Columbus Reg. Season Wrap-up

Discussion in 'HFNHL Talk' started by Ohio Jones, Apr 29, 2006.

  1. Ohio Jones

    Ohio Jones Game on...

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    CD - Columbus

    The Blue Jackets are taking a rest day today to celebrate their most successful regular season in franchise history - a 53-win, 118-point 1st place finish in the Western Conference standings, despite playing in what is widely regarded as the toughest division in the league (4 of the 5 Central teams are in the playoffs, including Detroit, St. Louis and Chicago, the Jackets' first-round dance partner).

    The Jackets are also celebrating a major achievement on the financial side of the operation, where team-record attendance and a sweep of their endorsement deals has helped bring the Jackets back into a picture of - if not financial health, at least solvency. At the start of the season, early disappointing gates made it appear the Jackets' razor-thin bank balance would be gone by mid-season, but a ticket price decrease and improved play helped the Jackets improve their attendance to the point where their per-game revenues balanced the cost of their $40-million payroll, stemming their losses.

    The payoff comes now, having achieved all of the team's endorsement targets. Columbus was aggressive in going after top-end endorsments, and despite some mid-season anxiety, stayed the course and ended up clearing a league-high $13.5 million in endorsements (tied with Boston), which will bring the Jackets' bank balance to just under $19 million before playoff gates. With a league salary cap now in place, that should provide the Jackets with a respectable cushion for subsequent seasons, even if the worst happens and they repeat last year's disappointing first-round exit.

    Team Endorsements

    TSN - $3.5 million - The Jackets had an average of 16,867 in attendance at their home games this season - 91.2% of the 18,500-seat Nationwide Arena, and well over their endorsement mark of 85%, which brings them $3.5 million in bonus money from TSN. "Sure, we hoped we'd hit 90%, but we weren't counting on it", Team President Miles Long responded when it was pointed out the team could have earned another $1 million by securing OLN's sponsorship.

    "We're very happy with our relationship with TSN, and thrilled at the support of our fans down the stretch, where we finished with a long string of sold-out games. We are looking forward to that continuing throughout the playoffs." When asked if the team would be increasing ticket prices for the post-season, Long indicated that it is standard league practice. "The fans understood that last year when they bought every ticket for our three home games against Detroit at playoff prices."

    KOHO - $4 million - Columbus receives $4 million from KOHO for securing home ice advantage in the first round. Better still, with 1st place in the Conference, Columbus is assured of home ice throughout at least the first three rounds, only giving up home ice in the event of a Stanley-Cup final against the President's Cup-winning (and HFNHL record-setting) Boston Bruins.

    Individual Endorsements

    Martin Brodeur had a difficult time to start the season adjusting to the new rules, particularly the circumstances in which goalies are allowed to play the puck. Widely considered the league's best (if not history's best) puck-moving netminder, Brodeur took several weeks to get the hang of the new rules. And with scoring up across the league, at mid-season it looked like Brodeur might miss one or both of these targets. However, the team showed great faith in their all-world goaltender, and his improved play resulted in him achieving both of his individual endorsments.

    The Home Depot - $3 million - Brodeur far surpassed the targetted 2.20 gaa in 40 games played, earning a 2.03 gaa in 72 games played, second only to the Bruins' astounding 1.96 gaa performance from Marty Turco (Brodeur's only possible rival for the title of best puck-mover in the HFNHL [regardless of what the passing ratings say! ed.]).

    Tim Horton's - $3 million - Brodeur surpassed the targetted .910 save% in 40 games played, his .915 save% good for second in the league, behind only Boston's Turco at .916.

    For an initial investment of $5.5 million, the Jackets therefore come away with $13.5 million in endorsement money, for $8 million in profit.

    Tremendous team and individual efforts

    The Jackets finished strong, riding a 9-game win streak to hold onto first overall after San Jose's surge in the final 20 games left the two jockeying for the Western Conference lead. (The Sharks' 8-2-0 record over the final 10 games kept the pressure on the Jackets, and San Jose looks to be a serious contender to go all the way.) They also set a record mid-season, grinding out an 18-game winning streak before falling 4-2 to the Buffalo Sabres.

