When we remember to, we will trade three questions with the opposing team's SB Nation site on game days. Thankfully, the folks at The Cannon seem to have a better grasp on this than we do. Please enjoy the Q & A, and be sure to check out their site all day today for info on the Jackets. (Links below)
1. How is Todd Richards working out in Columbus? For Wild fans, he may as well be the devil incarnate. Is he making the team better, or is he a stop gap like he was here?Is it too much of a cop-out to say we're still trying to figure it out?
He's in a weird spot in that he was hired full-time right before a new president (John Davidson) was brought in. Obviously, that definitely shortens his leash, but it's not hard to see that he helped guide the Jackets through the fire of an awful, awful season last year. He gets some credit for helping them finish strong last season, and their work ethic thus far this season has been more than solid--especially when contrasted against past squads. The issue has two fronts, however: is Richards' system the right way forward for this franchise, and if so, do they have the players to play it? To the latter point, no one knows what the roster's going to look like two years from now, considering the Jackets got very young this past year, and have three first rounders coming up in a deep, deep draft. I will say, however, that Richards has done enough not to be considered a total failure here like his predecessor was, but it remains to be see if he will ever be more than the proverbial Moses who gets them through the wilderness but doesn't get to make it to the Promised Land.
2. What are the expectations for Colton Gillies in Columbus? Former first rounder here, part of a string of failed picks by Doug "I ruin franchises" Risebrough.
I would say they're next to none. He's going to play tonight, obviously; Richards will make sure of that. But, last night against Dallas was his first game of the season, and we were six games in. He's a fourth-liner at best, and that's on an awful Jackets' team. There's no denying that he works hard, and uses his size to his advantage. But, he hasn't shown any signs of bringing any kind of offense, and his contract is up after this season. Columbus is rich in fourth-liner-types, so it's hard to see John Davidson wanting to keep him around beyond this season if he's in the press box 75% of the time. By all accounts, Gillies is a good dude. He's just not ever going to be a guy that plays serious minutes here in Columbus, and therefore probably anywhere in the NHL.
3. Last off season, the Blue jackets made some strong moves to improve the team. After the hissy fit and eventual trade of Jeff Carter, the team collapsed a bit. (Just a bit.) What is the plan in Columbus? Rebuild through the draft? Drive to Edmonton and kidnap Nail Yakupov?
It's a two-pronged strategy, as I see it.
Prong 1 is what they've done over the past year: clean out the franchise of the bad apples. They've brought in several guys who could be considered "leadership" guys in Vinny Prospal, Jack Johnson, and Brandon Dubinsky; they're also drafting guys who were letter-wearers in juniors in Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray. The notion of culture change may sound like lip-service and/or an excuse, but they rid themselves of the spectre of Rick Nash's captaincy. While Nash was an outstanding player, his leadership style was definitely lacking. The current leadership group has done an admirable job getting this team to play for 60 minutes, to have some "give a ****" attitude, and the willingness to practice hard and work hard each and every day. That's John Davidson's philosophy, and the team has bought in already.
Prong 2 is then to build going forward through the draft. They have three first rounders in this upcoming draft, including what will most likely be a pretty good shot to hit in the top 5 where there are several blue-chip guys. They got some younger "assets" this past summer through some moves: Tim Erixon (21) and Artem Anisimov (24) in the Nash deal, Nick Foligno (25) from Ottawa for Marc Methot, who wasn't in their long-term plans on D and made a pretty penny for his production level, and Sergei Bobrovsky (24) from Philadelphia for picks. They currently have two solid goalie prospects from this past year's draft, they have a few very good defense prospects in the AHL as well as Murray who's out with a shoulder injury this season. They have one glaring need: skill guys to score goals. They have two young guys blossoming into the NHL in Ryan Johansen and Cam Atkinson, but the list of "skilled forwards" is thin beyond those two guys.
It's going to take a couple of years, but with their position in the first round this year coupled with more stability in their dressing room, if they hit in the next two drafts with some legitimate forwards they can be on their way to a competitive team by the 2014-2015 season and beyond. They could also collapse in an epic dumpster-fire, which to this point has been the way they've always gone.