Undeserved End For Inglorious Blue Jackets

Nobody expected the Columbus Blue Jackets to make the playoffs. They were the biggest surprise of the 2016-17 NHL regular season. They over-achieved and finished with the third best record in the Eastern Conference.

But their reward was to face the team with the second best record, the defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins, certainly the team to beat in the east, if not the favorite to win it all again for the second straight year. They were probably the worst team the Blue Jackets could have drawn in the first round of the playoffs. Even playing first-place choker, Washington would have been better.

Actually this should not be an issue at all. Indeed, this article should not have to be written. Everybody should be proud of the Blue Jackets, giving their fans the finest season in the franchise history which included a near-NHL record of 16 straight wins, making the playoffs, and then winning a game in the first round against the team that is probably the favorite to win this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. But it’s not enough.

The Blue Jackets play in probably the strangest area for NHL professional hockey in North America, Ohio-Indiana, close to the Canadian border where hockey should be a hotbed. Instead mysteriously, top level hockey is very unpopular in this region and nobody has ever been able to explain why. In my articles, I refer to the region as the “Death Valley” of top level professional hockey. Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis are failed NHL-WHA franchises. Not even Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier could save hockey in this region when they played for the various defunct teams. Columbus is simply the best and longest surviving NHL team.

So the pressure was on the Blue Jackets to win this playoff round, not because it was Pittsburgh, not because it meant progress for the team, but to convince the Ohio-Indiana sports fan to support the franchise. Ever since the founding of this team in 2000, it has been a precarious franchise. In many of its seasons, the team has lost money. Gimmicks and low ticket prices have been used to attract fans. During many of its seasons, there have been rumors of it being folded or moved to another city.

Its history is inglorious. The Blue Jackets have only made the playoffs three times in 17 years and have yet to win a playoff round. Their playoff record is now 3-12. That record is not going to pack them in. I don’t care if their opponent was the Pittsburgh Penguins, the likely Stanley Cup winner. Columbus HAD to win that series.

Sure the Blue Jackets had their best season ever and sure the Blue Jackets nearly broke the NHL record for consecutive wins. The Ohio-Indiana fan is going to smile and be proud, but they won’t be convinced and believe in this team unless they see progress in the playoffs where it really counts. A playoff victory over somebody is the symbol of that progress or lack of progress. Instead the Blue Jackets drew the worst opponent that they and the NHL could have wanted. For this year at least, the NHL has to rue the playoff format that they had set up. Calgary can be swept in four games by Anaheim but that’s okay. The fans are going to be pleased with the progress made and come back next year. Not so in Columbus.

In my prediction article, I wrote that Columbus would have been better off if Pittsburgh’s goaltender Matt Murray had been injured instead of defenseman Kris Letang, because Pittsburgh would have been forced to play the erratic Marc Andre Fleury. But Pittsburgh played without Letang AND Murray and still won easily. Columbus made Fleury look better than he really is. They are far from being a true contender. That is not going impress Ohio-Indiana fans.

Columbus is mostly a team of no-names who played good, dependable hockey this year. They have few star players to attract crowds. And next year, it is quite conceivable that they won’t make the playoffs again. Pittsburgh, Washington, New York Rangers and Montreal are still around. Toronto, Ottawa, and Boston all improved. It is quite conceivable that Philadelphia, New York Islanders, Florida, Carolina and possibly Buffalo will be good enough to make the playoffs next year if they draft and trade well in the off season. It will be very difficult for Columbus to replicate this year’s success.

By losing so ingloriously to Pittsburgh (even if they do win the Stanley Cup) in the first round of the playoffs, Columbus will probably lose most of the attendance gains they made this year. They needed to make believers out of people in a region where hockey is unpopular, but this playoff episode did more harm than good. The NHL has been praying for this franchise to turn around but they got the worst playoff pairing that was possible. The shadow of Quebec, Hamilton, Hartford or wherever still hangs over this franchise. A sad ending for a team that deserved better this season.

Is Gary Bettman Waiting For Another Team To Collapse For Quebec?

There is no current news about a Quebec expansion team but that does not mean nothing significant is happening. First a brief recap.

