39 games with the Blue Jackets - 15 goals, 25 points

Or, ‘The Phantom Menace’ is the Columbus Blue Jackets of movies

You know how some people say that Nationwide Arena was built on a Native American burial ground, which is what has led to the franchise being cursed? I prefer to say that the city of Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise on the day that principal photography began on Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

That’s not entirely true, though. Photography on The Phantom Menace began on June 26, 1997 while Columbus was awarded a franchise a day earlier. The dates are close enough for me to take a few creative liberties with the situation, and with The Phantom Menace having been released in 3D last week as part of a theatrical re-release of all six Star Wars films, I think I can say that both the Blue Jackets and the Star Wars prequel series have been franchises that we were better off without.

Both have just been a disaster. The Phantom Menace destroyed our notion as children of the possibility of magic and wonder in the universe by introducing “midichlorians” to its story. Midichlorians are biological organisms present within human blood cells which give a Jedi it’s power. With one horrible line, George Lucas turned our childhood fantasies into scientific realities. The Phantom Menace, in effect, destroyed Star Wars.

Just like the Columbus Blue Jackets entry into the NHL canon effectively destroyed hockey. I have to think there are thousands of kids out there who refused to pick up a hockey stick because there was the slightest chance that they might be drafted by the Blue Jackets. We’ve seen what happened to Rick Nash - if Columbus are the Phantom Menace of the NHL, then Nash is Natalie Portman. He’s had success it seems everywhere but in Columbus, where he looks frustrated and out of place.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, inaugural season team photo

Somewhere in some hotel room somewhere, 19-year old centreman Ryan Johansen, held out of this lineup on 13 occasions this season, is softly weeping at not only the fact he’s stuck in Columbus, but also that his Portland Winterhawks are dominating the WHL. “Why won’t you let me back? Why, Scott, why?”

The scriptwriters in this case, Doug MacLean and Scott Howson, have written lines as trades along the equivalent of “you’re so beautiful because I’m so in love with you”. They spent years refusing to address issues surrounding key areas such as “scoring” and “goaltending” instead just thinking they could work it out in editing with some flashy special effects.

Wednesday and Thursday showcased the lousy script-writing, character development and direction of the franchise. On Wednesday, Scott Howson, imagining himself as the incarnate of Branch Ricket, devilishly shipped two-way centreman Antoine Vermette, a player who has a history of winning possession battles against tough opposition, for a replacement-level goaltender and the 2nd round pick of a likely playoff team.

Oftentimes, throw-ins for deals are players that a General Manager or scouting department have inquired about in the past but circumstances at the time made that player not available. This was not the case for Curtis McElhinney. He was available on re-entry waivers in December, and Columbus had first dibs if they wanted to get him at half-price earlier in the year. Apparently, they wanted to hold out so they could pay him the rest of his menial $625K salary at full price so they could trade away an excellent two-way guy (having ONE down season offensively) who is locked to a good deal through 2015.

There is a reason why Phoenix is a better team than Columbus. It is because Phoenix makes trades like Curtis McElhinney and a pair of magic beans for Antoine Vermette, and it is because Columbus makes trades like Antoine Vermette for Curtis McElhinney and a pair of magic beans.

Then there was Thursday’s trade. If the rumours that franchise winger Rick Nash might be traded were devastating for the few loyal fans who have managed to stick around with the team through a decade-plus of mis-management weren’t bad enough, the deal that shipped away Jeff Carter ought to have chased them away for good.

[Credit where credit is due to Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch who broke the trade]

For Jeff Carter, who may be disgruntled in Columbus, and may be on a long contract, the Jackets got a conditional first round pick and, uh, Jack Johnson. If Carter is on a deal that might be bad in the long run, what does that make Johnson? Thanks to Eric at Broad Street Hockey for pointing this out, that Johnson has been the worst defenceman on Los Angeles for the last four seasons. The only time that he was better in Corsi in those seasons than any defenceman on the Kings was 2010 when he beat out Randy Jones.

Let that sink in: the only defenceman who has spent more time with the puck in his own end on Los Angeles in four seasons is Randy Jones. If Corsi isn’t your thing, if you sort the column by “goals against per 60 minutes” in each of the above links, you will find that Johnson has the highest goals against average on the Kings.

I posted a picture of Rick Nash in his Team Canada gear, because it depresses me to see him as a Blue Jacket.

So, maybe at age 24 he has room to improve. But Los Angeles rid themselves of a bad contract to a General Manager who I presumes only cares about the fact that Johnson was once a number-three overall pick. In return, they re-unite Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, but that shouldn’t be what we worry about. Carter is still a good two-way centreman that Columbus gave up on after 39 games, one that they took on knowing that he was under contract for the next 11 years. That is a total of 4% of the games that they were prepared to pay him for in the summer when they traded away Jakub Voracek and a high first round pick for him.

I mean, if Scott Howson is qualified to be an NHL general manager, how come I’m not?

I should be qualified to be Columbus’ general manager because I would not parlay Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek into Jack Johnson and a conditional draft pick.

The only thing missing from this deal, given its roots in the state of Ohio, is a letter typed out in Comic Sans that promises fans that the Blue Jackets will win a title before the Florida Panthers ever do.

This is poor planning by the Jackets. They had no plan to succeed. After spending to the cap in the summer, they’ve slashed $9M in salary cap dollars over a two-day period, may shave $8M more with an impending Nash trade, and clearly just put the pieces together in the hopes that if they got James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter and Fedor Tyutin and Marc Methot this summer that it would all eventually work out in the end.

To quote Indiana Jones, “I’m just making this up as I go”.

But to compare the Jackets in any way to a good movie devised by George Lucas, it would be totally unfair to that flick (for the record, Raiders of the Lost Ark is my favourite film of all time). Really, the best comparable is The Phantom Menace. It was an awful bout of expansion for the NHL, rife with errors and inconsistencies. The only reason why Star Wars Episode II and III were created was because Lucas had to pretty much stick it out after the disaster of Episode I.

Will Episode II be set in Québec City, or Seattle, is the one question that remains with the Blue Jackets.