Blue Jackets Are Asymmetry Defined

When I was in graduate school, besides the professor’s continued response of “it depends,” the second-most-common term I heard was “asymmetry.” Asymmetry – at least in a business or mathematical context – refers to a lack of symmetry, or more specifically, an overall lack of balance or harmony.

What’s my point, besides providing a definition for the word? That asymmetry, particularly as it relates to an organization, can disrupt the goal of achieving success. In this instance the Columbus Blue Jackets perfectly fit this bill.

Recently (and much to my surprise) I discovered something that ran counter to the argument that I’ve been hearing for so long from the Blue Jacket organization, the media who covers the team – consider me duped. Columbus is not as much of a budget team as I was originally led to believe.

According to capgeek.com the Blue Jackets are ranked 17th out of 30 NHL teams, and third out of the five teams in the Central Division. So it’s not a matter of actually spending money, but rather a matter of what they’re doing with the money they spend.

Now knowing that it’s not a budget constraint issue, I decided to look at the current on-ice personnel, the moves that have been made, and the direction that Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson has taken since being named to the position three years ago. What I found was this term, that I had drilled in my head, that I could finally use in a useable context – asymmetry.

Barring a major trade, a camp invitee making the roster, or a seismic change in the overall make-up of their lines and defensive pairings, the Columbus Blue Jackets will look something like this when they arrive in Stockholm on October 8th.

Forwards

Rick Nash – Antoine Vermette – Jakub Voracek

Nikita Filatov – Derick Brassard – Kristian Huselius

R.J. Umberger – Sammi Pahlsson – Ethan Moreau

Chris Clark – Mike Blunden/Andrew Murray – Derek Dorsett/Jared Boll

Defense

Jan Hejda – Fedor Tyutin

Kris Russell – Rusty Klesla

Mike Commodore – Marc Methot

Anton Stralman (Power Play Specialist/Situational)

Goalies

Steve Mason

Mathieu Garon

This doesn’t exactly conjure up memories of the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s, does it?

So, when you analyze the organization and its personnel, this is what you see: Asymmetry.

The best way to outline this asymmetry, in a hockey context, is to categorize players by two aspects: Pre and Post Lockout.

Before the lockout, forwards played a physical, gritty, two-way, defense-first style hockey for its forwards and a stay-at-home style for defensemen; and Post-Lockout player types – where speed, skill and an up-tempo style is prevalent for both forwards and defensemen.

So, here are the Pre-Lockout type players the Blue Jackets have on their roster:

R.J. Umberger, Sammi Pahlsson, Ethan Moreau, Chris Clark, Mike Blunden, Andrew Murray, Jared Boll, Jan Hejda, Rostislav Klesla, Mike Commodore.

Here are the Post-Lockout player types on the Blue Jacket roster:

Antoine Vermette, Jakub Voracek, Nikita Filatov, Derrick Brassard, Kristian Huselius, Derek Dorsett, Kris Russell, Anton Stralman

I would also add to that some hybrid-type players, who possess elements of both styles of play:

Rick Nash, Fedor Tyutin, Marc Methot

If there’s one fortunate result of this analysis, it’s that, for the forward lines, the Blue Jackets do generally keep the playing styles similar, as the first two lines are up-tempo, whereas the last two lines employ a pre-lockout style. However, on the defensive pairings, you don’t have that level of continuity, and that’s where the problems occur:

- Hejda – a stay-at-home defender is matched with a hybrid style defenseman – Tyutin.

- Russell – a offensive, puck-moving, defenseman is matched with a classic stay-at-home defenseman – Klesla.

- Commodore – a stay-at-home defenseman is matched with a hybrid style defenseman – Methot

- Stralman, who is a power-play Quarterback Specialist, is often matched with various and differing defensive pairing partners. It is only when paired with Kris Russell (in a power-play situation) is when there is a symmetric match.

There is also asymmetry in the direction and acquisition history, particularly as of late. Initially Howson’s tact/direction was to rid the organization of large dollar contracts occupied by aging players – Adam Foote and Sergei Fedorov – and begin to employ the up-tempo system of the “New NHL”. This resulted in the Blue Jackets being one of the youngest teams in the league, and were making modest, but encouraging progress.

The next step was to staff the team with personnel that would suit then head coach Ken Hitchcock’s disciplined, two-way, Pre-Lockout system. It was at this time that Howson made a foray into the Unrestricted Free Agent Market, obtaining more experienced players, but none exceeding 28 years of age to implement that system, the result of which was the Blue Jackets first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Howson was then labeled a wunderkind, thus the slogan, “In Howson we trust” was born.

Then, during the Blue Jackets free-fall (during the November, 2009 – January, 2010 timeframe) a third differing direction took place. Howson first acquired former captain Chris Clark from the Washington Capitals to bring in a gritty, veteran presence. Howson repeated that theme in acquiring former Edmonton Oiler captain Ethan Moreau during the UFA signing period, via a waiver claim. This prompted fans to utter that the luster had worn off of Howson’s brilliant success in just the previous year.

To recap: The Blue Jackets went from youth and up-tempo, to a grittier and playoff-ready (or so was thought) mix, to its current state: a more experienced, leadership-infused direction. Is anyone besides me dizzy?

All of this leads me to a series of thought-provoking questions:

Do the varying directions in both style, leadership and age lend one to think there may be opposing views within the player personnel (on-ice) sector of the organization, almost to the point of gridlock? Are the asymmetries an indication of desperation on the part of the Blue Jacket organization to recover their dwindling fan base? Is it cause for concern when only one personnel move was made, for a team who possessed the fourth worst record in the Western Conference? Is status quo and asymmetry really fair for a new coach, one particularly attempting to implement an up-tempo, puck-possession type of system with a fair share of players who are not equipped to do so?

No matter the direction, the key is to maintain one direction – preferably, that of an up-tempo, puck possession, speed oriented team, one with proven success during the seasons since the lockout – and to position the team towards being a consistent playoff contender.

The fans will be patient – Lord knows they’ve had to be to this point; however, please chose one and stay with it. And the end result will be symmetry, which will hopefully lead to sustained success.

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  1. Patience Wearing Thin In Columbus | INSIDE HOCKEY - December 27, 2010

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