Christmas is over, and the NHL is entering the second half of the 2013-14 season. The time for making holiday “wishlists” is now over. For the teams ready to compete for a playoff berth, the time for “wishing” is gone and the time for resolutions is upon us.
As with all people, the teams with the right amount of belief and determination will find themselves successful in their resolutions. Those without will be the ones left using their expensive elliptical machine as a clothes rack come May. With all that said, what follows are some possible resolutions for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2014.
A Healthy New Year
To be certain, there can be no guarantees that the Blue Jackets will suddenly stop experiencing injuries in 2014, but given the onslaught that has plagued the team through the first 38 games of the 2013-14 season, a reprieve from the injury cycle would of course be welcomed by all within the organization. So far, the team seems to be trending in the right direction.
Despite losing Marian Gaborik minutes into his first game back after a 17-game absence (which stemmed from a sprained knee) as a result of a broken collarbone, the team recently regained the services of James Wisniewski, who has almost silently amassed the 10th highest points total for defensemen in the league this year, despite missing 7 games with an upper-body injury. The Blue Jackets also look poised to welcome back Sergei Bobrovsky. And as a big after-Christmas present, Nathan Horton took his first full-contact practice on December 26 since signing with the team. He likely won’t crack the lineup until the new year, but the Jackets will certainly continue to improve with such an influx of talent to the lineup.
The Blue Jackets could seek to benefit from the Olympic layover as well. Although they should be well-represented at the games, particularly with upwards of 4 Blue Jackets representing host nation Russia (Bobrovsky, Artem Anisimov, Fedor Tyutin, and Nikita Nikitin), the Olympics should also represent a time for many of the team’s top contributors, including Wisniewski and leading scorer Ryan Johansen, to rest and recover. Although Olympic participation is a great honor for players in the NHL, being left off an Olympic roster is not the worst thing — the weight of those extra games and travel can catch up with players.
A Wealthy New Year
An unfortunate reality of the 2013-14 season is that the Blue Jackets have not fared well at the box office. Despite the team’s ascent towards relevance last season and the very clever “Defend NWA” advertising campaign for this season, the team has actually taken a step back by nearly 1,200 fans through the gate for every game this season.
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There are multiple reasons for why the Blue Jackets may be struggling at the gate, starting, surprisingly enough, with the move to the Eastern Conference. Sure the Jackets are much closer to their nearest competitors with the move to the East. Unfortunately, there is no sense of rivalry against these teams and thus less incentive to take in the action live, despite the wonderful amenities that Nationwide Arena and the entire Arena District has to offer.
One perk to playing in the stacked Central Division was that there was no lack of high end talent rolling through NWA. Also, it was easy to develop a strong sense of dislike for teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings, historical franchises still considered to be perennial Stanley Cup favorites.
Now, however, with a move to the underwhelming Metropolitan Division, and with a change in scheduling which ultimately reduces the number of opportunities for the people of Columbus to see the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alex Ovechkin at NWA, there is less buzz around the arena.
Although better attendance may sound like a poor resolution, the fact remains that the Jackets are a different team when NWA is raucous, and the fans who haven’t been going to the games lately have been missing one of the absolute most exciting and electrifying teams in the NHL for the last month.
Name a Team Captain
Head Coach Todd Richards claims he wants his team to be hard to play against; nobody better embodies that than Brandon Dubinsky. Maybe he has some faults, maybe he is a little over-aggressive and maybe he hasn’t quite made the most of the opportunity laid bare for him to be named team captain. But as it is for most new years resolutioners, this team just won’t reach their goals without a guide to keep them motivated towards the end goal.
With the Columbus Blue Jackets two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils for the final guaranteed spot in the Metropolitan Division playoff picture, and positioned 5 points shy of the wild card chase in the East, now is not a time to wander aimlessly and without leadership. The time is now to be resolute, and naming an official team captain will go a long way to solidifying this team’s objectives, which should, and will, include a berth in the post-season.
Andrew is a professional student earning his Masters at WVU. He enjoys craft beer and watching open wheel racing. Find him on Twitter: @andrewroman.