Columbus Blue Jackets fans have been hoping for a Winter Classic or another type of outdoor game for years at this point. Unfortunately, the organization simply hasn’t done enough to deserve the privilege of one of these events. The NHL has tried to put them in the spotlight before; even earlier this season they had the Global Series games in Finland against the Colorado Avalanche. But there are some issues both historically and in the present day that need to be addressed if they want to be seriously considered for one in the future.
The Blue Jackets aren’t synonymous with success, in fact, they’re one of the organizations in the NHL farthest from it. They’ve had issues as a whole as a team, and the only superstar they’ve ever drafted and developed was Rick Nash who left more than a decade ago. They have a few players who have the possibility to change that in the near future, specifically David Jiricek and Kent Johnson. The closest at the moment would be Zach Werenski, but despite his large contract, his statistics don’t make him a superstar.
The organization has always struggled to become a playoff regular, and when they have made it in, they don’t make it far. It took nearly two decades for them to win a round in the postseason, and in the first 13 years of the Blue Jackets, they only made it once and got swept. They took a step forward in that regard when John Tortorella was behind the bench, however, it has been reminiscent of the early 2010s since the rebuild began and Brad Larsen took over as head coach.
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The team also lacks a main rival, which makes it more difficult to find a team for them to play against. There is some hostility between the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s largely one-sided at this point and will never reach the level of the Penguins’ rivalry with the Philadelphia Flyers for example. As a result, it’ll be difficult to build up the game and market it to uninvested fan bases. The closest thing at this point would likely be the Lightning but unfortunately, as it stands now it would be a very one-sided affair and it won’t be a sustained rivalry by any means.
To put it frankly, the Blue Jackets organization as a whole has done almost nothing since joining the league to make other teams care about them. The sweep of the Lightning during the 2019 Playoffs gave them momentum, however, it wasn’t capitalized on. Of course, the departure of players like Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene hurt the following season, but it was a failed all-in attempt that completely derailed the future of the organization.
Some of the aforementioned historic issues could be overlooked if the Blue Jackets had been trending upward. Unfortunately, their stock around the league is low at the moment. In a few years, it’ll be back on the rise once Johnson, Jiricek, Kirill Marchenko, and company have some NHL experience under their belt and subsequently take over the team. For now, though, there are some exciting players in the organization such as Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine but if the team stays near the bottom of the standings, that’s not enough to excite the entirety of the NHL’s fan base.
Their recent performances on bigger stages have been disappointing, to say the least, as they lost both games in the Global Series by wide margins. Considering that was against the defending Stanley Cup champions, it would be excusable on its own. However, during their few national broadcast games, the Jackets have essentially failed to show up entirely. Nobody has forgotten what happened when they played the Buffalo Sabres on TNT in December. They got embarrassed to put it lightly. More recently when they had a chance to play on ESPN against the Washington Capitals, they lost 6-2. They’ve played six of these games this season if you include the ones on ESPN+/Hulu and they’ve only won one, which was an overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 15.
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Oftentimes the lack of a stadium that could handle a Winter Classic is blamed for the Blue Jackets not hosting an outdoor game, however, that’s only one of quite a few reasons why they haven’t been involved. They haven’t had the star power to demand it, a historic stadium that’s willing to host it (if the Horseshoe changed their mind that would change), and the history in general to intrigue the fans of other teams. Marketing is a major part of why the Winter Classic is successful, and the Blue Jackets simply haven’t done enough to make them marketable enough for the league to justify it.
People will question why Seattle was given one so early on, but the city has exploded as a market and it gives the NHL an opportunity to build on it. Fans of every team will be interested simply because they know a player or two who used to be on their team. Plus it gives the league a chance to start an obvious rivalry between its two newest franchises. Lastly, the Kraken are making the league a lot of money and bringing a lot of attention to the game as a whole. In fact, they’re already ranked by Forbes as the tenth most valuable team in the NHL while the Blue Jackets are ranked 29th.
The other teams who haven’t been involved in an outdoor game, the Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers, haven’t received one for essentially the same reasons. If outdoor games weren’t a regular occurrence when they joined the league, odds are they would’ve had one with the Minnesota Wild early on. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case and as of now, there’s no reason to have the Blue Jackets involved in one except for the fact that they haven’t had one. They will be in an outdoor game eventually, but it’s going to take a lot of work to show the league they deserve it.