The National Hockey League came to Columbus, Ohio in the form of the Blue Jackets for the 2000-01 season. Now, 12 years later, what is the mindset of the team’s fanbase? With just 342 wins in 902 contests, and only a single playoff appearance, you could say the fans have been frustrated.
Even with the lack of results, there have been signs of hope. A young, talented, and exciting Rick Nash sparked the franchise for several years. The sensational rookie season Steve Mason compiled back in 2008-09 ignited energy among the fans. Several other promising players and coaches have also been sources of optimism in the Buckeye State’s capital.
These signs of hope eventually turned into the Nash drama that surrounded the team for months, ending with him donning the sweater of the New York Rangers. Steve Mason lost his rookie magic and has played inconsistent hockey while taking up a large amount of cap space. Factoring in three consecutive last place seasons with a lockout looming, is the Blue Jackets fanbase still optimistic?
The answer is yes. The Jackets’ fanbase sees winning consistently as an attainable goal with their new cast of young talent ready to shine. Nick Foligno (acquired from the Ottawa Senators), Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov (both acquired from the Rangers), and Sergei Bobrovsky (brought in from the Philadelphia Flyers) bring new life and potential to the franchise. All four were playing in the shadows of stars with their previous teams and now have a chance to become stars on their own with Columbus. Given the past disappointments, Jackets fans are not celebrating just yet, but they are hopeful.
Let’s not forget the biggest distraction clouding not just Columbus, but the entire hockey universe, the potential lockout. Yes the upsides of it are few and far between, but there is a silver lining to everything.
For the team’s popular second overall pick in this year’s draft Ryan Murray, a lock out could mean a full year in the AHL, but that depends on what happens with the NHL-CHL transfer agreement. For some of the team’s other prospects such as Allan York and Cam Atkinson who split time between the minors and the big club last season, and very promising young forward Michael Chaput, a lockout would most likely mean a full season in the AHL without the pressure of trying to earn a call-up, and added attention from the coaching staff.
The fan base is already grasping to straws of hope and is not exactly among the strongest in the league. A year off could be a huge set back in the process of making hockey a solid fixture in the Buckeye State, among several other potential problems. With everything considered, the fan base still has reason to look at things with a glass half full perspective.
Off the ice, the popularity of hockey as a whole, even with the lack of results from the Blue Jackets, has grown since 2000. When it was announced that Columbus would be hosting the All-Star game, team President Mike Priest told NHL.com that attendance was up from the previous year. Also, last season Ohio’s minor league franchises the Toledo Walleye (ECHL) and Lake Erie Monsters (AHL) were consistently among their league’s leaders in attendance.
A lockout might put a damper on the sport’s popularity across the state, but will not erase it. In fact, it might just allow continued growth through the College and Junior teams that also call the Buckeye State home, such as the Ohio State Buckeyes (CCHA) and the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL).
On the ice, a new cast of young talent has a lot to prove, mixed in with some returning players ready to put past disappointments behind them. With the added talent, hockey’s future in Columbus looks much brighter. The mindset and expectations very from fan to fan, but overall, optimism remains among the Jackets faithful.