best out of every player,” Brassard said in an interview with The Dispatch. “He was always in your head, always keeping you energized and motivate.”

Despite all the positives, there are still plenty of questions surrounding the possible CBJ-Guy Boucher marriage. Although Boucher has seen success at every level of coaching so far, there is no guarantee that his system will succeed in the NHL, where so much time is spent breaking down video to expose any possible weakness. Teams will game plan and find holes.

There is also the issue of his experience. Boucher has spent only one season coaching professionals, and spent only three as a head coach in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League prior to that. Age could also be a factor as Boucher, who at 38-year-old, has only four years on the elder statesman of the Blue Jackets roster, Chris Clark. Although a player such as Clark would never admit it, some veterans do not mesh well with young, inexperienced coaches.

In addition, the current make-up of the Blue Jackets roster is not necessarily conducive to Boucher’s systems. With the exception of Kris Russell, and Anton Stralman on occasion, the Blue Jackets defense lacks the mobility and puck handling skills to push the play forward. There is also no question that there is a significant learning curve to adjust to Boucher’s system.

Still, there is no denying that, of the four final coaching candidates, Boucher is the most intriguing. That was clearly the case for Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson. While former Blue Jackets player and development coach Kevin Dineen was considered the early favorite for the position, Howson insisted on waiting to interview Boucher, whose playoff run with the Hamilton forced the coaching search to extend into June. Other candidates include Scott Arniel, head coach of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, and Claude Noel, who took over after Ken Hitchcock was fired in February.

The Dispatch has reported that Howson met with Boucher twice. The first time was at the NHL Scouting Combine in Hamilton, Ont. last month.  The second conversation took place last week in Columbus, likely at John P. McConnell’s Double Eagle Golf Club.

It appears that the Blue Jackets have finally found their coach. Howson put in his time and due diligence, and it’s my belief that it will be reflected next season, regardless if Boucher is behind the bench or one of the other candidates. Then again, it could very well backfire if Boucher declines the position. Some have reported that there’s nothing left but hammering out the specifics of the contract, but with the Blue Jackets, you can never take anything for granted.

Stanley Cup Preview

Chris Pronger and Mike Richards have been phenomenal for the Flyers so far. Don't expect things to change in the Stanley Cup Finals.

I wonder how many people picked the Chicago Blackhawks and the Philadelphia Flyers to play for the Stanley Cup in September? I did. I definitely was not alone.

The Blackhawks were the ‘sexy’ pick in the West. They had a young, talented roster that made it to the Conference Finals the year before and added Marian Hossa in the summer. Duncan Keith had emerged as a premier defenseman in the league and Brent Seabrook had made incredible strides as well. Sure there were questions about how Christobal Huet would handle a full season as a starter, but with a defense boasting the likes of Keith, Seabrook and Brian Campbell, he didn’t exactly have to be Tony Esposito.

The Flyers looked like a team in much the same mold. The Flyers were arguably just as deep as Chicago up front, led by 46-goal-scorer Jeff Carter. The addition of Chris Pronger, one of the most respected and at the same time despised defensemen in the league, to a lineup that already featured Scott Hartnell, Daniel Carcillo and Mike “Bobby Clarke Jr.” Richards had visions of the Bullies dancing in the heads of the Philadelphia faithful. Of course, they still had not solved the same problem the team had had since Ron Hextall was between the pipes, but surely Ray Emery had turned his game around in Russia and was ready to return to his 2007 Playoffs form.

Two deep and dynamic groups of forwards. Two star-studded defenses. Two big questions in net.

Chicago came flying out of the gate to start the regular season and remained one of the top teams in the West all season. When Huet and his .895 save percentage did not cut it for the ‘Hawks, they gave 26-year-old Antti Niemi a shot. All the back-up-turned-starter-turned-Conn-Symthe-dark-horse did was go 26-7-4 with seven shutouts. The Blackhawks finished second in the West, one point behind San Jose for the top spot.

For the most part, Chicago’s playoff run has been a cake walk. It took the ‘Hawks six games to dispatch both Nashville and Vancouver before sweeping away the top-ranked Sharks in the Western Conference Finals (see Byfuglien, Dustin). Captain Jonathan Toews is leading the playoffs in scoring with 26 points and Niemi has been excellent in net when they have needed him to be.