Forget the nonsense of the official NHL story that the Quebecor bid was turned down because of conference imbalance and a low Canadian dollar. The real reason Quebec still does not have the Nordiques back is because the owner of Quebecor, Pierre Karl Peladeau made a lot of enemies on the NHL Board, first because he is a known supporter of the separatist provincial party, Parti Quebecois, and more specifically he publicly insulted a member of the Board, Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson about his suitability in owning the team because he is an anglophone Quebecer. Peladeau never retracted his remarks or apologized to Molson and that made it easy for Gary Bettman and the NHL to turn down Quebecor’s bid long before construction started on the new Videotron arena. The recent election of Molson to the NHL Executive Committee confirms that Bettman and the Board were backing him to the hilt. The NHL cannot afford to have a public racist on its Board and acted accordingly.

That did not solve the problem of Quebec. In 2010 Gary Bettman offered terms of readmission to all three ex-NHL cities that lost their franchises, Quebec, Winnipeg, and Hartford. He publicly consorted with the Quebec Provincial Premier, the Quebec City mayor and other important businessmen and government officials and kept encouraging them to spend nearly $400 million taxpayer dollars on a new arena. Probably privately he told the premier and the mayor that Peladeau was an unsuitable owner but to keep building the arena while he handled the ownership problem.

Videotron

Finding a suitable owner meant that Gary Bettman would work behind the scenes as much as possible so it is difficult to know what is going on. I have speculated that the resignation of Patrick Roy from the Colorado Avalanche may be part of an attempt to put a suitable ownership group together.

Part of the problem is that there may not be enough rich French Canadians who want to own an NHL franchise. Another solution would be to accept outside help but Americans, investors from “English Canada” might fear an elected Parti Quebecois provincial government and have stayed away from investing in Quebec.

There is another possible solution. Like the Atlanta crisis a few years ago, Bettman and the Board may know about certain members of the Board who find their current cities unsuitable and would welcome a move to Quebec which is the coming city in Canada, soon, maybe within a decade to have over 1 million residents.

Quebec

There would be no problem in attracting sell-out crowds, attracting corporate sponsors, and selling Quebec Nordiques merchandise for a Quebec team. The market includes all of eastern Quebec province and the four Maritime provinces. Take away the racial and political problems, Quebec with a new arena is a marvelous investment opportunity, one of the better NHL franchises, a sure winner. Adding the city would restore the Quebec-Montreal rivalry, once the best in the NHL, allow Bettman to keep his promise, and get many of his Canadian critics off his back.

The only real drawback to Quebec getting an established NHL franchise instead of an expansion team is that the NHL would have to forgo that $500 million expansion fee. But in compensation, a current weak franchise would become an instant strong one. And the NHL could still get its $500 million by expanding to another western city instead which would allow the league to realign as well.

So if Quebec is to get its team by a franchise shift instead of expansion, who are the candidates? One of the most obvious ones, Arizona will not be moved because it will cause further conference imbalance. If the Coyotes move, they will be moved to a western city.

So the shifted franchise will come from the Eastern Conference. Based on current NHL attendance, the top choices can all said to be the “usuals”

1. Carolina Hurricanes

They have the worst attendance in the NHL and the owner, Peter Karmanos is known to want to sell. Currently the Hurricanes are drawing approximately 60% arena capacity, by far the worst in the NHL. The reasons for not moving the team are that the Hurricanes have won the Stanley Cup so there is some kind of tradition. And the reason for poor attendance might be because the Hurricanes have not iced a contending team for a long time. But if they added a star player and contended again, would the fans come back? Still they are considered the number one target.

2. New York Islanders

They have been treated like poor cousins of the New York Rangers for years. Despite the heritage of winning four Stanley Cups in a row, a feat that has only been accomplished twice before, the Islanders have been treated shabbily since their glory days. Nothing was done to replace their outmoded arena with a new, larger, modern one. Currently the Islanders play in probably the worst arena in the NHL, the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn which is far from their original fan base, is the second smallest arena in the league, and has lots of obstructive view seats. A few years ago, a large delegation of Quebec fans came down en masse and bought a large quantity of unsold Islander tickets to show the NHL they were in earnest to get the Nordiques back. The Islanders are a target all right. But moving this franchise would be a tremendous blow and loss of status to the NHL in the United States because of the Islanders history and heritage. And it is said that yet another new arena might be built in Queens. That would be the preferred solution for the NHL.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets

It is one thing to move the Hurricanes and Islanders but there would be no problem in moving the inglorious Blue Jackets who have only made the playoffs twice in 16 years and have never won a playoff round. The Blue Jackets try to get fans from a cursed hockey area in the United States, Ohio-Indiana which I have labeled the “Death Valley” of American hockey. Nobody can explain why in an area so close to the Canadian border and between such hockey loving cities like Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the east and Minnesota, Chicago and Detroit in the west, hockey is so unpopular. In these two states are buried the dead bodies of the Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, Cleveland Crusaders, and Cleveland Barons, all from the 1970s. As mentioned in an earlier article, the NHL can never forget the horrible attendance of the ghost of the Cleveland Barons. That is why when NHL expansion is talked about, these cities are never mentioned. Columbus is simply the most successful team ever to inhabit these states. But they average just over 15,000 fans per game which is only 82% arena capacity. If the wonderful turnaround of the current season still does not attract fans, maybe the owners will conclude that it is time to move to Quebec where they will be appreciated.

