April 19, 2009
The CBJ's weren't given much of a chance against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings in their first-round match-up, but you would have thought they'd put up somewhat of a fight (even attempting to equip players with two sticks at a time). No power-play goals in seven chances, outscored 8-1 through two games, and a rookie goaltender who's now lost right of his last ten starts, the Blue Jackets are seeing their flame quickly burn out. We're only two games in, but how damaging could an embarrassing exit be for the Blue Jackets?
Rewind two years ago to the 2006-07 post-season. There was a first-time team in the playoffs, led by one of the NHL's young superstars, backstopped by a stud goalie prospect and under the guidance under a Stanley Cup winning head coach.
At the time, there was a lot of promise surrounding the Atlanta Thrashers. With Ilya Kovalchuk as the face of the franchise, a potential goaltender of the future in Kari Lehtonen, and Bob Hartley instructing behind the bench. They were swept in the first-round by the New York Rangers and haven't sniffed the playoffs since, finishing fourth in the Southeast Division the past two seasons.
So the question remains: If the Blue Jackets are embarrassingly swept out of the playoffs or are dominated in five games by the Red Wings, how big of a setback is that for the franchise? Rick Nash is will be a free agent after next season and the Nash-to-Toronto rumors will never end (vultures are already flying above) until he pens a new deal to stay in Columbus. Michael Peca, Jason Williams, and Manny Malhotra will be unrestricted free agents this summer, but the rest of the core players are signed at least through next season. Unlike the Jay Bouwmeester situation in Florida, Nash has been with the franchise since 2002 and is seeing progress, but would that be enough to convince his to stay?
An embarrassment in this year's playoffs for Columbus would be a disappointment, but not a step back for the franchise. Unlike in Atlanta, the Blue Jackets have a solid front office and stable ownership. Despite playing hockey in a football-mad city, Columbus has definitely evolved into a hockey town.
What's happened in Atlanta since their '06-07 "appearance" is a shame, but the late push the Thrashers put up the final few weeks of this season showed promise. Whatever happens to the Blue Jackets in the next few weeks will not determine their future. The franchises' fortunes will be determined starting next October to if they can build off of this giant leap forward.