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Bylsma talks Johnson starts as I push for bringing Columbus to the East.

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Some thoughts from the Penguins’ 5-4 exhibition win at Columbus:

= The difference between covering a preseason game and a regular-season game: RW TOMAS KUBALIK recorded a hat trick for Columbus and that merited a sentence in my story. (This is the part where a reader says, “But Rossi, you’d only give him a graf or two in a regular-season story.” This is the part where I’d tell the reader, “Yep.”)

= If reports are true best of luck to all my friends at ESPN Radio 1250 in Pittsburgh. May work be found quickly.

= HC DAN BYLSMA said he’d like for back G BRENT JOHNSON to be “used a little more (and) different – in the beginning half of the season.” Johnson made 23 appearances last season, and Bylsma said six more would be ideal for the upcoming campaign. I’m thinking that he was referring to Johnson starts, as he made only 15 last season. I’ve heard the Penguins would like to keep starting G MARC-ANDRE FLEURY at around 60 regular-season starts. “The last half of the season would largely been in Flower’s favor,” Bylsma said.

Johnson stopped 18 of 21 shots at Columbus. His backup for the game, JOHN CURRY, made 15 saves in the final period. Goalie coach GILLES MELOCHE said of Curry’s performance: “Really good for him, especially after the way last year finished.”

Curry, who a year ago was perhaps the top contender to become Fleury’s long-term backup, must re-establish himself this season. He went 23-19-2 at the AHL last season, but his .891 save percentage alarming.

= Since the NHL is all about good ideas these days – yes, I’m on board with the HBO series, though I’ll probably need constant reminders to watch my dressing-room language when chatting up players – how about figuring out how to get the Blue Jackets into the Eastern Conference and a division with the Penguins? If that means moving Toronto back to the Western Conference, so be it.

The Blue Jackets don’t have a natural rival in the West. Sorry, Detroit doesn’t cut it. A Columbus reporter opined before this game, “Nobody hates (the Blue Jackets), and (Columbus’ fans) don’t have anybody to hate).” The Penguins could be that team for this market, which I predict would thrive with a move to the East. People in Columbus shouldn’t have to stay up late to watch a good chunk of their hockey club’s games. (Neither should people in Detroit or Toronto, but those markets have history; Columbus needs more help, understandably.)

Penguins fans would turn two or three games every season at Columbus into neutral-site games, but eventually a strong and bitter rivalry will build. Those rivalries are important for nontraditional markets. Penguins fans should remember that games against the Flyers and Rangers drew well even when the local club was a bottom-feeder for about five years in the previous decade.

Hate sells in the NHL. That is a big reason the Penguins and Capitals are playing in the Winter Classic, and a big reason HBO is interested. Penguins-Capitals is to the NHL what Steelers-Raves is to the NFL: pure, scathing hatred. The Blue Jackets need to ice a competitive club – though, moving to the top-heavy East would help them there – but once they do there would be a nice bit of nasty between them and the Penguins, and fans in both cities would eat it up.

Playing in the Western Conference I’m not sure the Blue Jackets are set up best for off-ice success, and from what I can tell after covering some games here there is enough support to make this a strong NHL city if the NHL will help a little by putting the Club where it belongs.

Bottom line: If a guy can drive to an NHL city from Pittsburgh within 3 hours, that city should be in the same conference as Pittsburgh’s team. End of discussion.

– 

= The “Ultimate” home game is Saturday night. I predict it will be quite an environment. I’m hoping to hear from anybody about what getting into the Consol Energy Center for free meant to them: hockeyday@tribweb.com.

 

Cheers from Columbus,

Rossi

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Author: Rob Rossi

Rob Rossi is the lead sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has been called many names, but “Rossi” is the one to which he most often responds. He joined the Trib in November 2002 and was promoted to the columnist role in July 2014. Previously, he had covered the NHL’s Penguins (2006-14) and MLB’s Pirates (2006), while also working on beats associated with the NFL’s Steelers (2005-06) and the NCAA’s Pitt (2004-06). He has won national and local awards for his coverage of youth concussions and athletes’ charities. Also, he is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association executive committee and the Pittsburgh chapter chair. Raised in Crafton and Green Tree and a graduate of West Virginia University, he has covered a Super Bowl, All-Star Games in baseball and hockey, the NCAA basketball tournament and over 100 Stanley Cup playoff games, including the Cup Final twice. Oh, and his sports reporting has led him to brief chats with Mick Jagger and Bruce Springsteen; so that’s pretty cool. He is a regular contributor on TV with WPXI, Root Sports Pittsburgh and TSN. Also, he is the authorized biographer of Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.

