The Columbus Blue Jackets played their 1,000th game in franchise history Thursday night. Far too many of them have been memorable for any good reason. If there is a franchise in the NHL that owes its fans something tangible, it’s the Blue Jackets. (See chart below.)
And they’re finally beginning to deliver. In fact, they did something in Game No. 1,000 that they did not do in the previous 999 – they won an eighth straight game. There are the Olympics and a stretch run that stands between the Blue Jackets and the playoffs, but clearly this group is for real.
Which brings us to an interesting question leading up to the March 5 trade deadline. Could the Blue Jackets possibly be in the market? Could they be buyers? And if so, whom will they pursue? Remember, this team owes, truly owes its fans an opportunity to see their first playoff victory ever. In their only playoff appearance in 2009, they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings.
You look at the Blue Jackets and you see they don’t have a single player among the league’s top 50 scorers. You don’t see a whole lot of proven veteran leadership and a team that’s still going without a captain. Wouldn’t Matt Moulson look good in this lineup? Heck, why not swing for the fences and try to get Thomas Vanek? Or perhaps Ales Hemsky, Mike Cammalleri, Olli Jokinen, David Legwand, Devin Setoguchi or Steve Ott would give the Blue Jackets a bit of oomph in the playoffs. And they all have expiring contracts.
The Blue Jackets could certainly offer an enticing prospect to go along with their first-round pick. With Sergei Bobrovsky providing the Blue Jackets with Vezina Trophy goaltending at the tender age of 25, perhaps the Blue Jackets could afford to part with Erie Otters and Team Sweden goaltender Oscar Dansk. Alexander Wennberg, their first-rounder in 2013, has 18 points playing with men in the Swedish League. Kerby Rychel has 51 points in 36 games in the Ontario League.
But then you realize that even though they have no star carrying them, this team is sixth in scoring in the NHL at the moment. Yes, sixth. Not to compare them to a previous Stanley Cup champion, but the Boston Bruins managed to win it all 2011 with only two 60-point scorers and four 20-goal men. Well, Ryan Johansen is on pace to score 61 and Brandon Dubinsky is at a 59-point pace. And they currently have five players – Johansen, Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, R.J. Umberger and Artem Anisimov – who have a statistical opportunity to finish the season with 20 or more.
Which is as good a reason as any to just leave the Blue Jackets alone. This team, as it displayed in the victory over Philadelphia, plays with a unique esprit de corps and its team chemistry is undeniable. To inject an outsider into that mix for a short-term infusion of offense might be courting disaster. And don’t forget, Nathan Horton is only 10 games into his first season in Columbus – the Blue Jackets are 9-1-0 with him in the lineup – and Marian Gaborik, who has played only 30 games for the franchise, will return at some point from his broken collarbone before the end of the season.
But most of all, this is a franchise that has tried and failed with stars. It forever tried to build around Rick Nash and had almost nothing to show for it. It has learned it cannot rely on Gaborik to stay healthy for any reasonable amount of time. And it has failed miserably, until recently, with high picks such as Nikolai Zherdev and Nikita Filatov, who were supposed to develop into top players and instead faded into oblivion.
The Blue Jackets are just starting to get this draft thing right. Johansen and Ryan Murray are two top picks that are making significant contributions as NHL players and, more importantly, the Blue Jackets have begun to find gems in later rounds such as Atkinson (fifth round, 2008), Matt Calvert (sixth, 2008) and David Savard (fourth, 2009).
The Blue Jackets are just fine the way they are. There is no need to rush a process that is beginning to really look as though it has long-term potential by trading the future for now. The Blue Jackets will likely be in a dogfight the rest of the season for a playoff spot and if they make it, they’ve already proved they can get on some kind of serious roll.
But the playoffs have been elusive for the Blue Jackets. In fact, they’re among the worst teams in the league in terms of playoff performance since the 2005 lockout. The chart below lists each team’s playoff success since then in terms of playoff appearances and rounds won.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.