Sunday, July 24, 2005

The plight of the Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets' general manager Doug MacLean spoke with the Canadian Press in an article today in which the beleaguered manager attempted to brush off the image of his club, one that he says is too closely tied to other (southern) expansion markets:

“It irks me to no end,” says the Jackets GM. “And I’ve said it on more than one occasion to the ones who have said it. It just seems to be an easy name to throw in that mix. It’s out of ignorance is what it is. It’s a lack of knowledge of what’s really going on in our market.”

It’s a great question: What is really going on in his market? After four seasons in the league, the Blue Jackets were still absolutely dismal last season, finishing fourth last and a mere four points from the last-place Pittsburgh Penguins. Over the past three seasons, Columbus has had only 185 points, the worst such total in the league. They’ve also averaged just 25 wins a season in that time.

Next to the Atlanta Thrashers, they’re the only team to have never made the playoffs.

As much as MacLean is correct in saying his club shouldn’t be lumped in with southern market clubs, that is solely due to the benefits of geography. Ohio is a good hockey market, and professional hockey has prospered there ever since the days of the IHL Columbus Checkers in 1966.

Attendance wise, sure, the Blue Jackets have done alright, selling out every single home game in their second season (2001-02). That said, the team’s attendance has declined for three straight seasons (from 8th to 11th to 15th) due to their dismal performance on the ice.

The Jackets averaged 17,376 fans per game at the 18,136-seat Nationwide Arena in 2003-04, including 16 sellouts. They've sold out 95 of their last 138 home games.

After selling out 41 games in 2001-02, the next season had 38 sellouts. Interesting then that this CP article highlights 16 as an indication of burgeoning attendance in Ohio.

That the team has drawn this well with such a poor on-ice product is certainly a testament to the city’s suitability for having a club, but if MacLean wants to turnaround the team’s image, all he needs to do is put them in the win column a little more often. Considering the team’s awful draft history (Rick Nash notwithstanding), that may take a while.

Should the Blue Jackets make an appearance in the postseason, only then will the true rabid nature of their fan-base be recognized throughout the league. And MacLean needs only to look in the mirror if he’s at a loss to explain the reputation his team has thus far.





UPDATE

  • Thanks to Spector, who emailed me to point out the Cleveland Barons, a failed NHL franchise in the 70s, as an example of a market where hockey didn't work in the state of Ohio.

  • One poster at SportsFilter wasn't too pleased with some of my phrasing in this post (while I don't believe what I wrote was 'cliche,' it was certainly a clumsy construction and I've since fixed it). My free time is rather fleeting lately so my apologies if mistakes creep into the copy — I trust those who read my professional work know my writing abilities.

11 Comments:

At 8:13 PM, July 24, 2005, Anonymous Ben said...

Ouch. You're not pulling any punches here, are you?

A few points in defense of Columbus:

1. Nowhere in the article does MacLean says they deserve respect for what they're accomplished on the ice. He's sick of getting lumped in with teams in non-traditional markets that struggle to draw fans. Way too many people have no clue that Columbus is a solid hockey town. Attendance slumps when the team does... no big shock there. The fact that they get as many fans at games as they do with the records they've had says they deserve a team.

2. Awful drafting? Zherdev was hardly an awful pick. In 2000 with their first ever draft pick the Jackets took Klesla. Hardly a Norris nominee but it was a weak draft year after the top 3. Leclaire at #8 in 2001 can still pan out though he might be a wash. He had a solid GAA and save % in Syracuse this year but saw limited action. Still not a lost pick. In 2002 they got Nash...in 2003 they picked Zherdev. In 2004 they drafted Alexandre Picrad. He had 40 goals and 85 points in the Q this year. Hardly an awful pick.

Give MacLean the offseason to spend some serious money ($17 million for 17 players locked up? Time to go shopping for some free agents!) and you'll see a greatly improved team. In my opinion they're going to be one of the most entertaining teams in the West to follow .

 
At 11:24 PM, July 24, 2005, Blogger Phil said...

I hope Columbus does well. They have a good hockey market. And with this new CBA, they have no excuses. Like Ben said, they have plenty of money to do something. Go out and sign a couple big name guys.

 
At 12:53 AM, July 25, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Ben,

I'm not saying they don't deserve a team; I'm saying they deserve a better one than they've been given.

