Blue Jackets riding the
December 8, 2016 | 2:02pm ET
Columbus is clicking, and that shouldn't come as a shock.
TORONTO, ON -- If you've been casually checking out the standings, you
probably skipped over the Columbus Blue Jackets. You know, that team
that some people are talking about. They're doing OK. But so far
haven't generated too many big headlines, so whatever.
Well, it's time to start paying more attention.
The Blue Jackets are one point behind the first-place Pittsburgh
Penguins for top spot in the Metropolitan Division with two games in
hand, and they're doing it by committee.
Forwards Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Saad,
Sam Gagner and Scott Hartnell have all contributed nicely for the Blue
Jackets in their first 24 games of the season.
Foligno and Gagner -- yes, Gagner -- lead the team with 10 goals each.
Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski is already having a Calder-like
season, playing both ends of the ice, and having notched six goals and
11 assists for 17 points, so far.
The team boasts a league-best powerplay rating (24.6%), sit third in
the NHL in goals-for per game (3.17), third in goals-against per game
(2.17), and eighth in shots per game (31).
Not bad. Not bad at all.
Head coach John Tortorella credits a lot of the team's success this
season with staying out of the box. As impressive as their offensive
game has been, mixed in with the outstanding play of goaltender Sergei
Bobrovsky, Torts believes having a more disciplined team -- and a
healthy one -- has paid significant divides.
"It has been a real change for our team, our discipline, not sitting
in the box," Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch this week. "That's
been a huge improvement from last year as far as how many
offensive-zone penalties we took. We were sloppy. That's concentration
on the night of the game, being disciplined with your detail."
Wennberg's emergence this season has also played a factor. He's jumped
into the top-line center role and hasn't seemed to miss a beat. It's
made moving Ryan Johansen to Nashville for star defenseman Seth Jones
that much simpler.
"He has the skills and talent and the vision -- he has got all of that
-- but was he going to bring it consistently, with the work ethic and
everything else,” Foligno posed to the Dispatch. "That's what he's
realizing right now.
"He's just so good with the puck and sees the ice so well. I think
that's why our powerplay is so good right now -- he's such a good
player on the half-wall. Just when you count him out he slips by a guy
and makes a nice pass. He has the kind of talent to make those plays."
Columbus no doubt needs the play of Wennberg and the rest of the group
to continue, or even step up -- Brandon Dubinsky has just seven points
-- but they're poised for a run at the playoffs, and for the still
fresh fan base in Ohio, that's a huge step.
Put aside their introductory video announcement debacle and the
ridiculously embarrassing situation the Vegas Golden Knights (?) and
the NHL currently find themselves in with this whole trademark
rejection thingy, it appears the headaches surrounding the franchise
extend way beyond their name and logo.
According to multiple sources close to the organization, almost every
department outside of hockey operations has been categorized as "a
mess" since the team officially took form in late-June.
Staff members have already been complaining over the club's day-to-day
operations and how they are being handled, while some folks have
already been let go -- I'm told one person was even publicly scolded
and fired in front of a good chunk of employees.
How involved Bill Foley is on a daily basis with various divisions is
unclear, but it has been indicated to me that he has been "a little
too hands on," one source described.
Chalk these up to initial growing pains, for now, but the house will
certainly need to get in order by the spring so the team can start
preparing for its marketing and media initiatives once NHL players
begin to join the fold.
NWHL chugging along, sort of
There are still plenty of questions that need to be answers and
numerous items that need to straighten themselves out, but it's nice
to see the NWHL moving ahead with its season.
The League announced on Wednesday that its 2017 All-Star Weekend will
take place in Pittsburgh on Feb. 11-12.
"Our goal has been to grow our footprint outside of our markets so the
elite athletes of the NWHL can demonstrate their amazing talents
before new crowds," said NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan. "Since we
started the league last year, we have received a lot of support from
woman's hockey fans in Pittsburgh."
A smart decision became even smarter when they named Amanda Kessel and
Kelley Steadman team captains -- Kessel's brother, Phil, plays for the
Penguins, so there will be some local ties, although the Pens are in
Arizona to play the Coyotes on the 11th. Perhaps Phil drops by on the
It sounds like the NWHL has enough funds to complete their season, but
how much on-ice action happens after that remains a mystery.
According to multiple sources, the League still hasn't submitted
contract addendums to their players to sign -- which I'm told most
won't sign, anyway -- nor provided its players with any official
updates in writing to their business plan/model, list of investors, or
indicated who is on the League's Board of Governors or legal council.
Rylan has met with groups of players, informally, to discuss updates
and generate ideas and opinions, but outside of a GoFundMe option, not
much else has come forward. Not yet, anyway.
For the time being, it sounds like the season will play out, and the
NWHL All-Star Game should generate some buzz in Pittsburgh, which is
great, but there's clearly much more that needs to be done.
David Pagnotta is the Editor-in-Chief of
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