Without Rick Nash, R.J. Umberger and Cam Atkinson will have to help pick up the slack. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)
In the late 1980s, pioneering gangsta rap group N.W.A. changed the face of hip hop with their us-against-the-world take on life. Nearly 25 years later, the Columbus Blue Jackets have echoed those three famous letters for that team's new marketing campaign and you couldn't find a more worthy franchise to identify with the hip hop crew's tales of alienation.
Now, the team’s “Defend NWA” battle cry has nothing to do with drive-by shootings and dice games and instead stands for “Defend Nationwide Arena,” home of the Blue Jackets. But the reason those outside of Ohio have taken notice of the campaign online is obviously because of the association with the group formed by Eazy-E in Compton, Calif.
And I say the Blue Jackets embrace it.
After all, this is Year Zero for the franchise. Hip hop's N.W.A. was effectively over when rapper Ice Cube left in a financial dispute, becoming a successful solo artist (later followed by Dr. Dre). Columbus just lost its greatest artist of all-time, Rick Nash – but instead of declining, the Jackets have a chance to rise up and stake a new identity.
Of course, the reason the Blue Jackets have a chance to rise is because they can't get any lower. The franchise infamously has four playoff games and no wins to its name. Even with Nash, Columbus finished last in the NHL, then lost the draft lottery to Edmonton just to cap it all off.
Will the Blue Jackets once again finish last in the Central Division? Yeah, unless something catastrophic happens to one of the other four teams. But last in the West? That doesn't have to happen again.
The obvious route for the Jackets is to channel N.W.A. (OK, maybe that's not too obvious). You don't love the Columbus Blue Jackets? Well they don't love you either.
Brandon Dubinsky, one of the main pieces in the Nash deal with the New York Rangers, isn’t the type of guy to take losing sitting down. Neither is veteran R.J. Umberger, whose roots in the Ohio capital go back further than most thanks to his days as an Ohio State Buckeye. Jack Johnson bleeds the Maize and Blue of the archrival University of Michigan, but has pledged his allegiance to his new hometown since coming over in a deal for Jeff Carter, who couldn't leave town fast enough after the disastrous 2011 draft weekend trade with Philadelphia. Artem Anisimov, another piece of the Nash trade, has already declared Columbus to be much more to his liking lifestyle-wise than the cosmopolitan anarchy of Manhattan.
And with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky coming in to spell the embattled Steve Mason, the crease of the NHL's most Civil War-conscious franchise becomes a little less of a massacre.
The rationale behind the Defend NWA campaign is that Nationwide Arena is too easy for opponents to play in – that too many Detroit and Chicago jerseys can be seen when those rivals come in. The team wants fans to get mad about this and it's a good cause. Those rappers that came straight outta Compton all those years ago gave voice to a disenfranchised segment of the American populace and shed light on a community that few paid attention to unless something horrible happened. With Dubinsky, Umberger and Johnson among those at the front, the Jackets can play a hard-nosed, respectable game that may lead to some surprising wins and most importantly, a return of respect from the Ken Hitchcock years. And if somebody produces a black baseball cap with “Columbus” written in Olde English font on the front...well, a little pride in your town can sometimes go a long way.
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/THNRyanKennedy.