4. Florida Panthers

Florida ranks with inglorious Columbus. They made the Stanley Cup Final once, two decades ago. Since then they seldom make the playoffs. Gary Bettman had great difficulty finding new owners for the team a few years ago. The new ownership has made the team playoff contenders but they still only get 85% arena capacity for their games. Leaving the reluctant Miami market for Quebec is a real option for the Panthers.

5. New Jersey Devils

The Devils are the other poor relations of the New York Rangers. Like the Islanders they have a winning heritage with three Stanley Cups, but mostly they are a hockey after-thought after the Rangers and Islanders. They average 14.5 thousand fans which is 88% capacity. But moving the team is ugly for the NHL because of their past success and heritage. Perhaps moving to another part of New Jersey, away from the New York area where they can find fans that will really identify with the team is the best solution.

Is this the real plan of Gary Bettman and the NHL Board? Do the same thing as in the Atlanta crisis? Wait until the current season ends and then shift an existing franchise to Canada. That would be a suitable gift for Canada’s Sesquicentennial.

Last Chance For The Columbus Blue Jackets?

One of the more hopeful things to happen for the NHL so far in this season is the upward swing of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since the start of the season, the Blue Jackets have been playing good steady hockey which has taken them to first place in the tough Eastern Conference. From 15th to the top of the standings in one year is quite an accomplishment. Nobody saw this coming. Coach John Tortorella is getting the Blue Jackets to play the way he failed to get Team USA play in the recent World Cup.

The problem IS that nobody saw this coming. The success of the Blue Jackets on the ice has not translated to success off the ice. Columbus is 4th last in attendance this season, averaging 13.5 thousand per game, approximately 75% capacity.

There are several reasons for this sad state of affairs. Columbus has always been a precarious franchise; more than once there has been talk of the franchise being moved. For starters, Columbus is located in what I have termed the “Death Valley” of major professional hockey, Ohio-Indiana.

This is a strange area for hockey. It is a northern United States climate, close to the Canadian border. For that reason alone it should be a hockey-loving area. Wrong. Ohio-Indiana is the graveyard of many NHL-WHA franchises from the 1970s. Who remembers the WHA Cleveland Crusaders, Indianapolis Racers, Cincinnati Stingers, and the NHL Cleveland Barons? Who remembers that the top two NHL scorers of all time, Wayne Gretzky, and (recently displaced by Jaromir Jagr) Mark Messier got their professional start in these cities? All these franchises folded within a few years because of horrible attendance. Strange though it may seem, the Columbus Blue Jackets are the most successful major professional hockey franchise in Ohio-Indiana history. They have lasted 16 years so far. (Note: See my article about Cleveland on this blog for more details about this.)

One of my colleagues on this blog, Amanda, wrote an article about the AHL champion Lake Erie Monsters (located near Cleveland) and complained that they were not getting the media coverage they deserved. By her account, the Monsters are actually surpassing the Blue Jackets in fan support. But the NHL with its memory of the horrible attendance of the Cleveland Barons hope the Monsters rest in obscurity. That is why when the NHL starts talking about expansion, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis are never mentioned. To date nobody can explain why hockey is so unpopular in an area so close to the Canadian border and located between such hockey loving cities as Chicago, Detroit, and Minneapolis in the west and Buffalo and Pittsburgh in the east.

But the low attendance for the Columbus Blue Jackets can be explained by more than the fact that they live in a cursed hockey area. Their horrible history has dampened the enthusiasm for many hockey fans and stunted the growth of hockey in Ohio-Indiana. In 16 years, the Blue Jackets have only made the NHL playoffs twice and have failed to win a playoff round. Maybe the low attendance can be explained by fans tired of false hopes and are saying “Show me” before jumping on the bandwagon.