Comments

  1. Shawn says:

    Rob,

    Please…let’s not even broach the idea of realignment.

    If Phoenix had moved to Hamilton, guess who would have been sent back to the West in their place…..Pittsburgh. Then we’d have that great rivalry with Columbus you want and we’d have to wait until 10:30 for half of our games.

    No thanks.

    Seriously…take a look at a map. We are, by far, the most likely Eastern team to be moved west. Toronto has rivalries with Montreal and Ottawa and possibly Hamilton, one day. They could move us into the Jackets and Wings divisions and say those are good enough rivals, etc.

    If Quebec gets a team without Winnipeg or KC getting one, we could be moved. That would suck hard.

    Really enjoy your radio spots, btw.

    Thanks,
    Shawn

  2. Bill Kammermeier says:

    The only problem with moving Columbus to the east is in our current division WE are the odd team out. Philly, NY, NY, and NJ are all extremely close to each other. Pittsburgh is the farthest from them all, so we would lose out on having Philly in our division most likely. There are too many existing rivalries in certain divisions that if you started dividing them up you might lose out on things such as Pittsburgh-Philly or Boston-Montreal, etc…

    But I would love to play the BJs more often. Nothing breeds hatred in Pittsburgh like an Ohio team lol.

  3. pgbruiser says:

    First of all “Shawn” if you knew your hockey history or how to use a map you would know that Toronto would be the team most likely to move West. If a team would even have to move out of the Eastern Conference at all. Which I doubt. You would also know that Toronto has major history with Detroit, and that the Red Wings have always been the Maple Leafs biggest rival. Since the Leafs moved to the Eastern Conference in 1998 the two teams rarely meet.

    Also, there will never be a team in Hamilton. NEVER. The Maple Leafs don’t want them dipping into their profits or fanbase. Not only are the Leafs an Original Six team, but they are also the NHL’s most lucrative franchise with major pull behind closed doors.

    I got to run right now, but I will be back to tell you about yourself some more, and why you are way off base with your post. And just in case you are wondering I’m a Pens fan with a knowledge and grasp on the history of the NHL. Unlike most other Penguins fans.

  4. Shawn says:

    pgbruiser,

    It’s funny that you think the Leafs are so powerful that they can block a team in Hamilton (likely true) but that they will be the NHL’s lapdog and move out west AGAIN…in spite of their “major pull behind closed doors”.

    They did their time out west and won’t go back, not when they have the rivalry with Montreal and one with Buffalo and the Battle of Ontario with Ottawa.

    Any Toronto-Detroit rivalry is long dead. You must remember Gordie Howe, too. We have an ACTUAL rivalry with Detroit and a geographic one with Columbus.

    If any team moves west, as I said, it will be us.

    Oh, and the only thing you have proven is that you think you are Mark Madden.

    You are not.

  5. pgbruiser says:

    @ Shawn

    Give me a break bro. The Penguins will never. I repeat never move out west. I know it SOUNDED like I contradicted myself saying the Leafs have “major pull behind closed doors,” but I didn’t really. There is a huge difference in having say when another team wants to move in on your territory and having say on NHL realignment.

    You must think I am your fathers age or something. I’m still a young guy. Like I said though, Im just not a complete ignoramus when it comes to the history of the NHL.

    And trust me, the Leafs-Red Wings rivalry is not even close to dead. The Leafs only moved east in 1998. People in Toronto know the NHL wasn’t invented the year Sidney Crosby was drafted like most of the bandwagon fans here in Pittsburgh. You where probably still getting your butt wiped by your mother in 98′, so I don’t expect you to understand. Also this, so called, rivalry with Ottawa and Buffalo is a complete joke compared to a 100 year old rivalry with the Red Wings.

    I think you should go do some research before you want to hang with the big boys like me. PWND!!!

