So Columbus has finally discovered winning.
Rick Nash and Pascal Leclaire are rightfully getting a lot of press, but I can’t shake the feeling this Ohio about-face is mostly due to the presence of coach Ken Hitchcock.
Lots of people talk about changing the culture of the team, but not many can pull it off like Hitchcock. The Blue Jackets have gone from a team where guys were taking nights off on game days to a club full of players who look like they practise backchecking in their leisure time.
Even Nikolai Zherdev, a career minus-40 player, is plus-3 this season. If that doesn’t speak to Hitchcock’s ability to alter a team to its core, I don’t know what does.
LIGHTNING WON’T STRIKE TWICE Want to know why Ottawa will avoid Tampa’s fate in terms of locking up all its money in a few players? Antoine Vermette. He exemplifies the way the Sens do things right when it comes to building their team.
People talk about how Tampa erred by tying all its cash up in Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St-Louis and Brad Richards, but the fact is you need elite players to win a Cup – and they cost money.
Ottawa has a lot of dollars tied up in Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Daniel Alfredsson and Wade Redden, but when you’re paying a guy like Vermette – whom you were smart enough to draft 55th overall in the first place; after almost every team passed on him twice – just over $1 million to fly around the ice, score 11 points in 13 games, kill penalties and fit in on any line he’s slotted on, it sure relieves a lot of the financial burden.
Vermette is a restricted free agent this summer and is certainly in line for a pay raise, but Ottawa’s ability to draft shrewdly means they’ll be in a better position to absorb it because the next bargain player is right around the corner.