Not only does Tortorella have to keep up this high standard of play during the regular season to attract more fans, he has to get this team over the hump to win at least one playoff round to make believers of the disillusioned. One other problem is that with the possible exception of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and defenseman Seth Jones, there are no stars on this team. This is a low-key team made up of cast-off players from other teams that is playing good, solid hockey. There are no big shooters to capture the imagination of the fans. Nobody realizes or believes that this is a good team. Most fans probably figure the Blue Jackets will collapse or bow out meekly in the first round of the playoffs. Hopefully aa fans continue to see the Blue Jackets win, they will start supporting the team.

What happens if the Blue Jackets continue to win during the regular season, do well in the playoffs and the fans still do not support the team? Well this is Death Valley for professional hockey and one more team leaving the area is nothing new. And unlike the Arizona Coyotes that the NHL does not want to move to the east because it will make the league conferences even more unbalanced, the Blue Jackets can be moved anywhere because they are an Eastern Conference team.

In the east, Quebec and Hamilton have arenas and they want a team. In the west, the NHL would not be sorry if the Blue Jackets landed in places like Portland, Milwaukee, Seattle, Houston or Kansas City.

So this may be the last chance for Blue Jackets to be a success in Columbus. If a successful team on the ice is still not enough to draw fans, maybe the owners will conclude that it is time to leave Death Valley like their predecessors did and play hockey elsewhere. It is said that Quebec is eying the Carolina Hurricanes if they cannot get an expansion team because currently Carolina has the worst attendance in the NHL and the owner wants to sell. But Quebec will gladly welcome the Blue Jackets instead if Death Valley adds one more notch to its belt.

Interview with Sean Collins!

Image
Editors note: We are aware the font and stuff are off.
We're trying our best to fix this.

Yesterday, we had an opportunity to speak with Sean Collins. He currently plays for
the Springfield Falcons, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Drafted in 
the 
7th Round of the 2008 NHL Draft (187th overall). So you can follow him on Twitter: 
@WhoYouGunnaCollins, and you can follow us on Twitter: @HkyBlogger and on Facebook:
 www.facebook.com/NotYourAverageHockeyBlog

So without further to do, we are happy to present you our interview with Sean Collins.
As usual, we are in bold.

How has your day been?
It's been solid so far. Just went through the normal non-game day
routine with practice and workout in the morning.

So many of our readers might not know who you are, so who are you and maybe
a cool fact about yourself?
My name is Sean Collins and I'm a professional hockey player in the
Columbus Blue Jackets organization. I graduated in May 2012 with a 3.8
GPA in Finance while also playing on the hockey team at Cornell
University.

What's a day in the life of Sean Collins?
I usually start my day around 7:45 AM and proceed to make a very
nutritious breakfast. I tend to go with oatmeal and berries, two eggs,
and a banana. A well balanced breakfast helps keep me energized and
healthy. Around 8:15 AM, my roommates and I will make the 15 minute
drive to the rink for practice. Practice usually runs from around 10
AM until 11 AM. After practice, I will complete a team lift or some
other type of maintenance workout which helps to maintain strength and
decrease the chance of injury. After showering I head home to make
lunch. I usually have soup and a sandwich, along with a little greek
yogurt to top me off. After lunch, I will relax and do some reading or
watch a few TV shows. Right now I am reading the book 'Moneyball' and
I am currently watching the TV series 'Prison Break'. For dinner, I am
a huge seafood fan. My roommates and I usually collaborate and make an
absolute feast. After dinner, I usually watch a little hockey or
anything else exciting on TV. I wind down and usually head to bed
around 10:30 PM.

What kind of player do you consider yourself?
I am a strong two-way player who can play anywhere in the line-up. I
am a versatile enough to play all three forward positions as well as
both the penalty kill and the power play. My game is modeled around my
speed, which allows me to create chances for myself and my line mates.

When did you first lace up the skates?
I started skating on the outdoor rinks in my hometown of Saskatoon at
five years old.

Did you play any other sports growing up?
I was a very competitive baseball player growing up. I represented my
province a few times in my teens and had a couple offers to compete at
the collegiate level but I felt as if hockey was the right path to
take and would allow me at the very least to attend a prestigious
school and get a good education. I also was a long distance runner in
elementary and high school.

When you played for Waywayseecappo for Juniors, how did you manage to
spell/pronounce it correctly?
It is actually a lot easier than it looks. It's pronounced exactly as
it looks (Way-way-see-capp-o)

When you made the jump from the MJHL to ECAC, what was the biggest
difference?
The biggest difference I noticed was the size and the speed of the
players. Going from a junior league that doesn't send many players to
the next level, it was definitely a step up. Also, the age difference
was a lot greater in college, since players can be anywhere from 18 to
25 years old which adds to the range of physical development and
maturation of the players.

