Columbus Blue Jackets are GM Scott Howson's team now, for better or worse

howson.jpgI still think that the Columbus Blue Jackets made a mistake when they fired Ken Hitchcock last season. He was a rare beacon of hockey competence in an organization that rarely – if ever – did things correctly in their puck pursuits. Just take a look at the severe deficit in talent on their roster; I’m actually in the “Rick Nash is overpaid” camp but what choice did Columbus have? He’s really the only player they drafted who could be mistaken for an elite forward.

Going forward, this club has the fingerprints of newly-minted GM Scott Howson all over it (for better or worse). The Columbus Dispatch depicts just how extensive the house cleaning has been.

To say Howson has made sweeping changes within Nationwide Arena would be an understatement.

Every player in the Blue Jackets dressing room this season will fit one of the following criteria: he either was drafted, acquired in a trade, signed to a contract or contract extension by Howson.

Only three players who played as Blue Jackets in 2006-07 – Rick Nash, Rostislav Klesla and Marc Methot – are still with the organization.

Further, late last season, Howson fired the coach he acquired upon his hiring – Ken Hitchcock – and replaced him with his own choice, Scott Arniel.

His players. His coaches. His cross to bear if the Blue Jackets flop again in 2010-11.

Hiring Arniel is really the only noteworthy move Howson made this summer, unless you count claiming fledgling, heart-and-soul forward Ethan Moreau off of waivers as significant.*

* – It’s not significant.

While Howson claims that he wouldn’t take back the contracts he handed to Mike Commodore and Kristian Huselius, I can’t say that there are many deals on that roster that scream “great value.” I wonder if Blue Jackets fans are a little nervous about another season of journeyman backup Mathieu Garon and sophomore slump victim Steve Mason being their two netminders. This summer could have been a golden opportunity for the team to improve itself in net; instead they’ll stick with their below-adequate goalies.

Perhaps it’s all about staying on budget, but the Blue Jackets stood pat while the rest of the Central division went through major changes. That seems like an odd track for such an unsuccessful team to follow, but I guess Howson’s tying his hopes to Arniel being this year’s Dave Tippett.

How do you think Howson is doing? What are the chances of him turning the team around?

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    San Jose Sharks’ defense looks very promising

    SAN JOSE, CA - JANUARY 03:  Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues and Brent Burns #88 and Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 of the San Jose Sharks go for the puck at SAP Center on January 3, 2015 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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    In the long term, there are some questions about the San Jose Sharks’ defense.

    For one thing, Brent Burns is due what could be a raise almost as big as his Burt’s Bees beard.

    What’s even more troubling is, like the Sharks’ forwards, the defense’s upper ranks might see Father Time nipping at their heels. Burns is 31, Paul Martin is 35 and three defensemen are 29 in Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Justin Braun and newly signed blueliner David Schlemko.

    This isn’t to say that the Sharks will age as rapidly as Melisandre, but that group prompts more questions about how long San Jose’s window might be hope.

    Quite a promising present

    So, maybe it won’t be a strength forever … but wow, this group sure looks promising on paper heading into next season.

    Burns gets the most attention thanks to his booming shot, strong all-around skills and bizarre presence, yet Team Canada isn’t oblivious to Vlasic’s subtler brilliance. Paul Martin might be slipping a bit, but he’s still a useful player.

    The signing of Schlemko really ties the room together, though.

    The point isn’t that Schlemko is a star or better than the likes of Jay Bouwmeester. The very different nature of their roles makes a comparison a little risky.

    Instead, it argues that Schlemko is the sort of supporting cast player who can push the Sharks closer to having a quality defenseman on the ice during every shift.

    Beyond those four blueliners, the Sharks have some interesting options. Braun enjoyed some nice playoff moments. Brenden Dillon has his flaws, but perhaps he’d flourish if used in more protected situations.

    With Mirco Mueller and Dylan DeMelo among those waiting in the wings, it’s not as though the Sharks are totally devoid of young talent on defense.

    In an age where it almost feels like teams would give up vital organs for difference-makers on defense, San Jose’s group looks primed to rank among the elite. After struggling when the likes of Roman Polak were caught in bad situations, the Sharks have a great chance to trot out a remarkably balanced group in 2016-17.

    Let’s argue about EA Sports’ NHL 17 player ratings

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    via EA Sports
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    EA Sports released top player rankings for NHL 17 about a week ago, but it isn’t too late to needlessly argue about them.

    The top 50 overall ratings is probably the best place to start, but EA also shared top 10 lists for centers, defensemen, goalies, left wings and right wings.

    Now, it’s important not to take this stuff too seriously. There are plenty of things to cool down any diehards who feel like Their Guy was disrespected, but do note that ratings sometimes get tweaked.

    Still, there are some fun observations and debates that can come from pouring through these rankings, especially if you’re … well, bored.

