Columbus, OH -
By Rick Gethin
All my life I’ve never stopped to worry ’bout a thing,
Opened up and shouted out and never tried to sing.
Wondering if I’d done wrong
Will this depression last for long?
Frustrating, disappointing and fed up. The feeling within the Columbus Blue Jackets fanbase runs the gamut from A-Z. But, these are also terms heard from the players within the dressing room after a season that started with promise and is now ending on a lackluster note. They don’t want to make excuses for their play, nor should they. They do, however, believe that the beginnings of a good thing are happening. Gone are the days of a P.T. Barnum GM in Doug MacLean, leaving an oil slick in his wake. In his place is a shrewd ninja in GM Scott Howson, who has taken the steps to soak up that oil.
“Coming into Columbus, you can tell it’s a good group,” said Scottie Upshall. “You can tell it’s a group that’s been through battles together. Obviously, things haven’t been going so well for us lately. It’s a tough time of year; it definitely is when you don’t win. This organization is trying to build a winning atmosphere. Hockey is at its’ best when you win.”
“I’ve seen the rebuilding process in three organizations I’ve been in. Nashville (Predators) was a really young group at the time that I got drafted. They’ve built their team through draft picks. That took time and now you see Nashville be a playoff contender every other year. They keep pushing and pushing, bringing in a Free Agent here and there to add to the mix.”
He goes on, “I went to Philly (Philadelphia Flyers) when they were the worst team in the league. The next year, they brought in about six Free Agents. Mind you, they spent a lot of money doing it (hearty chuckle by Upshall at this memory). They brought in a bunch of guys that were known to be hard working guys and fun to be around. They worked hard and got to the Conference Finals”
“Then in Phoenix, again a last place team, they brought in eight guys at the trade deadline the year I got traded there. We had practices with 28-30 players. Guys were in and out of the line-up. It made everyone work harder.”
“Once you have a team that knows that they’ve earned their way, that they know how to win, that’s where you start. It’s all about winning in this league. You’ve got to be able to do it on a consistent basis. You’ve got to do the right things every night. That’s something I can feel here in Columbus. They want to win.”
There are no perfect General Managers in the NHL, and Scott Howson is no exception. But, he’s made many more positive moves than negative. While it’s easy for the fans to say “why doesn’t he make a trade or sign so and so player”, Howson has shown that he has the best long-term interests of the organization at heart. He’s stated publically that he won’t make a move just for the sake of making a move, it has to make sense. One must also remember that a Free Agent player, for the most part, has to want to play in Columbus for him to sign a contract. In regards to trading, it takes two (count them… two) General Managers to Tango.
One player in his fourth year wearing the Union Blue is Marc Methot. He was a part of this club making the playoffs two seasons ago and has played through the aftermath of that particular high. “I think the most frustrating thing for me personally,” Methot said, “is that we had a taste of it (08/09 Playoffs). It’s also frustrating because there’s been a lot of internal growth since then. We just haven’t been able to do it the past two years. I don’t want to make excuses. We’re just on the short end this year (to make the playoffs).”
“Arny (head coach Scott Arniel) definitely has the right game plan going for us. I’m sure after having this season (his first as head coach in NHL) under his belt, it will give him a really good idea of what he needs to address. Whether that’s picking up certain players or making certain trades. I think in terms of his system, he’s “bang on”. It’s getting the right personnel to go and perform.”
With so few games left, motivation is a factor. “It comes down to playing for pride,” said Methot. “Save some pride for the fans and for ourselves. Guys have jobs and some of them have to play for contracts, too. (Methot is an RFA this summer) That’s an incentive, right there.”
Methot had this to say to the fans, especially those who’ve stuck with the club since its’ inception. “Honestly? Hang on. We will get there (emphasis his, not mine). The fans here are so passionate over sports. They want to see a winning team. They’ve been somewhat spoiled with OSU (Ohio State University) and the great sports programs that they have there. It’s different in pro sports. Once we get that success rolling, we can build off of it. We have to be optimistic with the young core of guys we have coming up here. So hang on and please be patient.”
There is no “magic pill” or “easy button” that will make this team into a Stanley Cup contender overnight. It just does not happen that way in the NHL. It takes multiple seasons and the right mix of players. Scott Arniel has one year under his belt with all of the trials and tribulations that came with this club. He now knows what he has and knows what he still needs to do.
No one is happy with the results of the last two years. Mediocre is not acceptable, nor should it ever be. Winning teams don’t just happen, they are built from within. Scott Howson and Scott Arniel are the two guys who can make this happen.