Columbus Blue Jackets: A Dream Location for NHL Players?

Ryan WattsContributor IIJuly 4, 2011

SUNRISE, FL - JANUARY 19: RJ Umberger #18 (R) and Rick Nash #61 of the Columbus Blue Jackets raise their sticks and celebrate Nash's winning goal against the Florida Panthers on January 19, 2011 at the BankAtlantic Center in Sunrise, Florida. The Blue Jackets defeated the Panthers 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

The Columbus Blue Jackets have largely been seen as a last-resort location for most NHL players.

It’s been a haven for bad front office management (Doug MacLean), terrible draft choices (Nick Zherdev, Gilbert Brule), players looking for a big payday (Adam Foote), ill-conceived mascots (Boomer) and Rick Nash.

So far this offseason, though, the Blue Jackets brass has made steps to help erase the black mark placed on the franchise from its earliest years. With one trade, they started a trend that could finally lead them out of the basement where they’ve been stuck almost perpetually.

With the acquisition of Jeff Carter, they filled many needs that have been around since the team’s inception. It got them the first-line center they’ve so desperately needed and relieved some pressure from Rick Nash having to perform perfectly every night. More importantly, it gave the Blue Jackets two elite, young forwards to shape their franchise around.

The effect of the move was seen very quickly. When the Jackets got the rights for James Wisniewski, more than one fan probably thought that it was just a matter of time before he spurned them and went on his merry way. Having seen what was being built here, Wisniewski not only signed with the Jackets, but also gave a clear indication that it was where he wanted to be.

It’s hard not to see why. As it stands now, only three of their players are 30 or over. Many of the younger Jackets have shown flashes of what they can become if they play up to potential. Add that to a few very promising prospects in the minor leagues and you have a recipe for success.

Does this mean the Jackets will instantly compete for the Stanley Cup or even the playoffs? No, it doesn’t do that at all. One or two more above-average players are needed to round out the current roster, and the seeds in the minors may not bear fruit quickly, if at all.

It will give a boost to the perception of Columbus around the league, though. Many NHLers would rather join a group of young, talented kids with room to grow instead of a room full of grizzled veterans that are struggling through the ends of their careers.

Will the image change overnight? Probably not, but a solid regular season and playoff push would help that. Next offseason they could add another big name, who in years past wouldn’t have given the Jackets a second look. It worked for a few other franchises around the league.

So while Columbus may not be a dream destination just yet, it seems to be headed toward making it possible. Maybe someday putting on the Union Blue will be as prized as donning a Detroit Red Wings or Montreal Canadiens sweater. With the team shaping up the way it is, it may be closer than ever.