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CBJ Withdrawal And What The Olympics Mean For Us

Less than a week without the Blue Jackets and I have entered a full blown sports depression. The Olympics are nice I guess, but it doesn’t do anything for me. Mostly its players I don’t particularly care for thrown together, scoring goals, and making me mad. I should wrap myself in the flag and cheer on the good ole US of A, but I can’t fake it. Jack Johnson being left off the team prevents me from having skin in the game, and Coach Richards being on the bench doesn’t count. I don’t cheer for coaches any more than I cheer for trainers or ice girls (even though they are nice to have). Truthfully told, I wouldn’t mind seeing Russia win since it would bring a bunch of Gold Medals to Columbus, and that by itself makes me feel icky. So what is a Jackets fan to do with two more weeks off and only the Olympics to think about? I suppose I’ll try to bring it around to what the Olympics mean for us… For our team, our City & Blue Jackets fans:

First, the bad news. The most obvious impact of the Olympics is simply that there is no Blue Jackets hockey.  As the late Tip O’Neill used to say “all politics is local.” The Olympics may be great for the World, or for America, but it stinks for my own backyard.  I want to go to Nationwide Arena and spend a little too much to park, and little too much on a few beers, and maybe get a soft pretzel. I’m sure Team Ownership and the Arena would prefer to keep playing too, after building such strong momentum for the last a month and a half.  Nathan Horton’s Jackets debut, the 8 game win streak and game 1,000 had all combined to push the attendance up the second half of January.  Blue Jackets Nation was starting to get the media attention we’ve been crying out for and we would have had February all to ourselves. Football is over, the basketball Buckeyes are struggling, and the NBA doesn’t really move the meter in Ohio this time of the year. Instead of capitalizing on all this, we’re in an NHL imposed mini off-season.  There is even a moratorium on trades, so we can’t have fun speculating on that. The Olympics is also disruptive and risky for our team. We have four players getting ice time in high pressure games without our coaches, our trainers and our team doctors.  I know other teams have it much worse, but I’ll just hold my breath this month and wait for our guys to get back to Port Columbus in one piece.

Now the good news. I’ll start out with a few “USA! USA!” chants to get everyone back on my side. Its not all doom and gloom here for the Jackets on the break. The Blue Jackets organization is getting good exposure on the world stage with Jarmo Kekalainen as the Assistant GM for the Finnish Team, and Coach Richards on the bench as an Assistant Coach for Team USA. Having the top talent in the world see our guys in a new light can help our team’s credibility, and help foster and strengthen relationships around the NHL. I have no doubt Coach Richards can hold his own with the top coaches and players on Team USA, and build relationships that may pay off down the road in free agency or in the trade market.

Our four representatives on Team Russia can also be a benefit to Columbus. As much as everyone hopes the USA and Canada perform well in the Olympics, a strong performance by Team Russia will highlight the talent we’re contributing to their effort and generate some positive press. If the chips fall right it will be difficult for the announcers to call a play without mentioning Columbus. Alex Ovechkin is the face of the Olympics (insert joke here), but Goalie Bob, Fedor, Niki & Arty are all going to get a lot of ice time and TV time during their run. A good showing by Russia may also fuel our returning stars, becoming the spark for the CBJ run to the NHL playoffs.
Another positive for Columbus is simply the break itself. The Blue Jackets are 12-5-1 in 2014 and have had momentum, but cracks were starting to show in our health and depth, especially on defense. James Wisniewski had been nursing a broken toe over the last week of play, and Ryan Murray was recovering from a vicious hit from Dustin Brown (thanks again Team USA). We were skating short on defense putting pressure on our forwards and goalie, and it showed against the Kings and Sharks. The break helps all NHL teams get healthy, but comes at an especially good time for the Jackets. Nathan Horton has played 18 games after off-season surgery, and the three weeks off come basically at the midpoint of his abbreviated season. It will be a nice chance for him to evaluate his recovery and reset himself for the stretch run. Marion Gaborik and Jared Boll should also rejoin the team when play resumes, or shortly thereafter. Getting all our guys healthy and back on the ice for the final 24 games can provide the push and depth we need to make a run to the playoffs, and make a run when we get in the playoffs.

February 27th the season starts anew against the New Jersey Devils, with our CBJ coming home a few days later against the Florida Panthers. So wave the flag and cheer on your Olympians, and we’ll all reunite in two weeks with a common voice to cheer our Columbus Blue Jackets on to victory!

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