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CBJ New Year’s Resolutions

With the end of 2009 in sight, a year of historic highs and lows for the Blue Jackets is coming to a close. Certainly the thrill of the club’s first playoff appearance, albeit a short one last Spring, led to a season of unbridled optimism in 2009-2010. However, the latter half of 2009 has not been so kind to the club and going into this evening’s tilt with the dreaded Nashville Predators, the Jackets are only two points ahead of last place Edmonton. The Union Blue are nine points out of the eighth playoff spot in the West and will require a monumental 2010 to have a chance at repeat appearance.

To have any chance at making the playoffs this squad is going to have to make some changes, some sacrifices. Clever t-shirts with slogans like “It Starts Now” aren’t going to cut it.  It isn’t just the players on the ice that need to make the changes, the sacrifices, but the coaching staff and the front office as well. Tonight’s game is number 42 for the Blue Jackets, the official start of the second half of the season. Making changes for New Year’s, or the new season as the Blue Jackets would like to treat it, certainly isn’t a new practice. So without further ado, the Blue Jackets 2010 New Year’s resolutions.

Scott Howson: The Blue Jackets are still without a legitimate number one center or defenseman. Derick Brassard was supposed to be the number one, but clearly he wasn’t ready to take it. Maybe, just maybe, it wasn’t the best idea to sign kid with 48 career games in the league, coming off an injury, to a four-year contract extension with a $3.2million annual cap hit. If the club is confident that he is capable of becoming a bonafide first-line center, why not have him playing with Rick Nash? If they’re not, then they need to start the searching now. On the defensive front, not a single player on the team is a top defenseman, and one could argue that there isn’t a no. 2 among them. John Moore isn’t going to blossom into a top defenseman in just a year. Something, or rather someone will need to be added through a trade or free agency. Ownership has claimed that they are willing to spend money to be competitive, time to make them pony up, and preferably before summer.

Ken Hitchcock: For starters, how about winning significantly more games in 2010 than in 2009? To do so it’s going to require a bit of philosophy change and negotiations. Hitchcock has historically been very hard on young players, while being slightly more lax on veterans. Unfortunately, that sort of mentality simply cannot cut it with the youngest team in the league. If he wants to be in Columbus by this time next year, he’ll need to become an equal-opportunity stickler. Yes, young players make mistakes, but so do veterans. Hitchcock may be starting on this resolution a little early as mistake-prone Mike Commodore appears to once again be a healthy scratch this evening; he was kept out of the lineup in favor of newly-acquired Milan Jurcina Tuesday night.

The next step is benching mercurial winger Kristian Huselius and there’s a laundry list of players perfectly capable of reevaluating their game in the press box. This organization has more depth than it has ever had and if veterans are not playing to the level they need to be at, there are numerous young guys waiting in the wings dying for a shot. Give the young guys chances and allow them to make and learn from their mistakes. It is crunch time, but there needs to be accountability throughout the locker room. The divide between veterans and youngsters needs to be broken down to get everyone playing their best and this team headed in the right direction.

Rick Nash: Nash needs to stop trying to do everything by himself, whether in the locker room or on the ice. Nash has been held to just 12 points in the last 21 games, 18 of which have been losses. He needs to do more and produce more, but he makes himself much easier to take out of the game by failing to utilize his teammates. He plays like the biggest, strongest, most skilled kid on the peewee hockey team. The only problem is, in the NHL other teams recognize that and can shutdown one elite player. In his defense it is tough to build chemistry when you’re playing with different players each night, but it’s even harder to score on a one-on-three.

In the locker room Nash has an equal amount of work to do. The first thing he needs to do, if not already, is to ask for help. Last season the veteran presence of Michael Peca helped lessen the leadership burden that comes with the “C”. He served as a mouthpiece for Nash in the locker room as well as a player that helped teach the Hitchcock system to the youngsters. With Peca is gone and players like Rostislav Klesla and Fredrik Modin out for large portions of the season, the leadership burden has fallen almost solely on the 25-year-old. He doesn’t need to, nor should he have to shoulder the load on his own. If that means calling Michael Peca for advice, so be it. If that means reaching out to newly-acquired winger Chris Clark (four-year captain of the Washington Capitals) and asking him to help fulfill a leadership role on the team, do it now rather than later. There is no time to spare.

Steve Mason: For the reigning Calder Trophy winner, 2009 has been bittersweet. Steve Mason took home some serious hardware for his performance during the year. Yet, this season he has looked far cry from the Mason of the last. His poor play has been exaggerated by the porous defense that has been in front of him most of the season but let’s be clear. Mason is in the midst of a sophomore slump. One of the things Mason needed most has already been done for him. He was stripped of the starting role. While that may not have been in his personal interest, it taught him a very tough lesson that needed to be learned. Nothing is given in this league. It’s earned.

The move is hoped to unleash the competitive monster that dwells inside Mason. You begin to recognize how much of a competitor he is when you speak with the kid, more so than with most professional athletes. He’s had to compete for every role he’s ever held be it with two different junior teams, Team Canada in the World Juniors or the AHL. Lest we forget that he was an injury call-up last season whose competitive edge made it impossible the Blue Jackets to send him down. However, going into the season as the undisputed starter and franchise goaltender, Mason appeared to become a little too confident and much too complacent.

Since Hitchcock announced the “Win and you’re in” policy, Mason has played extremely well and cut down in the areas that have hindered his play the most this season: bad goals and the reaction that follows, positioning and rebound control. One need not look further than Tuesday night in the first period when Mason allowed a relatively soft goal against the Islanders. Earlier in the year, it would be no surprise to see the Isles come down and spot two or three more on Mason. He went on the turn away every remaining shot and kept the Jackets in the game, only to fall in a shutout. He’ll need to continue to play with that competitive edge for the rest of the season if he wishes to truly reclaim his net.

These resolutions only address a few of the major issues this team is facing. Feel free to share your resolutions for the team, coaching staff and management.

Happy New Years from the FTC Staff!

-Bart Logan

bartftc@gmail.com

Twitter: BartFTC

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