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.
- History of pro hockey in Columbus, Ohio, courtesy of hockeydb:
Columbus Stars UHL 2003-04 Roster
Columbus Blue Jackets NHL 2000-04 Roster
Columbus Chill ECHL 1991-99 Roster
Columbus Owls IHL 1973-77 Roster
Columbus Golden Seals IHL 1971-73 Roster
Columbus Checkers IHL 1966-70 Roster
- 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.