It seems like every hockey fan online, other than those in Detroit, Dallas and Minnesota, has jumped on the Columbus Blue Jackets bandwagon, rooting for them to make the playoffs. Fans on Twitter have latched on to the #Lumbus hashtag, started by the Los Angeles Kings’ twitter account, with every improbable victory leading to eruptions of virtual support.
I admit, I have a purely selfish reason to be rooting for Columbus. At the start of the season, I made the absolutely crazy prediction that the Blue Jackets would make the playoffs, before they had played enough games to make any statistical analysis worthwhile. I was just going with my gut. A month later, the Blue Jackets were 5-12-2 and I was feeling like the biggest idiot in the blogosphere.
Then the Blue Jackets started grinding games into overtime and the shootout and began stringing wins together. They currently sit in eighth in the Western Conference, tied with the Minnesota Wild in points and just one point ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. The Wild and Red Wings both have a game in hand, as do the Dallas Stars, who sit three points back. If the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, I get to play the only-guy-who-predicted-the-Blue-Jackets-would-make-the-playoffs card. If they don’t, I get to play the at-least-I-was-close card, which isn’t anywhere near as fun.
Here are 5 much better reasons why it would be awesome for the Blue Jackets to make the playoffs.
5. They are the underdoggiest of underdogs.
Pretty much everyone had written off the Blue Jackets at the start of the season. The staff over at Puck Daddy unanimously chose the Blue Jackets to finish in last place in the Central Division, and it’s not hard to understand why. After all, they had just finished in last place the previous season with just 65 points and a dreadful minus-60 goal differential. Then they traded away the face of the franchise and most potent offensive weapon, Rick Nash. The Blue Jackets looked to be in full-on rebuild mode.
No one told the Blue Jackets, however.
Sure, their offence is still woeful: their top scorer, Vinny Prospal, has just 29 points and is tied for 76th in league scoring. He’s also tied with Mark Letestu (and, technically, Marian Gaborik) for the most goals on the Blue Jackets with 12, good for 69th in the league. But the team is scrappy as hell, which is exactly the way we like our underdogs.
Will they get run over in the playoffs? Probably. Will it be absolutely incredible if they don’t? Hell yes.
4. Sergei Bobrovsky escaped Philadelphia.
When the Philadelphia Flyers traded away big name talent in order to sign Ilya Bryzgalov to a massive contract, I was thoroughly puzzled. As much as the Flyers had struggled to find a number one goaltender for several years, they had a young rookie who was coming off a solid regular season, albeit with a rough patch in the playoffs: Sergei Bobrovsky.
Bobrovsky was relegated to the backup role behind Bryzgalov and struggled in his sophomore season. The Flyers had evidently had enough and traded him away to the Blue Jackets for draft picks.
He responded by putting together a Vezina-calibre season in Columbus while Bryzgalov continues to baffle in Philadelphia, threatening to post the first sub-.900 save percentage of his career. The Flyers have been officially eliminated from the playoffs, while Bobrovsky will potentially carry the Blue Jackets on his back into the post-season.
Because this wasn’t hilarious enough, the Flyers then traded for the Blue Jackets’ former starter, Steve Mason, who is, objectively-speaking, one of the worst goaltenders in the league. The Philadelphia Flyers, operating the finest goalie graveyard money can buy, are going to try to rehabilitate Steve Mason.
3. It’s possible that the New York Rangers will miss the playoffs.
Trading Rick Nash was a necessity last year. He had requested a trade and keeping the long-suffering captain just wasn’t an option. So the Blue Jackets sent Nash to the New York Rangers in a package for Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Tim Erixon, and a first round pick, a move that was roundly criticized. Personally, I liked the trade for Columbus, but I was in the minority.
Nash has been as advertised for the Rangers, leading the team in scoring with 19 goals and 40 points in 41 games. Nash’s success effectively rendered Marian Gaborik superfluous, particularly since he was having a sub-standard season, so the Rangers traded him to Columbus.
Now, both teams are in 8th in their respective conferences, with the team in 9th just one point back. It’s entirely possible, at this point, that Rick Nash will once again miss the playoffs, while Gaborik waiving his no trade clause to go to Columbus may have ensured him a post-season berth.
Admittedly, this scenario is unlikely, but if it happens it will be hilarious.
2. Columbus fans deserve to see the Blue Jackets win their first playoff game in franchise history.
Columbus has been unfairly lumped in with other expansion teams, like the Atlanta Thrashers, Phoenix Coyotes, and Florida Panthers, as a bad hockey market. That couldn’t be further from the truth. There is a strong tradition of hockey in Ohio, particularly when it comes to College hockey. Columbus hosts the Ohio State Buckeyes, while a couple hours away the Bowling Green Falcons and Miami RedHawks ply their trade.
There’s plenty of support for hockey in Columbus, but there hasn’t been much support for the Blue Jackets, who have been among the lowest in NHL attendance for years. The problem is that hockey fans in Columbus haven’t had anything to support. The Blue Jackets have been around for eleven years and have just one playoff appearance. They were swept in four games.
The Blue Jackets have taken steps towards respectability, hiring a new GM in Jarmo Kekäläinen who at least seems capable and competent, and look poised to finally see some success on the ice.
If the Blue Jackets make the playoffs, Columbus hockey fans might be able to see the Blue Jackets earn their first ever playoff win. They’ll be in tough against the Chicago Blackhawks if they finish in eighth, but hell, they’re tied with the Wild right now and could possibly finish in seventh and face the less-intimidating Anaheim Ducks.
There’s a wealth of knowledgeable hockey fans in central Ohio: a playoff win or two could be just what is needed to catch and keep their attention.
1. It would be one helluva story
This is what all the above reasons boil down to and why there are plenty of media types, mainstream and otherwise, pulling for the Blue Jackest to overcome the odds and make the playoffs. Most media members, after years of covering the game, have no rooting interest in any particular team, but will root like hell for a good story.
Hockey fans want a good story as well, ideally with their favourite team as the protagonists. But when a plucky underdog beats the odds and experiences unexpected success, we can’t help but take notice, particularly with all of the great storylines surrounding the team.
The Blue Jackets may not make the playoffs this season, but damn it would be fun if they did.