The hapless Columbus Blue Jackets have largely been basement-dwellers in their brief existence in the NHL. They have made it to the playoffs only once in 10 seasons, in 2008-2009. And that was nothing to write home about, as they were swept by perennial Western Conference kingpins, the Detroit Red Wings.
However, things are about to change in a big way for Columbus in the 2011-2012 season.
This will be the year the Jackets return to the playoffs and show some mettle, much to the relief of the waning fan base. Unsuspecting teams like the Chicago Blackhawks will get caught off-guard by the surging Jackets brigade and face early elimination in the march to the Stanley Cup.
One might wonder how these lofty ideals could be achievable when this nondescript franchise is accustomed to folding the tent at the sight of spring.
Well, times have changed, and expectations have changed for the Jackets faithful. Making the playoffs is no longer a discretionary option. It is a "must have" and not a "nice to have."
It's a new day, and the young franchise has learned from its well-documented failures on and off the ice.
Here are three reasons why Columbus will right the ship and sail to the "new world" of playoff hockey.
Energized by the offseason addition of a proven top-six center in Jeff Carter, the Jackets will finally unleash their goal-scoring might. They will cruise past the "goals for" threshold needed to make the top-eight spots in the Western Conference.
That magic number arguably hovers around 230 goals based on the average of the eighth-place team over the last seven seasons.
Over this same stretch of time, the Jackets scored an average of 207 goals per season and made it up to 210 goals last season.
Both Rick Nash and Carter will need to remain healthy and receive a helping hand in netting the puck from the second and third liners, such as the newly-acquired Vinny Prospal.
However, this is only half the equation—which brings us to the other half of the equation and the second reason the Jackets will make the playoffs.
The goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Mark Dekanich will make GM Scott Howson look like a genius.
They will hold the "goals against" threshold under 220, which is roughly the magic number for cracking the top eight in the Western Conference.
Obviously, one has to account for the variance between "goals for" and "goals against" and adjust the magic numbers accordingly.
Mason will rise to his former Calder Trophy-winning performance level and establish himself as the undisputed franchise goaltender.
Dekanich will serve respectably in his first full-time, back-up stint in the NHL and will show the sparks of brilliance that he displayed while playing for the American Hockey League's Milwaukee Admirals.
However, the credit for preparing Mason and Dekanich will go to the Jackets new goaltending coach, Ian Clark, formerly with the Vancouver Canucks organization. Clark will accomplish what his predecessor, Dave Rook, failed to accomplish with young Mason .
Now, what if something goes awry in a big way, such as Mason flatting out?
That brings us to the third and most-important reason the Jackets will make the playoffs.
Mr. John P. McConnell (right) - majority owner of the Blue Jackets
Majority owner John P. McConnell will continue to flex his muscle and make his presence felt in and around the franchise.
Mr. McConnell will skillfully steer the movers and shakers of greater Columbus into working out an agreeable solution to the age-old lease problem the Jackets have with Nationwide Arena. This will help solidify the franchise's financial future in Columbus and perhaps buoy the locals to again believe in the team and fill up the arena in droves.
He will also act swiftly to make midseason adjustments to the roster, in the way of major trades or promoting young prospects if there are significant performance deficiencies.
Mr. McConnell must be vigilant and involved, or the Jackets chances of making the playoffs go up in smoke.
For instance, if GM Scott Howson's much-maligned decision to stick with Mason as his No. 1 goaltender backfires, McConnell will undoubtedly make a big trade for a veteran goaltender, especially if Dekanich is not ready.
The unprecedented involvement of the Blue Jackets majority owner will give the franchise a fail-safe plan to make the playoffs.
All of this will be fueled by Mr. McConnell's strong desire to make his late father's dream of bringing the Stanley Cup to Columbus remain alive! Where there is a will, there is a way!
Nationwide Arena - yearning to host more Jackets playoff games
Hence, the Jackets season arguably hinges around the actions of three key individuals: center Jeff Carter, goaltender Steve Mason and majority owner John P. McConnell.
The trio will be instrumental in propelling the Jackets march toward the Stanley Cup!
The signature firing of a deafening shot out of the old cannon at Nationwide Arena each time the Jackets score will surely get a workout this season and into the playoffs!
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