I Reject Your Reality and Substitute My Own
Anthony asked me to do a quick blog post about the Columbus Blue Jackets making the 2013-14 Stanley Cup playoffs, and my expectations for the team. My nom de plume is Gallos, and I write for a Blue Jackets blog called The Dark Blue Jacket, and I am a long time season ticket holder. I decided to use the classic Mythbusters phrase as my title, because I think that there is something surreal for many NHL fans about seeing the Blue Jackets in the playoffs. I expect this is especially true for the New Jersey and Washington fans.
It is well documented that prior to this year, the Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs one time, only to be eliminated in 4 games by the Detroit Redwings. Few understand the dynamic that fueled the Redwings desire to bring their best game to bear against the Blue Jackets. After all, the prior two regular season games, the Redwings had dispatched the Blue Jackets with ease, bringing all of their considerable talent to bear, as well as their top effort. The reason the Redwings were so motivated, was the previous game, in which the Blue Jackets laid an 8-2 ass whipping on the Redwings in the Joe. In that game, Rick Nash had an unassisted hat trick, a feat last accomplished by the incomparable Rocket Richard. What was never spoken publicly, but was evident for several years, was that Mike Babcock took that very personally. His team didn’t show up that day, and he whipped them mercilessly with that day for years. That was the last time for a long time that the Redwings didn’t show up against the Blue Jackets.
But that was your big brother’s Blue Jackets. Only three players remain from that 2008-09 team that made the playoffs, Jared Boll, RJ Umberger, and former Ranger Fedor Tyutin. Since that time, this team has literally plunged to the bottom of the NHL standings, necessitating a turn of the page. This year’s team is made up of heart and soul players, and the emerging talent of 2 rookies and a budding superstar, all acquired through trades, free agency and the draft.
The key moment in the reshaping of the Blue Jackets organization was hiring Craig Patrick as an advisor to the general manager. When asked by a season ticket holder in his ‘meet and greet’ what he valued most in a player, he emphatically stated that he valued a player’s character. He said ‘you can find skill, it’s harder to find character’. The current incarnation of the Blue Jackets has that philosophy at its core, and the team is made up of heart and soul players, who play well as a team, and are committed to a defensively sound system, and an incredible work ethic. At the foundation of the teams work ethic is Sergei Bobrovsky, the Vezina winning goal tender, who brings a tireless work ethic every day.
At this time, Craig Patrick has moved on to the Buffalo organization to help them the same way he helped the Blue Jackets. John Davidson has come on as President of Hockey Operations, and brought in new General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. JD and Craig Patrick go WAY back, and Patrick’s departure from the organization is more about him going somewhere he is needed, since JD and Jarmo fundamentally agree with his philosophies.
The current incarnation of the Blue Jackets is built on a foundation of excellent goal tending, good team defense, a grinding offensive forecheck, and opportunistic scoring. It should be noted that with two games remaining, this team has set the franchise records for goals in a season, wins in a season, and road wins in a season. But its foundation is its work ethic.
This team’s record for this season is clear. It has been dominated by the elite teams. Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago fared very well against the Blue Jackets. But it’s the second season. These teams no longer get to breeze into town, get the win, and head out of town. They have to stick for a seven game series, so they had better have a tireless work ethic to bring to a long series. The Blue Jackets are going to grind on you, in true playoff style, and that work ethic is an integral part of their character now. Bobrovsky is hot, and no one really knows Ryan Johansen’s ceiling, or just how difficult it will be to play against Boone Jenner in the playoffs. One thing is clear, whoever the CBJ play is not going to have the advantage of having an offended Mike Babcock wielding his whip arm with cunning strength.
So my expectation for the Blue Jackets is that I am going to let my hair down, cheer like a mad man for my team, and take what comes. The 2008-09 Blue Jackets sort of stumbled into the playoffs. This year’s team may be peaking. I might be wrong, but they are looking like a tough out for the higher seed this year.
I’m very proud of what this group of players and the coaching staff has accomplished. It is a fundamentally sound group. You can beat them sometimes in a game. Can you beat them in a series?