Once upon a time there was a professional hockey team. This was a brand new hockey team in the NHL, in an area where hockey was not necessarily the primary sport of interest. The fans were enthusiastic, and a shiny new arena was built for the team, after some debate and delay.
But this team was bad — very bad. It finished in last place 4 of its first 6 years. In its second year, the team had 71 losses, a record that stands today. It took 9 years before the team won more games than it lost, and 10 years to get 40 wins. The franchise had 5 coaches in its first 8 years.
However, the franchise never gave up. They added a piece here and a piece there, they became regulars in the playoffs. Though they have not yet won their conference or the Stanley Cup, they are one of the premier franchises in the game today — the San Jose Sharks.
The moral of the story is that success takes time. I was there for the Sharks first three years, and it was ugly. “Dump and chase” was the only offense, except they had nobody fast enough to get to the puck. 71 losses is not pretty, even though the season was 84 games at the time. The CBJ and the Sharks have the same number of Stanley Cups and Conference championships. After this season, they will hopefully have the same number of rookie goaltenders who won the Calder Cup. (Evgeni Nabokov won it in the Jackets inaugural year of 2000-2001). Yeah, the Sharks made the playoffs a few times in the first several years, but would not likely have made the playoffs in this era with those records.
A similar story played out in the Bay Area about 10 years before the Sharks came to town. Another pro team with a history of futility had just 2 wins the prior year. They brough in a new silver haired coach, who insisted on taking an undersized player in the 3rd round of the draft, and staking the franchise on it. The coach was Bill Walsh — the player was Joe Montana, and the rest is history.
We are seeing the transformation in front of us, and it promises years of competetive hockey. We may or may not see the playoffs this year, though I think we will, and we believe that we will do well. The point, at least for me, is that we are competetive every night, are fun to watch, and we can all be proud of both the effort and the results we are seeing as this team begins to mature. A few pieces more, carefully added, are needed, but with our arsenal of young talent, both on the big club and in the minors, the future is gleaming.
As we head down the stretch for this season, let’s root hard for the boys to win, relish the victories, agonize over the losses. But let’s not lose sight of the big picture and appreciate the transformation we are seeing. We can now start trusting that it is here to stay, and that is huge. Go Jackets!