Tag Archives: 2015 All Star Game

The Customer Is Always Right—Sports Fans Should Not Be Silent

Just over six years ago, on January 28, 2012, approximately 300 Blue Jackets fans braved bitter cold to hold a protest as a Blue Jackets season that held great promise spiraled into chaos.  Earlier in the month, the team had fired Head Coach Scott Arniel ending a tenure that was probably most notable for Arniel’s infamous quip after a question from Lori Schmidt in a press conference (“so just keep piling on”).  Days later it would come out that the team’s superstar and captain, Rick Nash, had demanded a trade.

The preceding offseason looked good on paper.  A team that had only made the playoffs once seemed to have finally acquired the center it had needed for so long when an offseason trade landed them Jeff Carter.  They had also attempted to address their problems on defense by adding free agent James Wisniewski.  The Nikita Filatov era ended as the former first round pick was shipped to Ottawa for the Sens’ third round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft.

However, there was also a conspicuous failure to address concerns about the goaltending situation.  Mark Dekanich was signed to backup Steve Mason with Curtis Sanford, out of the NHL for two years at that point, signed as the primary goaltender for the AHL affiliate in Springfield.  Sadly, Dekanich would never see a game with the Jackets due to injury.

Things quickly went off the rails and never recovered.  Wisniewski would be suspended as a “repeat offender” for a preseason incident with Cal Clutterbuck in a preseason game that meant he didn’t start his first game for the Jackets until Game 9 of the season, which was, coincidentally, the team’s first win of the season.  Carter would get injured and be out for 10 games.  Steve Mason struggled.  Management, desperate to turn things around, made trades for Mark Letestu and Nikita Nikitin.  Rumors started to surface that, grasping at straws, the Jackets might bring back Ken Hitchcock as head coach. Fortunately for Hitchcock, he instead took a job with St. Louis.  Ownership seemed to be questioning management when they brought in former Pens GM, Craig Patrick as a “special advisor.”

Just six months after they enacted one plan to right the ship, they were about to enact a new plan—blow it all up.  And, to that point, it looked like they would let the architects of the prior failed plan—GM Scott Howson and President Mike Priest—carry out the new plan.

With the All-Star Break approaching, on January 23, 2012, the Jackets played a seemingly meaningless game against the Predators in Nashville and got shellacked, 4-1.  In many ways, it was a typical Blue Jackets loss for that era.  The Preds always seemed to have the Jackets’ number.  Mike Fisher had two goals in the game, bringing his total goals that season against the Jackets to six.  Over half of his goals to that point in the season were against Columbus, to which he responded after the game: “It’s kind of a funny stat. I know I’ve got to make sure I keep going and see if I can score against some other teams.”  The Jackets were 13-29-6 after that game. One loss shouldn’t have been any different than the 28 that preceded it.

But the fact that the loss was so typical, so ordinary, was probably what set me off.  It was a Monday night.  With the All-Star Break coming up, the team wouldn’t be in town on Saturday, but, as luck would have it, I would.  I had moved to the West Coast, but I was back visiting family.  That night I was in Northeast Ohio when I went on HFBoards and posted that we needed to have a fan protest to make it known that casual losses and being dead last in the league weren’t acceptable for a team that had been in the league as long as the Jackets had.  I didn’t really expect much to come out of it, but it struck a nerve and soon it was like a snowball rolling downhill.

I was driving south to Columbus the next afternoon when a fellow HFBoards member called me on my cellphone.  One of the local radio stations wanted to talk to the “organizers.”  To this point, no one was really organizing anything.  Suddenly there was a level of expectation.  Suddenly we had to think about things like permits, PA equipment, some sort of riser for speakers, a podium, speeches, etc., on a Tuesday afternoon, for something that was now, apparently, really going to take place on Saturday morning.  In the next 48 hours, somehow a core group of six of us came together to coordinate these things.

I had never met any of these guys in person before.  One of them was a guy I had sparred with over the years on HFBoards.  One was a musician and Day 1 season ticket holder.  One was a fan who traveled up to games from Kentucky.  One was an Iraq war vet and another was a father who brought his kids to games.  Other people volunteered to help in various ways including lending us PA equipment, picking things up where we couldn’t, etc. It was the first experience I really had of how quickly you could organize something with social media and with crowd-sourcing.  The protest would have never happened without the contributions of a number of people, and I cannot thank them enough.

