Brandon Dubinsky (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getting Brandon Dubinsky back will be a huge boost for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who will need a run even better than last season to make the playoffs. And there aren't fewer fans in Calgary this season - the team is just recording them more accurately.
Getting Brandon Dubinsky back for their game tonight against the Philadelphia Flyers is almost as good news for the Columbus Blue Jackets as it is for teams like the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks that the salary cap is projected to go up to $73 million next season.
The presence of Dubinsky, who hasn’t played a game all season because of surgery to repair four tears in his abdomen and groin, will be an enormous boon to a Columbus Jackets team that is in need of an enormous boon. And we’re not talking about Jenner. At 6-foot-2 and 208, he’s already pretty enormous and thankfully, he’s one of the players who is healthy and productive at the moment for the Blue Jackets with a goal in each of his past three games.
Getting Dubinsky back means the Blue Jackets have filled up 18 to 20 minutes of prime ice time at center ice with a capable veteran with great leadership skills. They’ll also be getting back their season leader from 2013-14 in assists, penalty minutes and faceoff percentage and the forward who logged the most ice time. And, as evidenced by how he shut down Sidney Crosby in the playoffs last spring, one of their best two-way players.
But will it be enough to provide the momentum the Blue Jackets will need to make another run at the playoffs? It just might be, considering that it appears goalie Sergei Bobrovsky looks to have returned to his Vezina Trophy form after a start that was hampered by injury and inconsistent play.
Consider that after 26 games this season, the Blue Jackets currently sit 14th in the Eastern Conference with a 9-15-2 record for 20 points, eight points out of third in the Metropolitan Division and eight points in arrears of the final wildcard spot. Even with three straight victories, that doesn’t look particularly promising.
After 26 games last season, the Blue Jackets were 10-13-3 for 23 points, just three points out of third in the Metropolitan and eight from the final playoff spot in the east, before going 33-19-4 the rest of the way to secure a post-season berth. As was the case last season, it looks as though it’s going to take somewhere in the range of 93 points to secure a playoff berth, meaning the Blue Jackets will need at least 73 points in their final 56 games to make the playoffs. That’s a points percentage of .652, compared to the .625 points percentage they had last season.
Making the feat more difficult this season is also the fact that the Blue Jackets will have to leapfrog ahead of three teams in the Metropolitan standings or six in the wildcard this season.
So the Blue Jackets face an enormous challenge if they want to recapture the magic they had last season. It’s not impossible, but for them to even entertain the thought, Dubinsky and his teammates are going to have to go on some kind of tear. Like, right now.
ATTENDANCE NUMBERS UP IN FLAMES: Prior to this season, you’d be excused for having the impression that the Calgary Flames have sold out every home game since the 2004-05 lockout. And you’d also be excused for raising your eyebrows that, in a season in which the young Flames are playing their most exciting and successful hockey in years, they have failed to sell out most of their games.
Prior to this season, the Flames had recorded crowds of 19,289 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. But this season, there have been recorded crowds as low as 18,421 (for a 4-3 shootout win over Anaheim Nov. 18). In fact, the Flames have recorded crowds of 19,289 for only six of their first 14 home games and two in their past 10.
Now numbers like that would normally set off alarm bells, but it turns out that the off-ice officials in Calgary have been so accustomed to the 19,289 figure that they simply record that for every home game and only recently had the team taken notice of the oversight.
“We’re reporting accurate figures this season,” said Peter Hanlon, the Flames vice-president of communications. “It was something that was just automatic for the off-ice officials and nobody ever told them anything differently. Now we want the exact numbers so people don’t think we’re completely sold out every single night.”
The Flames consider anything in excess of 18,500 to be a sellout, a mark they’ve failed to hit in two of their home games this season.
All this, of course, comes in the backdrop of declining oil prices and what that might mean for both the local economy and for the prospects of the Flames getting a new arena. If oil prices continue to decline, will hockey fans in Calgary have the jobs and disposable incomes to keep buying expensive hockey tickets? And with the city of Calgary already telling the Flames there is no money coming for a rink, can a province with declining tax coffers afford to get involved?