15 years ago, there wasn’t much of a following for Ohio professional hockey. Most NHL fans in Ohio went North and followed the Red Wings, West and followed the Blackhawks or East and followed the Penguins (believe me, they show up in droves whenever these teams visit Columbus). Then however, Columbus founded the Blue Jackets in 2000. Through about a decade of hockey, the Jackets were a tough sell. Slim to no playoff contention, busted draft picks and stars opting out of Columbus for greener pastures made it hard for fans to take them seriously. Now though, Columbus is becoming the greener pasture. A new regime is in and the turnaround has been swift. The draft picks are producing, the free agents are coming and in case you haven’t noticed, the jackets are in the playoffs! (Not to mention ESPN The Magazine named Nationwide Arena the #2 stadium experience in professional sports)
They say the best time to hop on the bandwagon for a team is when the team is young and talented, and that couldn’t possibly be the case more so with the Blue Jackets. Gone are the days waiting for top draft picks Gilbert Brule and Nikita Filatov to produce (neither are in the NHL anymore). High draft picks like Ryan Murray, Boone Jenner and Ryan Johansen are contributing right away and in a big way, Johansen might just be one of the top players in the league a few years from now. At just 21 years of age, he’s one of three Blue Jackets to score 30+ goals in a season. And then there’s Sergei Bobrovsky, Last year’s Venzina award winner for the best goaltender in the NHL and starting goalie for Team Russia in the 2014 Winter Olympics. He was a backup goalie for Philadelphia that the CBJ management scouted and felt really good about, and it’s paid off big time. It’s safe to say that if nothing else, the new regime has the Blue Jackets heading in the right direction from a personnel standpoint.
As a Cincinnati Bengals fan as well, it pained me to see the Blue Jacket’s lone star, Rick Nash, pull a Dan Wilkinson/Takeo Spikes/Corey Dillon (I can go on with this comparison as long as you’d like lol) and complain his way off his team and into a trade. I contend that what Rick Nash did to the Blue Jackets was worse than what Lebron did to the Cavs, and only because Rick Nash and the NHL are on a significantly smaller scale than Lebron and the NBA is there not a whole lot of chatter about it, but that’s another blog for another day... Instead of bailing, the Free Agents are coming, most notably with Nathan Horton. Horton’s signing with the Jackets was considered one of the, if not the biggest off-season acquisition in the NHL this past season, and Horton won’t be the last one to come either.
I guess the general thesis boils down to this… If you’re an Ohio sports fan, you’re probably hurting now that football is over. If you’re looking for something on top of baseball with a little more contact and grit, why not the Blue Jackets? They’re a young, talented, exciting team with a big future ahead of them starting with a berth in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins… If for no other reason, start following them as another way to hate Pittsburgh!