There were many compelling stories during last year’s lockout-shortened NHL season. One of the biggest narratives from this past campaign was the unforgettable run put on by one of the league’s biggest punching bags, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After an offseason that saw the Blue Jackets forced to trade franchise superstar Rick Nash, the 2013 season looked bleak for Ohio’s hockey team. It certainly didn’t start very impressively, as the team sputtered out of the gate in a year where wins were way more important than usual. However, things took a sudden twist as the season carried along.
All of the sudden, Columbus began streaking, netting points in all but two games in March. Then, the team pulled off a deadline day stunner, trading for New York Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik. Word is the former 40+ goal scorer immediately waived his no-trade clause when he heard the news.
The Blue Jackets surged to the finish line, thanks in part to the mind-blowing play from eventual Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, but in the end fell just a tie-breaker shy of the second playoff berth in franchise history. It was a tough way to end such a thrilling season for a team many thought would be cellar-dwellers.
Instead of resting on their laurels and assuming luck would continue in 2013, Columbus threw a seven-year contract to free-agent winger and former Boston Bruin Nathan Horton. He’ll bring playoff experience and toughness that will be much welcomed in the Blue Jackets’ locker room. On top of that, the team made sure to retain their award winning netminder, resigning Bobrovsky to an incredibly friendly two-year deal.
Now joining the Eastern Conference this coming season, is Columbus really ready to take the next step?
For one, a change in conference may be huge for the team. No longer forced to face the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings at an overwhelming rate, the Blue Jackets actually find themselves in a much more favorable situation.
Sure, the Pittsburgh Penguins remain in the league’s elite, and the Rangers are always a playoff threat. The New York Islanders are young and appear to be on the verge of making legitimate noise. But how about after that? The Philadelphia Flyers are coming off a miserable year, ditto for the fledgling New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes. None of these teams really made any moves in the offseason to drastically change their outlook. As for the Washington Capitals, their window seems to be slamming shut as we speak.
So, the divisional setup looks a little more appealing, but can the team carry over their success from last year?
We all know what happened last time Columbus saw success. Earning their first playoff berth in team history in 2009, the team was swept by Detroit in merciless fashion. The Blue Jackets then followed up with several years of misery.
However, the team’s approach that offseason was very “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” They resigned Nash, and that was about it. Yes, they made the playoffs, but they still couldn’t seem to attract any big names.
Now? You’ve got a former all-star jumping to be traded to Ohio in Gaborik. Then there’s a player who casually left a team coming off their second Stanley Cup Finals appearance in three years to join a club without a playoff win to it’s name. Last year’s best goalie just resigned, but with a deal that won’t allow him to get casual while earning big money.
We’re talking about the same Blue Jackets, right?
At the end of the day, it’s all about whether or not this group made up of young guns and a few savvy vets can stay hungry all year next season. Nothing stings more than being that close to the postseason and coming up short. It’s the perfect fuel if they know how to use it.
The fact is, last year was practically half of the games they’ll play this season. Would Columbus have been able to maintain their miracle run in an 82-game campaign?
They won’t get a better chance to prove themselves than this year.