    Shea Weber vs. P.K. Subban

    Did Michel Therrien and Marc Bergevin chime in on the debate? /Scratches chin

    Weber came in with a blazing 94 rating:

     

    Weber wins the digital battle with Subban, who lags behind as a 91. To the naked eye, EA seems to disagree with the analytics-based argument that Subban is the better all-around player than Weber at this juncture:

    Here’s the thing, though: if you break both down rating by rating, each guy looks pretty great in NHL 17. Perhaps the real debate comes down to whether Weber really is that great defensively or not.

    Then again, maybe EA just has a blind spot for Nashville Predators past and/or present? Pekka Rinne‘s high rating is sure to ruffle some feathers:

    91rinneea

    To give you some context, that 91 rating ties Rinne with Cory Schneider and places him ahead of the likes of Ben Bishop, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask.

    Some other debate-starters

    Need some other fun ones to bicker about? Sure you do:

    ***

    Again, take it easy with this stuff. None of these choices are “Mike Richards being higher-rated than Anze Kopitar” bad.

    You can have a lot of fun batting around different observations, as these player rankings often provide an interesting window into the way the hockey world sees things.

    And, hey, at least Dustin Byfuglien‘s getting some much-deserved recognition.

    NHL says it isn’t bothered by Coyotes’ salary cap methods

    PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 02:  Dave Bolland #36 of the Chicago Blackhawks and Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skate after the loose puck in Game Three of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Wachovia Center on June 2, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is deftly playing the system when it comes to the salary cap to the point that some might accuse him of exploiting loopholes.

    If the NHL bristles as such tactics, they’re at least not showing it in public.

    In taking on the absolutely dead money of Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk along with the possibly dead money of Dave Bolland, the Coyotes are getting to the cap floor while saving money in the actual cash they’re dishing out.

    The Score’s Ian MacLaren succinctly explains the savings they’re enjoying thanks to these clever trades:

    That’s how the league is viewing Arizona taking on the salaries of Chris Pronger, Pavel Datsyuk and Dave Bolland. The cap hits amount to almost $18 million but result in less than $2 million in actual salary paid out by the club, while simultaneously allowing it to reach the cap floor.

    Honestly, it’s difficult to shake the image of Gary Bettman & Co. bristling at the tactics of a franchise they’ve defended year after year amid myriad arena issues.

    Today’s Slapshot’s Craig Morgan caught up with Bill Daly, whose overall message is that the league is OK with what Arizona is doing.

    “I would say that it’s a matter that we monitor, like all other areas of the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), and if we believe it starts to be abused in a way that is inconsistent with how the system is designed to work, at that point, we would try to correct it in collective bargaining with the union,” Daly said. “I would say we aren’t at that point on this issue — we do not view it as the loophole that‎ some describe it as.”

    One key point from Daly is that he doesn’t view Bolland’s case as the same as that of Pronger or Datsyuk. The critical distinction is that Bolland at least hopes to become healthy enough to play again.

    (Chakya’s update wasn’t particularly optimistic in that regard, but a return isn’t totally inconceivable since Bolland is just 30.)

    Best of both worlds for Coyotes

    Again, the Coyotes are really reaping the benefits of this gameplan. Not only are they saving real dollars by absorbing other teams’ dead money, they’re using those trades to acquire promising assets like Jakob Chychrun and Lawson Crouse.

    These are the sort of moves that make the team look bright today and possibly terrifying for opponents in the future, even if the 2016-17 product may be a little hit-or-miss.

    Time may tell how the NHL truly feels

    To some extent, we probably won’t know how the NHL truly feels about this situation until the next CBA eventually gets hashed out.

    Then again, the league did make a big stink about cap circumvention during the memorable days of Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract negotiations, so perhaps such maneuvering really doesn’t bother the NHL?

    Maybe, but you’re free to picture Bettman grumbling about Chayka’s moves either way.

    (H/T to the Score.)

    Alex Ovechkin tweets about tying the knot with Nastya Shubskaya

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    via Alex Ovechkin's Twitter page
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    Alex Ovechkin shared the news via his official Twitter feed that he married Nastya Shubskaya.

    His message includes a caption that translates to “This is happiness,” according to NHL.com.

    Washington Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks indicated that the two got married during a small, private ceremony, so it might have actually happened a week or so ago.

    Here’s the Ovechkin tweet from Sunday:

    This continues a run of big news for Capitals players, with a life-changing event for Ovechkin’s partner-in-crime Nicklas Backstrom as well:

    There were some fun jokes on Twitter about the happy news, with this one possibly taking the cake:

    This summer figures to be a busy one from a hockey standpoint for Ovie, as he’s been part of various activities and will represent Russia at the upcoming 2016 World Cup of Hockey.

    In case you’re wondering, Ovechkin will soon turn 31.