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Community Roundtable: Are we there yet?

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

Gather around the roundtable, friends.

Bear in mind: the term "roundtable" is relative in this context. There was no table used in the creation of this piece, nor was it round. But would I even have to clarify it wasn't round if the table didn't exist in the first place?

Thankfully, I am merely the presenter of topics in this discussion. Everyone else can share their well-thought out thoughts, opinions and perspectives and you can see how awesome they are.

Today's panelists: Rick Gethin, Blue Jackets beat writer for, Dan P. from SB Nation's Cannon blog and Jeff Little from The Union Blue.

Our panelists will be talking about and sharing their views on three different questions: the growth of Cannonfest, the Blue Jackets' new-look top line and what the team needs to do in order to get back in the playoffs.

Disclaimer: these are independent panelists invited to provide their input on a variety of topics as part of the roundtable discussion. Their views are not necessarily shared by the Blue Jackets.

Here we go.

QUESTION 1: What is it about Cannonfest that makes it so special, and keeps growing every year?

Dan: As I said in my write-up of my podcast from the event, for me, what's great about CannonFest is that it's for fans, by fans, and the group is a true community of friends. One of the things that was great for me as I edited my 90-minute podcast was realizing how it sounded like I was just chatting and hanging out with friends talking about the sport and the team that we all love. Add in the fact that we packed a restaurant to the rafters in the middle of the off-season, and it just goes to show how much community there is amongst this fan base. Jarmo showing up certainly didn't hurt, either!

Rick: Four short years ago, this event drew the Blue Jackets bloggers and the hardcore fan. The team wasn’t doing the greatest, yet these hardy fans wanted to get together and talk hockey. Through word of mouth and the team getting better, this event is starting to tug at the casual fan, too. The “specialness” of this event still remains that it is organized and run by fans. It’s great to see the organization stepping up with their involvement over the last couple of years. Although they will always have the hardcore fans making the trek, too many people are telling their friends “Hey, guess what you missed at CannonFest…”

Jeff: Cannonfest is a phenomenon, to be sure, and its growth is gratifying to see, as the small gathering of bloggers has transformed into THE event of the off-season. I think its success stems from four key factors. First, it's an event that began with the fan base, and has grown organically from there. It's not an artificially-created event, but something that strikes a note with the fans because it was created by a group of avid fans. Second, the timing is perfect. People are hockey starved by mid-August, even this year with a short off-season. Next, the support of the club has been huge -- capped by Jarmo Kekalainen's appearance this year -- which gives folks the sense of being "insiders." Finally, it somehow manages to balance serious hockey, irreverence and outright silliness. Rick does a great job as MC, and it just works.

QUESTION 2: Provided all players are healthy, which three players would comprise YOUR top line for the Blue Jackets?

Jeff: This is by far the toughest one, when you consider the depth the club has at forward, especially with a healthy Nathan Horton. I still think there is one more move coming as the clubs start to make the necessary cap moves in the next few weeks, likely for another forward, but we'll see. My center is Anisimov, who simply does it all on the ice. He brings it all to the table: physical play, a deft shooting touch, solid passing and great hockey sense. On the right, it's Gaborik. He still has wheels at age 31 and a great shot. As he's gotten older, he has also developed the ability to find those seams in the defense and convert the quick pass into the slot. He also brings some veteran savvy to the line, and some chemistry with Artie. On the left side, I'll go with Foligno, who is another guy who brings a lot to the table across the board, and has shown the ability to get his hands dirty and find the back of the net.

Dan: The temptation here would be to go the video game route and put Marian Gaborik and Nathan Horton on a line together, but I tend to believe they're both best suited to playing on the right wing. With that said, I like Gaborik on the top line with Artem Anisimov at center and Brandon Dubinsky on the left wing. Dubi is a great center to be sure, but I feel more than confident that Ryan Johansen and Mark Letestu can center the second and third lines respectively. Dubinsky has some experience playing with Anisimov and Gaborik, and that combination would bring offensive ability as well as defensive responsibility. Sounds like a top line to me.

Rick: Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Nick Foligno. Finesse, grit and speed are what you get with this line. While this might not be the popular pick for a top line, this is who I would put out there. It’s basically a triple-threat scoring line. They don’t lack for size, either. Even with a shortened season under their belts, the chemistry between them should be evident from the drop of the first puck.

QUESTION 3: Finish this sentence (and justify your position): if the Blue Jackets make the playoffs this season, it's because they _____.

Rick: …will not be outworked. Really, how do I answer this without bringing out every cliché in the book? They all have to give 100 percent each and every time that they step on the ice. They have to know, and believe, that the name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back. They proved last season that this can be accomplished. As long as they start strong, play strong and finish strong, they will go as far as they want to. Whatever the outcome, I would imagine that this season is going to be one wild ride for everyone.

Jeff: "Stay healthy, stay responsible and convert their chances." Obviously, you need Bobrovsky to stay healthy. However, Dubinsky missed 19 games, Wisniewski missed 18 and Anisimov missed 13, all in a 48-game season. If they can stay healthy for a full year, Dubinsky and Anisimov could easily account for 100 points, and Wisniewski could add another 30 points. They have more depth than ever on the front end, but need people to convert goal opportunities. There are lots of guys with the talent to bury the puck, but they are going to have to do it consistently. Too many times over the past few seasons, the club lost out because open opportunities were missed. If just one of those goals had been scored last year, Columbus would have been in the playoffs. Finally, they need to continue with a defensive scheme that is responsible, but resilient enough to start the transition game. Wiz cannot keep getting caught flat footed along the boards at the blue line, and Nikitin needs to get his focus back. Bob will be terrific, but the pressure should not be as intense to pitch a shutout or allow just one. If Murray and/or Jenner join the party, it could be a downright scary team to watch.

Dan: If the Blue Jackets make the playoffs this season, it's because they: score more goals. I don't think too many people would argue that this club is built to play good-to-great defense and has the reigning Vezina winner in goal. The biggest area for improvement is in the offense. Having a full season of Gaborik should help, and getting Horton back mid-season will help as well. But, this team is as good as any other from the red line back. It's going to come down to them putting the puck in the net a little more than they did last season if they want to take that next step.

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