Tonight, the Central Diivision (and Western Conference and National Hockey League) cellar dwellers, the CBJ and their 57 standings points, take on the Southeast Division leaders, the Florida Panthers who are sporting a comparatively gaudy 90 points.
Suffice to say that the Blue Jackets have been the Central Division's whipping boys in 2011-12, posting a staggering 4-17-2 record. They're only 2-3-0 versus the Southeast Division, however. The Panthers, however, are 0-3-1 versus the Central yet have a more respectable 11-7-3 record versus their own Southeast Division. If Florida didn't have the playoff seeding protection of being division leaders, they would drop to sixth in the Eastern Conference by virtue of their standings points thus far.
Now I'm not going as far as to say that either team is good. In fact, I will be surprised if the Panthers get out of the first round of the playoffs. At the same time, I think we have a terrific parlor game question in dissecting whether a Blue Jackets squad, untethered from the brutal Central Division, could actually be considered a less-than-awful squad by NHL standards.
Even more interesting, most CBJ fans will recall that the team was pushing hard to move to the Eastern Conference in realignment once the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg. One of the simplest realignment plans was to place Winnipeg in the Central and move a Central team - Columbus or Nashville, presumably) to the Southeast until a larger realignment was adopted. That didn't happen, but I still find it intriguing to mull over what the CBJ could have done this season in a weak Southeast Division...especially as the proposed realignment was vetoed by the NHL Players Association, leaving the issue of realignment wide open right now.
Could Columbus to the Southeast find life once again? And what does tonight's game tell us should that happen?
Then throw in that the Panthers have had one of the more remarkable rebuilding jobs in recent history under GM Dale Tallon - a model that I've cited (along with the 2009 Phoenix Coyotes) as a means to fast-track a rebuild of the Blue Jackets. They also currently employ former Blue Jacket and Arniel-era coaching interviewee Kevin Dineen behind the bench.
Add those factors to the larger "Is the Central's worst better than the Southeast's best?" question, and you've got a game worth watching.
Which is saying something when the games literally mean nothing beyond auditioning the likes of Dalton Prout and considering whether a collegiate goalie's hockey helmet is appropriate to wear as a professional in the town of his collegiate rival.