The other night I caught a Blue Jackets game with a bud. We watched them destroy the St. Louis Blues 4-1 and continue their quest to make it into the playoffs. They won the following three games straight and have a fighting chance tonight against a team they beat in their previous matchup, the Anaheim Ducks.
Last season was a tragedy. It was also the season that I started following the Jackets as closely as I do. Based on statistics of the previous decade, I got used to the idea that being a fan meant self-inducing depression on purpose.
Then we traded our captain away to the New York Rangers. I have no bad blood over Nash switching teams, as that’s become the norm in professional sports. In all honesty, Nash needed to surround himself with better players. He’s thriving with the Rangers, and I wish him well.
This isn’t to say Blue Jackets veterans like Prospal aren’t good players, but I’ll be honest, last season was a mess. With the Nationwide Arena not paying for itself, many fans were offering only words of discouragement and negativity, often suggesting that the Jackets move to a different city.
Then the NHL shot themselves in the foot. Union battles took priority over pleasing the fans, and a lockout prevented professional hockey from taking place in North America. This lockout dragged on and on as they canceled the season one month at a time. No city was hit harder by the lockout than Columbus, as the Arena District had lost not only the regular season business, but also the business expected to be brought to the city by the 2013 All Star Game. Once the All Star Game was canceled in November, many Columbus hockey fans considered the season to be done. It would be another two months still before a compromise would allow the puck to drop.
“Forget hockey, I’m not even sure I’ll be interested when/if they do finally bring themselves out of the lockout.”
Then the season started. It was a bumpy start and only reaffirmed the negativity that had been the norm. Jack Johnson seemed to take a leadership position even though no captain had been officially declared. The Jackets were experimenting with some young blood on the ice, but one position stood out above the rest.
Bobrovsky stepped up and took over the goaltending duties for the Jackets. Things haven’t been the same since then, as Bobrovsky has blocked shots with the quality of a finely tuned machine. His excellent goaltending created a surge in confidence and the Blue Jackets are actually doing well.
Then the Jackets seem to win the trade as they acquired Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers. The Jackets are still less than perfect, but as their numbers shift from the worst in the league to a possible appearance in the playoffs, one has to wonder if this wasn’t some sort of apology to a block of fans that have all but given up.
Regardless of whether or not the Jackets make it to the playoffs, they’ve improved dramatically and will carry that momentum into next season, pending further union battles. As a fan, I am excited.
While watching the game against St. Louis with my friend, we discussed the season and came to wonder if the NHL is purposely propelling the Jackets to success to make up for the All Star Game, and an overall lack of quality over the past decade. Will a winning team bring the market back to Columbus? Based on the number of empty seats compared to last year, I’d go with ‘yes.’
With the damage of the lockout still in recent memory, a winning team with real quality will draw crowds and will quickly repair the losses our city forfeited. This will and has already ignited a new wave of fan appreciation.
Do I believe that the NHL set up the Jackets for success? No, it was really a joke between friends. But it’s damn fun to speculate.