So its come down to this: There is actually an NHL team residing in Columbus, Ohio. How did this happen? Did Gary Bettman think this was just an untapped gold mine? Was he banking on the idea of Zombie Woody Hayes arising to take the reins and coach the team to glory? Good question!
Ohio had an NHL team from 1976 to 1978 called the Cleveland Barons, and they weren't all that awesome. This was a team that had come into existence as part of the NHL's Class of '67, after all, as the Oakland Seals. There were six teams created in that expansion: The Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings, and Oakland Seals. Of the teams on that list, the Flyers, Penguins, Blues, and Kings have all become some of the most storied teams (and biggest draws) in the league. The Flyers and Penguins have both won the Stanley Cup multiple times. The Kings won it last year for the first time, and the Cup-less Blues have a few Conference Championships. The Minnesota North Stars were well on their way to that same territory before their dumbs owner smelled more dollars in Dallas and took them there, where to the surprise of no one, people don't give a shit anymore. They do have a couple of Conference Championships of their own, though, and they were awarded with the Stanley Cup in 1999, and they're still around. My point is that the Cleveland Barons were the final hurrah name of the Seals. Of the 1967 teams, they're the only ones to have folded into history.
Columbus entered their expansion bid in 1997, but they needed an arena. The citizens of Columbus, showing common sense, voted it down, so Nationwide decided to finance the whole thing with their money. (This REALLY needs to happen a LOT more often.) Voila! Team! To be perfectly fair to Bettman, though, the other bidders were a real shit list: Atlanta; Houston; Nashville; Minneapolis; Oklahoma City; Hamilton, Ontario; Hampton Roads, Virginia; and Raleigh. Of course, Atlanta, Nashville, Minneapolis, and Raleigh got teams anyway. This bid ended with the creation of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Minnesota Wild, who became the league's newest teams in 2001.
In the expansion draft, the Jackets took a journeyman goalie named Rick Tabaracci from the Colorado Avalanche. Other draft picks included Dwayne Roloson, the backstopped who would go on to backstop the underdog Edmonton Oilers to the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals…. And who skipped Columbus to WILLINGLY play in the minors the year of the expansion. They also took defensemen Lyle Odelein and Mathieu Schneider and forwards Geoff Sanderson, Turner Stevenson, and Dallas Drake…. Only to watch Schneider get signed by the Kings and Drake leave for the Blues.
In 2000, it was time for the Blue Jackets to hit the ice. They lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, which wasn't a good thing because the onetime powerhouse Hawks were well on their way to being the league's favorite doormat by then. (Except for a brief squeeze-in appearance in 2002, Chicago missed the playoffs every year from 1998 to 2009.) It would become routine for the Blue Jackets over the season; they finished 28-48-9 (no, I'm NEVER going to be doing the win-loss-tie-overtime loss thing in this series, even if they did have an impact on the standings. A loss is a fucking loss!). Geoff Sanderson did score 30 goals, becoming the first Jacket to do so, and Ron Tugnutt gave the team a solid performance in goal with 22 of those wins, which actually tied the record for most wins by a goalie for an expansion team. That was impressive, considering the last goalie to reach that mark was Lorne Chabot. To really appreciate the 74-year gap between Chabot and Tugnutt, you have to realize that Chabot was goaltending for the New York Rangers when he did that. Even so, the team only finished with a paltry 71 points.
The next year, the team finished with an even worse 57 points, good enough for next-to-last in the NHL. The team's lone highlight wasn't even a highlight; it was one of the most unimaginable of all possible lowlights. Jacket Espen Knutsen took a shot that flew off Calgary Flames defenseman Derek Morris and struck a 13-year old fan named Brittanie Cecil in the head, killing her. As a result, the NHL now requires teams to hang nylon nets above the glass behind the goals. Knutson helped create a charity in Brittanie's name, and the Blue Jackets wore special patches with her initials for the rest of the season on their helmets.
