As workers were busy painting the goalposts and crossbars of unused hockey nets at Nashville’s Centennial Sportsplex – a reminder that preparations are still being made for a fast-approaching NHL season that will likely be delayed – Jonathon Blum asked if an interview could be conducted elsewhere. “That smell is killing me,” Blum said of the fumes from the fresh red paint.
He also can’t stand the bad taste left in his mouth from a disappointing showing in the 2011-12 season.
Months removed from being thrown into the fire during the stretch run in spring of 2011 (and successfully meeting the challenges he faced), Blum’s inexperience caught up with him in the first half of last season. His growing pains coincided with the Predators’ early-season inconsistency, which didn’t help matters for the then 22-year-old defenseman.
Blum was sent down to AHL Milwaukee twice last winter, with the second reassignment signaling the last time he’d suit up in Predator Gold for the season. Rookies Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis passed him on the depth chart, which kept Blum in the minors. As GM David Poile said last month, Blum struggled in Milwaukee and didn’t give the team any reason to call him back up to Nashville.
In all, Blum played 33 games for the Predators and finished with seven points and a –14 rating, a drop off from the eight points and +8 rating he collected during his 23-game stint with the team at the end of 2010-11.
“I set high expectations for myself getting called up the year before and playing top-four in the playoffs,” said Blum. “When I got sent down I just wish I was getting noticed, getting told I need to step my game up; showing a lot of video [to me] and stuff like that would have made it easier because in your first year in the league, everything is new and happens so fast. Playing your first full year is a lot different, with roller coasters up and down. That was the frustrating part for me … but I learned from it.”
One of the toughest things for Blum was watching the playoffs from Milwaukee, knowing that just 12 months prior he was playing important minutes in helping the Predators advance past Anaheim.
“Sitting there with my roommates watching the first round, you know, what a difference a year makes,” he said. “[I was] in that situation at Bridgestone where the crowd is rocking and getting goosebumps. At home I was sitting in my comfy clothes watching the game with my buddies; you obviously want to be out there.
“It’s definitely a wake-up call. The year before your contract and you get sent down, you can lose a lot of money that way. I have a lot to prove. I came up the year before and played to my capabilities and played a lot. There’s no reason to believe I can’t be at that level again.”
(Speaking of Blum’s contract, he is currently a restricted free agent and is optimistic something will get done in the near future. “It’s been a long process … Hopefully tomorrow or before the weekend there will be something done and we can move on [to the season],” he said.)
What is Blum doing to help make sure he isn’t sitting and watching at home in his comfy clothes the next time the Predators make the playoffs? The first step in that process was an improved off-season workout regimen, and Blum has been doing it all here in Nashville.
“The team wanted me to come down for a week here and there, but I decided to do it for the full summer,” he said. “You get to use the Predators facilities, so it’s nice to be able to access all that. It was a no-brainer for me.”
Said Poile of his conversation with Blum after the season, “What can you (Blum) control? One is your conditioning; your conditioning is not in the top half of our team, so why don’t you do that? This summer, prove to us that you can do that, come to Nashville – and he’s done all that. Right there, if he can show strides in that area, that’s going to be impressive to his fellow teammates, to the coaches and, most importantly, to himself.”
While in Nashville this off-season, Blum is spending a lot of time working with David Good, the team’s strength and conditioning coach. Blum also said he is eating better to get his body fat down, as well as going through higher-tempo workouts to get ready for a full NHL season.
“I played 33 minutes in the minors, but playing at a high pace all the time is a hard thing to do in the NHL. You look at guys who can skate up and down the ice the whole game – that’s something I’m focused on and doing,” said Blum.
The commitment from Blum, a California native, to stay in Nashville throughout the off-season has caught the eye of his teammates.
“He didn’t get a chance to play after he got sent down,” said fellow defenseman Kevin Klein, “and it was huge for him to not get too mental about it and know that there is next year where you can show what you can do, and he’s got all the talent. It’s good to see him working towards that.”
From past experiences, Klein knows what Blum is going through. It took Klein some time to solidify a full-time spot on the Predators’ blue-line, as he was shuffled back and forth from Milwaukee between 2005 and 2007.
“It’s a learning process,” said Klein. “Last year, even if you asked Jon, was a learning experience for him. He came in at the end of the [2010-11] season and maybe got by on pure adrenaline. Maybe he thought it was going to be a little easier than it was, but you can see him this summer definitely working his butt off to get back to playing really good hockey and making the team.”
If the Predators are to successfully move along defensively without Ryan Suter, the youngsters will need to step up in the present and future. It starts with Josi and Ellis, but it also includes Blum, who showed promise in 2011 in some pressure-packed situations.
It is safe to say Blum has a chip on his shoulder heading into training camp, whenever that may be. All of this hard work may result in Blum and the rest of the league waiting for a CBA resolution, which is expected to come later rather than sooner. Additionally, Blum currently sits behind the eight ball as Shea Weber, Hal Gill, Scott Hannan, Klein, Josi and Ellis are ahead of him on the depth chart.
Even so, Blum is looking forward to a bounce-back campaign in 2012-13.
“I’ve worked hard this summer and I just got to play my best and show everyone I can play at the level I did before,” he said.