What is your best memory playing at Cornell?
Winning the ECAC Championships in 2010 was an amazing feeling but I
would have to say my last home game at Lynah Rink. The atmosphere at
Lynah Rink was second to none and the fan support we had from "the
Faithful" was outstanding. I was truly spoiled to have been able to
play in front of that crowd for four years.

Worst memory?
Losing on Senior Night last year. It was disappointing because a
victory would have clinched the Cleary Cup, which is given to the ECAC
regular season champion. Furthermore, my family and friends were in
attendance as there was a huge ceremony on the ice after the game. The
lose definitely put a sour note on what was supposed to be a
celebratory evening.

What did you study at Cornell?
I studied in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, majoring in
Applied Economics and Management or more commonly Business. My
specialty was Finance.

You wear the number 43, what does it mean? Or was it just any random number
given to you?
It was just a random number given to me. I didn't have any choice in the matter.

Take us back to the draft, what was it like? Were you scared you would go
undrafted?
It was an amazing moment for my family and I. But how it happened was
rather suspenseful. I was following the draft on the computer at home
in Saskatoon, when the internet connection in our house was suddenly
lost. At this point in time, the draft was in the middle rounds. I was
obviously very frustrated that I couldn't regain the connection, so I
went downstairs and was just stickhandling and trying to keep my mind
occupied. Finally a few minutes later, I heard the phone ring and my
parents answered the phone. It was Bryan Raymond, a scout with the
Blue Jackets and I jumped on the phone and found out I was drafted in
the 7th round by the Blue Jackets.

I had no fear of going undrafted because I knew that being a free
agent can sometimes be an advantage, especially if you have a strong
college career. In retrospect, I'm glad everything worked out and I
was able to be apart of the Blue Jackets organization.

What has been the highlight of your career?
My first NHL game has to be my fondest memory thus far. Being able to
realize a life long dream is incredible and it is an experience I will
never forget.

Lowest point?
The uncertainty of my hockey career was something I was forced to
endure during my second season with Waywayseecappo. I got off to a
strong start to the season and was in the top 5 in the league in
points but I still hadn't received any serious offers from any
Division 1 hockey programs. It was an arduous task going to the rink
everyday knowing that even though I was playing my best hockey that no
one was noticing.

How did you persevere from it?
I decided to continue to do what was making me successful as a player
and to maintain a high level of confidence. Eventually I was
approached and offered an opportunity to play hockey and attend
Cornell University. It was nice to know that all my dedication and
commitment had paid off.

Just a few questions so we can show the more human side of you, and so even
non-hockey fans have something interesting to read.

Favorite food?
Sea Scallops

Android or iPhone?
iPhone


What's on your iPod?
A little bit of everything, but primarily country music

Who has the worst taste of music in the locker room?
I would have to say my teammate in Springfield Michael Chaput

If you weren't playing hockey, what would you be doing right now?
I would be working on Wall Street in some capacity.

Best buddy on your team?
Jake Hansen

Best prank you've seen/done?
My freshman year at Cornell, we were coming back from Canada and
crossing the border back into the U.S. While our goalie, Ben Scrivens
(Toronto Maple Leafs), was sleeping we grabbed his passport. When the
border control officer came on our bus, he made his way to the back of
the bus checking everyone's passport ensuring that they were on the
list. When he got to Scrivens, who was furiously searching everywhere
for his missing passport, the border control officer was displeased
that Scrivens didn't have his ready. Everyone else was prepared when
he came, except Scrivens. Eventually, after his searches went to no
avail, the border officer told Scrivens to come off the bus and into
the building. The officer kept him in the building for 15 minutes,
lecturing him and even saying that he may have to stay in Canada while
the rest of the team goes back to school. A typically fun loving guy,
Scrivens was very distraught and worried that the officer was serious.
Eventually, the officer told him that the team had set him up and he
came back onto the bus with a shy smile on his face. The rest of the
guys just erupted. It was one of the funniest pranks I've ever been
apart of.

If you could have one superpower what would it be and why?
I think being able to fly. It would be unbelievable to travel anywhere
on a whim and see the world from a bird's eye view.

Last question:
Any suggestion for who I should interview next?
Colin Greening.

Thank you for your time.