As a student at Ohio University, I am only about an hour away from the city of Columbus, Ohio, home of the Blue Jackets franchise.
The NHL expanded into Columbus in 2000, making the Jackets the Buckeye-crazed city’s only major league sports team (well, unless you count the Columbus Crew of Major League Soccer).
The city welcomed the new team with tons of support, and Rick Nash (the newborn franchise’s fresh-faced phenom) started appearing around local youth hockey rinks around the city.
The Blue Jackets pay a hefty rent to play in Nationwide Arena (almost $9.5 million a year). This fee accounts for money to spend on salaries for potential quality players.
Despite playing in the incredibly talented Central Division, things looked good for the franchise at the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Jeff Carter arrived after a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers to be Nash’s center, Steve Mason showed a lot of potential and skill in between the pipes as a rookie goaltender the year before, and Rick Nash finished with another 30-plus-goal season.
However, things quickly headed south. Carter sustained an injury and never really clicked with Nash, Mason fell apart and lost the starting job, and Nash simply can’t do it himself.
After a very successful event in Ottawa on Sunday and with the NHL All-Star game coming to Columbus next year, the team finally has something to play for. A little bit of spotlight. A little bit of buzz. If (and at this point, probably when) the Jackets miss the playoffs this year, it will be the team’s 10th season without a playoff appearance in its 11-year existence.
Is there still hope for the Blue Jackets franchise?
With some passion, maybe some new players, and a little more fan support, perhaps the Jackets could make a serious run at the playoffs.
The All-Star game will bring the hockey world’s attention to Central Ohio and the developing organization. It might even attract some veteran free agents this off season who want a shot at playing for the hometown crowd in the All-Star game.
The NHL seems to always have a few franchises rumored to relocate, and it would be a shame to see the expansion Blue Jackets fail after only a decade.
Nationwide Arena is one of the league's nicest places to watch a game, and the city has a lot of room to accommodate the influx of fans and media.
Hosting the NHL All-Star game might be a little bit of a spark the Blue Jackets need to get the franchise on the right track and save professional hockey in Ohio.