Meanwhile, people debated the protest online, particularly at HFBoards.  Some thought it was a joke or an embarrassment. When national hockey media started to cover it, I think some started to fear that this would make the Jackets and, by extension, Columbus, a punchline.

The Jackets, for their part, were concerned about how this would play and, allegedly, hired a PR firm out of Chicago to address the situation.  On the eve of the protest, owner John P. McConnell wrote a letter to the fans and via the press let protesters know that they would be welcomed with a cup of hot coffee on what was expected to be a blustery day as a way of the organization showing its appreciation to the fans.  A nice gesture by McConnell which pretty much wrote my speech for me since I had a 2/3 replica Stanley Cup at my disposal.  (“You offered us a cup of coffee, but that’s not the Cup we want!”)

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The night before the core group of six of us and my always patient wife met up at a bar in the Arena District to make our final arrangements as to order of speakers and what we wanted to cover.  Who happened to walk into the same bar?  John P. McConnell’s son!  You really can’t make this stuff up. We finalized our plans in hushed tones about 10 feet away from him.

The next morning, the rumors about the Jackets being awarded an All-Star Game were everywhere.  I showed up at Nationwide at least an hour before the start time for our protest.  The Arena District was dead quiet.  It was bitterly cold.  I wasn’t sure if, after all of this, anyone would actually show up.  It didn’t look good 15 minutes before start time.  Then, suddenly, people started spilling out of the various bars and restaurants in the Arena District.  Probably 10-20 people at first.  With minutes to go before the start time the courtyard was nearly filled.  With only a few days’ notice, approximately 250-300 people had showed up on a cold day.  They showed up with signs supporting the team, but questioning management.

As we kicked things off with Bush’s “Machinehead,” the Jumbotron across the street carried the news that the Blue Jackets had been awarded an All-Star Game.  It was a bittersweet moment given the state of the team, but it was the first sign that maybe things would get better.  Over the next year, Rick Nash would be traded to the Rangers in a blockbuster deal, Mike Priest would be “promoted” and replaced by John Davidson, Scott Howson would be fired, and current GM Jarmo Kekalainen would be hired to replace him.  I don’t know if we influenced any of those decisions, but I’m glad the decisions were made.

In the aftermath, a lot of people who had been skeptical about the protest felt that it was well done and that it wasn’t the embarrassment they feared it would be.  At All-Star Weekend, Gary Bettman was forced to address the protest, doing so in the way you’d expect Gary Bettman to respond to such a question:

I saw that somebody was trying to organize a pep rally. But that’s a good sign.  It’s kind of like when you get booed when you go out on the ice, it’s better than when it’s quiet. I know about that firsthand.”

It was interesting to see the Browns Perfect Season Parade last month.  I heard a lot of the same things I remember hearing when we were planning the protest about whether it should be done, whether it would be an embarrassment.  You had another element that we didn’t have—players taking to social media to voice their anger over the parade.  In the end, Chris McNeil and the organizers deserve a lot of credit.  They raised over $15,000 for a good cause–wish we would have had the time and forethought to do this.  McNeil and his fellow organizers should be very proud in what they did, bringing out over 3,000 fans on another cold Ohio day.  Hopefully the Browns ownership and management takes the frustration of their fans to heart.  Bettman was right:  having 3,000 fans show up to voice their anger beats having 30,000 empty seats in your stadium.

That is the challenge for fans of dysfunctional sports franchises.  Some would propose boycotts as a way motivate teams, but boycotts can backfire.  Sometimes a boycott isn’t an option.  Witness the situation with the Columbus Crew where, once again, a dedicated fan base is speaking up.  In the case of the Crew, the issue isn’t as much the team’s performance as it is ownership’s desire to move the team and mischaracterize the fan base in the process.  Columbus was the first team to have a soccer-specific stadium, but the old house is starting to show its age.  Instead of sitting down in good faith with officials of the City of Columbus, team owner, Anthony Precourt, is more focused on moving the team to Austin and is doing everything he can to paint a picture of a franchise that no longer has local support from fans or businesses.  While John P. McConnell did all he could to show that he heard the fans concerns, Anthony Precourt is content to thumb his nose at Crew supporters, area businesses and local government officials.