    Columbus finished in the top 5 in virtually every team category, including both special teams, shots for and against and goals for and against. Only in penalty minutes were the Jackets average, the team finishing 17th overall with fewer than 8 pim per game. "We take discipline very seriously", Head Coach Mike Babcock explained. "The coaches preach it, but it's the players who take it upon themselves to be focused and responsible. We didn't want a reputation as a team who whines about calls or takes cheap shots. We just want to be a team that works hard and works together, and makes opposing teams work hard to get any points off us. I think we've achieved that."

    The other element that Babcock and GM Doug Emerson stress is team balance. Emerson comments: "We don't want to rely on just one or two scoring lines - we expect all of our players to make contributions at both ends of the ice, and we've been able to achieve that this season. We had a 35-goal scorer (Slava Kozlov), two more 30-goal scorers (Brendan Shanahan and Jeremy Roenick), two 25-goal scorers (Mike Modano and Geoff Sanderson) and another player with 23 (Mike York). Mark Bell almost hit 20 (18), despite not being a regular on the powerplay. That's seven players on three lines putting up those numbers. When your top two scorers - (Slava) Kozlov and (Mike) Modano - are both in the top 10 in league scoring, despite never playing on the same line, you know something's working."

    Babcock adds: "Even our fourth line got into the act - when we added (Chris) Gratton and (Steve) Begin at the deadline, those two turned out to be real catalysts for us." In 25 games, gratton and Begin - playing on a line with Mike Leclerc - combined 7 goals and 7 assists for 14 points and a combined +17, while only putting up 12 minutes in penalties. That's a huge contribution when you're only getting 5, 6 minutes a night. And Gratton, he had - what? - 80 hits in those games? That's the sort of high-energy play that can turn a game around, the kind that takes teams deep in the playoffs."

    The Jackets had production from the back end as well. Adrian Aucoin finished fourth in the league in scoring by a defenceman with 14 goals and 61 points. Soon-to-be free agent Phillippe Boucher added 31 points, and Joni Pitkanen led all rookie blueliners with 41 points to go with a team-best +35 rating - enough to garner serious Calder Cup consideration in some circles, even though Ottawa's Henrik Zetterberg has to be considered a lock in that catergory with 68 points in 78 games.

    Veteran sniper Sanderson led the league in powerplay goals with 11. Bell led the team in hits with 211. Pre-season acquisition Bob Boughner led the team in penalty minutes with 95, while Shanahan was second with only 69 - illustrating the grit and balance combined with discipline that are hallmarks of this team.

    Round One Matchup

    Whatever happens, this could be a looooong series, not just in games but in minutes played. In the six regular-season meetings between Columbus and Chicago, the series ran 2-2-2, with four games going to overtime, and all but one were decided by a single goal. That one game is significant, however, as the Jackets closed out the series with a 7-0 drubbing of the Blackhawks last week that should leave Chicago players itching for revenge.

    Picking up for Jocelyn Thibault, Dwayne Roloson played well against Columbus before being chased in the final meeting after giving up 25 goals on 30 shots. It wasn't Roloson's fault, however - the Jackets went 4 for 5 on the PP against him, and while it's true that a goalie is the team's most important penalty-killer, Roloson got little help that night from the players in front of him. No doubt the 'Hawks will be drilling extensively on the PK, and trying to cut down on penalties. Chicago gave up an aveage of 2.5 minutes in penalties per game more than Columbus this season.

    The Jackets are also thought to hold an edge over Chicago in depth up front, strength on the blueline, and in net. Despite that, their struggles against Chicago during the season has the Vegas odds-makers calling on the 'Hawks to take it to 6 games. Even though they're strongly favoured to win, though, the Jackets aren't looking past their first-round opponents.

    "They had 6 20-goal scorers", Captain Brendan Shanahan points out, "and two guys in Kovalev and Sakic who are just magic. There's no way guys with that much talent and experience are going to roll over for us. This is going to be a battle, no question."

    With the Jackets' expectations focused firmly on a trip to the finals, they will have to get past this first hurdle starting Monday night in Columbus.

    Milo Minderbinder
    Columbus Discoverer
     
  2. Dryden

    Dryden Registered User

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    Thanks for the reverse psychology Doug, But I in no way am going to beat your team in 6. Should never have made that trade with Josh...since then my team has stunk....look for Peter Worrell to move up to the top line and be the goon that he is. Also look for some line up changes as the line up as it is not working and needs some tinkering.

    Good luck!
     
  3. Ohio Jones

    Ohio Jones Game on...

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    And to you, sir. No reverse psych about it - the post-season is always tougher than the regular season. Like the man said, we're not looking past our next game!
     

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