The Flyers on the other hand had a very different route. After starting off a disappointing 13-11-1 and finding themselves in 10th place in the East to start the month of December, the Flyers fired head coach John Stevens and brought in former Cup-winner Peter Laviolette. The Emery experiment was a failure as he was hampered by injury and inconsistency before going down for the season after surgery on his right hip. Journeyman goaltender Brian Boucher filled in and general manager Paul Holmgren brought in back-up Michael Leighton, who had played under Laviolette in Carolina.Despite a revolving door in net, and injuries up front the Flyers limped into the playoffs on the last day of the season, courtesy of a shootout victory over the New York Rangers.

If you picked the Flyers to make it this far after the season, and weren’t from Philadelphia, would you mind picking up a couple lottery tickets for me?

The consensus was that the New Jersey Devils, with their mix of gritty U.S. Olympic heroes (Zach Parise and Jamie Langunbrunner), the addition of Ilya Kovalchuk and one of the greatest of all-time between the pipes, would make short work of the inconsistent and injury-riddled Flyers. Richards and Boucher had other plans, and in one of the most surprising first round upsets, Philly ousted the Devils in five games.

Next came the Boston Bruins, and we all know what happened there. Not only did the Flyers become only the third team in NHL history to come back in a series after being down 3-0, but Leighton came on in relief of the injured Boucher in game five and gave up only four goals in three games.

The Flyers silenced any remaining critics by shattering Montreal’s dreams of a 25th Stanley Cup and first Finals appearance since 1993. Leighton shutout the Habs three times and it only took five short games to knock them out, despite a possible sabotage attempt at the Bell Centre.

And that, my friends, is how we get to where we are today – anxiously awaiting the start of the Stanley Cup Finals. The series starts Saturday, where the United Center will be the setting for game one. The Blackhawks may have been Cup favorites all year long, but Philadelphia matches up with them as well as any team in the league.

Both teams are riding hot goaltenders. Both teams are getting Conn-Smythe-worthy performances from their captains. But only one team can win it, and I’m going with the Flyers for three reasons.

1) Chris Pronger

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren acquired Pronger this offseason for precisely this reason. Pronger’s playoff performance, for the most part, has been spectacular. He has showed up all the critics who questioned how much he had left in the tank after a disappointing showing in the Olympics. Pronger has been a workhorse averaging nearly 29 minutes, tops in the playoffs. He’ll be on the ice against the Byfuglien-Toews-Kane line all night long and he has the size to handle Dusty B. Plus, Pronger has the experience. He won the Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and made it the game seven the year before with Edmonton. You can make a convincing argument that he was the most valuable player on both of those teams, and I for one think he’ll have his name on the short list by the time this series ends.

2) Mike Richards

With all due respect to Mr. Toews in Chicago, is there a captain in this league that does more for his team? Richards is second in playoff scoring with 21 pionts. He’s scored or set up crucial goals throughout Philly’s remarkable run. He registered five points in the Flyers’ four-game comeback over the Bruins and three in the game five clincher over Montreal. But Richards may be even more valuable without the puck on his stick. He has been a catalyst for an excellent Flyers penalty kill and he’s not afraid to lower the shoulder and make a run. He’s rock-em sock-em hockey player who’ll do anything to will his team to victory, just ask Montreal. And, with the return of Carter from injury, he’ll have another option on the power play, making the Flyers even more dangerous.

3) Marian Hossa

Forget all the ‘curse’ talk with Hossa. There has been nothing supernatural about his playoff performance. Hossa has all but disappeared for the ‘Hawks in the past two rounds. He registered only three points in the series against Vancouver and only a single point in the sweep of San Jose. While he continues to contribute with solid two-way play, it looks like he is shaping up for another Finals disappearing act. Sure, Chicago has plenty of depth at forward, but so does Philadelphia, and their stars are producing. If the Flyers are able to contain Toews and co., Chicago is really going to need Hossa to step it up, and I just don’t see that happening.

With all that said, this has the makings for a classic Finals match-up. Let’s just say I don’t think fans are going to have that empty feeling that they had after the Conference Finals ended so abruptly.

Prediction: Philadelphia in seven