The Jackets started the 2003 season by going 7-6-1 after their first 14 games, and were starting to look like they turned a corner. Fan expectations grew, but I guess everyone forgot that the NHL season goes for 82 games. They crashed, missed the playoffs again, and in midseason, the Jackets held their first-ever coach firing by cutting Dave King and replacing him with their general manager, Doug MacLean. Marc Denis was made the starting goalie, and start he did! He started in a whopping 77 games, tying second for games started in a single season. (Grant Fuhr started 79 in 1996 for the Blues.) He also set a record for minutes played with 4511.
2004 brought some nice key additions: Center Todd Marchant, defenseman Darryl Sydor, and coach Gerard Gallant. Also, they had picked up some guy named Rick Nash in the 2003 draft. Although the Jackets finished with a paltry 62 points, Nash broke out tying for the Rocket Richard Trophy (most goals) with Calgary's Jarome Iginla and Ilya Kovalchuk of the New Jersey Devils by scoring 41 goals. The Blue Jackets also avoided the Central Division cellar for the first time, leaving the bottom to the Blackhawks.
Doug MacLean was fired in 2007. He had been the Jackets' only general manager, and had served briefly as their head coach. His moves had always failed to result in a playoff berth. Scott Howson was hired from Edmonton, and they found a new minor league team to hook up with. Gallant was relieved as coach, and replaced with the great Ken Hitchcock, and for the first time the Columbus faithful had real reason for optimism. They kicked off the 2008 season - the first full year with Hitchcock - by destroying the defending champion Anaheim Ducks in their first game. Things went down a little by the trade deadline, though, because the team couldn't come to a good contract term with Captain Adam Foote. He requested a trade to Colorado, and was given one. Even so, the Jackets had the best season in their short history that year. They stayed above .500 until the last game, finished with 80 points, and as for their divisional standing…. Still in fourth. Hitchcock was awarded with an extension.
In 2009, the Blue Jackets traded for Jason Williams and Antoine Vermette, both of whom produced a lot and benefitted the team. The team benefitted so much, in fact, that they were finally lifted into the playoffs upon a 4-3 shootout victory over Chicago. They were handily swept out of the first round by the eventual Conference Champion Detroit Red Wings, though. And that's now that. That lone playoff season is the highlight of the Blue Jackets' history so far. They've been faring better in recent years than they did earlier - after the playoffs, they finished with 79 and 81 points - but they dropped back to the division basement. In the 2012 season, the finished with 65 points, then Rick Nash left to play for the Rangers. That really doesn't leave anything except the constant talk about how the Columbus Blue Jackets are going to be moving.
The Blue Jackets are still a young team, and as such, they haven't retired any numbers. They had a superstar in Rich Nash, and in the 2009 season, they got a rookie goalie who walked away with the Calder in Steve Mason. Mason is looking like a keeper; in the 2009 season, he went almost 200 minutes without allowing a single goal.
The Blue Jackets have one really cool tradition: Since the Blue Jackets name was given to the team because of Ohio's rich connotations with the Civil War, the team fires off a replica cannon after every goal. They also have a surprisingly lively rivalry against the Detroit Red Wings, mostly through carryover elements of college football's insane war between Michigan and Ohio State. It's a lot bigger on the Ohio side than the Michigan side, though, because the overall series between the Red Wings and Blue Jackets is lopsided as hell, and between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, they really have bigger fish to fry anyway. Their expansion-mates, the Minnesota Wild, are a smaller rivalry. If there's a truly great rival to the Jackets, it's the Nashville Predators through the similar ages, game intensity, and a couple of playoff races. One former Jackets coach once referred to Nashville coach Barry Trotz as Darth Vader. Columbus/Nashville holds a lot of promise as a rivalry, but both teams will probably have to stay put for it to work. On the highly unlikely chance that happens, it could blossom into one of the greats. Wikipedia says the Blue Jackets also have interconference rivalries with the Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins because games with them sell out in Columbus. This HAS to be on their end, because as a Buffalo native and lifelong Sabres diehard, it sure as hell ain't on ours.
How does one cheer for these guys? How do you fall in love with a team whose drawing power hitches mostly off the mighty Buckeyes? Whose very identity these days is mainly "team that's gonna move soon?" Well, I don't. You'll have to ask the people of Columbus, because I can't think of anything which could redeem a team like the Columbus Blue Jackets.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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