The only picks MacLean that you like were utter no-brainers. Any of the top four picks in 2002 are going to be superstars in the league.

Zherdev was taken in 2003, the deepest draft year in more than a decade up to that point. Granted, he's going to be a solid player but better than Dion Phaneuf! Absolutely not. Better than Jeff Carter? I doubt it. Or what about Zach Parise? Braydon Coburn? Ryan Suter?

I'd gladly like to see MacLean fork over some cash for free agents. Perhaps he can find a few replacements for his past signings: Luke Richardson ($2.75 mil), Todd Marchant ($2.9-mil) and Scott Lachance ($2-mil or $500k per assist last year).

The Blue Jackets aren't one of the most poorly run teams in hockey, but surely we're too forgiving of a club that has had four years to muster something better than a bottom feeder. Luckily for them, the lottery turned up another high pick at No. 6 — how about a defenceman not named Rusty this time Doug?

 
At 10:28 AM, July 25, 2005, Blogger ninja said...

Mirtle, great piece. But you gotta give Dougie's picks some more credit. Anyone the Red Army doesn't want to let go is probably worth the fight.

 
At 9:53 PM, July 25, 2005, Blogger gspm said...

In terms of clumsy construction I will point out an entire page about said construction on sportscliche.com. It is a 'say what you mean' criticism. If you say "shouldn't be lumped in with the Floridas, Nashvilles, Carolinas, Anaheims and Atlantas..." and your comparison refers specifically to (and is limited to) Florida, Nashville, Carolina, Anaheim and Atlanta then there is nothing wrong with saying Florida, Nashville, Carolina, Anaheim and Atlanta rather than trotting out a clumsy constrution that has some grumpy people throwing up their hands and groaning at the cliche. That said, I like what I read here.

 
At 9:56 PM, July 25, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

It's lazy writing to be sure. I'm still finding the balance in blogging between spending too much time on the writing aspects and worrying about speed and/or frequency of posts.

After all, I'm still new to this art form. If that makes me worse than Eklund et al, so be it.

 
At 12:06 AM, July 26, 2005, Anonymous Ben said...

If you're not being paid to write it or writing it in the hopes of landing a writing gig who cares about style. Holding personal blogs written as a hobby to the same standards as professionally published material is utter nonsense. Keep up the good work. On the bright side you're being talked about and that's rarely bad when it comes to blogging.

 
At 2:38 PM, August 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Columbus has hardly done a bad job at drafting:

2000 - Klesla
2001 - Leclaire, Tim Jackman (who has seen plenty of time with the team), Aaron Johnson (who may make the team this year)
2002 - Nash, Lindstrom (good chance of playing on the team this year), OK Tollefsen (will be an injury call up this year) Jaroslav Balastik (again - may make the team)
2003 - Zherdev, Fritsche will both be on the team this year.
2004 - Picard - most likely will make the team. Methot, Dupuis and Hendrix have all improved since their draft years - could all make an impact. Still to early to gauge draft.
2005 - Brule (highly touted steal at #6). To early to see impact.

MacLean has said repeatedly that he sees 9 - 10 drafted players either making the team or getting playing time later in the year.

So before saying MacLean is awful at drafting I would recommend you do your due dillegence. If there is one strength of MacLean it has been his (and his staff's) ability to draft.

Zherdev will be the best player to come out of the 2003 draft.

Say what you want but Foote is a huge signing for this team and MacLean isn't done re-tooling the defense yet.

 
At 11:24 PM, August 03, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with the above post that MacLean can draft.

Trades - I'd say he's about 0.500, but take out the 1st round pick swap with florida in 2002 (the trade that got us Nash) and he falls to about 0.200

FA signings - here is MacLean's achilles heel. He has absolutely sucked in his choosing and sigining of veteran free agents. These aging, underperforming, overpaid slugs weigh down our team like 2-ton anchors. Scott "the human pylon" Lachance is gone, thankfully - if Richardson could go with him I would crack some champagne.

 
At 4:04 AM, November 14, 2005, Blogger James Mirtle said...

This is Columbus' fifth year in the NHL and every year they've had a high draft pick. How on earth can they be considered a good drafting team and remain one of the worst teams in the league?

Picking Zherdev 4th overall in a strong draft year does not a strong drafting GM make.

 
At 9:53 PM, November 01, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

they are killin brule.

 

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