Blue Jackets start reshuffling front office, “strive to build a championship-caliber team”

It’s been a rough couple of seasons for the Columbus. The Blue Jackets finished 13th in the Western Conference this season with only 81 points. It was the second straight season they finished last in the Central Division as they were 14th in the West in 2009-10. Back-to-back catastrophic seasons like those make the 2009 seasons seem like a different era. As the old saying goes, “when the going gets tough, find a scapegoat.” Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson did exactly that when he announced that the organization fired both Director of Pro Scouting Bob Strumm and assistant General Manager Don Boyd. Boyd was the head of amateur scouting for Columbus and has been with the organization since it was formed in 2000.

A simple look at the standings would tell the most casual fan that something needed to be done. Howson gave Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch his reasons for firing two high ranking front office members:

“When a team does not have success for a long period of time, there’s an expectation that changes will occur. It’s a fact of professional sports. Everything is results-based.

“We’re all responsible for where we are as an organization. We’re all responsible, and we all have to take responsibility.”

At least that was marginally better than the canned quote he offered during the formal announcement:

“We believe it was time to make changes in key areas of our organization as we strive to build a championship-caliber team. I want to thank Don and Bob for their hard work and commitment over the past 12 years as each has made very positive contributions.”

There’s no question that things have been rough in Columbus over the last few seasons. The hope of the franchise’s only playoff experience in 2009 has been replaced with the reality of two pathetic seasons and no end in sight. Unfortunately, the tough time in the standings has spilled into other parts of the organization as well. The team lost $25 million last season and “barring news that ‘moves the needle,’” they’re looking at another season with serious financial loses. They currently sit at 7,000 season tickets sold and hope to go into the season with a total of 8,000. Compare those numbers to Winnipeg’s “Drive to 13”and it’s plain to see that things could be better at the box office.

Obviously this is a move to shake up a team that desperately needs some shaking up. What was once a team that was showing potential only a few short years ago is once again back to their familiar place in the basement of the NHL. If the team continues into next season as currently constructed, is there anyone who thinks they’d be a contender for the Central Division? Would they even be considered a contender for a playoff spot? Remember, this is a team that is still looking for their first playoff victory. Not series victory—the franchise has never won a single playoff game. They can change the pro scouting director and swap out the assistant GM, but sooner or later they’re going to need to bring in some players to re-energize the fanbase. Michael Arace of the Dispatch shares the same thoughts:

“General manager Scott Howson has a window of opportunity. The conventional wisdom is he is offering the No. 8, perhaps in a package, in exchange for immediate help. They need it. How many legitimate top-six forwards do the Jackets have at this point? Two or three? How many top-four defensemen? One? Do they have their goaltender of the future?

These questions inform the goal of the coming weeks, namely, to flesh out on the top end of things – rather than add more fourth-line pluggers and/or No. 6 defensemen. The Jackets need more talent. They may have to be bold to acquire it.”

No matter what the organization chooses to do, they need to do something. Perhaps the front office reshuffling is just the first step as the Blue Jackets try to legitimately change the culture around the franchise. They can make a trade, acquire a defenseman (or four), or be an active participant in free agency. But do something to get the community talking about the Jackets again.

Then again, winning a few more games could help re-energize the fans as well.

Canucks, Kings ‘put on a show’ during first NHL preseason game in China

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SHANGHAI (AP) A golden dragon was held aloft on poles by skaters. Kobe Bryant appeared on video. NHL mascots gave the crowd a primer on what this odd game is all about.

NHL preseason hockey made its debut in China – a 5-2 victory by the Los Angeles Kings over the Vancouver Canucks – in a step by the league to crack an immense market.

The fans in Shanghai got a fast and physical display Thursday – 17 power plays and 57 shots on goal, all met with loud cheers. Each hard check drew a collective “oooh” or “aaah.”

“Obviously, you wanted to put on a show for the fans here and they got to see some goals, too,” said Vancouver forward Sven Baertschi, who scored the Canucks’ first goal.

An announcer came onto the ice to explain the finer points of the game as Fin (Vancouver’s killer whale) and Bailey (Los Angeles’ lion) acted out infractions such as charging, crosschecking, tripping and hooking.

A golden Chinese dragon came out next, hoisted on poles by seven skaters. A group of Chinese kids in hockey uniforms joined the NHL players during China’s national anthem.