Morgan Hughes and others behind the #SaveTheCrew effort have done a brilliant job of attempting to disprove Precourt’s anti-Columbus narrative by getting support not just from fans, but from businesses in Columbus.  They’ve put up billboards and have developed a “community kit” complete with a corporate sponsor.  We still don’t know how the story will end with the Crew, but I applaud the creative efforts of all of those behind #SaveTheCrew and I hope it shows other fans of troubled franchises in other cities that they don’t have to be hopeless, that they can attempt to do something about it instead of just accepting the loss of their franchise.  Show them some support in their efforts even if it is a little thing like sending them a few bucks.

I don’t know what the future will hold for fan advocacy, but I think fans are better off speaking up than being silent.  For years, fans of teams were the one group without a voice.  Fans have been used as pawns in disputes between players and owners over labor matters and in disputes between owners and government officials over financing matters.  At the end of the day, the fans are a team’s consumer base and they shouldn’t be silent about an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars any more than they would be silent if they went to a restaurant and were given the wrong food, much less if they got the wrong food every time they went to that same restaurant.  Remember the words of Gary Bettman—it is better for owners to hear your “boos” than silence. Sometimes that means you need to hold a “pep rally.”

February 19 – Day 123 – Ryan’s return

Finally, after 122 days of hockey, it’s Hockey Day in America. Because, you know, there definitely hasn’t been a game in the States almost every day since October 12.

Hey, we can’t complain though. It just means there’s more hockey to watch! The action starts at 12:30 p.m. with Washington at the New York Rangers (NBC), followed by Detroit at Pittsburgh (NBC) at 3 p.m. Winnipeg at Ottawa (TVAS) drops the puck at 5 p.m., with three contests (New Jersey at the New York Islanders, Chicago at Buffalo [NBCSN] and Nashville at Columbus) getting underway an hour later. The usual 7 p.m. starting time marks the beginning of Toronto at Carolina (SN1/SN360), with Tampa Bay at Colorado dropping the puck 60 minutes later and Boston at San Jose (NBCSN) at 8:30 p.m. Los Angeles visits Anaheim at 9 p.m., and tonight’s nightcap – Philadelphia at Vancouver (SN360) – completes Sunday’s play at 10 p.m. All times eastern.

Short list:

  • Washington at New York: This rivalry is only made better by featuring two of the top-five teams in the NHL.
  • Detroit at Pittsburgh: Two-straight meetings in the Stanley Cup built a little rivalry between these clubs, but it’s died down in recent years.
  • Nashville at Columbus: In addition to being former division rivals, Ryan Johansen, who spent five seasons with the Jackets, is playing his first game in Nationwide Arena wearing white.
  • Los Angeles at Anaheim: Round three of the Freeway Face-Off goes down tonight!

I know we still haven’t featured the Freeway Face-Off yet this season and it should be a good game, but tonight is the only game Johansen will play in his former town. To Arch City we go!

UnknownColumbus Blue Jackets Logo

 

Johansen wasn’t just any center for the Blue Jackets, he was an investment. Scott Howson and Columbus selected the Vancouverite center fourth-overall in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, and he made his Jackets debut only a season later.

He’s only played 40 games in the AHL, and that’s simply due to the 2012-’13 lockout. Since playing his first game with the Jackets, he’s remained in the NHL effectively ever since.

Up until January 6 of last season, that sentence could have simply said “he’s remained in Columbus ever since,” but he was traded to the Predators in the midst of an abysmal Jackets campaign.

That’s done nothing to slow him down. The 24-year-old only continues to grow as an NHL center, as every passing season he marks a career-high in assists (barring the lockout year). He was recognized for his growth in his fourth season in the league by being named to the 2015 All-Star Game, his lone appearance in that exhibition to date.

So far, he has 31 helpers to his credit this season, and he’s on pace for at least 14 more before the season ends for a total of 45 – one short of last season’s combined mark in Columbus and Nashville. But Nashvillans shouldn’t be concerned – something tells me Johansen will succeed his career-best 46 apples as the Predators make their playoff push.

Pair those team-leading assists with his nine goals and Johansen also leads his team in points. He and his fellow forwards will have their work cut out for this evening, as the Jackets are very good on their defensive end.

Although they’re not performing as well as many had expected this season, the 27-22-8 Predators seem to be on the right track as they currently qualify for the playoffs as the seventh-best team in the Western Conference. They’ve gotten to that position by playing  some solid goaltending, as Nashville has allowed only 153 goals this season, tying for 12th-fewest in the NHL.

