As I fist pumped the Blue Jackets 3-0 win Tuesday night over Washington, I wondered what Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen must be thinking.
This team, that Jarmo helped put together, is contending for not only a playoff spot but also a division title. The Jackets have turned things around. Since losing five in a row, the Jackets swept a 3-game road trip to Colorado, Arizona and Las Vegas and Tuesday, took care of the Caps. But while the Jackets have turned things around, they could be turned upside down in a matter of days. The NHL trade deadline looms and on or before February 25, two of the Jackets biggest stars could be gone.
In the victory over Washington, goalie Sergei Bobrovsky didn't have much action for most of the game. The Jackets defense allowed the Caps only seven shots the first two periods. It wasn't until late in the game when Bob had to be Bob. He answered the call, with a spectacular display over the final minutes of the game. He made 13 saves in the third period to secure his third shutout of the season.
Meanwhile, Artemi Panarin, the Jackets team leader in points with 64, iced the game with his an empty net goal--his 22nd goal of the season. Both the Bread Man and Bob have expiring contracts and both seem unlikely to sign long term. This is a story that's been hanging over the Jackets head all season and as every day of the calendar flips, Kekalainen's decision gets that much bigger. Will he put all his chips on the table and ride out the season in hopes of a Bob and Panarin led playoff run--or does he decide, for the good of the franchise, one, the other or both must be traded?
Keeping them both guarantees nothing. Despite what we've seen over the last week, the Jackets are far from a playoff lock. The Eastern Conference and the Metropolitan Division races seem destined to go down to the final days of the season. Even if the Jackets make the post-season for a third straight year, as CBJ fans know all too well, there is no history of playoff success. A trade of either or both would unquestionably have a major impact on a good, young and hungry team, but could also benefit the franchise long term. Do you want to risk allowing two of your most valuable assets to walk into free agency and get nothing in return?
The answer to the question could get even more murky Thursday night. That's when the Jackets host the New York Islanders, who happened to be leading the Metro Division, five points ahead of third place Columbus. A fifth straight Jacket win would inch the CBJ closer with only 10 days until the trade deadline. Whatever happens, Jarmo's decision is the biggest in the entire NHL this season and is probably the biggest in Blue Jackets history.
I have no idea what Jarmo will do, but if I had to guess, despite the shutout of the Caps, I think he'll deal Bob. There are multiple reports that Bob's relationship with the front office is fractured. Trading him will put a lot on No. 2 goalie Joonas Korpisalo but for the most part, he's been solid and maybe there's a veteran goalie on the market Jarmo could add as insurance. As for Panarin, for some reason I think the Jackets will ride him out. The chances of the Bread Man staying after the season seem slim but he's such a talent, I just feel like they're going to roll the dice. Plus, despite his unwillingness to commit, Panarin's play has never suffered. That's what I think will happen, but I posted a Twitter poll---what do you think Jarmo will do?
Crazy Night In College Hoops
Tuesday night was one of the more eventful of the season in college basketball. Some strange stuff happened. In Big 10 play, No. 6 and conference leading Michigan lost 75-69 at last place Penn State. More bizarre than the loss was the events at the end of the half. Michigan coach John Beilein, furious over a scramble and last second basket by Penn State was hit with not one, but two technical fouls and was ejected from the game. Beilein said afterwards he had not been ejected from a game since 1978 and would discuss what happened with the league office. To call it a surprise would be an understatement as Beilein is typically more of a mild mannered coach. Here's the sequence that got him tossed.
The Michigan loss coupled with Michigan State's win over Wisconsin and Purdue's loss to Maryland has created a log jam at the top of the conference. Michigan and Michigan State lead at 11-3 with Purdue a half-game back at 10-3.
Also in Tuesday night hoops, No. 2 Duke seemed destined to be an upset victim. They trailed Louisville 59-36 midway through the second half. The Dookies responded with a game ending 35-10 run to stun Louisville 71-69. In another high profile 2-point game, No. 5 Kentucky lost at home to No. 19 LSU 73-71 on the buzzer beating tip-in posted below.
A House Divided
I mentioned the Michigan State win over Wisconsin. Whenever those two teams meet I think of my niece Ruth and her husband Matt. Both are crazy sports fans, who love college basketball, however they become a house divided whenever the Badgers and Spartans play. That's because Ruth went to Wisconsin and Matt, to Michigan State. For most of their adult lives, the Wisconsin/Michigan State games have been significant. Last night was no exception, as the Sparty win put MSU into a first place tie in the Big Ten. Had Wisconsin won, the Badgers would have pulled into a tie with Michigan State for second in the league, right on the heels of Michigan and Purdue.
Last fall, Ruth and Matt added to their family. Little Maggie Jo, who I guess would be my grand niece, was born and I wondered which parent would win her loyalty. I suppose walking, talking and potty training will come well before we know the answer to that question, but for the time being, she's neutral. (That is until she falls in love with Ohio State!) Anyway, check out the onesie she had on for last nights game. Ain't she precious!!