With Beijing to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, the NHL is showcasing two preseason games in a country unfamiliar with hockey. The Kings and Canucks play their second game in Beijing on Saturday.

Even if the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions.

“To be honest, we didn’t know what to expect. We didn’t know the crowd, the noise, the atmosphere,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “I think the whole thing for me is we’re here to grow the game. It’s my hope that the more they see it, the more people like it.”

Tanner Pearson scored twice for the Kings and Alec Martinez and Jeff Carter each had a goal and an assist. Jonathan Quick made 31 saves.

Team allegiances were hard to find in the crowd, the most demonstrative fans being rowdy Canadians waving their country’s flag.

Spectator Inge Zhang was more appropriately attired for an NBA game, wearing a Miami Heat jersey with pink letters. A media manager for the Shanghai Sharks basketball team, she was excited because she heard a certain NBA great might be there.

“So we came here actually for Kobe Bryant,” she said while her friend laughed. “But I love this sport, too.”

Bryant, in fact, did show, although in a video message to support his hometown Kings.

“I see more foreigners here tonight than Chinese, but I think there are still a lot of hockey fans in China,” Zhang added. “I think the NHL should take this opportunity to grow the sport here.”

That’s the plan now that the NHL has signed a contract to bring two preseason games to China for six of the next eight years.

“The effort here really is to build from the grassroots up, to try to grow the appreciation for the sport, the understanding of the sport,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said before the game. “We’ve certainly made the Chinese Ice Hockey Federation and the Chinese government aware that we’re willing to help any way we can as they gear up and prepare for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.”

But this is the first step in a long process.

“It’s great for China itself to see the NHL live and in person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “But whenever you’re bringing hockey to a new country, it’s going to take time. I think it’s great the NHL is committed to doing that.”

Blackhawks release trio from professional tryouts

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The Chicago Blackhawks made some roster moves Thursday, releasing forwards Drew Miller and John Mitchell, and defenseman Mark Stuart from their professional tryouts.

All three players were added to the training camp roster at the beginning of last week, after Cody Franson was previously brought in to the Blackhawks camp on a PTO.

Chicago is now down to 54 players in camp.

Miller, 33, had spent the last eight seasons with the Detroit Red Wings, although he also spent seven games in the minors last season with their AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids.

Stuart, 33, spent the last six years on the Winnipeg Jets blue line. Mitchell, 32, had played the last five seasons with the Colorado Avalanche.

Blues name Larry Robinson as new senior consultant to hockey operations

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Larry Robinson has joined the St. Louis Blues.

The Blues made the announcement Thursday, revealing that Robinson has joined the organization as a senior consultant to hockey operations.

Based on the comments of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong, it sounds like Robinson will work closely at times with head coach Mike Yeo. It could also further help the development of an already impressive defenseman in Colton Parayko.

“Bringing someone like Larry in, I just think, helps our hockey operations from top to bottom,” said Armstrong, per the Blues website.

“His ability to talk to Mike Yeo about coaching — that’s one area that we don’t have on our staff is a former head coach. You can think you know what Mike’s going through but I don’t know what Mike’s going through. Larry does. So he’s going to be able to relate to him on a lot of the things that he’s going to go through.

“He’s coming in as a consultant. I can learn a lot from him, our assistant coaches can, Parayko can. There’s not an area of our hockey operations he can’t touch to make us a better group.”

Robinson was most recently the director of player development with the San Jose Sharks, however it was reported in May that he would not return to that organization for this season.

Looks like Matt Duchene will make preseason debut tonight vs. Stars

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According to reports, there is substantial interest from other teams in Matt Duchene. That said, he remains with the Colorado Avalanche for now and will, it appears, make his preseason debut Thursday against the Dallas Stars.

Earlier this week, Darren Dreger reported on TSN that as many as eight teams have interest in Duchene, with the Senators aggressively pursuing the 26-year-old forward.

According to Mike Chambers of The Denver Post, Duchene will be in the lineup tonight versus the Stars.

Trade speculation has been swirling around Duchene for months now. He reported to training camp last week, and has since said his status with the Avalanche is a “day-by-day” situation.

“I love playing hockey. I want to win,” Duchene told The Denver Post. “That’s the biggest thing on my mind. I’m trying to get better every time I touch the ice right now.”