There’s no place in Nationwide Arena for cynical thinking.
Not this year.
Not while such palpable energy surrounds our best four-year run in franchise history.
Not with such a hungry, talented new crop of prospects arriving home from training camp.
Not when we possess such a fierce roster of standout players who’ve increasingly paid their dues and deserve to be a part of something epic.
And definitely not when we have a fiery coach, who knows what it takes to win and seems hell-bent on making it happen.
Never mind that we finished last place in the Metropolitan Division last season. Ancient history. Sure, after 15 years as a franchise, we’ve only reached the playoffs twice. Facts, and undisputed at that, but hey…
That’s no reason to shake our heads and grumble that we’ve seen it all. It’s no excuse to lace our commentary with steely sarcasm (as if that’s cool anyway). And we (yes, we’re using we) simply don’t have the luxury of building an emotional firewall between our desire to be champions and all of life’s myriad disappointments.
No. It’s time now to believe.
So let’s roll up our sleeves, don our Union Kepis, and talk straight for a few minutes here about how our beloved Blue Jackets stand a totally reasonable chance of lighting up the ice come this season’s opener on October 13.
Musical note: For an ideal reading experience, we recommend pausing to cue “The Whip” by Locksley. It’s the perfect companion to a season preview, and the straight-up best goal song in the National Hockey League. You can either pull it up on your mobile device, or simply ask someone to pipe it into the sound system wherever you are—I’m sure they’d happily oblige.
Reason to believe #1: The new guys.
Each year CBJ prospects and rookie players take a bus to Traverse City, where they face off against newcomers from other NHL rival teams. For the past two years, we’ve utterly dominated this tournament. I mean, we’ve melted people’s faces off. And as (614) went to press, our newest recruits were making their own statement at this year’s cabal.
There were great showings from Zach Werenski—last year’s first round draft pick—as well as Sonny Milano, first round pick from the year prior.
And then there’s Pierre-Luc DuBois, the song of the summer, who surprised insiders and dominated headlines during the off-season when the Jackets picked him in the first round (third overall) of the NHL draft. Why is that important? Because DuBois went ahead of Jesse Puljujarvi—the Finnish freakshow everyone thought we’d choose third. Don’t worry, though. DuBois is a pure beast. He’s physically and mentally mature. Plus, he’s a class act, already committed to proving the Jackets made the right choice. I dig him.
Rounding out the off-season acquisitions, the Jackets also picked up Sam Gagner (Left Wing) and Scott Harrington (Defense) in trades. Unfortunately, that meant saying goodbye to local heartthrobs Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin, as well as Rene Bourque, Justin Falk, and Kerby Rychel.
Reason to believe #2: Studs on the line.
As our flashiest recruits battled for cred in Traverse City, five of our best veterans traveled to Toronto to defend our sacred honor on the world stage.
For the first time in over a decade, the World Cup of Hockey pulled 150 of the league’s best players onto national teams—just like the World Cup of soccer—with the intent to make this a regular occurrence every four years.
Five Jackets were chosen across three national teams: Team North America got the largest contingent with mega-stud Brandon Saad (forward), as well as Ryan Murray and Seth Jones, a mammoth defensive pair. (In the first five minutes of play, Murray made two masterful saves.) Jack Johnson suited up in red, white, and blue for Team USA. And Team Russia took our main man Sergei Bobrovsky as their starting goaltender. After suffering a groin injury last year, the 27-year-old fan favorite has refocused his training regimen in the off-season, and looked amazing on the ice during the World Cup, with 27 saves in the first game despite a tough loss to Sweden.
Outside Toronto, the rest of the boys are sharpening up. And since this issue will be shipped off to the printer by the time Jackets’ camp starts on September 22, I will just go ahead and jot down some names to get us all excited. Brandon Dubinsky (swoon); Boone Jenner (swooon); David Savard (swoon, of course, but I’ll stop this bit now); Dalton Prout; and, of course, Nick Foligno.
Reason #3: Coach Torts & Co.
Coach John Tortorella came to us last year from Vancouver. Before that, he was the head coach of both the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who he led to a Stanley Cup win in 2004. Before that (and after that) he was intense at everything, and many expect his passion and attitude will help nudge us in the right direction.
Standing beside Torts will be the new assistant coach, Brad Shaw, who comes to Columbus via the St. Louis Blues. This is big news. Shaw is a steady-handed veteran who helped lead St. Louis to six appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past eight years. (INSERT CANNON EMOJI HERE.)
Reason #4: Unbridled, borderline unreasonable, optimism.
Can we pull it off? The answer, I think, is an unqualified yes. (Not just because I’m barely qualified to answer such a question.) Sure, we don’t know yet whether DuBois will rise to the occasion. We don’t know yet whether Bobrovsky will return full strength, or whether Coach Torts can guide our team to glory. But it’s always possible this just might be the year everything clicks into place.
We’ll just have to believe.