September 21, 2010

Blue Jackets Fans Should Start Singing the Blues and Get Fitted for Strait Jackets

It’s an interesting conundrum, but as much as time will tell whether or not Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason was just a flash in the pan, time is no longer a luxury which his team has in abundance.

The Jackets signed Mason to a two-year contract extension on Monday, with him earning $2.6 million in the first year and $3.6 million in the second. He is currently earning $765,000. The signing is a curious one, not because Mason is seemingly being rewarded for seriously underachieving this past year, but because it comprises an actual move by team management in this, its summer of not-so discontent, at least in regard to its mediocre roster.

Looking at what the Jackets have accomplished this off-season, it makes one wonder why general manager Scott Howson has a job... again, not because he has done anything inherently detrimental to his team, but because he hasn’t done anything at all. Then again, a closer look will show that even if he is being paid for nothing his lacking performance more likely reflects the organization’s faulty corporate culture. One playoff appearance (and no playoff wins) in nine seasons is not exactly a glowing return on investment.

Sure, Howson did pick up forward Ethan Moreau off waivers from the Edmonton Oilers, but, when the Oilers don’t even want a player, it’s probably a sign to stay away (which is good advice pertaining to Sheldon Souray as well). And, yes, restricted-free-agent Anton Stralman, who led all defensemen on the team in scoring, was re-signed as well, but that’s more evidence of anyone being able to score some points for lack of a decent alternative. Even Souray would be a better option. I mean, forget the Oilers... Stralman’s a Toronto Maple Leafs castoff for crying out loud.

All in all, it was a summer of lateral moves if anything, and in the case of Ken Hitchcock being re-hired as a special adviser, lateral moves backwards. When the team finished fourth-last in the entire NHL last year, the only logical explanation is that management thinks some weird golf-scoring system has been implemented in the standings.

Maybe Howson wants to give new head coach Scott Arniel a chance to evaluate his players himself before making any moves, which may sound fair... until one realizes that there’s only so much good to be found in a locker room full of hand-me-down, second-class players that are more used to being coddled than they are actually competing. 

For example: Rick Nash, who, next to Marian Hossa, is probably the most overrated player in the league. His $7.8-million salary indicates that he’s a superstar, when, in reality, he isn’t even a point-per game player. He should instead turn his attention to a second career as a lookalike to the also overrated Eric Gagne of Los Angeles Dodgers fame. He might be better at that.

"C'mon! He looks like Clark Kent more than anything! And I'm hardly Superman!"

Then there’s Nikita Filatov, who was reportedly so enamoured with the prospect of playing in North America and competing for the Stanley Cup as an undrafted prospect that he got the green light to go back to Russia and play in the KHL last year after just eight games as a Jacket. Now that he’s back and apparently prepared to fight for a roster spot, the only question is: how long until he finally opts against a career in hockey altogether and decides to pursue his actual calling as a silver-tongued, soothsaying politician?

"The joke's on them! Wait until they find out what they paid for!"

Finally, what about Mike Commodore, the highest-paid defenseman on the team with a salary of $3.8 million this year? Apparently that kind of green only buys you a fringe 20-point-per-season defenseman. No wonder he can’t afford any clothes.

When defenseman Kris Russell, the team’s best hope at a legitimate number-one defenseman sometime down the road, goes down with a sprained knee in training camp, you have to know that even luck isn’t on your side. That’s about the only thing that would have given the team’s fan base some false hope this season.

Mason may end up bouncing back from his sophomore slump, but unless Columbus trades in their blue jackets for angel wings, it won’t make a difference. The team in front of him is too weak to withstand a wind of change let alone win him some games. This will be the team’s 10th season, and barring a miracle upswing on the ice and in attendance figures, one has to wonder how many more the Jackets will survive in the hockey hotbed of Columbus.

Time is relative, and it doesn’t take an Albert Einstein to realize that it’s not on the team’s side. In fact, it’s not a matter of if but when they leave... just as it is with them eventually getting mathematically eliminated from playoff contention this season. The best guess is sometime in December.

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