    I’m done with you!

  6. Matt says:

    @pgbruiser

    You definately proved your vast hockey knowledge and that you’re one of the “big boys” by insulting another fan for posting an opinion. So who do you work for to get the credentials to be included in the NHL’s closed door meetings where Toronto shows their pull? You don’t. And who are you to insult the hockey fans of Pittsburgh? There are a lot of intelligent hockey fans in this city and a lot of fans like myself who paid for partial and full season tickets for the complete re-building in 2003-2004 and when the “X-Force” played like the effects of Ex-Lax in 2005-2006. There’s no need to insult newer fans, which are the fans the Penguins have been targeting since 2006 with the Student Rush program. Those new fans are being raised on Crosby the way I was on Lemieux, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Those are the fans that will buy the season tickets and support the team when we need the diehard support should some tough years come down the line.

    You’re ignorance covers the fact that the point you made is dead on correct. If the NHL would make a swap and Columbus came to the East, Toronto is going back to the West because they fit in with the Red Wings and that division. Honestly it would make more sense to do that now, but I don’t see that happening. And you’re right on about Hamilton as well. They won’t get a team, not because of the “closed door pull”, but because if any team relocates the first city in line is Kansas City because they have a state of the art arena ready. But let’s be honest, that’s not going to happen either. If any team should have moved, it should have been Phoenix last year, but the NHL didn’t let that happen. So if Phoenix, for as bad of shape as they were in, were bailed out by the NHL, nobody else is going anywhere and the league is in no position to expand.

    One thing we all can agree on though, the new “Igloo” is fantastic and the Pens look to be ready to make the first season there a memorable one. What would be a more fitting christening than to raise the Cup on our ice for a change? All together now, new fans and old…LETS GO PENS!!!

  7. Brian says:

    As a fan of Columbus in Columbus, I personally agree with this swap. Toronto still has a feel for the “west” style of play. Everybody can agree that western conference play is more of a smash mouth style with more hitting and a more aggressive feel. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not callin the east the equivalent of the women’s hockey tourny from the olympics, it just seems the pace is slghtly slower in some aspects. The west is a conference of mere point leads in were the east is more defined in leads. I can see Columbus building a major reputation in the east because of this. I’m not talking total domination by any means but I think the style of play would help tremendously with our offense and the fan base.

    Also I feel that the pens jackets rivalry is already at the door steps. For anyone that has been to a regular season game in Columbus against the pens, the crowd is maxed out and dead split at 50/50. Last October when the pens made their way into nationwide, the energy inside the arena was intense. Jackets chants were the loudest I’ve heard in the 6 years I’ve been going to games period. Along with the engery we were giving pens fans equally matched chiming in between each “Let’s go Jackets” with “Let’s go Pens”. And to be honest, it was nice seeing an intensity from the players on the ice and the people in the arena. It’s something I’ve personally witnessed. I could careless about who they push out west. Toronto, Atlanta whoever I don’t care. All I care about is getting the fan base in Columbus up. Especially this year. After a playoff run and a terrible season last year our fan base is hurting. Talks of.a Pheniox are happening here and I don’t want that to happen. As you do, I love my team and would love to see it excel and have a strong fan base. This is where I see it happening. This move would make a rivalry that isn’t based off of a college football rivalry and turned out to be seemingly weak in the NHL, when it comes down to the players. Sure the fans hate each other but who cares. I want intensity on ice, off ice and after the game. Hype is everything and this match up bring that all ready. Let’s hope we see this change in the near future. From a hockey fan to hockey fans, best wishes and welcome back to hockey season.

  8. pgbruiser says:

    @ Brian: Hey man, I wish Columbus nothing but the best. I believe a move to the east would not only start a truly great rivalry between my Pens and your Jackets, but would also increase your fanbase.

    I’m genuinely rooting for your team to succeed. Columbus and the New York Islanders. While I truly hate the Islanders, and my heart still aches from the 1993 playoffs. I want the Islanders to succeed in New York (Long Island). No team with that much history should ever leave their city. I hope none of this success will come at the expense of the Penguins of course, but then again, no rivalry is every truly a rivalry if its one sided.

    Anyways! All the Best to you in Columbus.

 
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