22-15-6 Pekka Rinne has been charged with manning the Predators‘ crease more often than not this campaign, and he’s the only Nashville goaltender with a winning record. He’s marked a .918 season save percentage and 2.43 GAA, the (t)10th and 12th-best efforts, respectively, in the league against the 40 other goalies with at least 22 appearances.

It remains to be seen if he’ll be in net this evening, as he manned the crease in the Predators‘ 5-2 loss in Minnesota last night. If Rinne is given the night off, it will be 5-5-2 Juuse Saros between the pipes.

Led by Ryan Ellis‘ 89 shot blocks, Nashville allows only 30.3 shots to reach net per game, an average effort that officially ranks 15th-worst. It may not be glamorous or spectacular, but it has gotten the job done for the Preds so far this season.

Playing host this evening is Johansen’s former club, the 37-15-5 Blue Jackets. Winners of their past two games, Columbus has forced its way into third place in the Metropolitan Division by playing the fifth-best offense in the NHL, having notched 182 goals already this season.

With his 50 points, Cam Atkinson is the leader of this motley crew, a total that rivals some of the best forwards in the game. Part of the reason he’s been so successful is his ability to bury the puck on his own, as he also has the squad-lead in goals with 27.

Columbus is home to one of the superior power plays in the game, as the Jackets are successful on 22.4% of attempts – the third-best rate in the league. While Atkinson has been solid at even-strength, the man-advantage is Alexander Wennberg‘s area of expertise, as he leads the squad with 21 power play goals. Most of those have been assists however, setting up power play linemate Nick Foligno for a team-leading 10 man-advantage goals.

The Blue Jackets made their annual trip to Bridgestone Arena on January 26, the last day of play before the All-Star Break. Led by Craig Smith‘s two-goal third period, the Preds were able to hold off Columbus with a 4-3 victory.

Some players to keep an eye on this evening include Columbus‘ Atkinson (27 goals [tied for sixth-most in the NHL]), Sergei Bobrovsky (31 wins [second-most in the league] on a 2.17 GAA [tied for third-best in the NHL] and a .926 save percentage [tied for fourth-best in the league], including three shutouts [10th-most in the NHL) and Wennberg (36 assists [tied for seventh-most in the league]) & Nashville‘s Viktor Arvidsson (18 goals [leads the team]), Matt Irwin (+15 [best on the team]) and Johansen (40 points on 31 assists [both lead the team]).

Columbus has a hefty line associated with their name in Vegas: -165, to be exact. It’s a hard line to argue with, as the Jackets are among the league’s best on either end of the ice. I like to Columbus to win by at least two goals.

Hockey Birthday

  • Ryan Whitney (1983-) – Selected fifth-overall by Pittsburgh in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, this defenseman played nine seasons in the league. Playing most of his days with the Penguins, he scored 259 points, including his career-best 59 in 2006-’07.
  • Kyle Chipchura (1986-) – Another first-rounder, this center was selected 18th-overall by Montréal in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft. Although he’s currently playing in the KHL, he’s spent most of his playing days with the Coyotes.
  • Shawn Matthias (1988-) – Selected by Detroit, this center was the 47th-overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, yet he never dressed for the Wings. Instead, he’s spent most of his playing days with Florida, and is in his first season with Winnipeg.

Due to the Jets‘ 3-1 victory over Montréal in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, mid-season new coaches in the 2016-17 NHL season have a 4-1-0 record in their debuts.

Everything looked like it was going the Canadiens‘ way to start, as they notched the only goal of the first period. Andrei Markov (Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk) takes credit on a wrist shot with 8:56 remaining in the frame.

Then things started breaking down. How bad did it get? Joel Armia scored an unassisted shorthanded wrister 4:52 after the first intermission to tie the game at a goal apiece.

Winnipeg took that momentum into the dressing room during the second intermission and ran with it, as First Star of the Game Mathieu Perreault (Second Star Dustin Byfuglien and Patrik Laine) scored the game-winning goal only 1:16 after beginning the third period. The Habs tried to level with the extra-attacker late in regulation, but Laine (Ben Chiarot and Perreault) ended any chance of a comeback with a goal on the empty net.

Connor Hellebuyck earned the victory after saving 19-of-20 shots faced (95%), leaving the loss to Third Star Carey Price, who saved 30-of-32 (93.75%).

The Jets‘ road victory snapped the two-game winning streak by the 64-43-18 home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series. Visitors in the series have now pulled within three points of the hosts.